Mission Friends for Inclusion

Our thoughts on nominees at this Gather

The Annual Meeting of The Evangelical Covenant Church begins this Thursday. Among other items, delegates will be voting to elect our next President and our next Executive Minister of Develop Leaders (who heads up the Ordered Ministry).

MF4i met with both nominees in May and followed up via email with specific questions to clarify their positions on several issues and clear up some concerns many have pointed out with their histories. Our emails clearly stated that we may use their responses in a social media posting.

Both Rev. John Wenrich, the nominee for President, and Rev. Lance Davis, the nominee for Executive Minister of Develop Leaders, agree with the Covenant position on sexuality. Our first question to both nominees was to ask how they might handle clergy who hold biblically-discerned positions on sexuality that differ from the Covenant’s.

Rev. Wenrich stated (emphasis added),

“I love my Covenant colleagues. I understand and respect the fact that there are people and clergy in the ECC who have come to a different understanding of scripture than our discerned positions. With freedom comes the responsibility to act within our biblically discerned positions. The preamble to our Covenant Constitution states, ‘The Evangelical Covenant Church embraces this freedom in Christ as a gift that preserves personal conviction, yet guards against individualism that disregards the centrality of the Word of God and the mutual responsibilities and disciplines of the spiritual community.’ It is my responsibility to both support our discerned positions and to hold our clergy accountable to them. At the same time, I am open to conversation with people who have a different point of view. As an ordained Covenant pastor, I took sacred vows. I humbly submit to the discernment of the Annual Meeting and to the Board of Ordered Ministry. With God’s help, I will seek to uphold those decisions with consistency, compassion and humility. I affirm, in both belief and practice, our discerned position on human sexuality and the guidelines. I work within our polity with gracious conviction. I invite other Covenant clergy to do the same.”

MF4i believes this view of the responsibility that comes with freedom to be more narrow than the ECC Constitution intended. Freedom is not bounded by Covenant positions, but rather by the Word of God alone.

Rev. Davis wrote, in response to our question,

“I look forward to working alongside members of the LGBTQPI community as well as clergy who want to love and embrace them the same way I do. I know that this has been a time of fractured relationships and hurt feelings. However, with the help of the Holy Spirit I believe we will get through these days recognizing our mutual love and admiration for the Covenant and our desire to walk hand-in-hand in our Kingdom work.”

We are encouraged by this statement.

Furthermore, we asked Rev. Wenrich the following two questions. He declined to answer these questions via email, stating instead that he preferred to answer them during the Annual Meeting if asked from the floor.

  • If you are elected, where do you see a place for MF4i and our numerous allies in your vision of how to best serve the Covenant and its people? Where and how might we work together as you remarked “in missional and trust-filled ways”?
  • In the early 2000s, you were a pastor at First Covenant Church in Portland, Oregon, which had a strong relationship with Portland Fellowship, a ministry promising “transformation” and “freedom from [same-sex] desires”. A Christian leader with ties to such a ministry is a red flag to many LGBTQ Covenanters who have endured terrible abuses in similar programs and to their friends and families who love them. Please explain your previous relationship with this organization and how your views may or may not have changed.

You can read more about Rev. Wenrich in the Covenant Companion’s announcement of his nomination.

We did have some concerns about Rev. Davis’s history, including his involvement with the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), which has been categorized as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for the last nine years. He told us that he was involved with them during the same-sex marriage legislative debate in Illinois years ago, but disassociated himself from them after they published an “egregious” and “mean-spirited” blog about some Covenant clergy. He noted that he was “deeply offended” and reached out and apologized to the clergy for this blog.

We also asked Rev. Davis about the involvement of Illinois Family Action (the legislative arm of IFI) at an event at his church in March 2016. He commented,

“My church hosted a town hall meeting during the last presidential campaign in response to my community’s displeasure with Ted and Raphael Cruz’s dismissive stance regarding the plight of the African American and Hispanic communities. IFI, Freedoms Journal and other conservative organizations ‘invited’ themselves to the meeting. This was the beginning of the end of my relationship with IFI.”

Rev. Davis ended his email with the following message,

“Please know that it is my desire that we collectively acknowledge our past wrongs in working with and listening to our sisters and brothers within the LGBTQ community. I apologize for anything that I may have done or said that would cause any of our brothers and sisters harm. I am indeed hopeful for our future and thankful that it is a future with us laboring together in love.”

You can read more about Rev. Davis in this Covenant Companion interview. MF4i shares and supports Rev. Davis’s passionate commitment to justice and racial equity as well as his empathy with those who have been marginalized in a multitude of ways by various powers.

We believe it is important for each delegate to make up their own mind regarding these nominations. Regardless of the outcome of these elections, we look forward to continuing our conversations with ECC leadership.