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Church Culture

Church of the Brethren May Split Over LGBTQ Leaders

Some conservative congregations are considering leaving the Church of the Brethren over what they feel are unaddressed concerns about LGBTQ leaders in the denominationMennonite World Review reported 

The denomination in 2017 acknowledged that a lesbian couple was co-pastoring a church in the Pacific Northwest, and several congregations that objected threatened to leave. Many also voiced concerns about churches performing same-sex marriages and allowing LGBTQ people in leadership positions. 

After several conservative policy changes proposed at the group’s 2018 annual conference failed to pass and LGBTQ issues were “avoided” at the 2019 gathering, more than 50 pastors, district leaders and committee members from 13 districts met to explore forming a new denomination, Covenant Brethren Church. 

Church of the Brethren general secretary David Steele denounced the proposed spinoff, saying separation is not a viable path forward and instead encouraging scripture discernment and study to address the differences.  

“Our end goal is unity,” he told Mennonite World Review. “We recognize there are differences and diversity . . . but part of who we are is we work at studying Scripture together to really discern the voice of God in the midst of that diversity.” 

In a November letter sent to the leadership team of the Church of the Brethren and signed by Brother Grover Dulingchair of the Covenant Brethren Church temporary executive board, as well as other temporary executive board members, the breakaway group said it felt great disappointment” that the Church of the Brethren was not holding people accountable to positions established at its annual conference and that “those who are promoting a sinful lifestyle are allowed to go on without much or any restraint.” 

The group said it was exploring establishing Covenant Brethren to serve as a “Brethren haven” where congregations could “remain Brethren in name and practice and not be driven to an independent status or another denomination” but would “remain open to the possibility that God will still do a work of renewal in the Church of the Brethren so that this movement would become irrelevant.” 

Duling said the letter that the group had committees working on structural and doctrinal matters but was not “using aggressive recruiting in trying to get people involved in this.  

He said that if a division took place, “it will be as friendly as possible and without a display of bitterness and rancor. 

Duling is also board chair of the Church of the Brethren’s West Marva District, which encompasses congregations in West Virginia and Maryland. The Covenant group is looking at property in West Virginia for its headquarters, per Mennonite World Review.  

The Church of the Brethren has about 1000 congregations and about 120,000 members in the United States.  It also has churches in more than 20 other countries around the world.  It also runs more than 20 nursing homes, as well as six colleges and one seminary.

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.