Reflections on the 2017 Annual Conference

This page does not attempt to report on everything that happened at the 2017 Annual Conference held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is a reflection on things which likely are of the most interest to readers of the BRF WITNESS. There was good preaching, lots of well planned activities, and plenty of opportunities for sharing and fellowship. This was the 231st recorded Annual Conference, so the Brethren have had many years to learn how to do a big conference like this. The attention that is given to details helps things run smoothly.

1. Once again, the homosexual issue dominated business at Annual Conference. The Leadership Team’s answer was in response to queries last year that raised the matter of how Districts shall respond to ministers who perform same-sex unions. Their answer clearly stated that Annual Conference has not authorized the performing of such unions and outlined a framework for Districts to deal with it, but failed to suggest a strong prohibition against such ceremonies. Fortunately, the long standing position against accepting the practice of homosexuality into the church remains intact.

2. The Review and Evaluation Committee gave its final report including ten recommendations. The one getting the most attention was #6 which raised the question if On Earth Peace (OEP) should remain an agency of the Annual Conference because their statement of inclusion is not in compliance with the position of the church. This action would have required a 2/3 majority vote to pass. OEP survived as an agency but only with a 44% approval in the final vote. This vote makes it obvious that On Earth Peace no longer has a support of the majority of the church.

3. Pro-homosexual voices have become very loud and aggressive at Annual Conference. For Bible believers, listening to all of their appeals year after year becomes a distraction and is disheartening. Annual Conference has become a place where virtual filibusters take place not dissimilar to what goes on in the United States Congress. It is not uncommon to hear people say, “I don’t have to listen to this and I’m not coming back.” You would never know we have a clear position stating that homosexuality is unacceptable in the church by what we have to listen to on the Annual Conference floor.

4. The most offensive thing that happened this year was the introduction of a new fellowship from the Pacific Northwest District. The pastoral couple for the group was introduced as Elizabeth and her spouse, Lucy. Very weak applause followed their introduction but the boldness to do something like this needs to be dealt with without apology or excuse.

5. The tension and disunity that has been evident at the last several Annual Conferences has left more congregations and individuals dangling with a very brittle thread in their connection to the denomination. It is known that some gatherings are being called together in order to discuss how long some Brethren can remain in a church that has made so many departures from standard biblical truth. There is real heartache in the Brethren hinterland.

6. One of the perplexing things about Annual Conference is that some of the loudest criticism against the denomination is heard from congregations that do not send delegates and therefore lose their votes and their voice to affect change. Many times decisions are made with a very slim margin, and only a few more congregations sending their delegates might have made a major difference in the outcome of the decision.

7. One of the hopeful things announced as a part of the motion to accept the Leadership Team’s answer to the accountability of ministers, congregations, and districts  was that the church turn its attention to the framing of a compelling vision for how we will continue the work of Jesus together. Along with this they will develop a process for departure for congregations that cannot accept the vision. Many brethren are anxious to see what all this will look like.

8. Donita Keister was called to the position of Moderator-Elect. She is a daughter of John and Ruby Shenk who directed BRF’s BVS Orientation for many years. Donita herself was a volunteer with BVS/BRF and spent a year at Voice of Calvary in Mississippi. Her dad also served on the BRF Committee before his death. We believe Donita will bring a strong evangelical presence to the Leadership Team.

9. Each year BRF is faced with making a decision about how many seats we should reserve for our meal events. With an overall declining attendance at Annual Conference, we have considered reducing our numbers also. But this year at the last minute we ordered more tickets than ever before and nearly every seat was filled. The fellowship and blessing around the BRF tables continues to be inviting.

10. I have never had the unfortunate experience of going down with a sinking ship. But I understand that the ship will slowly go lower and lower and its position will lurch a bit back and forth. And finally it will reach a tipping point, when with a final plunge it will sink below the surface. I don’t like to be a prophet of doom. But I am sensing a groundswell of deep disappointment from Brethren over a wide area who are feeling like the Church of the Brethren is at a tipping point! Unless the denomination soon finds a way to get us back on a solid Biblical foundation, and quell the loud offenses of those with a pro homosexual agenda, we may be seeing the last chapters of its current existence being written.

–James F. Myer
September/October 2017