Sexuality study conference explores God’s design, our interpretation
By Karla Braun
The kaleidoscope of constituent perspectives at the Board of Faith and Life’s (BFL) “God, Sex and Church: A Theology of Healthy Sexuality” suggested a subject for the next study conference: hermeneutics.
The Canadian Conference of MB Churches study conference Oct. 21–23, 2015, at Westwood Community Church, Winnipeg, Man., focused on pastoral implications, following the more theory-driven 2013 study conference, “Honoring God with the Body: A Study on Human Sexuality.”
A theme of singleness emerged from many presentations as a state the church should celebrate. “Married or single, those are two different versions of awesome,” said Bruxy Cavey, plenary presenter and Brethren in Christ pastor.
Plenaries and workshops also stressed God’s created intent for people to live in vulnerable, supportive community with others, not merely as autonomous individuals. “We don’t develop in the world by ourselves but in relationship,” said Laura Schmidt Roberts, plenary presenter and professor at Fresno Pacific University, the Mennonite Brethren school headquartered in Fresno, Calif.
Discussion, relationships needed
Plenaries paired headliner with respondent, and speakers and delegate engaged with each other during open-mic sessions. These interactions underscored the role of relationship as speakers repeatedly deferred answers to specific scenarios. “Personal knowledge will have dramatic influence on conversations,” said Paul Cumin, plenary speaker and Pemberton, B.C., pastor.
Addressing subjects like sexual abuse, a culture of shame and how to talk with students, workshops demonstrated the need to talk about sex honestly and vulnerably in church contexts.
“Dialogue with your kids as pastors, parents and the church,” beseeched an RCMP officer and delegate from Hillside Christian Fellowship, Beechy, Sask., during an open mic session. “I have seen the destruction first-hand of not discussing it…. May it not be an area of shame.”
Confession of Faith upheld
Despite some calls to open conversation, the BFL firmly upheld the Confession of Faith: “Marriage is a covenant relationship intended to unite a man and a woman for life.” In processing sessions, delegates noted the church has already made concessions on the subject of divorce. Another asserted that the Confession of Faith is “a living document,…developed through study conferences, papers, modifications, edits…. It’s not a creed…. It’s okay to test it.” The BFL censured plenary respondent Mary Anne Isaak’s suggestion that 1 Samuel 8 could be an analogue for God affirming something different than his stated intent “in response to the heart of the people.”
Some delegates questioned why there wasn’t more Bible study and rigorous exegesis. “Lack of clarity divides us,” said Ray Harms Wiebe, Willingdon, Burnaby, B.C., pastor. “The gospel is still powerful, relevant and liberating. It will always be an offence,” said Harms Wiebe.
“The imperfect process (of a study conference) models the value of community despite it all,” said BFL vice chair and event planning chair Ingrid Reichard.
“We affirm the need to—together—read God’s unique word and discern its import for our lives,” said BFL chair Brian Cooper.
Yet, “young adults employ a different hermeneutic,” said Bryan Born, Columbia Bible College president. “It would be helpful to have someone say, ‘Here’s how we read the Bible to come to particular conclusions.’… We need to be able to respond in ways that are fully biblical.”
Special general meeting includes breakouts
The study conference was preceded by the CCMBC Annual General Meeting. The usual two-hour meeting was expanded into an extra half-day of breakout sessions to inform delegates on new conference initiatives.
Brent Smith of 6P Marketing unpacked the CCMBC communications survey. Respondents strongly affirmed the MB Herald as tool of identity and community formation and a trusted brand, but asked CCMBC to communicate in a broader range of media, particularly to engage a younger audience.
The magazine has “an incomprehensibly loyal readership base,” said Smith. However, despite constituent “thirst for the MB perspective on issues,” for young people, “if there’s no interaction, no chance to provide multiple points of view, there’s no point.”
“Whatever thoughts, suggestions, questions you have may have, let the executive board know (before the 2016 summer CCMBC convention),” said Mark Wessner, board member and breakout facilitator.
Executive board members Howie Wall and Harold Froese presided over a breakout that suggested the C2C Network (and Mission USA) and MB Mission could work more closely to bring the former’s church planting tools to serve the latter’s world-wide arena and the latter’s cross-cultural competence to serve North America’s opportunity to plant immigrant-focused churches.
“This is an opportunity for ministry to continue to grow,” said Froese.
A third breakout provided more details on the continuing development of the Legacy Fund which delegates voted to approve at the afternoon’s AGM. “Sometimes you have to go slow to get there faster,” said Howie Wall, executive board finance committee member.
Business session highlights budget, financial issues
CCMBC interim chief financial officer Jim Davidson presented the 2016 budget of $17,646,113, which largely reflects the same ministry strategy as 2015, and is balanced without the use of reserves.
“We recognize funds are not as available as they were in prior years,” said Davidson. “We look at doing ministry in the most efficient way we can.”
Questions from the floor mainly concerned uses and accountability for the C2C Network’s $4.5 million budget, of which CCMBC’s 2016 contribution will be $1.25 million.
“We (MBs) put in one-third of the funds but have half of the (C2C) churches,” said delegate Chris Stevens of Waterloo (Ont.) MB. “The kingdom is winning.”
Delegate J Janzen of Highland, Abbotsford, B.C., questioned the reduced lines for international organizations ICOMB and MWC. “I’d like to challenges our priorities when we diddle over small amounts taken from an organization that supports Brethren girls taken by Boko Haram and (land right claims of) Mennonite Brethren in Panama.”
The change to ICOMB funding “was done in relationship with (ICOMB executive director) David Wiebe to create greater opportunity for other countries to step in,” said Willy Reimer.
Tough choices must be made on budgets, said Wall. “Welcome to our world.”
Read the CCMBC Board of Faith and Life report on the study conference: http://www.mennonitebrethren.ca/bfl-report-on-study-conference/
Read the study conference blog: http://studyconference.mennonitebrethren.ca/blog-2/
Karla Braun is editor of the MB Herald, the Canadian Conference of MB Churches bimonthly publicaiton.
Photos provided by CCMBC.
Photo: The Friday morning plenary speaker was Paul Cumin, pastor of Pemberton Community Church and author of Christ at the Crux. He encouraged the church to be a community that provides space for healthy sexuality to be lived out.
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