No more closed doors

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November 2, 2016 | Editorial | Volume 20 Issue 22
Dick Benner, Editor/Publisher

The pastors of Mennonite Church British Columbia got together recently in a closed meeting to discuss their response to the Being a Faithful Church 7 resolution passed at Assembly 2016. The resolution “creates space for some congregations and individuals to embrace committed same-sex relationships in a way not reflected in our Confession of Faith.” (See “Delegates vote to allow space for differences,” on the Assembly 2016 decision.)

Our Canadian Mennonite reporter was not permitted to attend, nor was anyone not classified as a “pastor.” We were told that, because of the sensitivity of the issue, the pastors would be more free behind closed doors to express themselves, and not to be intimidated by the church press or anyone else who might misquote or misinterpret what was said.

We learned second-hand that, while the discussion was congenial, the issue itself was—and is—contentious. Eleven pastors are threatening to leave the area church because, as they put it, “we aren’t leaving the area church; the church is leaving us”—meaning, of course, a departure from the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective that states that marriage is between one man and one woman.

We have no problem with dissidents taking issue with what was a majority vote in Saskatoon—277 delegates voting “yes” to the resolution and 50 voting “no,” with 23 abstaining. Disagreements are to be expected with this issue. The minority always needs to be respected on any issue, and their views honoured. And there is nothing wrong with healthy debate. That is the way we wend our way to the truth. It toughens the fabric that makes us the dynamic faith community that we are.

What is not acceptable is that contentious discussions and debate go on behind closed doors. That is not in keeping with our “priesthood of believers” ethos, nor does it represent the transparency to which we all aspire as “priests” to each other. If there is serious disagreement among the pastors of MC B.C., all members of all the congregations represented have a right to know the specific arguments and dynamics of the discussion. That’s called “accountability.”

And this is not to mention the low confidence in our Canadian Mennonite coverage, the assumption that somehow our reporter would not be objective and balanced in her reporting, but, rather, would “slant” the story to give a favourable view to one side over the other. As it turned out, she was forced to get all her information from the area church executive minister, which gave readers only one person’s view of the meeting—his.

This trend, if it continues in other settings, is both disappointing and dangerous. The government and the public media have higher standards of transparency. Sunshine laws allow for “in-camera” meetings of government officials for only five reasons:

  1. The securing of municipal property.
  2. Discussion of personnel matters of municipal employees.
  3. Discussion of pending acquisition or disposal of property.
  4. Labour relations or employee negotiations.
  5. Matters of litigation.

If a particular municipality goes behind closed doors for any other reason, the press has a right to sue. We don’t intend to sue MC B.C.! That wouldn’t be the Anabaptist way, nor would it contribute in any way to the unity of the church. We are far more concerned and hopeful that the pastors and congregations of MC B.C. will come together, despite their differences on this one subject, and realize how much more they have in common on other important faith issues.

There will undoubtedly be high anxiety during the next two years, as our denomination and area churches work through a restructuring process that serves the highest spiritual welfare of our particular union. We need to be patient with each other. Transparency and accountability are a part of that patient dynamic.

We will only fan the flames of disunity and separation if we insist on having our disagreements behind closed doors. And all of us—leadership and laity alike—have to work harder at trust issues to bring us through this transition with wholeness and hope, and the confidence that God is present among us, even at our low points.

And Canadian Mennonite is committed to high journalistic standards of reporting “open meetings” with fairness and balance. We hold a high view of the church and its ability to find its way through controversy with grace and transparency. We will do our best to honour minority and dissident viewpoints, always mindful that our own communion was birthed by dissidents and “heretics” nearly 500 years ago.

See “MC B.C. divided on BFC7,” on a subsequent meeting of congregational representatives.

Comments

Dick Benner’s editorial about “closed door” meetings of BC church leaders (Nov. 2nd) raises valid concerns of access by the press to important discussions, and concludes with a commitment to “high journalistic standards of reporting ‘open meetings’ with fairness and balance.”
I’m unaware of concerns by BC church leaders, as to why it was requested to have a “safe space” for their recent discussion of BFC7. When it comes to emotional conversations providing “safe space” is an aspect to be respected, and I might assume those hosting sought a balance of fairness.
Having attended the Saskatoon Assembly I have been puzzled by Canadian Mennonite (CM) coverage on BFC7 that has emphasized reporting on the minority “exception” of BFC7, while ignoring or giving afterthought to the first, and primary point, of the resolution which states: “One of our foundations of unity has been the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. We recommend that it continue to serve the church in the ways suggested in the Introduction of the Confession itself.”
85% of delegates approved this statement, and CM coverage including this aspect of the BFC7 discussion might be helpful to the wider conversation.

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