Dear Annual Conference Leadership Team and Council of District Executives:

At its best, Annual Conference is a place where we struggle together to find the mind of Christ, holding our differences in creative and healthy tension while respecting the integrity of one another’s struggle to be faithful to the leading of God’s Spirit.

With deep sadness, we note that Annual Conference is increasingly becoming an unpleasant experience of division, hostility and lack of civility. The lgbtq community has been the primary target, although not the sole recipient of this enmity. Of equal alarm to us is a trend within our denomination towards legalism and a forced conformity that seeks to punish and even expel dissenters.

As a tradition that was forged out of dissent, this coercive drive towards conformity should greatly disturb all of us. After all, the Jesus whom we claim to follow pushed against a harsh legalism that ignored the needs and struggles of people. Instead, he healed on the Sabbath, engaged with those on the margins, and shared stories that surprised and disrupted assumptions of power and authority. He showed us that dissent is one way that God does new things in the world. Yes, it can be unsettling. Yes, it can foster division. Yet to respond punitively out of fear and anxiety to silence the “offenders” may, paradoxically, put at risk the very faith that we think we are protecting. As Gamaliel counseled the early church in Acts: “…if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them – in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” (Acts 5:38-39)

Authoritarian acts of discipline, punishment and threat do not represent the church at its best. Our finest moments as a faith community have never been characterized by intimidation, threats of leaving, or forced expulsion. Enforced legalism is not the path of faithfulness. We strongly urge the Leadership Team and CODE to reject the use of coercive force and punitive responses to address the tensions that we are experiencing as a body of Christ.

Instead, we would counsel you to be very careful with the power that is entrusted to you and the Annual Conference. Acting in haste to silence and forcibly extinguish or shut down an uneasy conflict will not solve the challenges that confront us as a church. We affirm the counsel of the 2000 Annual Conference that called for education, consultation and patience in our relationships with one another.

 

Rather than making a decision about “the authority of Annual Conference regarding the accountability of ministers, congregations, and districts,” you have an opportunity to bring a different kind of clarity and guidance that does not rely upon punishment or threat. Education, consultation and patience can offer a path towards an authentic community; one that is built on right relationship and mutual respect. We understand that it is difficult to live in uncertainty and trust. Yet we cannot help but think that this is ultimately what will lead us to the unity that continues to elude us.

Finally, as we contemplate the situation in which the church finds itself we note a telling irony. The lgbt community, the group that has borne the brunt of hatred, fear and discrimination within the church, continues to reach out with hope. Given that it is lgbtq people who are among the most impacted in this situation, we implore you to make it a point to talk with them and find out what it means to them to be married by a pastor and with the blessing of the church. We suspect that you may be surprised by the responses. Without that input, this process has very little integrity. For far too many years we have done a great disservice to the lgbtq community by our failure to listen, understand, and respond with respect and care, even though this is a key element in the 1983 Paper on Human Sexuality. This must stop. We can do better.

The Supportive Communities Network (SCN) of BMC has developed a set of principles, Called by Conscience, which can be downloaded at the bottom of this letter. This document outlines the Brethren and Biblical values that guide and direct us in our work; values that we think point to the best of our Brethren heritage, tradition and faith understanding. We offer this to you as a resource in your own discernment and also to indicate the perspective that we bring to our work and ministry.

You are being asked to adjudicate a problem that defies simple answers. The Annual Conference has set before you a challenging task in challenging times. As members of SCN, our experience over the decades has afforded us some unique insight and wisdom into the challenges that you face. Through our welcome and affirmation of the inherent goodness of lgbt people, we have experienced firsthand the mystery of God’s spirit moving among us as inclusive and committed communities of faith. We hope that one day the whole church will acknowledge this goodness, even as we now live in the tension of the not yet and the already.

Please feel free to contact us for conversation or clarification. You remain in our thoughts and prayers.

Courage and strength in the struggle,

SCN Steering Committee

SCN Steering Committee

Kurt Borgmann, Senior Pastor, Manchester (IN) COB

Susan Boyer, Senior Pastor, LaVerne (CA) COB

Enten Eller, Pastor, Ambler (PA) COB

Brian Flory, Pastor, Beacon Heights (IN) COB

Sarah Kinsel, Pastor, Portland Peace (OR) COB

Rob Miller, Pastor, Northview (IN) COB

Zandra Wagoner, Chaplain, University of LaVerne (CA)

Carol Wise, Common Spirit, Minneapolis (MN) COB

Chris Zepp, Associate Pastor, Bridgewater (VA) COB

Clergy/Lay Leaders of SCN:

Cindy Barnum-Steggerda, ordained minister, COB

Jeff Carr, Senior Pastor, Bridgewater (VA) COB

Jim Chinworth, Associate Pastor, Manchester (IN) COB

Joanna Davidson Smith, licensed minister, Certified Spiritual Director, Western Plains District

Jeanne Davies, Pastor, Parables Community (IL) COB

Karen Eberly, Associate Pastor, Manchester (IN) COB

Mary Eller, Pastor, Ambler (PA) COB

Nan Erbaugh, Pastor, Lower Miami (OH) COB

Nancy Fitzgerald, Pastor, Arlington (VA) COB

Chuck Friesen, Antelope Park (NE) COB

Kay Gaier, Pastor, Wabash (IN) COB

Sara Haldeman-Scarr, Pastor, San Diego (CA) COB

Gary Haney, Leadership Team member, Goshen City (IN) COB

David Hendricks, Pastor, Prince of Peace (IN) COB

Bonnie Kline Smeltzer, Pastor, University Baptist/Brethren Church (PA)

Kimberly Koczan-Flory, ordained minister, Beacon Heights (IN) COB

Kres Lipscomb, Pastor, Springfield First (IL) COB

John Long and Janice Kulp Long, Pastors, Skyridge (MI) COB

SIGNERS

Kim McDowell, Pastor, University Park (MD) COB

Denny and Dee McOwen, ordained ministers, Goshen City (IN) COB

Steve Norton, Pastor, Goshen City (IN) COB

Deb Oskin, ordained minister, Living Peace (OH) COB

Jaime Risser, ordained minister, Columbia United Christian Church (MD)

Debbie Roberts, Ellisforde (WA) COB

Andrew Sampson, ordained minister, Mission and Ministry coordinator, Beacon Heights (IN) COB

Janet Shaver, Pastor, Middlebury (IN) COB

Katie Shaw Thompson, Pastor, Highland Ave (IL) COB

Jay Steele, Pastor, Open Circle (MN) COB

Roya Stern, licensed minister, Common Spirit Grand Rapids (MI)

John Tomlonson, Leadership Team, Goshen City (IN) COB

Christy Waltersdorff, Pastor, York Center (IL) COB

Bev Weaver, Pastor, Goshen City (IN) COB

Joanna Willoughby, Common Spirit Grand Rapids (MI)

Christy Dowdy, Stone COB (PA)

Anna Lisa Gross, Stone COB (PA)

October 2016

To:  Annual Conference Leadership Team and Council of District Executives

From:  Supportive Communities Network members

Re:  Annual Conference Directive

Congregations/organizations of SCN: (With many more in support, but unable to process the letter in a condensed time frame to add an official signature):

Arlington (VA) COB

Beacon Heights (IN) COB

Common Spirit Grand Rapids (MI) COB

Common Spirit Minneapolis (MN) COB

Common Spirit North Manchester (IN) COB

Goshen City (IN) COB

LaVerne (CA) COB

Living Peace (OH) COB

Lower Miami (OH) COB

Manchester (IN) COB

Modesto (CA) COB

Open Circle (MN) COB

Open Table Cooperative

Portland Peace (OR) COB

San Diego (CA) COB

Stone COB (Huntingdon, PA)

University Baptist Brethren Church (PA)

University Park (MD) COB Church Board

York Center COB (IL)

Womaen’s Caucus

Individual Signers:

Raymonde Rougier, Trotwood COB (OH)

Paul Schrock, Indianapolis, Northview COB

Emmett Eldred, Hollidaysburg COB

Sue Breiner, Northview (IN) COB

Don Knieriem

Kenneth W. Davidson

Janelle Flory Schrock, McPherson COB

Dorothy L. Davidson

Glenn Brumbaugh, University Baptist/Brethren Church

Deb Romary, Beacon Heights, Fort Wayne

John Oren-Scala, San Diego First Church of the Brethren

Ralph Detrick, Elizabethtown PA COB

Joyce Stoltzfus, Elizabethtown PA COB

Sue Williams, Newton (KS) Church of the Brethren

Philip Reynolds, Hope, Michigan District

Tom Hurst, McPherson COB 

Rhonda Pittman Gingrich, Open Circle COB (MN)

Linda Lauderdale, Peace COB Portland Oregon

Susan Taylor, McPherson KS

Jeff Neuman-Lee, Whittier Community Church of the Brethren

Ken Gresh, Living Stream COB

Glenn McCrickard, Westminster Church of the Brethren

Bill Hollenberg, Beacon Heights COB

Chris Gottshall, Common Spirit MN COB

Karen Cox, Boulder Mennonite/Brethren Fellowship

Terry Link, Springfield COB (IL)

Madalyn Metzger, Goshen City Church of the Brethren

Shirley Kirkwood, Valley Friends Meeting, Dayton, VA

Matthew Boersma, Northview Church of the Brethren

Ineke Way, Skyridge COB

Kim Hill Smith, Common Spirit Minneapolis

Jim Moore, Salem

Marla Ullom-Minnich, McPherson, Kansas

Jonathan Bay, La Verne (CA) COB

Belle Tuten, Stone Church of the Brethren

Marie Benner-Rhoades, Elizabethtown (PA) COB

Eric Schmitt, New Carlisle OH COB

Gina Gascho, Happy Corner COB (OH)

Karen Bradley, Warrensburg Church of the Brethren

Robyn Hunt, Long Green Valley (MD) COB

Liz Bidgood Enders, Ridgeway Community COB

Rachel Horchler

Courtney Barry, Hempfield COB

Kathy Leininger, Linville Creek Church of the Brethren

Judith Miller, Linville Creek Church of the Brethren

Nancy Michaelian, Ridgeway Community Church

Vicky Aeschbacher, San Diego First COB

Doris Dunham, Bakersfield, CA

Jim Yaussy Albright

Emily Elder, Stone Church, Huntingdon PA

Lauren Seganos Cohen, Stone Church of the Brethren

Sandra Bolton, Daleville Church of the Brethren

Bill Scheurer, York Center Church of the Brethren

Lamar Gibson

Wendy Metzger, Manchester IN

Bonnie Marshall, UBBC

Jacki Hartley, Highland Ave COB

Heather Lantz, Linville Creek Church of the Brethren

Kathryn Pfaltzgraff

Ben Bear, Nokesville (VA) COB

Mary Jane Shearer, Manchester COB

Roger Eberly, Eel River Community

Linda Miles, Flat Creek, KY

Terrence Billenstein

Douglas Gehr, Akron, PA COB

Rita Foster, Cloverdale COB

Howard Miller, Columbia United Christian Church

Nancy Gwin, Northview COB, Indy

John Mortimer, San Diego First COB

Michael Iley-Sterne, Northview COB Indiana

AliceLee Hopkins, Bridgewater COB

Diane Driver, Linville Creek COB

Alice Bair, Linville Creek COB

Andrea Lantz Reamer, Linville Creek COB

Anne Reid, Cloverdale COB

Pam Shafer, Plymouth COB, IN

Greg Bidgood Enders, Ridgeway Community CoB (PA)

Martha Reish, Linville Creek COB

Joan Strawderman, Linville Creek COB

Beverly Eikenberry, Manchester COB

Carol Streator, Manchester COB

Bryan Hanger, Oak Grove Church of the Brethren

Larry Klingler

Joel Kline, Highland Avenue (IL) COB

Matt Guynn, Portland Peace (OR) COB

Lucy Basler, Ordained minister, WI Open Circle

Ann Anderson, Bridgewater COB

Ervin Anderson, Bridgewater COB

Jim Vaughn, Arlington COB

Egon Enns

Shirley A Landis, Lititz Church of the Brethren

David Witkovsky, Stone COB (PA)

Leslie Sperry, Beacon Heights COB

Erik Brummett, Live Oak Church of the Brethren

Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests

PO Box 6300

Minneapolis, MN 55406

Contact BMC:

612.343.2060 bmc@bmclgbt.org

©2020 Brethren Mennonite Council