“To be afraid is to behave as if the truth were not true.” – Bayard Rustin
On Monday, a narrow majority of the Standing Committee of the Church of the Brethren chose to act from a place of fear – fear of the unknown future, fear that the Holy Spirit may move counter to the ways it has in the past, a fear of losing their church. Fear brings a desire for clarity, for order, for casting aside anything and anyone deemed a threat to its existence. Fear is a powerful force, one that too often seeks to comfort the will of the majority by ignoring the minority and at the expense of the marginalized. Yet a lesson we learn from the biblical narrative and human history about fear is instructive: Fear always creates division.
The fear behind this statement ignores these realities: It proclaims that the amendment to the 1983 paper on human sexuality is our most important Annual Conference position paper, above the Brethren value of personal conscience found in the 1996 Paper on Congregational Ethics, the 2004 paper on Congregations that disagree with Annual Conference decisions, and the 2008 paper on Forbearance, among others. Indeed, an unwavering respect for personal conscience is one of the core convictions of the Brethren since our very beginning; it calls for a dangerous and unprecedented polity decision that will further divide the denomination; and it places numerous COB Districts and District Executives in an impossible position that may cause serious damage to their District’s viability.
But perhaps the most compelling reality is this one - it won’t be effective, as there are pastors and congregations who will continue to count the cost of discipleship by participating in or officiating marriage equality ceremonies, as well as districts that may refuse to enforce the policy, whether out of principle, a desire for unity, or mere self-survival.
We have great compassion for those who are fearful. We are not called to be fearful. We are called to follow the One whose message is ‘fear not.’ We choose to stand for the Gospel values of inclusion, justice, and love. We also choose to name this truth that others in the church may fear – we have to be true to our best understanding of God’s will as we follow our ministry convictions and proclaim a call to action for justice and inclusion of LGBTQ persons and all peoples, no matter what consequences are proposed by Standing Committee or adopted by Annual Conference. Like our Brethren ancestors who were persecuted for following their conscience, we count this as the cost of faithful discipleship. In naming this truth, we stand firmly in the footsteps of Jesus, who suffered for his convictions, even to the point of death on the cross.