Information on the Homosexual Challenge in the Church of the Brethren

A group consisting of Earle Fike, Jr., William Eberly, Elaine Sollenberger, and James Lehman has put together an Unofficial Brethren Position Paper on covenantal relationships and presented it to Standing Committee. The group sought the support of former Conference moderators, Conference secretaries, and General Secretaries. It is here. The paper calls for a radical revision of the Church of the Brethren’s stance on both homosexual and heterosexual marital relationships.

South/Central Indiana District — Northview Appeal (posted 2/10/2007)

The Northview Church of the Brethren in Indianapolis, Indiana, has appealed the South/Central Indiana District decision of last October. The main points of the appeal are these:

1. The 2004 Annual Conference Paper on Congregational Disagreement with Annual Conference Decisions (the “2004 Paper”) sets out a process and a District’s role in that process for resolving congregational disagreements. That process does not include disciplinary action to be taken by a District against a member congregation. The S/C District Conference Action violates this due process and exceeds the authority established in the Polity Manual.

2. Only Annual Conference has authority to discipline congregations, and Annual Conference has not delegated any part of this authority to Districts. Therefore, the District Conference lacks authority via due process to adopt a resolution that permits the dis-enfranchisement of any congregation within the District.

3. The process outlined in the 2004 Paper recommends District consultation with outside resources including the General Board, Annual Conference Officers, the Annual Conference Council (ACC) as part of the District’s reconciliation efforts. To our knowledge, the District Board did not consult with Annual Conference Officers or the ACC subsequent to the adoption of the 2004 paper and prior to calling for the special District Conference that led to the District Conference Action to authorize the dis-enfranchisement of member congregations. The District Board, therefore, failed to follow the due process established by Annual Conference in 2004.

Fred Swartz, the Annual Conference Secretary, has replied:

The Officers of the 2007 Annual Conference have received from the Northview Church of the Brethren an appeal to Standing Committee regarding the action taken by South/Central Indiana District on October 21, 2006. The Officers, in our meetings November 15-16, determined that the appeal was valid having met the minimum requirements for the submission of an appeal. The appeal has now been given to the Standing Committee’s Appeals Committee to begin the process of investigation of what attempts there were to satisfy the grievance and to gather further information that could be helpful to Standing Committee in their consideration.

South/Central Indiana District Developments (posted 9/05/2006)

On August 20, the South/Central Indiana District Board met to discuss the same-sex marriage issue. It has now called for a special District Conference to be held October 21 at the Kokomo Church of the Brethren. The Board recommends that the District institute a 3-year moratorium on participation by any church that sanctions or performs same-sex marriage ceremonies. This moratorium would preclude any church doing so from having any elected or appointed positions within the District, and from having its delegates seated at District Conference.

Queer Camp” WILL NOT be held at Camp Alexander Mack in Indiana (posted 1/31/2006)

The event will now be held at Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana. Our thanks to the leadership at Camp Mack for maintaining their principles of being a Church of the Brethren camp in this matter.

Atlantic Southeast District Board Affirms Traditional Marriage
(posted 1/14/2006)

The Atlantic Southeast District Board voted on November 19, 2005, to affirm traditional marriage by supporting the Florida State Marriage Protection Constitutional Amendment which defines marriage as a union “between a man and a woman.” In addition, the District Board clarified the appropriate practice of the church and its clergy in passing a policy statement which says “in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and polity of the Church of the Brethren,” same sex marriages shall not be performed in the Atlantic Southeast District churches or by its pastors. Furthermore, no same sex ceremonies shall be blessed by Atlantic Southeast District pastors. The District action is to “not leave in question that which has been questioned by congregations in other districts. The board wants to offer clarity in the midst of shifting cultural and ecclesiastical norms by making a statement of certainty as to where the district stands. As to the issue of separation of church and state “We want to register our belief that marriage is a matter not to be redefined by the state but governed by the Church in accordance with the Scriptures. The Florida Marriage Protection Amendment protects the Church from governmental intrusion by preventing the state from statutory redefinition of the nature of marriage.”

South/Central Indiana District Developments (posted 11/8/2005)

The Manchester Church of the Brethren recently was the location of a same-sex “marriage” ceremony. The South/Central Indiana District has sent a letter to all the congregations in the District for counsel as to how to best respond to this direct challenge to the District’s position. One congregation is preparing a response suggesting that 1) District voting privileges be removed from the Manchester congregation (this is similar to the proposal that was barely rejected by the District Conference a few years ago); and 2) elected and appointed district leaders publicly affirm/promote District and Annual Conference homosexuality statements

Illinois/Wisconsin Query Rejected by District Board (posted 8/2/2005) A query approved unanimously in ten congregations has been rejected by the Illinois/Wisconsin Leadership Team. The link above is in Microsoft Word format.

ACR Statement on Homosexual Marriage (posted 3/12/2004)

The following statement was adopted by the Association for Church Renewal on 9 March 2004 in Arlington, Virginia.
Marriage is the primary, essential institution of civil society. It has come under increasing attack from those who would remake marriage into the image of shifting cultural trends rather than affirm the unchanging design given to us at creation – a design recognized across cultures and history. We also acknowledge the unambiguous sociological evidence that children are best off with a mother and a father. It is becoming increasingly clear that legal measures to protect the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman are necessary to preserve the place of marriage in our society. We support measures protecting the definition of marriage, including the prompt adoption of the Federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as necessary to safeguard this fundamental social institution from unwarranted and destructive revision.

South/Central Indiana District Conference Action (posted 9/16/2003)

The South/Central Indiana District Conference approved the following statement on September 13, 2003:

“We of the South/Central District of the Church of the Brethren affirm our call to engage in Christ-centered ministry that seeks to be in right and loving relationship with all of God’s children. Moverover we assert that ‘right and loving relationship’ includes holding one another accountable to the standards or moral behavior found in Scripture. Therefore, in accordance with Scripture and in solidarity with the 1983, 1992 and 2002 actions of the Church of the Brethren’s Annual Conference concerning homosexuality, we will not support actions, policies, positions, or ceremonies that in any way promote homosexuality as an acceptable Christian lifestyle blessed by God.”

Annual Conference Council Letter to Michigan District (posted 8/16/2003)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the Query for Clarification of Confusion sent by the Michigan District to the 2003 Annual Conference, the District specifically asked for “clarification on how (the) 2002 action (re: “Licensing/Ordination of Homosexual Persons to Ministry in the Church of the Brethren”) fit(s) into previous polity and procedures and how we shall proceed with future licensings and ordinations.” The action of Annual Conference was to ask the Annual Conference Council to answer the question(s) raised by the query. The following is the answer of the Annual Conference Council after much prayer and deliberation.

The 2002 action of Annual Conference does not contradict polity in the credentialing of persons to ministry in the Church of the Brethren. The 2002 action on Licensing/Ordination of Homosexual Persons to the Ministry in the Church of the Brethren means that no one known to be engaging in homosexual practices will be licensed or ordained in the Church of the Brethren.

The Church of the Brethren Manual of Organization and Polity 2001 states, “the delegate body assembled in Conference is the ultimate legislative authority of the Church of the Brethren. . . . It is the final authority of the Church of the Brethren in all matters of procedure, program, polity, and discipline.” Therefore, all decisions of Annual Conference become the polity or policy of the Church of the Brethren.

Other questions and concerns raised by the Michigan District in the Query for Clarification of confusion are of either a theological or structural nature that requires further discussion within the district and the entire denomination. The Annual Conference Council will encourage and lead in these discussions.

May the peace of God rule in your hearts,

Annual Conference Council

Earl Ziegler (chair), Sandy Bosserman (district executive), Christopher Bowman (moderator), Harriet Finney (immediate past moderator), Jim Hardenbrook (moderator-elect), Fred Swartz (annual conference secretary)

Statement to Annual Conference Council (posted 5/12/2003)

The following statement was circulated via e-mail on the COBEN (Church of the Brethren Evangelical Network) e-mail discussion list. The reply follows.

April, 2003

Last summer the Annual Conference decided by more than a two-thirds majority vote not to offer ordination to persons who are actively engaged in a homosexual life style. Since then some groups and individuals have been strongly working to overturn that decision. We believe that it is still the will of the vast majority of those in our denomination and we would like to state our support of it. There is a strong biblical, theological, psychological and ministry case for the position stated in the 1983 paper on human sexuality and the decision of last year’s Annual Conference. We want to help our church remain faithful to what it has always believed to be God’s will in this and other areas.

We have no desire to increase the tension within our denomination; nor do we question the sincerity of those who differ with Annual Conference. But we believe it tragic that some in the minority insist that the church must accept their point of view before they will feel “included at the table”. Many of us have had Annual Conference decisions go differently than we would wish, yet in spite of such differences we and other Brethren have put the good of the church above our own preferences.

While the volume and pressure is increasing from those who do not represent most Brethren, a deepening sense of frustration is taking place among those who feel that the leadership of the church is not fairly representing them. Some are seriously exploring the formation of a group that will speak on behalf of that majority within the denomination. It is not change we resist, but the abandonment of our Biblical roots and the faith that has nourished and sustained us.

As we seek to discover how we can support Annual Conference, we will do so in love. We will also promote the best our spiritual ancestors have passed on to us, especially when it is retained by most Brethren. Our hope is that the national leadership of the church will respect and give a strong voice to the convictions of that majority, particularly when they are in support of the decisions of Annual Conference.

Thank you for your consideration of this statement. Thank you, also, for your dedicated service to the church. We will keep you and other church leaders in our prayers.


April 30, 2003

Thank you for communicating your statement to the Annual Conference Council on behalf of yourself and others concerning Annual Conference decisions and the support of those decisions.

The council had a lengthy and profitable discussion prompted by your letter. It was a healthy dialogue and one that needed to happen. The officers are sensitive to these concerns and plan to stand clearly with the decisions of the Annual Conference. The council last December sent out a statement to all agencies and districts requesting compliance with Annual Conference decisions.

The council hears your concern and believes that you speak for many in our denomination not only on the issue of ordination of homosexuals, but also on issues or questions which deal with the very foundation of our faith and life together.

You need to be complimented on your positive spirit in which you state that “we and other Brethren have put the church above our own preferences.” We try to understand the various voices in the body but need to be faithful to the Annual Conference decisions.

A query entitled, “The Person and Redemptive Work of Jesus Christ” is coming to this year’s Annual Conference and will certainly address much of your concern.

As a council, we do not encourage the formation of groups because we believe such action divides the body of Christ. We need to concentrate on the centrality of Jesus rather than on issues. Jesus calls us to a greater level of faithfulness and radical discipleship.

Please join us in prayer for the Annual Conference that the Holy Spirit will prevail in our attitudes and in our actions as brothers and sisters in Christ.

In Jesus’ Name,

Earl K. Ziegler, chair
Annual Conference Council

South/Central Indiana District (posted 2/5/2003)
The South/Central Indiana District Ministry Interview Team has developed the following guidelines (pdf format here):

1. The Interview Team will not inquire as to whether a minister or ministry candidate is a practicing homosexual.

2. The Interview Team will not recommend licensing or ordaining any ministry candidate who openly professes to be an active, practicing homosexual and who does not desire or intend to change that sexual practice.

3. The Interview Team will recommend termination of credentials for any licensed or ordained minister who openly professes to be an active, practicing homosexual and who does not desire or intend to change that sexual practice.

4. The Interview Team will continue to ask ministry candidates about their intentions to support and uphold Annual Conference positions and polity, as this relates to authority, ethics and accountability. In addition, and more particularly, the Interview Team may ask specifically about a candidate’s faith position relative to homosexuality, in the same way that the Team always has explored various other faith positions with candidates.

5. For any ministry candidate whose faith position relative to homosexuality is in opposition to the position of Annual Conference, the Interview Team will consider that position in concert with the other factors and faith positions expressed. At some point, a ministry candidate who disagrees substantially with several, or many, important Annual Conference positions will not be recommended for licensing or ordination. This is a judgment call, but it is not unlike the many other judgment calls that the Interview Team always has been empowered to make on behalf of the Board.

6. The Interview Team will not recommend licensing or ordaining any ministry candidate who expresses the intention to perform a same-sex covenant ceremony without respect for local congregational support.

7. The Interview Team will not withhold a recommendation to license or ordain any ministry candidate who potentially would intend to perform a same-sex covenant ceremony with local congregational support. However, the Interview Team will establish a clear expectation that the candidate ethically is obligated to notify the Interview Team if such a ceremony is performed.

8. The Interview Team will recommend termination of credentials for any licensed or ordained minister who performs a same-sex covenant ceremony.

Voices For An Open Spirit (posted 1/22/2003)

James Lehman has announced that Melissa Bennett, Wanda Button, Bill Eberly, Jan Fairchild, Paul Schrock, and Matt Smucker, as well as Bob Durnbaugh and Lehman, have agreed to serve on the VOS Council.

South/Central Indiana District (posted 1/14/2003)
The Roann Congregation has sent a letter, dated 11/26/2002, to the District and to other congregations. It is from the January 2003 Roann COB Newsletter. Several other congregations in the S/C Indiana District have sent out letters of a similar nature.

West Marva District (posted 12/20/2002)
From Newsline:
West Marva District has drafted a new human sexuality statement that reaffirms several previous Annual Conference and district statements, including the 2002 Annual Conference statement against the licensing and ordination of homosexuals, and states that the district will not perform any licensings or ordinations of “an individual whose life does not display a sexual conformity to Biblical teaching.” The statement is slated for consideration at next year’s district conference.

Recent Responses to This Issue (posted 12/19/2002)

BMC Response to Annual Conference (posted 12/6/2002)

Brethren/Mennonite Council for Gay and Lesbian Concerns has posted a response to the 2002 Annual Conference action.

Voices for An Open Spirit (posted 11/23/2002)

The November Messenger had an article about VOS (with some choice statements taken from Dunker Journal). VOS is meeting at Camp Mack in Northern Indiana this weekend.

Illinois/Wisconsin District (posted 11/17/2002)

The Cherry Grove COB in the Illinois/Wisconsin District has sent a letter and confessing statement to all congregations in that District. The statement calls for a strong stand on Jesus as Saviour, the authority of the Scriptures, and the sanctity of heterosexual marriage.

“Ordination” Recognized in Messenger (posted 11/15/2002)

The November edition of Messenger, the official publication of the Church of the Brethren, notes the “ordination” of Matt Smucker, at page 31.Conference declared that such “ordinations” are not recognized by the denomination.

Your Help Needed (posted 11/04/2002)

If you have confirmable information on this issue from local churches or districts, please contact the Web Editor by way of the contact page.

Illinois/Wisconsin District (posted 10/18/2002)

Reported in the Springfield State Journal-Register, two women from the Springfield congregation traveled to Vermont for a civil union, and it seems that a “ceremony” was held at the Springfield Church after they returned, with the pastor there officiating. The District Executive (PDF file, Page 1Page 2)is noncommittal. Annual Conference (discerning the Word of God together) has declared that, in the Church of the Brethren community, covenantal homosexual relationships are unacceptable. Will the District hold this congregation to account? And, is equivocating on this issue a good sign of the position one holds with regard to it?

Virlina District (posted 9/21/2002)

In a letter dated September 6, 2002, the Virlina District Ministry Commission wrote:

“The stated position of the Commission on Ministry prior to the Annual Conference decision was, and continues to be, that we will not recommend for licensing or ordination any non-celibate homosexual person.”

This Ministry Commission should be affirmed and encouraged in this position. It is sure to come under great pressure.

AP Article on Michigan Situation (posted 8/26/2002)

Encouraging News from Southeastern District (posted 8/21/2002)

[From Newsline, 8/21/2002]
Southeastern District Conference has affirmed the Annual Conference decision against the licensing and ordination of homosexual persons to ministry. They further passed an amendment to the district’s own 1993 resolution on the issue, clearly stating “homosexuality is a sin” and that “we do not, nor will we ever recognize or approve of the licensing or ordination of homosexual persons into the ministry of the Church of the Brethren.”

Responses to the Matt Smucker Ordination (posted 8/21/2002)

Distressing News from Michigan District (posted 8/20/2002)

The petition from evangelical, Bible-believing members (see below) was suspended / postponed until the 2003 Michigan District Conference by a vote of 42-37. Strong lobbying from the pro-homosexual viewpoint was evident throughout the conference, from the one-sided “Sexual Orientation Workshop” to the speeches or presentations of Michigan District board members, and the Michigan District standing committee delegate. Denominational officials were also on hand to give counsel.

Following is a query adopted by the Michigan District Board and approved by the Michigan District Conference. It is apparent that the Michigan District persists in its intransigence and unwillingness to abide by the Annual Conference statement of 2002. We see in the statement below, how legalistic and quibbling those of the liberal view can be when it suits their purposes to do so. One may rightly ponder that the reaction, had Annual Conference approved of licensing/ordination of practicing homosexuals, would be one of “Conference has decided the issue, let’s move on,” and those who resisted such an action would be seen as sore losers and troublemakers. Contrast the Michigan District’s action to the non-action taken by conservatives and evangelicals when Conference approved of divorced and remarried ministers. Evidently, the only acceptable direction for Conference to go, is away from the Bible.

Query for Clarification of Confusion

[Re: 2002 AC Action on Licensing and Ordaining]

Missouri/Arkansas District (posted 9/21/2002)
[From Newsline, 9/20/2002]

The Carthage (Mo.) congregation asked the district conference to affirm the 2002 Annual Conference decision against the ordination and licensing of homosexual persons and further state that any congregation who takes an Open and Affirming stance be “subject to the discipline of the district.” The concern was referred to the district board for discussion and further processing.

More South/Central Indiana News (posted 9/15/2002)

The proposed District Board query (mentioned below) received 63.1% of the delegate votes at the District Conference at Anderson on September 14. It needed 2/3 to pass. Apparently a Manchester delegate tried to confuse the issue by proposing that delegates could vote to abstain. Some delegates, not wanting to discipline the Manchester COB and not wanting to approve of the MCOB’s action, did so. These votes apparently were counted in with the entire total, thus diluting the strength of the majority. If counted with the total votes, these abstentions were essentially “No” votes.

Most organizations (following Robert’s Rules of Order) do not recognize abstentions. They are simply not counted with the total votes. For example, the Northern Indiana District Constitution says that constitutional changes require a 2/3 vote of the Conference Delegates present and voting (Article XII). Robert’s Rules (10th Edition, Section 44) says that, when not stated by the constitution or bylaws of an organization, votes always follow this rule. At Section 4 of Robert’s Rules, it says, “To abstain is to not vote at all.” Abstentions are meaningless. Surely the South/Central Indiana District has a similar provision. Conference and Board officers should examine this very closely.

As with the 70% vote at Annual Conference, this vote in the South /Central Indiana District shows that there is still a solid majority in favor of traditional, Biblical moral standards. The 63.1% should take heart and not give up or give in.

South/Central Indiana News (posted 8/30/2002)

[From Newsline, 8/30/2002]

A District Board query, “Intra-District Consequences for Congregations Performing Same-Sex Covenant Ceremonies,” is for district conference action only. It would require congregations that knowingly conduct same-sex covenant services to forfeit any leadership within the district, barring all members of that congregation from serving on the district board or in any of its appointed offices, or from representing the district on General Board or Standing Committee. Positions named directly by district conference, such as representatives to

Whereas we are concerned with what is helpful and will build up the Body of Christ;

Whereas congregations have always had the responsibility, through a process of discernment, for calling from their midst skilled and gifted disciples of Jesus Christ to leadership and ministry;

Whereas districts have been granted authority for licensing and ordaining qualified persons on behalf of the denomination;

Whereas the Michigan District Ministry Commission and Board did follow Church of the Brethren polity and procedures in calling to ministry from our midst a skilled and gifted person who happens to be openly homosexual;

Whereas the 2002 Annual Conference response to the query “Licensing/Ordination of Homosexual Persons to the Ministry in the church of the Brethren” is unclear, appears to contradict current polity, and causes confusion in the following areas:

1. the action was passed on as a suggestion to the districts rather than as a polity statement.

2. the action seems to say that sinners cannot be called for licensing or ordination.

3. the action affirms the 1983 Annual Conference paper “Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective,” yet draws conclusions that the 1983 paper does not support when it says “We understand that paper to conclude that homosexual practice is unacceptable behavior in the church and therefore implied to be sin” (2002 AC Query answer) as compared with “Covenantal relationships between homosexual persons is an additional lifestyle option but, in the church’s search for a Christian understanding of human sexuality, this alternative is not acceptable” (1983 “Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective”).

4. the action to “not recognize the licensing and ordination of such persons in the Church of the Brethren” is ambiguous in that there is not currently a category for “unrecognized” licenses and ordinations in the Church of the Brethren.

5. the action raises questions for membership in the Church of the Brethren because the Church’s belief states “baptism is an ordination into ministry” (For All Who Minister, p.131) and all members of the church are equal in the eyes of God.

6. the action raises questions for district Boards and Ministry Commissions such as: whether to revoke licenses and ordinations of homosexuals previously given; whether to change polity by making the final approval vote be a vote of District or Annual Conference delegates; or whether to ban all future ordinations of homosexuals.

Therefore, we the members of the Michigan District Board, meeting Friday, August 16, 2002, request from Annual Conference through the Michigan District Conference, clarification on how these issues from the 2002 action fit into previous polity and procedures and how we shall proceed with future licensings and ordinations.

News from Michigan District (posted 8/15/2002)

A petition is being brought to the Michigan District Conference this weekend at Hastings, Michigan. The text of the petition is as follows:


Whereas: The 1983 Annual Conference statement on Human Sexuality indicates that in the church’s search for a Christian understanding of human sexuality, the homosexual lifestyle is not acceptable, and

Whereas: The Michigan District Board has recently voted to ordain a person openly involved in homosexual practices, and

Whereas: This decision has brought about significant concern and division, both within the Michigan district, and the wider denominational body, and

Whereas: The 2002 Annual Conference, meeting in Louisville, Kentucky on July 3, 2002 has spoken on this issue by passing, by over 70% of the delegate body, an answer to the query regarding the licensing and ordination of homosexual persons to the ministry;

Therefore we, as concerned members within the Michigan District, meeting on Monday, August 5th at New Life Christian Fellowship, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, petition the 2002 Michigan District Conference:

1) To affirm and adopt the decision of the 2002 Annual Conference, which includes the following statement: Therefore, we consider it inappropriate to license or ordain to the Christian ministry any persons who are known to be engaging in homosexual practices, and will not recognize the licensing and ordination of such persons in the Church of the Brethren;” and

2) To direct the Michigan District Board to comply with this action by ceasing to license or ordain to the Christian ministry any such persons from this time forward, and to discontinue recognition of any previous licensing or ordination of such persons from this time forward.

On behalf of concerned members within the Michigan District,

(two signatures with titles / home churches)

Voices for An Open Spirit (posted 8/15/2002)

A new, essentially one issue, sub-group is in process of being formed. This group, with the provisional name (above), was unhappy with the decision of Annual Conference on the licensing/ordination of homosexual practitioners. A recent e-mail sent from James Lehman, coordinator of the group, netted about eight pages of excerpted responses applauding this new movement, and complaining about conference actions.

Conference has decided, now let’s move on.

James F. Myer’s Speech Moving the Standing Committee Recommendation (link)

Brother Moderator and Fellow Delegates and members of the Church of the Brethren, the first thing that happened to me the other day in the first session of Standing Committee, as I entered the room, I was handed a sealed envelope. Upon opening it, I saw that I was being asked by the officers to present this item of business to the Annual Conference. I want you to know that was not my emotional high of the week. I don’t think I had the kind of feeling that I suspect some people have when they win the Lottery. Of course, the purpose for this is, that those persons who know they’re going to have to report will be especially good listeners during the discussion, so some of that can be relayed on to the delegate body.

I can say the Standing Committee took its task seriously. It did not seek to oversimplify or give a quick answer. There was fairly long and vigorous debate. And all the sessions of Standing Committee this year were in open session, so there were really no big secrets held. When I say we did not attempt to oversimplify, I think of a little story that may help to illustrate what I mean by oversimplifying. I heard about two men who were riding together on a long train ride and they sought to become acquainted. The one asked the other man what he was and what he did and he said he was an astronomer. And then the astronomer asked the other man who he was. He said he is a minister. With that, the astronomer shifted in his seat a little and seemed a bit uncomfortable and said, “Well, I must confess, my wife and I, we used to go to church but we don’t anymore, but as, as we understand it, religion all boils down to living a good life and being nice to your neighbors.” The minister looked over at the astronomer and said, “You know, this is interesting because my wife and I have some interest in astronomy too, but as far as we’re concerned it, it really all boils down to this: ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star, what [sic] I wonder what you are.’” So there was really no attempt to come back with some kind of little “twinkle, twinkle” answer.

A wide range of discussion was heard. I could almost predict that if you wish you had the opportunity to say something to the Standing Committee this year, I can almost guarantee it was said. In fact, I’m going to share a sampling of about a dozen things I heard.

“The Query is calling for increased clarity.” “Just what is the Query asking for?”

“There is increased diversity in our congregations.”

“We need to call sin ‘sin.’”

Someone quoted from a pamphlet, “The Bible has no Sexual Ethic, only a Love Ethic.”

“The church should not stand in the way of using the gifts of homosexual persons.”

“The effects of ordaining homosexuals is something I don’t want.”

“Is this a query that should be given to the districts?”

“We should follow the example of Jesus, how he dealt with people.”

“We have different understandings of sin.”

“Sometimes love asks us to make tough choices.”

“We are usually easy on our own sins and hard on others’ sins.”

Just a sampling of the things that were said. Now I’d like you to look at the yellow sheet on the recommendation from Standing Committee. You’ll notice that there are three paragraphs. I want to make just a couple comments on each paragraph, and then read the answer. Paragraph One. It’s obvious that this was not a unanimous decision from Standing Committee. People do come out at different places. But still we need guidance and some direction to maintain body life.

Paragraph Two deals with the 1983 Paper. Standing Committee believes the 1983 Paper still speaks adequately for the church. We recall it was a very extensive study. It says some tough things and some tender things to heterosexuals. It also says some tough things and some tender things to homosexuals. But for nineteen years we have been able to live with the 1983 Paper on Human Sexuality without any major divisions among us. That is seen as somewhat of an accomplishment, and we should think long and hard before deserting it.

Paragraph Three deals specifically with the licensing and ordination of homosexual persons and affirms the need for exemplary conduct among us. I would like to read the recommendation.

The Standing Committee acknowledges that it is not of one mind at this time. Nevertheless, in order to function together effectively as a denominational body, we must set a standard for our life together.

Standing Committee recommends to the 2002 Annual Conference that the 2002 Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren continue to affirm the 1983 decision known as “Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective.” We understand that paper to conclude that homosexual practice is unacceptable behavior in the church, and therefore implied to be sin. We also understand the 1983 paper to have strong encouragements for the church to be open and welcoming and to develop helpful and compassionate ministries toward homosexual persons. We would urge that the balance represented in these two primary components of the 1983 paper be maintained in the Church of the Brethren.

In answering Query # 3 on the licensing and ordination of homosexual persons, we recognize that the 1983 paper does not address this particular issue. However, it is our understanding that the conduct expectations of the general membership, as stated above, should most surely also be expected of those licensed or ordained. Therefore, we consider it inappropriate to license or ordain to the Christian ministry any persons who are known to be engaging in homosexual practices, and will not recognize the licensing and ordination of such persons in the Church of the Brethren.

A two-thirds majority vote is required. Brother Moderator, I move the adoption of the Standing Committee recommendation.

Post Conference Report (posted 7/5/2002)

Standing Committee returned a good statement to the Conference body, stating that licensing/ordination of those engaged in homosexual practice is not appropriate, and that the licensing/ordination of such persons is not recognized in the Church of the Brethren. Conference delegates, after a very pro-homosexual ordination debate, voted 650-274 in favor of the Standing Committee paper. This was just over 70% in favor. We can be glad that over 2/3rds of the delegates favored the Biblical answer, but we ought to be troubled that 274 delegates did not want to uphold basic Biblical morality.

A late night meeting of those disappointed with the conference decision brought out about 150 persons (standing room only in the Kentucky Suite at the Hyatt in Louisville). The meeting of about two hours was most sharing by individuals of how disappointed they were with the AC vote. Several former Annual Conference moderators were there, of which at least two spoke in favor of homosexual ordination. (Chuck Boyer, moderator in 1993, spoke on the floor of Conference in favor of homosexual ordination, with the claim that there have been many denominational leaders who are/were gay and lesbian). In this meeting, and on the floor of Conference, it was stated that Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. It would be good for folks to read Matthew 19 and Genesis 2, about the intention of God for humankind’s sexual relationships.

It is clear that this issue is not going to go away anytime soon, and that those who favor the full inclusion of practicing homosexuals will continue to use every available avenue to press their case. The contest may have been won, this year, by those in favor of biblical authority; yet the struggle goes on, and we must remain vigilant. So we do not have a sense of triumph, but profound sadness, knowing that the Church of the Brethren will continue to limp along. It is hobbled by this struggle, and is unable to be about the business of proclaiming the Gospel as long as we are unwilling to be crystal clear on moral standards.

Standing Committee is sending a letter to the Michigan District, to ask that it conform with the decision of Annual Conference.

Newsline from June 14, 2002 (posted 6/17/2002)

Update from Michigan District (posted 6/13/2002)

The June 1 action of the Michigan District Board was appealed on the grounds that Robert’s Rules of Order were not properly followed. A conference call of members of the Michigan District Board was conducted on Thursday, June 6, and those who participated in the conference call agreed to move forward as if the illegal motion did not occur and put no binding obligation upon the Skyridge congregation to observe the motion.

On Sunday, June 9, at the Skyridge Church of the Brethren, Matt Smucker was ordained into the ministry in the Church of the Brethren.

We now find ourselves at the point that the Church of the Brethren has an Ordained Minister who is openly gay, and non-celibate. Will Standing Committee consider this matter and take any action? Will the ordination will be allowed to stand?

News from Michigan District (added 6/5/2002)

The New Life Christian Fellowship (a Church of the Brethren) has queried the Michigan District, calling the District Board to, among other things, “revoke the ordination and licenses of people involved in open, unrepentant sinful lifestyles and . . .not to license or ordain such people in the future until they have repented, been forgiven, and been restored”.

A special District Board meeting was held June 1 to consider this query. Several congregations and congregational boards expressed agreement with it.

The District Board returned the New Life query to the congregation asking them to re-word it in such a way as to invite more dialogue. Additionally, the board voted (6-5) to delay the ordination of Matt Smucker (which was due to take place at the Skyridge church within a few weeks) until after Annual and District Conferences (the Michigan District Conference is in August).

Response of the Skyridge Church of the Brethren
(added 6/5/2002)

Comments from BRF:

In recent months, the issue of homosexual practice has burst again on the scene in the Church of the Brethren. Many had thought that the 1983 Annual Conference Paper on Human Sexuality would be the definitive word on the issue. However, a small but determined number of individuals have continually worked to wear down the church’s resolve on this issue. BRF believes the Scriptures are clear and final on this moral question, and also believes the church simply ought to accept the Bible and get on with the business of being the church.

In late 2001, the North Manchester Church of the Brethren in the South/Central Indiana District decided to approve same-sex covenantal relationships (gay marriages). The District Board there has been working diligently to call the congregation to account.

More troubling to many was the action, in late April 2002, of the Michigan District Board to approve the ordination to the set-apart ministry of an openly gay, noncelibate man. It is Standing Committee’s responsibility to hold the District Board to account. The District Boards are the agents of Annual Conference for licensing and ordination, and are bound to uphold Annual Conference statements.

Northern Ohio District has sent a query to Annual Conference, to be considered under new business this year, asking, “Is it appropriate in the Church of the Brethren for a District Ministry Commission and/or District Board to License and/or Ordain any person who has a homosexual orientation and who is not celibate or has not experienced conversion to a heterosexual orientation?”

Many believe the action by the Michigan District Board was to pre-empt Conference with an accomplished fact which would be difficult to reverse or overrule.

Here is a plea that a concerned pastor sent to the Standing Committee delegates from his district. A similar letter was also sent to the Michigan District. No replies have been received. The Skyridge Church of the Brethren did send the response linked above.

BRF encourages congregations to send responsible letters to Standing Committee delegates and Conference officers expressing concern. This is an emotionally charged issue, and little positive action is accomplished by thoughtless comments, angry letters, or threats.

What steps can be taken? We suggest the following:

  • pray much!
  • contact your District’s Standing Committee member(s) to prayerfully register your opposition to this action, and to ask that this decision be declared null and void. Standing Committee is the highest judicial authority in the COB, and has oversight over District actions. Licensing and ordination are functions delegated by Annual Conference to the District Boards. District Boards do not have authority in themselves to reverse or ignore decisions of Conference and the interpretations of Conference polices by Standing Committee.
  • contact your District Executive and District Board Chair to prayerfully register your opposition, and to ask that your District officially oppose such actions. The Atlantic Northeast District Policy Statement is a good pattern. Also ask that such ordinations, if permitted by other Districts, be not recognized by your District either for placement or for any other reason.
  • write to the Michigan interim District Executive and District Board Chair, politely (!!) questioning this action. Also, write to the Michigan District Conference Moderator/Moderator-elect, prayerfully asking that the District Conference overrule this action of the District Board. As we see it, this approval of ordination is in direct disobedience to the 1983 conference paper on Human Sexuality, and is contrary to the understanding of Standing Committee.
  • write to the General Board chair, and the General Secretary, prayerfully asking that such persons be denied employment in official positions in the church structure. At this point, we do not see that withholding financial support from the General Board is relevant to this action by the Michigan District.
  • send delegates to Annual and District Conferences who are sound in the faith, and who are willing to speak up and let their voices be heard. If your congregation has not yet chosen delegates for this year’s Conference, encourage that this be done so promptly.
  • send copies of correspondence to the BRF Committee (P.O. Box 543, Ephrata, PA 17522). This is so we can know a bit of the response to this action. (E-mails can be “cc:’d” to [email protected])
  • keep on praying and don’t give up or give in.

Here are articles from past issues of the BRF Witness on the issue.


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BBI Registration Now Open!

Come explore God’s Word with us!. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. – Romans 10:17”


Captivity… Dreams… Rulers… Fire… Lions… Prayers… Kingdoms. From a dedicated youth to a faithful sage, Daniel’s life stands as an example to follow.  Yet beyond his personal life, God gifted Daniel with a message of future events.  Though difficult to grasp, these events would shape the world for the coming Messiah and the Second Coming of Christ as King.


Luke presents a warmly personal and historically accurate account of Jesus as “the Son of Man.” This course will survey the Third Gospel, with emphasis on the unique events, miracles, and parables of Jesus found in it.


This class will provide a broad overview of general church history. We will then focus on the Anabaptist and Pietist movements, especially as they relate to the formation and development of the Brethren groups. This is a two-part class. Plan to take both parts.


This course is intended to lay down a measure in a world where truth is slippery and often subject to interpretation. Where “Christian Values” become a political slogan, and “good people” are our allies despite their faulty core beliefs. Where Facebook “friends” post memes about the power of God, despite a lifestyle that is anything but Godly. In the process we often fight among ourselves, doing Satan’s work for him. The purpose of this course is to lay the measure of Jesus Christ against the cults, religions, and worship in our contemporary world.


While Protestant translations of the Bible contain 66 books, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize additional canonical books as well.  Where did these books, collectively known as the Apocrypha, come from and why aren’t they part of our Bible?  How reliable are they, and what value is there in studying them?


The goal of this class is to acquire a firm grasp of the teachings and themes of these two general epistles. Peter covers topics from salvation and suffering to spiritual deception and the return of Christ. These letters are packed with warnings and encouragements for Christian living.


A detailed study of Jesus Christ and His relationship to the “I Am” metaphors in John’s gospel. Why did Jesus describe himself in these terms? How do they relate to each other? We will look at spiritual and practical applications to further our Christian growth.


Have you ever been visited by someone who said they wanted to study the Bible with you so that you might discover the truth together?  Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to have much in common with evangelical Christians, and they seem to be well versed in the scriptures.  But what do they really believe and how can we effectively witness to those who have been ensnared by this false religion?


While we may consider Hosea as one of the minor prophets, his message vividly illustrates the major doctrine in all Scriptures.  The theme of God’s unconditional love is magnified and extended beyond those deserving it.  God expresses tender words towards His erring people inviting them to turn from sin to reconciliation with Him.


This course will look at basic principles and polity of leading the local church. We will examine the balance between upholding a spiritually focused organism of ministry and cultivating proper order for effective organization. Practical applications will be emphasized. This is a two-part class. Plan to take both parts.


The Brethren Bible Institute believes in the discipline of the whole person (spirit, soul, and body). We will aim to train students not only about how to study the Bible in a systematic way (2 Timothy 2:15), but also how to live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world (Titus 2:12). God calls Christians to the highest of character when He commands us to be holy (1 Peter 1:15), and holiness requires discipline.

Indulgence in the use of tobacco, alcoholic beverages, drugs, profanity, and gambling are forbidden at BBI. Objectionable literature will be prohibited. Students are asked not to use the college pool during the Institute. Each student must be thoughtful, and respect the rights of others at all times, especially during study and rest periods.

A friendly social group intermingling of students between class periods, and at general school activities is encouraged. Each student should enjoy the friendship of the entire group. At all times, highest standards of social conduct between men and women must be maintained. This means that all forms of unbecoming behavior and unseemly familiarities will be forbidden.

Personal appearance and grooming tell much about one's character. Students are expected to be dressed in good taste. In an attempt to maintain Scriptural expressions of simplicity, modesty, and nonconformity, the following regulations shall be observed while attending BBI.

MEN should be neatly attired and groomed at all times. Fashion extremes and the wearing of jewelry should be avoided on campus. The hair should not fall over the shirt-collar when standing, nor should it cover the ears.

WOMEN should wear skirts cut full enough and of sufficient length to at least come to the knees when standing and sitting. Form-fitting, transparent, low-neckline, or sleeveless clothing will not be acceptable. Slacks and culottes are permitted only for recreation and then only when worn under a skirt of sufficient length. Wearing jewelry should be avoided on campus. Long hair for women is encouraged and all Church of the Brethren girls (and others with like convictions) shall be veiled on campus.

The Institute reserves the right to dismiss any student whose attitude and behavior is not in harmony with the ideals of the School, or whose presence undermines the general welfare of the School, even if there is no specific breach of conduct.

The Brethren Bible Institute is intended to provide sound Bible teaching and wholesome Christian fellowship for all who desire it. The Bible School Committee worked hard and long at the task of arriving at standards, which will be pleasing to the Lord. It is not always easy to know just where the line should be drawn and we do not claim perfection. No doubt certain standards seem too strict for some and too loose for others. If you are one who does not share all these convictions, we hope you will agree to adjust to them for the School period, for the sake of those who do. We are confident that the blessings received will far outweigh any sacrifice you may have to make. If you have a special problem or question, please write to us about it. To be accepted as a student at BBI, you will need to sign a statement indicating that you will cooperate with the standards of the School.