Study conference explores God’s design, our interpretation
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 Mennonite Brethren Churches study conference Oct. 21–23, 2015, at Westwood Community Church, Winnipeg, focused on pastoral implications, following the more theory-driven 2013 “Honouring God with the Body: A Study on Human Sexuality” event in Edmonton.
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 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 Fresno Pacific University professor.
Plenaries paired headliner with respondent, and speakers and delegates 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 a 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., at an open-mic session. “I have seen the destruction first-hand of not discussing it…. May it not be an area of shame.”
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.”
“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.
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.”
See also Special general meeting report