BFL committed to listening to Scripture as they lead
By Connie Faber
The U.S. Mennonite Brethren Board of Faith and Life (USBFL) met March 29-30 at Island Palms Hotel and Marina in San Diego, California. Their meeting followed the three-day National Pastors Orientation, hosted by USBFL and also held at the Island Palms.
As could be expected given USBFL’s mandate to offer spiritual guidance in matters of faith, ethics, doctrine, theology and Christian living, the board’s March meeting covered a wide range of topics. While the board extensively discussed three of those topics—race relations; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) issues; and credentialing women for pastoral ministry—the nature of these topics is such that conversation will be ongoing.
“At this time in the life of our national family of churches, there are many social pressures coming to bear on our central theological statements contained in the Confession of Faith,” says Tim Sullivan, USBFL chair, in an email interview following the meeting. “Even though there aren’t easy solutions, the USBFL remains committed to listening faithfully to Scripture and to our constituent churches in order to give counsel and leadership to our national conference of churches. Prayers for our USMB family of churches is always welcome and worthwhile.”
USBFL is working with Terry Hunt, North Carolina District Conference minister, and Don Davis, executive director of The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI), to develop resources on race relations, including a new brochure in the BFL Pamphlet Series.
The board discussed the importance of addressing racism with young adults, and USBFL will work with the National Youth Commission to explore ways to resource teens and sponsors that attend the 2019 National Youth Conference on the topic. The board affirmed plans to offer a series of LEAD One leadership training events on the topic of race relations in the North Carolina, Southern, Central and Pacific District Conferences.
The board continued to discuss ways to equip local pastors and church leaders in ministry with LGBTQ persons. USBFL fully supports the USMB confessional position regarding the biblical definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman and belief that God considers sexual relations outside of the marriage covenant as sinful and inappropriate.
The group reviewed research done by board members identifying resources that provide strong biblical conclusions regarding human sexuality and that can help to equip pastors to offer compassion and care to LGBTQ persons. USBFL is particularly interested in identifying resource materials and speakers that can help pastors, youth workers and congregations process this issue with young adults whose views on LGBTQ issues are being impacted by society.
Women in ministry
Questions regarding the current USBFL policy on credentialing women for pastoral ministry have come to USBFL, and during the March meeting the board continued working on ways to engage the constituency in a conversation about that. After extensive discussion, the board will explore hosting a meeting with district Boards of Faith and Life to seek their input and counsel.
Mennonite Brethren have traditionally viewed the issue of women in church leadership as a polity versus a confessional issue, reflecting their discussion in policy statements and resolutions rather than including it in the Confession of Faith. The last time U.S. Mennonite Brethren discussed the issue of women in church leadership was in 1999 when the current policy was affirmed. That policy encourages women to “minister in the church in every function other than the lead pastorate.”
The board discussed their ongoing work in promoting peacemaking as stated in Article 13 of the Confession of Faith and will work with the National Youth Commission to provide resource speakers at the 2019 National Youth Conference and at Tabor College and Fresno Pacific University.
The board reviewed progress on updating credential materials and publishing projects, including translating into Russian Article 13 of the Confession of Faith. The board also discussed hosting regional events for pastors and vetting resources that will be highlighted on the new USMB website.
USBFL includes four members elected at the biennial USMB National Convention, the five district ministers and the USMB national director Don Morris. Elected members are Tim Geddert, Fresno, Calif., Jana Hildebrandt, Wichita, Kan., David Loewen, Hillsboro, Kan., and Mike Petts, Freeman, SD. District ministers are Rick Eshbaugh, Central District; Aaron Hernandez, LAMB District; Tim Sullivan, Southern District; and Gary Wall, Pacific District.