“There is a lot of fear in the air.”
That’s the way one Mennonite Brethren pastor in British Columbia described the reaction to a letter sent by the provincial MB conference asking pastors and other church leaders to recommit themselves to the denomination’s Confession of Faith.
For this pastor, the letter marked a departure from how the conference normally invites pastors to dialogue about the Confession, including any concerns they might have about it.
“That seems to be absent from this process,” said the pastor, adding “that seems problematic to me.”
The pastor was one of several who responded to an email from Anabaptist World about a Nov. 3 letter from the B.C. MB conference to pastors and church leaders about the issue of LGBTQ+ welcome and inclusion.
Saying the “embrace of relativism and individual choice as the ultimate arbiter of sexual ethics,” is one of the most challenging issues facing society today, the letter asked pastors and church leaders to reaffirm their commitment to the MB Confession of Faith, including the article on marriage, singleness and family.
It referenced the “painful” departure earlier this year of Artisan Church over that congregation’s stance on people from the LGBTQ+ community. It was a departure that “was a direct result of their choice to no longer abide by our Confession of Faith.”
The pastors who responded to Anabaptist World about the letter did so under a condition of anonymity.
“This letter was not received very well from me at all,” said another pastor.
By sending the request in such a “non-relational way,” the conference indicated they aren’t open for discussion, he said.
“It is like they are asking us to renew vows with them without a conversation,” he said. “For me it runs much deeper, and I see many of the same patterns of poor process and consolidation of power with a few, which goes against an Anabaptist framework.”
For another pastor, the letter read as “tone-deaf” and alienating, lacking any warmth or relational language.
As well, he noted, it focused specifically on marriage “to the exclusion of the other 15 articles.”
His leadership team “has no interest in going through the requested exercise,” he said. “We have more pressing concerns to deal with while operating with limited capacity, especially because of the pandemic. This feels like a distraction at best.”
For him, it also feels like a done deal.
“There is no interest in any conversation on the part of BCMB. Period,” he said. “And if any conversation does happen, it’s expected to look a certain way with a certain outcome.”
Another pastor said he was unable to “get past the angry tone” of the letter’s “shout to ‘Get in line!’ ”
Churches that are trying to take a “softer, gentler, and I’d even say a more Jesus-like approach to the issue” of LGBTQ+ welcome are “facing the same condemnation our LGBTQ+ folks have faced in the church for centuries,” he added.
“I’m seeing the passion and love of Jesus in our people who are wanting to prayerfully and yes, even biblically, do the hard work of trying to figure this out in a new way,” he added.
Another pastor worried about the impact the request could have on smaller churches that are already challenged to find enough leaders in their congregations.
“Due to our size, if we do have leadership who choose to step aside out of a need of conscience on any of the Confession’s articles, there aren’t a plethora of alternative leaders waiting in the wings,” he said.
Speaking to the larger issue, he went on to say the letter seemed to be an attempt to “heal broken relationships through theological compliance . . . that probably wasn’t going to happen.”
In addition to the pastors who replied to Anabaptist World, requests for response were sent to pastors of churches identified as being more conservative. They didn’t respond or declined to comment. Several asked Anabaptist World never to contact them again.