Districts consider policies on same-sex marriage

Items on same-sex marriage are receiving attention at several district conferences this fall, with agenda items seeking to formalize district policies following the actions of the 2017 Annual Conference that affirmed the role of districts in handling manners of ministerial conduct.

Atlantic Northeast District meets this weekend at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College, and delegates there will consider the proposed district “Policy on Same-Sex Marriage.” It outlines a “Response Process for a Minister Who Performs a Same-Gender Marriage” and specifies steps to be taken for first and subsequent violations by those who perform such a union, with “immediate termination” of ministry credentials for a second offense.

The Elizabethtown (Pa.) Church of the Brethren in August requested that the item be withdrawn from consideration, saying that adoption of the policy would leave the congregation “caught between the district mandate and our understanding of the call of Christ.” The district responded to Elizabethtown’s request, saying, “We recognize that the decisions we make as the Body of Christ are to be made very carefully, knowing that they will impact all of our lives.”

The Ambler (Pa.) congregation has also since expressed concerns. Pastor Enten Eller sent a letter to the district with the opinion that adoption of the proposed policy would “directly violate the 2008 resolution of Annual Conference, ‘Urging Forbearance.’” He also said it “undermines the denomination-wide Compelling Vision Process at the very time that we are trying to pull together.” The congregation’s executive committee also sent a letter asking district leadership to “prayerfully reconsider proposing this policy.”

The official board of the Chiques congregation (Manheim, Pa.), meanwhile, has sent to district congregations a proposed amendment that would strengthen the language of the proposed policy further, recommending sanctions not just for ministers who perform same-sex weddings, but for any minister who “promotes and accepts the practice of homosexuality as a lifestyle that is approved by God.”

Northern Ohio District recently adopted a policy similar to the one proposed by Atlantic Northeast when delegates met in August at Dupont (Ohio) Church of the Brethren. District board chair Tom Zuercher said that “Resolution on Same-Sex Weddings” was intended to bring “clarity for Northern Ohio.” The resolution passed with 86 percent voting in favor.

Adapted from a similar 2015 resolution in Shenandoah District, it reaffirms the 1983 Annual Conference statement on “Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective,” states that the “practice of homosexuality is not acceptable,” prohibits district ministers from performing same-sex marriages, and prohibits the use of any district property or congregation for same-sex marriages, while reaffirming “a commitment to extend Christ-like comfort and grace to LGBT persons.”

Clergy who perform a same-sex wedding would be “referred to the District Ministerial Commission as a matter of ministerial misconduct.” The consequence is suspension of ministry credentials, “with continued conversation and review with the Ministerial Commission in consultation with the District Executive.”

Delegates in Western Pennsylvania District, which holds its conference Oct. 20 at Camp Harmony (Hooversville, Pa.), will consider a similar policy, “Resolution on Biblical Marriage.” It does not specify credentialing consequences for those who violate the resolution that district ministers “will officiate only at the celebration of marriages that are between one man and one woman,” but it does state that the district “will consider for its slate of offices only persons who uphold the teachings of the Bible on human sexuality and the Western Pennsylvania District’s affirmations on human sexuality.”

Several other districts, including Southeastern and West Marva, have also taken up the issue and passed resolutions and policies in recent years.

In other district conference news:

  • Delegates at the West Marva District conference, held Sept. 21-22 at Moorefield (W.Va.) Church of the Brethren, approved congregational status for the Hanging Rock Fellowship (Augusta, W.Va.) and approved disorganization of the RoughRun Church of the Brethren (Petersburg, W.Va.). Sherri Ziler was called as moderator-elect.
  • At the Missouri Arkansas District conference, held Sept. 14-15, delegates voted to amend the constitution to define district boundaries as follows: “The boundaries of the District of Missouri Arkansas Church of the Brethren include all the Church of the Brethren congregations and fellowships which meet within the area of the states of Missouri and Arkansas.” Paul Landes was called as moderator-elect.
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