Speeches and setting procedural rules dominated Wednesday.  One potential rule was curious, and I’ll discuss in a moment with historical perspective.  First, a couple of items borrowed from others.

Chained ChurchPastor Amy DeLong of Wisconsin was tried last year and received very light penalties for officiating at a “holy union” of two lesbians.  In the late nineties, Methodist pastor Jimmy Creech was “defrocked” for precisely the same thing, so there is progress even if the underlying rules haven’t changed.  Amy has posted this photo of a “chained church” on her Love on Trial website.  Apparently, many attendees of the Conference snapped photos.

Second, the largest LGBT Methodist advocacy group is the Reconciling Ministries Network.  Their blog contains an “Open Letter from an Open Lesbian”, and Amory Peck writes,

“I’d like you to know a bit about how I’m feeling as I approach Holy Conferencing on human sexuality at the General Conference. The main feeling is dread. As one of the LGBT persons who will be attending, it’s hard to head into a conversation where I’m seen as “the problem.” Where I, and the others, will be identified as the troublesome “they.”

Now to the curious procedural rule proposal.  Tampa will also be the scene of the Republican national convention later this summer, and the City of Tampa announced the designation of a demonstration free zone.  Some delegates unsuccessfully proposed a similar rule that would prohibit floor demonstrations.  LGBT advocates and allies have a long tradition of such demonstrations.  In fact, the details are usually negotiated ahead of time with the church hierarchy.

The first floor demonstration was at the General Conference in Louisville in 1992.  Holding aloft a thirty foot banner that read, “The Stones Will Cry Out”[1], thirty or more gay supporters proceeded to the dais, singing and encouraging others to stand. At that time, the visitors in the plenary hall probably outnumbered the delegates, and they nearly all rose to their feet in support.

There is a conservative “gatekeeper” organization that should be mentioned.  It is not specifically Methodist and also lobbies within the Presbyterian Church, Episcopal Church, and the UCC.  It is called the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) and has been around since the nineties.  There are some who suggest this organization is primarily political but uses religious “wedge” issues to drive an essentially economic agenda.  By frightening folks in the pews over gay issues, their underlying goal is to mute the otherwise progressive impulses of the church regarding economic justice issues.

the work of the IRD is to intensify suspicion of the Christian integrity of denominational leadership.  The goal of its donors is not the strengthening of united witness but the weakening of any resistance to the rightward swing of American politics, especially on matters of economics.

For them, changing the leadership and public voice of the mainline denominations is part of a broader undertaking to silence all effective forms of progressive opposition to the right-ward turn in national policy.[2]

In any case, IRD is there to offer counterpoint to the “universalism”, “pansexual agenda”, and  “the hotspot of revisionist activity” that it perceives in the gay advocates (from the IRD blog).

[1] You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. The very stones will cry out from the wall, and the plaster will respond from the woodwork. Habakkuk 2:10-11 (NRSV).

[2] John B. Cobb, Jr., professor of theology emeritus, Claremont School of Theology, quoted in Hard Ball on Holy Ground, a collection of essays exposing this suspicious organization. One of the hallowed founders of IRD was the exceedingly rich, exceedingly right-wing, deceased political columnist Robert Novak, an ardent Roman Catholic.