What Didn’t and Did Happen at the Methodist Conference in Ft. Worth

I posted here a few weeks ago why the LGBT community should pay attention to the United Methodist Church(UMC) General Conference(GC) with the main point being that changes to this religious community’s stance on LGBT rights has far reaching implications both socially and politically in our country.  Now today I am back to give some updates on what did actually happen as the UMC GC comes to a close.  It appears this year that the United Methodist General Conference in an effort to retain unity decided to reject everything! Anti, Pro, all petitions equally went down in flames.  But in all that, there are snippets of hope and good news. The best news is of course that things didn’t get worse. Unfortunately, they didn’t get better either.

After the jump, I will have the gist of two good petitions passed as well as excerpts from folks on the floor of the conference that can give you the first person view of what went on: the protests, the formal statement read, and more. .So let’s do this chronologically. First, the early indicators from the sub-committees were very positive with these two reports sent by Ed (a friend and co-worker for LGBT rights in the church) of the happenings in the one of the Church and Society subcommittees. Where I insert things for clarity, I will put them in brackets.

4/25

“However, indications are positive. Although the subcommittee contains two of the most public foes of acceptance of GLBT people, it also contains three openly gay men. A number of votes have been generally supportive of inclusiveness by votes of 13 to 9 or better.

In particular there was a resolution passed which stated our position as one requesting full acceptance of gays in the military and an end to discrimination on that basis. Even more supportive was the addition of acceptance of persons of differing gender expression in the persons who should not be rejected on that basis. It’s late at night and the resolution is better expressed than my summary, but it in affect asks for an end to discrimination.

This was accepted by a vote of 13-6.”

4/27

“The paragraph [161g-the part that declares homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching] retains the idea of sacred worth, drops the incompatible with Christian teaching, speaks of responsibilities in all sexual relationships and includes the idea that people on  both sides are Faithful witnesses and that we are still praying for the Holy Spirit to show us the way to reconciliation.

One of the surprises was that the representative from the Congo made a long speech, with the aid of translator, with extensive bible quotations, and concluded with the assertion that he supported the new paragraph. Since most people assume that Africans will be against progressive changes, he was called back to the microphone twice to verify that he actually was in favor of the changes. (I noticed that he did not always vote with the conservatives.)”

and then on 4/30 the wheels came off,

“With a heavy heart I report that the replacement of paragraph 161g was rejected 517-416 (unofficial). Instead text retaining all of the discriminatory language is retained including “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” During a debate which lasted two and one half hours, a number of very strong arguments were made from the floor in favor of the change, but the vote was clearly for the status quo. A number of speeches referenced Wesley’s list of three principles, Do No harm, Do Good, and be in love with G-d with the emphasis on doing no harm. Ed Fox, one of the primary authors of the adopted text, made the plea that adopting his text would “do no harm to our global connection.” Apparently this is more important than doing harm to our same gender loving brothers and sisters. Oddly, due to a mistake in procedure, there were two votes taken. On the first one only 697 votes were cast out of over 900 delegates. This action will eventually be reported as petition 80449, Calendar 1186.”

A protest followed that vote, not just because of the outcome, but also because the majority report by the committee charged with examining the issue in detail had recommended acceptance of the legislation, and instead the floor decided to accept the minority report, reject the majority report and kill the changes.  This report of the happenings comes from Affirmation

“Wednesday’s vote to accept the minority report on Paragraph 161.G has sparked multiple protests. This was partly in response to the acceptance of the minority report. It was partly in response to the ugliness of the arguments against the majority report and for the minority report.

The first protest Wednesday evening consisted of the Common Witness people who were able to, to stand at the door so that delegates would have to walk past them on their way back from their dinner break. Anyone with too much strong emotion was requested to care for themselves rather than engage in the protest.

The second protest was before Thursday’s session started. Body outlines were chalked in various locations. Those who were able to continued to lie in their chalk outlines as delegates walked past into the convention center.

The third and by far largest protest happened during the morning plenary. Under rule 3.3 the presiding bishop recessed the session for 15 minutes so that protesters, many of them dressed in black with black scarves over their heads, filed in filling the area between the four sections of delegates on the floor. Additional protesters and supporters stood in the stands. As the protesters filed in and turned to face the delegates they sang Were You There? Then a proclamation

was read. You can find that on page 4 of this newsletter as Proclamation – Witness – General Conference 2008. People were then invited, both protesters and delegates alike, to lay black cloth on the communion table in the middle of the delegate area. At the end of the 15 minutes the protesters left the floor. ”

The content of the statement drafted by the Witness Team of Reconciling Ministries Network read on the floor of the conference is below:

“We have heard Jesus say – to all persons without exception – “follow me.”

We are part of God’s living body in today’s world, but our United Methodist Church

refuses to accept what God has done,

refuses to keep covenant with its own words in the baptismal promise,

refuses to honor God’s call to professional ministry,

refuses to do no harm,

refuses to open its hearts, minds, and doors.

The unchurched notice. They notice the church cruelly scape goating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people on the altar of so-called unity.

The young notice. They notice the church denying, refusing, threatening, removing, closeting the LGBT people who faithfully serve the church.

The world notices.

We notice.

God notices.

The United Methodist baptismal liturgy calls all of us to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

It is our duty – our baptismal covenant – to stand against the sin of the church,

to stand for God’s freedom and power,

to affirm God’s entire body of Christ that is the church.

We are God’s children, here . . . now.

Today we boldly declare by standing here that our church’s doors and our ministries will radically obey the Gospel

that we defy bigotry and ignorance,

that the anti-gay policies and practices of The United Methodist Church are wrong.

By human means we cannot stand

but by the grace of God we can.

By standing we reject the idea that homosexuality is a sin

By standing we affirm that sexuality is a good gift of God

By standing we affirm our intent to spread God’s love and grace

By standing we bless and celebrate families, all families.

We do not stand alone.

We stand in solidarity with all those who are not here, who are not in our congregations.

We stand with those who’ve been forced out

and who’ve never come in,

who already affirm one another as beloved children of God,

regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

We stand with holy boldness

to welcome LGBT laity and clergy into our churches and pulpits, NOW;

to keep baptismal promises for all, NOW;

to affirm calls to ministries for all people, NOW;

to bless covenant relationships in our churches by our clergy, NOW;

to assure membership for all, NOW;

to provide hospitality for all, NOW.

Join us. Stand now. Build our future with hope and trust in God. ”

and yesterday 5/1 Ed reported:

“Last night, in spite of passionate pleas from the floor, a petition to welcome everyone who was willing to take the membership vows into the church was defeated.

Some of the good news was that this was done with the narrowest of margins every for inclusion issues, a vote of 436-448. Changing the hearts of only 7 people would have been enough for a different outcome.

We have failed to tell our story to enough people and failed to explain the consequences.”

What did get passed? Well, not as much as we were praying for, but two pretty good petitions nonetheless. This first one from the Kansas East Annual Conference may present a basis in the future for some legislative petitions in the 2012 General Conference.  This petition was adopted with a vote of 544 for and 365 against.. I have included only the portions relevant to this discussion.

Petition 80845

Opposition to Homophobia and Heterosexism (80845-C2-R9999)

Add a new resolution as follows:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the United Methodist Church strengthen its advocacy of the eradication of sexism by opposing all forms of violence or discrimination based on gender, gender identity, sexual practice or sexual orientation.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the General Board of Church and Society develop resources and materials aimed at educating members of the local churches about the reality, issues, and effects of homophobia and heterosexism and the need for Christian witness against these facets of marginalization.

This next petition is from the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society. It was adopted by a vote of 839 for to 34 against. I have included only the portions relevant to this discussion.

Petition 80627

Grieving and Repenting from Acts of Hate and Violence (80627-C2-R9999)

Therefore, we resolve that The United Methodist Church, with assistance from the appropriate boards, agencies, and local churches continue to educate:

   children and youth on the sins of hate and bigotry;

   seminary students and clergy on the trends of hate in the world and how the church can faithfully prevent and respond to acts of hate; and

   all persons in The United Methodist Church about the sins of hatred and bigotry that have been committed in our United Methodist Church against our members and against those with whom we seek to minister.

We also resolve that the members of The United Methodist Church:

   be active participants in civic or religious organizations that promote unity and diversity and work to eradicate acts of hate;

   take strong nonviolent action in opposition to hate groups;

   develop support group(s) for persons active in antiracism strategies and for persons ministering to victims of hate crimes.

   evangelize those individuals who would choose to be a part of hate groups or who commit acts of hate and violence individually and show them the compassion and saving grace of Jesus Christ;

   promote diversity dialogue and programs in all churches, annual conferences, central conferences, general agencies, campus ministry units, and any other place where The United Methodist Church has a witness;

   support a restorative-justice response to hate crimes, which aims at dialogue, accountability, and healing between victims and offenders rather than adding more punishment of offenders if their crime was motivated by hate; and

   speak up when you are a victim of hate crimes. If you are subject to an act of bigotry or racial violence, tell someone. Tell your family, your friends, neighbors, the church; seek support for yourself. Report the incident to police. Insist that the crime be reported as a “hate crime.”

We resolve that all United Methodist congregations, under the leadership of the General Board of Church and Society to advocate for:

   law-enforcement personnel to maintain records on hate crimes and to bring to justice the perpetrators of such violence and intimidation;

   hearings on hate crimes, particularly in those states where statistics reveal an increase in the activity of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups;

   hate crimes prevention legislation that includes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.

So I guess the message there is that Methodists shouldn’t let Gays and Lesbians be members, but are not allowed to hate them. Sounds pretty much like the standard conservative line to me. At least they are on record as opposing hate crimes (including transgender!)  and opposing discrimination (including gender identity!).  I don’t think I could have stomached the alternative to not being against those and still stayed a Methodist.

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