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U.S. BFL affirms 1999 resolution

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The USMB Board of Faith and Life (BFL) has adopted a statement calling on USMB churches to encourage women to minister in the church in every function other than the lead pastorate, reaffirming the 1999 General Conference statement that currently guides USMB policy on pastoral credentialing.

For the past year, the U.S. BFL has discussed the “best path forward” following a January 2019 study conference on the topic of women in pastoral ministry. The resulting statement, emailed Jan. 16, 2020, to USMB churches, acknowledges “there would be pain in any decision made by U.S. BFL on this matter.”

U.S. Mennonite Brethren have been wrestling with the issue of how God calls, equips and releases women into pastoral ministry for 50 years. In 1999, delegates to the General Conference convention in Wichita, Kansas, affirmed a resolution that blessed women for all ministries while holding to the restriction on senior pastoral roles.

At the time, the resolution was a concession, with some people viewing the language as too restrictive and others as not restrictive enough. It became apparent during the 2019 study conference that in many ways, not much had changed. U.S. Mennonite Brethren remain as divided on the issue in 2019 as they were two decades ago.

In it’s deliberations over the past year, the U.S. BFL concluded that “most of our USMB churches support the current policy on women in pastoral ministry. U.S. BFL believes that the 1999 resolution and the resulting U.S. BFL policy on credentialing continue to reflect our best attempt to Christ-honoring unity around an issue where we have not reached consensus. We call all our churches to affirm, bless and encourage our sisters to serve Christ and his church, as expressed in the 1999 resolution.”

The 1999 resolution also invites women to serve on conference boards and in congregations, institutions and agencies as “gifted, called and affirmed.”

The BFL letter, signed by chair Tim Sullivan on behalf of BFL, commends churches and  districts that have “communicated to us that they have not always lived up to the standard set by the 1999 resolution and want to make efforts to increase their affirmation of women in ministry roles within the church.” The letter encourages churches to “do the work necessary to increase opportunities for women to serve and partner with men to the glory of God and the service of Christ and his kingdom.”

The letter also states BFL does not consider this to be “the final chapter in this conversation,” as the board wants to be open to the Holy Spirit’s work given that this is an issue on which USMB has not reached consensus.

When asked whether delegates to the 2020 USMB National Convention would take action on the statement, Sullivan said the statement can be discussed but no action is needed given that no change is being recommended.

The BFL statement is posted on the USMB website.

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