My post for this week's newsletter:
Two weeks ago I, along with 8 others from Open Circle, attended the district gathering at Camp Pine Lake that was called to bring together district individuals from our churches to talk about the issues of biblical authority, homosexuality, and the lordship of Jesus Christ. The gathering was called in response to the conflict that exists in our denomination and our district over these issues. I wrote the following post for the VOS listserve (Voices for an Open Spirit), a progressive COB online community:
The gathering was called in response to the actions of six churches in the district that raised questions about the theologies and attitudes about homosexuals of Open Circle, Common Spirit fellowship in Minneapolis and Living Peace fellowship in Sioux City, IA.If you want to read the perspective of a conservative who was there you can read a post on the website of the BRF (Brethren Revival Fellowship), a conservative Brethren organization. Click here. From this person's perspective the conference did not deal with the important issues, and did not deal with the issues it addressed in a satisfactory way.
There were around 160 people at the conference, representing over 70 percent of the district churches, including representatives of the three mentioned above and most if not all of the six churches who raised questions. Carol Waggy and Paul Roth, trained mediators in the COB, were there to lead and mediate the discussion. Jeff Bach, professor of Brethren history at the denomination's seminary, was there to give us some historical perspective on how the Brethren have handled conflict in the past.
We spent much of our time in small groups. We had numbers on our name tags and met in groups with others with the same number. I was in a group of seven and the group was representative of the different views in our district. We were all given a list of communication agreements that included: we will speak for ourselves, we will avoid making grand pronouncements, we will refrain from characterizing the views of others in a critical spirit, etc. We were led through a series of exercises that gave us an opportunity to talk about our views on homosexuality and biblical authority.
Jeff Bach's presentation consisted of historical stories about conflict and how it had been resolved, including ban, split, and reconciliation that allowed for continuing differences. What was most significant about each of the stories, and probably Jeff's point, was the long period of time in each case - years - it took to sift things out and come to a resolution. He also reminded us that the annual meeting was begun as a way to handle conflict, and there never has been a time when there wasn't something that was dividing us. He also gave a brief presentation on the paper on human sexuality. We had small group time after each of these presentations for discussion.
I have to confess that I looked forward to this weekend as much as I look forward to getting a tooth pulled at the dentist. However, I came away appreciative of the efforts of the district board to bring us together to talk and grateful for the opportunity to discover unexpected allies and to talk frankly with some folks who have views different than mine. I don't know what has been happening in other districts but I think this weekend was a model of the kind of event that should have been happening ever since we agreed to stop talking about our differences on the floor of annual conference so we could talk and study the issues in our churches and districts. It has been my impression that we simply stopped talking, period. And if Jeff is right that the historical purpose of the annual meeting was to get together to work out our differences, then we have strayed far from that in our current format.
My impression after this meeting of the mood in our district is the majority of churches in the district are moderate to progressive theologically, or at the very least are of a mind to continue talking and working things through. On the other hand, there are some who want to push the district to clearly state its positions on the issues of biblical authority and homosexuality. And I suspect that they were not happy about the format and outcome of the weekend. It wouldn't surprise me to see them try to force the issue in some way in the coming year and then respond accordingly.
The district is now seeking feedback from those who attended and may plan further gatherings like this if there is enough interest. I think they are valuable for the district, but as I said in my VOS post, I suspect that before another year passes there will be an attempt to force the district to take a clear stand on these contentious issues, which is what the folks who are most unhappy with us want.