Monthly Archives: May 2012

Mitt’s got some ‘splainin’ to do

News out of southeastern Minnesota tells more sad tales of teens who succumbed to bullying and committed suicide.  Oftentimes it is the short one, or the heavy one, or the shy one, or the stutterer, or the gay, but thirteen-year-old Rachel Emhke didn’t seem to have any distinguishing characteristics except that she got on the wrong side of the wrong crowd.  For seventeen-year-old Jay “Corey” Jones, his life got both better and worse after he came out as gay.  His dad said,

“I just saw a difference in him I saw a smile, I saw a little more energy than actually being down and out and depressed-looking,” [his dad] said. “To me he felt a sign of relief, like, ‘Yeah I got over the hard part, right,’ you know.”

But, being out also meant the bullying increased.

Mitt RomneyIn national news, the Washington Post is out with a well-attested article that suggests Mitt Romney’s elitist upbringing also included some bullying at his posh private school.  But the well-manicured governor’s son was not the object of the abuse; instead, the presidential wannabe was the chief perpetrator.

John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.

A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.

Candidate Romney has attempted to get out ahead of the story by issuing the standard wishy-washy apologyI don’t remember but if I offended anyone, I’m sorry.  In any case, Mitt says, “I’m quite a different guy now.”

We can only hope so, but I doubt we’ll be seeing any “It Gets Better” videos out of his campaign.

Shout it from the rooftops

Last week I received a comment that I refused to publish because it attacked an individual or a group.  Apart from the personal attack, the commenter attempted to make the point that gay friendly resolutions by mainstream churches explain a general membership decline.

Au contraire.

Two years ago, a book entitled American Grace became a national best seller, and I blogged about it in a post entitled Conservative Christianity Driving a Generation Away From Religion.  That post included this quote from another blog that suggested American Grace:

makes the case that the alliance of religion with conservative politics is driving young adults away from religion …. Among the conclusions [of a major survey] is this one: “The association between religion and politics (and especially religion’s intolerance of homosexuality) was the single strongest factor in this portentous shift.”

Today I ran across another blog post about a more recent book that makes the case even more starkly.  Here’s the open-ended survey question that formed the basis for the book:

What words or phrases best describe Christianity? 

How would you respond? What’s the first word that pops into your head?  Then, give yourself a couple of minutes to think and then answer again.  What’s your answer after reflection? 

Now shift your thinking.  How do you think others, self-identified as non-Christian and aged 16-29, responded to the question?  What of those who self-described as Christian?

With an open-ended question, one would expect a wide variety of answers, but it turns out there was a single theme that was listed on a startling 91% of the responses from this youthful age group that self-identified as non-Christian.  What do you think that one answer was?

Ready?

Antihomosexual.

Ouch!  Thanks UMC and General Conference 2012 (GC2012) for reinforcing the perception.

Well, what about the self-identified Christians in that age group?  How did they respond?

Antihomosexual.

But, it was only 80%.

The blog post contains this quote from the book, unChristian, by David Kinnaman.

“The gay issue has become the ‘big one, the negative image most likely to be intertwined with Christianity’s reputation. It is also the dimensions that most clearly demonstrates the unchristian faith to young people today, surfacing in a spate of negative perceptions: judgmental, bigoted, sheltered, right-wingers, hypocritical, insincere, and uncaring. Outsiders say [Christian] hostility toward gays…has become virtually synonymous with the Christian faith.”

That’s the bad news.  The good news is when a problem is so clearly defined, the solution also becomes obvious.  The United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the ELCA Lutherans, and the PC(USA) Presbyterians have opened their doors.  They understand that “all means all”.  They have decided to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  By inviting gays into their pulpits and to serve at their altars, they have welcomed the whole host, the entire gay community, into full communion, full participation, full inclusion in the life of the church.

Don’t be shy, don’t be embarrassed, don’t hide your light under a bushel.  Tell the world what you have done.  Shout it from the rooftops!

United Methodist General Conference (GC2012): Biblical obedience and ecclesiastical disobedience

To be sure, GC2012 was a huge disappointment for LGBT folk and their allies.  After forty years of wilderness wandering, the church seemed poised on the banks of the Jordan, but after the setbacks of GC2012, the promised land seems ever farther away.  At GC2008, the major gay-friendly legislation failed by 55%-45%, but this year the margin swelled to 61%-39%.  Simultaneously, the proportion of foreign delegates also increased significantly.  At GC2008, foreign delegates accounted for 33% of the total, but this year it ballooned to 41%.  This 8% increase undoubtedly corresponds to the 6% swing on the gay resolution.

This shift in the balance of power overseas will likely continue, and thus near-term gay-friendly legislation seems iffy.  Of course, the next General Conference is four years away.

Thus, the Friday gathering at the Coalition Tabernacle emphasized a different approach not tied directly to legislation; that is, speakers advocated civil disobedience at the local level in the form of covenant ceremonies.  The first ecclesiastical trials of clergy for performing a covenant ceremony more than a dozen years ago resulted in a defrocking of Pastor Jimmy Creech, then a suspension of Pastor Greg Dell, and most recently a slight wrist slap for Pastor Amy DeLong.  There have also been countless quiet ceremonies that didn’t result in any trial at all, and the “Sacramento 68” of a dozen years ago also resulted in a dismissal of all charges against the 68.

At the Minnesota Annual Conference in 2011, a petition movement originated in which clergy could publicly espouse their willingness to perform covenant ceremonies in spite of any potential consequences.  That movement has exploded across other annual conferences, and the number of signatory clergy now approaches 1,200.  Pastor Bruce Robbins of Hennepin Avenue UMC in Minneapolis has spearheaded the effort:

Seventy Minnesota United Methodist clergy members have signed a statement saying they would “offer the grace of the Church’s blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage,” including same-sex couples.

Robbins read the statement during a time of personal privilege at the end of clergy session, a business meeting held in the afternoon. Initially about a dozen clergy members had signed the statement, he said. By 9:30 p.m., the total signers had increased to about 40. As of June 3, the number had reached 70.

Pastor Robbins was the opening speaker to the standing-room only crowd gathered last Friday at the Coalition Tabernacle.  He suggested the time has come for “biblical obedience and ecclesiastical disobedience”.  With an array of around a dozen bishops lining the front of the podium, the final speaker was retired Bishop Melvin G. Talbert who roused the crowd with a civil rights themed speech.

“I declare to you that the derogatory language and restrictive laws in the Book of Discipline are immoral, and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience.”

View this video to hear and see the full set of speakers from beginning to end of the “Altar for All” presentation.

United Methodist General Conference (GC2012): We sit in the darkness, waiting for light.

My mind plays with the metaphors of light and dark as I rehash what I saw, heard, and felt yesterday.  This statement, “we sit in the darkness, waiting for light,” appeared on a social media post after the UMC General Conference in quick succession voted to retain the oppressive forty-year-old statement, “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”, announced that the afternoon plenary would be a closed session, and turned off the auditorium lights on the gays huddled around the communion altar.

Aftermath of voteThere was an abundance of hurt and harm yesterday–spiritual abuse by the gatekeepers who would create their church in their own image.  So much so that gay leaders asked the bishops to remove remaining resolutions regarding human sexuality from consideration to prevent further abuse.

“I’ve only seen my partner cry twice, and we’ve been together a long, long time,” said my gay friend.  “He’s been fighting this battle for forty years, and he sobbed when he realized it may not happen in his lifetime.”

O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?  They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.  They crush your people, O Lord, and afflict your heritage.

When the lights flickered on, God’s children were still there at the altar, still singing, still praying. Christians are optimists and none more so than gay Christians, clobbered again and again by their church, they rise again: a people of hope, a people of trust, a people of the resurrection.

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

For forty years, the UMC has wandered in the wilderness and still the promised land seems a far distance.  And what of the prophets who have led the struggle but who struggle still?  Will they, like Moses, not cross the Jordan when the day finally arrives?  Perhaps not, yet they have brought a squabbling people to the river’s edge.

light-under-bushel“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

There is a season for all things, and yesterday was a day for weeping.  Today, we lift our lights high, and the journey begins anew.

United Methodist General Conference (GC2012): the wind bloweth where it listeth

Jack Tuell knew the law before he learned the gospel.

Following law school and two years of legal practice, he entered seminary and became an ordained Methodist clergyman.  He would eventually become a bishop, and he delivered the episcopal address at General Conference 1988, and he served as President of the Council of Bishops in 1989-90.  But, because of his prior legal training, he would also be asked to provide legal assistance to the church from time to time.  The first instance was when he was asked to draft a resolution that would prohibit gay clergy, and the infamous “self-avowed, practicing” language of General Conference 1984 was the result of his input.

Between the first and second Jimmy Creech trials of the late nineties (acquitted in the first, defrocked in the second), Pastor Greg Dell of Broadway UMC in Chicago performed a covenant ceremony for two of his parishioners.   Broadway had an estimated 40% gay membership, and Pastor Dell believed his pastoral responsibilities to his congregants outweighed restrictive denominational policies.

Though Bishop Joseph Sprague also disagreed with the denominational prohibition of covenant ceremonies, he felt the tug of episcopal duty and followed through with a trial of Pastor Dell, who was convicted and suspended.  Bishop Sprague later reduced the suspension from “indefinite” to one year.  Later, Bishop Sprague would be hounded by the same Thomas Lambrecht of “Good News”, the Methodist self-appointed gatekeepers, who would be the prosecutor in the Amy DeLong trial.  I have a luncheon date with Pastor Dell upon my return to Chicago, arranged by mutual friend, Pastor John Alan Boryk.

Bishop Jack and Mrs. Marji TuellBack to Jack Tuell.  Bishop Sprague asked lawyer/bishop Tuell to serve as judge at the Dell trial, and Bishop Tuell agreed, but that experience would result in a change of heart.  By then, he was back in parish ministry, and on February 20, 2000, Bishop Tuell delivered a sermon to his congregation; “I was wrong,” he said:

God is ever ready to do a new thing … the God we worship is not a static God, capable only of speaking to us from two, three or four thousand years ago. Rather, God is living, alive in this moment, revealing new truth to us here, now … I believe that God is about to do a new thing among us.

[O]ur real tradition is ignorance. In another way, however, we have a long tradition of change … In the long run, we have always been able to discern when God is doing a new thing in our midst. This capacity to change is among the noblest of our traditions.

What is the role of experience in the issue we speak of today? It is the personal encounter with the anguish, the pain, the hurt, the suffering, the despair which harsh and judgmental attitudes can have on persons of homosexual orientation.

I was wrong. It was experience that showed me I was wrong … A year ago, when Bishop Joseph Sprague of Illinois asked me to come and preside over a church trial [of Pastor Greg Dell], experience made its compelling points with me. Ecclesiastically speaking, the decision was correct. As I understand the Spirit of God, it was wrong … I began to see the new thing God is doing.

It is impossible to predict what actions [future General Conferences] may take, because the Spirit moves at its own pace– “the wind bloweth where it listeth (John 3:8).” But I believe that if the delegates are listening carefully, above the competing pressures of this group and that, they will hear the still, small voice whisper, “I am doing a new thing,” and they will respond faithfully.

Amen.


A Sermon by Bishop Jack M. Tuell, Des Moines, Washington, Sunday, February 20, 2000.  Bishop Tuell repeats this story, with much more information, in the Wednesday edition of the Common Witness Coalition Newspaper, Love Your Neighbor

United Methodist General Conference (GC2012): “You’re out of order”

This early put down of speaker Mark Miller served as prelude to the begrudging welcome  GC2012 has thus far extended to gays and their allies.  Miller, an openly gay delegate from New Jersey, had been allowed to address the plenary session in response to the derisive treatment received by some gays during the holy conferencing sessions devoted to human sexuality.

“The need for authentic conversation about human sexuality is so important,” Miller said. “However, the process that we attempted yesterday failed us. It failed because of our lack of leadership and oversight, because the process did not respect people and didn’t plan for the care of those who were hurt by the process.”

When Miller asked supporters of gays and lesbians and “anyone who believes bullying should not be allowed at our General Conference” to stand, he was ruled out of order and asked to return to his seat.

To be sure, gays are tolerated as they hand out flyers outside the convention doors and when they engage in direct action by parading around the convention floor with placards or line the hallways as delegates pass by.  Yesterday, as I stood with two friends and we were identified by our rainbow scarves, a delegate leaned in close and whispered, “blessings”.  That he only dared whisper and not shout was the real message.

When I encountered a leader of Reconciling Ministries Network in the Convention hallways, her glum face and comment, “it’s dreadful”, summed up the prevailing mood.  Three luncheon speakers in the Coalition Tabernacle were scheduled to address women’s issues, but the first, Garlinda Burton, general secretary of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, sensed the need to offer an encouraging word.

“I am a child of God, and so are each of you.  Remember that and don’t let the words and actions of others deny that or diminish you.” [paraphrased]

Yesterday, a resolution and amendment demonstrated the oppressive tenor of the plenary sessions.  At issue was a short addition to the preamble to the Social Principles.  The proposed language stated,

We affirm our unity in Jesus Christ while acknowledging differences in applying our faith in different cultural contexts as we live out the gospel.

and to that an amendment was proposed that would add,

We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Of course, this is language based upon Paul’s letter to the Romans.   Inclusive?  Yes.  Controversial?  Hardly. Yet, it barely passed!

Because many delegates perceived this to be too gay-friendly, 47% of the delegates voted against this amendment.  This plenary action occurred just before lunch, and many delegates arriving at the Coalition Tabernacle could only shake their heads that only 53% of their peers would vote to affirm the application of the Pauline theology of grace—at least when gays were involved.

As GC2012 enters the home stretch and the more significant legislative actions come to the floor, there is always room for hope.  Yet,  the following snippet from the Coalition website reflects the gloom that hangs over the Convention halls.  Many escape to the friendly faces of the Coalition Tabernacle to have spirits refreshed.

We are waiting …

In week two of the UMC General Conference, lesbians, gay men, bisexual, and transgender persons continue the wait for a word of welcome from the UMC denomination. Like the Psalmist, we ask, “How long, O Lord?” — it has been 40 years since the “incompatibility clause” was added to the denomination’s Book of Discipline; the Bible tells us that 40 years is long enough. This silence is damaging our children, and our church.

United Methodist General Conference (GC2012): Remembering the Sacramento 68

Tabernacle exterior2Yesterday, April 30th, I arrived at the site of the UMC General Conference (GC2012).  I checked out the Tampa convention hall but then spent my time at the  Tabernacle, home of the Coalition of a handful of progressive groups.  I visited with half a dozen friends of the Wisconsin contingent and also leaders of the Reconciling Ministries Network that I visited at the Chicago headquarters recently.

Over lunch, I participated in a discussion of civil disobedience, the intentional violation of church rules as a means to “push the envelope”.  In particular, we discussed the thousand or so UMC clergy who have signed a pledge to perform a “covenant ceremony”, a blessing of a same-gender couple, if asked to do so.  It is clear that such ceremonies are widespread now, but quiet—a de facto Methodist version of don’t ask, don’t tell.  Would many of the thousand signatories do so publicly, as a group, as a statement?

There is precedent.

Following the late nineties’ trials of individual Methodist clergy (Jimmy Creech and Greg Dell), a Sacramento clergyman, Pastor Don Fado, invited his fellow clergy in California to jointly officiate at a covenant ceremony.  The participating clergy came to be known as the “Sacramento 68”, though the actual number of participants was probably greater than that.

Two of Pastor Fado’s parishioners, a lesbian couple, approached him and said “it’s time.” The pair were well-known, not only in the congregation but in the entire Annual Conference because of their involvement in the regional church. Jeanne Barnett had served as the Conference’s lay leader and Ellen Charlton had served on the Conference’s Board of Trustees. Pastor Fado sent a letter to his fellow clergy inviting others to participate, and he later reported:

We ended up with 95 from our annual conference … and another 25 from outside our annual conference, people from other denominations. In fact, we had requests from all over the country, from people who wanted to come … Some of them said, “This is the Selma, Alabama, of the gay rights movement, and we want to be there and make a statement to the country.”[1]

Following the January 16, 1999 covenant ceremony, attended by 1,200 to 1,500 guests, a complaint was filed and an investigation ensued. The local bishop was put in the awkward position of defending a policy with which he disagreed. For bishops, their obligation to uphold the good order of the church is especially acute. Bishop Melvin Talbert publicly announced:

I will uphold the law, but I will not be silenced. I will continue speaking out against the law and will continue working to change the position of the church to be more in keeping with the teachings and compassion of Jesus.[2]

It would turn out that Bishop Talbert and the investigating committee would do more than mechanistically apply church law. Their advocacy moved beyond mere words and tilted toward action. Following three days of testimony and three more days of deliberation, the investigating committee (much like a grand jury) announced on February 11, 2000 that charges would not be pursued.  According to an account from the UMC press service:

It was clear at the press conference that the same-sex marriage issue … has captured the attention of the world outside the United Methodist Church. As Bishop Talbert read the committee’s decision, a bank of television cameras kept up a steady clicking, and the conference room at the United Methodist Center was filled with media representatives and observers.

The question before them, the committee wrote, was whether or not there were reasonable grounds to certify that the charge was proper for a trial.

In the Feb. 1-3 hearing at Community United Methodist Church in Fairfield, the committee heard testimony from expert witnesses on Scripture, ethics and tradition within the church and the history of the annual conference. In its statement, the committee said, “We concluded that the answer required a methodology consistent with our whole faith rather than one limited by narrow focus.”

The committee affirmed in its statement that “we in the California-Nevada Annual Conference are not of one mind regarding our church’s ministry to the gay/lesbian community.” The committee acknowledged the conference’s “need for God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

Talbert stated that, while the committee’s decision may appear to have broken covenant with the denomination’s Book of Discipline, there is “another more basic and fundamental covenant that has precedence over this one narrow focus of law.” Talbert said that the Annual Conference is the covenant into which clergy members are received, and that the committee’s decision “does reflect the longstanding covenant commitments for inclusiveness and justice” of the California-Nevada Annual Conference.[3]

Tabernacle 7As conversations evolve in the beehive of the Coalition Tabernacle, perhaps the next “Sacramento 68” will be organized.

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1]From a PBS Frontline interview. The full interview is available on the PBS website, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/assault/interviews/fado.html.

[2] James Rutland Wood, Where the Spirit Leads: The Evolving Views of United Methodists on Homosexuality (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), p. 105.

[3] Erica Jeffrey, Cal-Nevada ministers won’t stand trial, committee decides, United Methodist News Service, February 11, 2000.