What got me going as a seminary student, though, was this particular wording:
If congregations find themselves outside of the basic orthodoxy of the COB, why continue to fight?Firstly, it seems like a big leap to name the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference's position on same-sex covenental relationships as constituting or being key to the basic orthodoxy. When someone asks you about the Church of the Brethren, what do you say? "We're Anabaptist [and here's what that means], we're a peace church, we practice simple living, and we're opposed to the homosexual lifestyle?" Does it really make it on to that list? Why this, and not our statements about depleted uranium and global climate change? What makes the 1983 human sexuality paper so basic to what it means to be Brethren? And more pointedly, Brother David, why this and not our position of women in ministry? Why must those who disagree with this Annual Conference statement leave, but not those who disagree with that one?
Secondly, and more broadly, I have a real problem with the phrase "Brethren orthodoxy." The word "orthodoxy" derives from the Greek orthos, meaning "right/true/straight" and doxa, meaning "opinion/belief," and the word means exactly what that would lead you to suspect. It seems to me the Church of the Brethren--this "no creed but the New Testament," "no force in religion" church--has no orthodoxy.
Another word, which might be more relevant to us Brethren, is "orthopraxy," which means "right action/activity." It seems more appropriate for a church whose Annual Conference has much to say about practices, but little to say about what one should think or believe. Even this monumental human sexuality paper makes no claim against those whose beliefs run contrary--it is only concerned with actions.
So I put forth that the Church of the Brethren has no orthodoxy, but does have an orthopraxy. (I ran this by one of my professors, and got a nod of agreement.)
But this orthopraxy is not found in some sort of inerrant Constitution passed down by the founders; it is found in the statements we make, modify, and strike when we meet every year for our Annual Conference. It changes constantly from what previous generations held, whether due to new information, issues our predecessors did not face, or evolution of moral thought. What our orthopraxy is next year may be very much different from what it is this year. That is simply how it's done in this church--attempts to forbid further efforts at change fly in the face of how we as church make our decisions.
One last note: Even orthopraxy, in the Church of the Brethren, is limited in scope. It isn't found so much in statements like the 1983 paper--which are, after all, merely reflections of what the majority of gathered Brethren believe--but in our polity. "You can't be in a same-sex relationship" isn't our orthopraxy; "You can't be openly gay and be a licensed minister" is. (I have previously indicated that I think "we don't agree" would be more helpful than "fifty-one percent of us think this.")
It seems to me that preaching a "Brethren orthodoxy" is a far more serious split from Brethren tradition than are evolving views on human sexuality.