Terry Smith: What You Read Isn’t Always ‘The Conference Position’

by Terry M. Smith

Does printing a lead article, a news item, or a letter in The Messenger mean that the editors, the Board of Church Ministries, the General Board, or the wider EMC agree with it? Not necessarily.

There can be a misperception that everything printed in an EMC periodical has official EMC approval and agreement. This is not the case.

The Messenger, for instance, publishes lead items that are primarily teaching articles, and these uphold our Statement of Faith. We will not, for example, print articles that deny God’s act of creation, reject Christ’s physical resurrection, say a Christian is just a moral person, or advocate for some contemporary ethical positions.

Certainly editors dialogue as deemed necessary with writers about their lead articles, columns, letters, and news items. Some materials aren’t printed. At times publishing mistakes are made.

However, The Messenger does not print only what editors agree with. Why? It’s a place for community discussion and discernment. A disclaimer is printed in The Messenger: “Views and opinions of writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the position of the Conference or the editors.”

The BCM, which publishes the magazine, recently upheld the disclaimer; it wants the magazine to be a forum for discussion. So do most readers, it seems. When The Messenger was being redesigned, a committee conducted a survey. One result indicated that most respondents wanted The Messenger to deal with controversial matters.

If a reader sends a letter, a personal opinion, is it proper to publish it or not? The BCM has a policy that upholds the letters section as a place for grassroots feedback.

Discussion will happen within these pages. In doing so it’s helpful to move past quick assumptions.

  • Years ago The Messenger published a news item on a discussion of same-sex identity at CMU. It wasn’t a teaching article, yet a caller asked if the article reflected the EMC position. It did not.
  • Recently two leaders reported on a seminar at Providence where a person with same-sex attraction, but who upheld heterosexual marriage as the biblical standard, sought to help churches to respond with sensitivity. A reader, who did not carefully read the article, assumed the EMC was supporting same-sex unions and objected. It was not. When I wrote a reply, the reader apologized.
  • When a writer shared their testimony of moving to an old earth position, some readers thought it was being presented as the EMC position and that the author was advocating for theistic evolution. Not so on two counts. The EMC upholds creation, but does not have an official position on the age of the earth. The writer was a teacher trained to educate by asking questions.
  • Phillip Cary’s article on hearing from God was printed because its caution was, evidently, valued by SBC’s Leadership Conference planning committee. This did not require total agreement with Cary’s position from SBC, its committee, or the editors.

What is the EMC’s position on hearing from God? There’s an article on the Holy Spirit in our Statement of Faith; and our ministerial decades ago approved a statement on the work and gifts of the Holy Spirit that is neither fully charismatic nor cessationist. What do they say or not say?

If an EMC official were to write in The Messenger on creation, on women in leadership, on same-sex matters, on pacifism (all of which have proven to be challenging topics), on Cary’s article or another matter, would that be “the conference position”? What if it were simply his or her personal opinion?

For an official position in The Messenger, wouldn’t the writer have to say that what is being presented is done so with the support of a board that seeks to reflect the view of the EMC?

Any board’s action in print can be scrutinized by the General Board, which “acts on behalf of the Conference between council meetings” (Constitution, 22). And the General Board is accountable to the Conference Council, the delegates of which come from local churches from B.C. to Southern Ont.

It’s easy to misunderstand. It’s hard to discuss. Let’s do the hard work.

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