Church of the Brethren Newsline
October 30, 2017
It has come to our attention that the Newsline article released October 25 reporting on the recent meeting of the Mission and Ministry Board has raised questions. Particularly, the reporting on the presentations of a delegation from a meeting in Moorefield, WV has raised concerns about the intent and meaning of some of Jim Myer’s words. We apologize for the confusion and misunderstanding the article has created. In order to clarify, and yet avoid any further misinterpretation of Brother Jim’s meaning, below is printed a verbatim transcript of his message to the board.
Mission and Ministry Board meeting
October 21, 2017
Transcribed from Moorefield Meeting delegation presentation
My name is Jim Myer from the Atlantic Northeast District. When I walked through these doors this afternoon, my mind went back 39 years to the first time I walked through these doors. And I really can’t name all the emotions that went through me at that point. I know I felt very out of place, I was scared, I didn’t know quite why I was here. But that was the beginning of many trips to Elgin.
One of the things that helped me back then and I have not forgotten it, was a brother of the Lord wrote a letter to me after I was elected to the General Board and said, “Remember this one thing. Remember to love the members of the General Board. You probably will not always agree with them, but you must love them.” I put that in my briefcase – in fact that’s the first time I think I even owned a briefcase. I knew if I’m on the General Board it’s important that I carry a briefcase, to look important, I guess. But I put that letter in that briefcase, I think to all the board meetings. While I don’t know that I have that letter any more, I am very aware of it as I am here again today.
When I was invited to the Moorefield meeting, I was first of all reluctant to go, because I thought I’ll just hear a repeat of many of the things I hear when I am in BRF circles. When I got there, I was surprised of the fresh energy, even though it was maybe on similar topics, but the enthusiasm — and mind you, there was a limit put on attendance. When have you heard that in Brethren circles? It was necessary. The facility, I guess, would not have handled it.
I want to focus, and I have to get on the subject of homosexuality. Out of the Moorefield meeting, here I think is the problem. The problem is that our denomination is being perceived as becoming a pro-homosexual denomination by default. It’s not something that we decided to do. We’ve sort of patted ourselves on the back in the processes we have in making decisions. And they are somewhat unique – that any person in the church can ask a question, the local congregation will consider it, pass it on to the district, the district will consider it, pass it off to Annual Conference, and Annual Conference will give an answer.
Out of the Moorefield meeting, I did not hear one word of dissatisfaction with our statements relating to homosexuality, but that we are becoming something different from what our statements say, by default. Here’s how it happened. After we made the decision in 1983, there was a group rose up, formed themselves as a single-issue group opposing the decision that was made, called Brethren Mennonite Council. They were allowed to have space at Annual Conference in the exhibit hall, basically to oppose the decision. By default, they were allowed in – that decision was not made, I don’t think, by anybody in this room. But we have continued down that road. A coalition of congregations have formed around the idea of opposing, and by default that has happened. This past summer, we all know the introduction of a fellowship. By default, even though we say we do not accept homosexuality or we do not record the licensing and ordination of practicing homosexuals, that was introduced and followed by applause, by default. Not by a decision we’d made, but by a default by not standing on the decision that we have made.
Now let me … If you have a hard time understanding how the people in Moorefield feel, and many in our denomination, let me just change the subject matter. Suppose … now we have a number of statements – Annual Conference statements – on peace and race. We all know that. Suppose a group of Brethren would form “Brethren for the advancement of white supremacy.” Would they be given space, and with all we’ve said about being a peace church, we’d become a pro white supremacy thinking group by default? If you have a hard time understanding why people are upset over the homosexual issue, I’m using that as an example. I think we would all be upset over that.
You know, last night I had some moments I couldn’t sleep. And it seemed like I was given … we as a denomination have three options in front of us.
1. On this issue, we can pull ourselves back and stand on the statements we’ve made.
2. We can continue down the same path and allow the “default hammer” to chisel away at us – chisel away at our denomination, chisel away at our statements, chisel away at our denominational underpinnings – until we are so worn out with this tug-of-war we are in. And brothers and sisters, a tug-of-war is not a good description of a peace church, is it? But that’s what we are in. And we can continue to go down this road until we are all so wore out, that in the end – and be so broken – we may have very little to show for our existence.
3. We can decide in a rational way that the way we are going is not working and what we have been trying to celebrate of all our diversity is not bringing us the unity we need, and maybe it is time to think about a friendly division. And while we all have some energy left, choose a direction that we are happy with. Would that not be a better end to a peace church, even though it may not be what we’d like? While it may not be the ideal, I think it would be a better end to a peace church than to continue to have tug-of-war, and that we’d become known by.
Personally, my preference is for option 1. Let’s pull ourselves back and stand on the statements we’ve made. Or if that doesn’t work, my next choice would be option number 3 – a friendly division. And I don’t like option number 2 – that we continue on business-as-usual, with a continued tug-of-war.
Thank you for hearing my heart. I love the Church of the Brethren. But we are at the end of a journey we’ve been on, I’m afraid. Brothers and sisters, I didn’t ask for this job. But I can speak for so many out there. We need help – we need help. We are having a harder and harder time keeping people in the Church of the Brethren. Our congregations are being threatened with division over all this. Congregations are making decisions to leave. Legal battles are beginning to mount over property. I just feel we’re at the end of the journey we’ve been on – we have to do something different. We have to be open to the leading of the spirit of God.
The next BRF Witness is going to be entitled, “Groundswells among the Brethren.” This meeting in Moorefield was one. But it’s only one of many groundswells that are going up. Is God wanting to do something to salvage the Church of the Brethren? I hope so.
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