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A Study in Contrasts

BMC Response to the COB Leadership Team

Carol Wise

As the director of BMC and the Supportive Communities Network (SCN), I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of congregations around lgbtq inclusion. They are congregations that have taken seriously their denominational mandates to become educated about lgbtq people’s lives and experiences, to study emerging scientific, psychological and sociological research, engage in biblical reflection, and to challenge the violence and harassment that has historically been directed towards lgbtq people.

In its long journey towards becoming an SCN member, On Earth Peace did all of the usual educational and reflective work. They also took the further step of understanding lgbtq lives through the lens of systemic justice and the experience of other marginalized groups. In other words, OEP acted with an intentionality that far exceeded the vast majority of other congregations, individuals and groups within our denomination. In so doing, they modeled a style of leadership that is relationally engaged, open to transformation, rigorous, and willing to take risks.

Despite their diligence, On Earth Peace was summarily rebuked by the Church of the Brethren Leadership Team because the outcome of its moral and ethical engagement did not match a predetermined formula that upholds a 1983 paper and assumes we have learned nothing in almost 40 years. I was reminded by Mark Shafer that the Leadership Team’s unquestioning endorsement of the 1983 Paper on Human Sexuality would, by default, include an affirmation of conversion therapy. Conversion therapy, or the attempt to change an individuals’ sexual orientation or gender identity, is now illegal in many states because of its documented harmful impact and lack of medical justification. To insist on the legitimacy of a statement that affirms this practice is morally bereft.

When I put the Leadership Team response and the On Earth Peace SCN announcement side by side, they offer a study in contrast in terms of energy, imagination and possibility. The On Earth Peace statement points towards the hopes and potential of a new future and calls forth our imagination and dreams. The Leadership Team’s response legalistically props up institutional structures and calls for punitive measures in order to maintain the power of the status quo. When I ask, “where would Jesus be?” the answer seems self-evident.

I am pretty certain that On Earth Peace will be fine with or without the denomination. On the other hand, should efforts to expel On Earth Peace prove successful, the Church of the Brethren and its witness in the world would be sadly and foolishly diminished. It would simply be further evidence of a declining relevance that continues to push younger generations away from the church.

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