BFL study conference held this week

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U.S. Mennonite Brethren gather to discuss peace, citizenship in the real world

By Connie Faber

Organizers are thrilled to be hosting more than 160 participants this week in Phoenix, Ariz., for the 2013 USMB study conference on two related articles of the USMB Confession of Faith about which U.S. Mennonite Brethren do not have consensus.

Study conference participants will be discussing Article 12, Society and State, and Article 13, Love and Nonresistance. The three-day event, hosted by the USMB Board of Faith and Life (BFL), will include five presentations, each followed by a response paper, Bible study and small group discussion.

“I'm prayerful that we as a national family will talk freely and meaningfully about this important and timely topic,” says Ed Boschman, USMB executive director, “and that in the end we will find a way towards unity in these matters. Article 13 in particular has for too long been divisive and therefore has distracted us from our mission.”

Study conference organizers hoped that attendance for “Kingdom Citizens in a World of Conflict,” as the Jan. 24-26 study conference is called, would attract 150 participants. One week out, USMB event coordinator Donna Sullivan reported 163 registrants, and she expects the final number to be slightly higher due to last minute registrations.

While each of the five USMB district conferences (Pacific, Southern, Central, Latin America and North Carolina) and their district boards of faith and life are represented, organizers had hoped the representation would be broader.

In early January, Boschman used his monthly electronic newsletter to pastors and other district and national leaders to encourage additional participation. “I am saddened that we do not have strong representation from all parts of our constituency,” wrote Boschman.

Boschman specifically encouraged every member of a district board of faith and life to register. “We as a National Board of Faith and Life have communicated that we cannot imagine doing this well without that reality. I pray it will yet happen.”

Total study conference registrations, which did grow following Boschman's plea, include 22 Canadian participants as well as representatives from Fresno Pacific University’s Peace and Conflict Studies Program, the International Community of Mennonite Brethren, Mennonite World Conference and Mennonite Central Committee, who are presenters in a session highlighting peacemaking in the broader world.

“I'm very excited about the study conference,” says Larry Nikkel, USMB Board of Faith and Life chair. “That so many have registered confirms these topics as being of high interest and importance to our constituency. My prayer continues to be that people come with a greater heart for understanding the complexities of these issues than with the hopes of winning everyone to their unique viewpoint. I believe God will honor that prayer.”

Following the study conference an online discussion will be held on the USMB website to invite wider USMB participation in the discussion begun at the study conference. The online discussion will provide input for BFL on the mood, biases and positions of the USMB family as the board reviews the articles, identify areas of unity and determine the best path forward in processing the USMB commitment to peacemaking. The discussion blog, moderated by Myra Holmes, USMB social media coordinator, will open Jan. 28.

For more on the 2013 study conference, Kingdom Citizens in a World of Conflict:

  • read a panel discussion concerning the reasons behind and goals for the study conference published in the Oct/Nov Christian Leader.

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