A streamlined approach to National Convention business was introduced two years ago and was well received, prompting 2018 convention planners to again keep reports to a minimum and to move efficiently through the business agenda, which was interspersed throughout six sessions.
That efficiency took a backseat when delegates needed more time than scheduled to discuss a U.S. Board of Faith and Life (BFL) resolution asking the United States government to “permanently abolish the practice of separating (immigrant) families and actively work to quickly reunite families already separated.”
Delegates approve resolution
The resolution, a copy of which was included in the delegate packets, came as a recommendation from BFL with 100 percent approval by the board. It was introduced Friday morning by BFL chair Tim Sullivan.
Saturday morning more than a dozen delegates rose to speak in an open discussion that covered a variety of viewpoints and at times became emotional. The lengthy discussion led to a 30-minute delay in closing the convention.
The conversation initially focused on the resolution’s opening sentence: “We deplore any immigration policies of the United States government which exist to separate children from their parents.”
Dwight Carter of Inman, Kan., was among those who spoke. “My concern is the first statement: We deplore any activity that separates families,” said Carter, noting that some children cross the border with adults involved in human trafficking and drug trafficking.
“As a Christian and a peacemaker, this first statement will ire (the intended recipients) so badly they won’t read on,” said Winnie Bartel, of Shafter, Okla. “I would rather approach this from a much more humble statement, saying we know there is a problem and we want to be part of the solution and not be pointing fingers or name calling.”
Jill Schellenberg, Hillsboro, Kan., described her recent visit to the U.S./Mexico border and reminded delegates that the crime of entering the United States illegally and the crime of driving over the speed limit are both misdemeanors. “You wouldn’t want to be separated from your kids if you were caught speeding,” she said.
Xavier Piña, Hanford, Calif., spoke on behalf of the approximately 35 congregations that form the Pacific District Hispanic Council, which he chairs.
“When I go back to them (Hispanic Council) and report that the national conference was about celebrating diversity and unity and yet there (was) a disconnect with how our USMB family views the struggles going on in our congregations—that will send a message. The message is, yes, you are part of the USMB family but there really isn’t an intent to work in harmony; there really isn’t an intent to work together as the body of Christ.”
Addressing Piña, Terry Hunt, Lenoir, NC, said, “I stand with you. My heart bleeds as well with our neighbors…. I come from a race this country deemed as three-fifths of a man, and I’ve fought all my life to be equal. I will not stand and hear my brothers and sisters be denied an opportunity that everyone in this room (and their ancestors) had (to immigrate); none of you are Native Americans. Why can’t we be united for the sake of humanity?”
The discussion quickly shifted to the limited nature of the resolution, and a number of
delegates offered suggestions about how the document could be revised.
“I read this as a narrow statement,” said Ed Boschman, Bakersfield, Calif. “We’re not trying to declare every reality but fundamentally we’re saying that as a matter of policy, taking children from parents is not a God thing.” Boschman went on to recommend reworking the order of various paragraphs and removing a “bomb word or two.”
U.S. BFL members agreed with Boschman’s evaluation that the resolution was narrow in its focus.
“This resolution states we don’t support policies designed to separate families,” said Tim Geddert, U.S. BFL member from Fresno, Calif. “Are there exceptions? Of course, there are always exceptions. But that’s not what this is designed to address. This is designed to address a policy that aims to separate families. I hope we can all agree that we don’t support policies like that.”
Sullivan said that the U.S. BFL anticipated that delegates would have a variety of opinions on immigration broadly. Nevertheless, the board is hopeful that “we can all affirm that we would not feel good about separating children from parents.”
Luke Haidle, Henderson, Neb., reminded delegates that they needed to quickly resolve their differences regarding the wording. “We need to act now—not in two years (when the next National Convention will be held).
Eventually Marv Schellenberg, USMB Leadership Board chair from Wichita, Kansas, who was moderating the business session, asked that the motion to approve the recommendation be tabled so that the recommendation could be revised.
“I want this to be something we’re unified on,” said Schellenberg as he drew the discussion about the resolution to a close. “It’s a very sensitive issue, and everyone has different perspectives. This (discussion) is healthy. This is what this convention is about. But if we can’t sit and discuss (this), we have other things we need to work on.”
An ad hoc committee of Hunt, Piña, Bartel, Sullivan and Gary Wall, Pacific District Conference minister and U.S. BFL member who wrote the first draft of the resolution, immediately met to revise the resolution. The ad hoc committee completed their work in about 30 minutes. Sullivan read aloud the revised resolution and delegates approved it.
The approved resolution, which quotes extensively from the USMB Confession of Faith, states: “We recognize that immigration issues are complex. We also acknowledge and appreciate the recent executive order of June 20, 2018, to cease the separation of immigrant families. We cannot support or affirm immigration policies of the United States government which exist to separate children from their parents. The God of compassion and mercy who ordained the family calls for justice in the care of widows, orphans and sojourners in the land (Ex. 22:21-23).”
In early August, USMB National Director Morris sent the resolution to President Donald Trump. According to Sullivan and Morris, local congregations are invited to share the statement with members of congress and their state governments. To read the revised resolution, go to https://christianleadermag.com/delegates-call-for-reunification-of-families-separated-at-u-s-mexico-border/
The U.S. BFL report also included the announcment that the board is hosting a study conference Jan. 14-16, 2019, in Tempe, Ariz., to discuss women in ministry. “This study conference is open to everyone, not just pastors or district representatives,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan also reported that U.S. BFL is working on a revision of Article 5 of the Confession of Faith to “strengthen what we’ve always said about the atonement,” with the goal of bringing a recommended change to the 2020 National Convention. BFL is also working with Fresno Pacific University President Joe Jones and others to strengthen the relationship between USMB and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, formerly MB Biblical Seminary.
Friesen introduces Multiply
While most agencies that reported were given less than 10 minutes to update delegates, delegates received a longer report Friday morning from Randy Friesen, MB Mission general director.
Friesen reported that the merger of MB Mission, the North American mission agency, and C2C Network, the Canadian Conference of MB Churches church planting ministry, that began two years has resulted in the formation of a new agency. This new ministry will launch in January 2019 as Multiply, an MB-based mission agency that serves cross-denominationally to facilitate church planting locally, nationally and globally.
“What Jesus won for us is going to transform eternity for countless numbers of people,” said Friesen. “We carry that witness collectively as we live on mission together. It’s one of the reasons why MB Mission merged with our (Canadian) national church planting agency, C2C. We believe together there is a more powerful and effective mission, connecting mission local with mission global.”
Friesen continued, “This new wineskin is called Multiply. This is the name you’ll see a lot more in the days to come. MB Mission, C2C are becoming one entity called Multiply. Multiply. We are going from addition to multiplication. We are living into this prayer of Jesus that we would be one as he is in us and we are in him. We want to be a collective witness to the power of God.
“North America is a mission field and the church is God’s missionary,” Friesen said. “Collectively none of us get a pass. We are a mission team right here. This is our opportunity to be reminded of our call and to say yes to the assignment our Father has for us.”
Friesen showed a video in which he and lead team members Esther Corbett and Gord Fleming discuss the shift to Multiply. He also distributed a handout that included frequently asked questions about the merger and name change.
Friesen’s report did not include a time for questions, but that afternoon in the C2C workshop, delegates were given the opportunity to give feedback and ask questions. Thursday morning during the forum that closed the Pastors’ Conference, Friesen spoke about the merger and shift to Multiply, and a question and answer time followed. In addition to Friesen, Don Morris, USMB national director, and Chris Douglas, U.S. church planting mobilizer, responded to questions and issues raised by about a dozen individuals.
The Friday evening session highlighted USMB church planting as convention attendees gathered at South Mountain Community Church, a 20-year-old USMB congregation in Draper that currently has an average attendance of 1,300. The evening began with a time of worship led by the SMCC Draper band, followed by a message from Eric Nelson, campus pastor at SMCC-Lehi.
The second half of the evening focused specifically on recent church planting efforts in the U.S. led by C2C. The audience heard from MB Mission’s Friesen as well as C2C staff members Bill Hogg, C2C North American missiologist; Mark Burch, North American director; and Douglas, the U.S. church planting mobilizer. Phil Wiebe, who will be starting a new USMB congregation in Utah, shared his testimony.
Representatives from five U.S. Mennonite Brethren ministries—Tabor College, Fresno Pacific University, Christian Leader, MB Foundation and USMB Youth— as well as the International Community of Mennonite Brethren each gave short updates. These brief reports were interspersed throughout the six convention sessions. Most of these reports included videos, and video-only updates were provided by Mennonite World Conference, MB Historical Commission and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
These ministries also had displays set up around the Douglas Ballroom in the University of Utah Guest House and Conference Center where the convention was held. Agency representatives often included the president or executive/general director, giving delegates the opportunity to talk to significant leaders of these Mennonite Brethren and inter-Mennonite ministries. Representatives from the two colleges, MB Foundation, USMB Youth and MCC served as resource speakers for workshops during the convention and/or Pastors’ Conference.
Several ministries were National Convention sponsors. Tabor College provided the name tags and lanyards. MB Foundation sponsored a ministry tour of Salt Lake City and South Mountain Community Church campuses. MB Mission/C2C and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) sponsored two of the convention breaks. C2C provided each delegate with a copy of the book, Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt and published by Crossway. MCC also hosted an alumni and friends gathering during the Thursday night dessert reception.
In other business
In other business, Thursday evening Leadership Board chair Marv Schellenberg called the convention to order, led a roll call of delegates by district and appointed Dennis Fast as parliamentarian and Pat Coyle, Michelle Hiett and Rachel Ediger as the minute review committee.
Friday morning Don Morris, USMB national director, led in a memorial service that recognized the service of USMB pastors H.H. Dick and Jose Elizondo, of the Pacific District; Ricardo Pena, of the LAMB Conference; Harold White Face, Central District; and Earl Yount, North Carolina District, who died during the past biennial.
Delegates were given a USMB budget update from Leadership Board treasurer David Hardt, and chair Schellenberg encouraged churches to financial support the national conference.
Delegates affirmed the slate of nominees and Schellenberg commissioned the newly affirmed board members for service during a time of prayer.
The convention marked the end of Schellenberg’s term as moderator and Leadership Board chair. He introduced Hardt, who has served as the Leadership Board treasurer, as the new Leadership Board chair. Tharen Spahr, Wichita, Kansas, who was elected to the Leadership Board during the convention, will be the new treasurer.