Before we get to the day’s news, we begin with a bit of history.
In 1975, The first Methodist gay caucus meeting took place at Wheadon UMC Church of Evanston, Illinois near the Northwestern University campus. Steve Webster*, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was the principal organizer. Steve had been featured in a New York Times article earlier when his attempt to enroll in seminary was rejected because he was an out gay.
“This is not the end of my ministry, but more of a beginning,” he said to the New York Times.
Webster would fulfill his promise and pursue a life of ministry, but not in the manner he expected. Ordination in the UMC would remain beyond his grasp, and Webster’s ministry would be as a lifelong advocate for gays within the Methodist Church. It started when Webster and Richard Cash organized the first national gathering of gay Methodists. For a mailing list, Webster used the return addresses from the numerous letters of support he had received in response to the New York Times article.
“I got ahold of one of those old mimeograph stencils and rolled it into my Smith-Corona typewriter and carefully typed up a flyer about the meeting,” Webster would later reminisce.
Their efforts bore fruit in the summer of 1975 when nearly twenty gay Methodists gathered at Wheadon Church. That meeting was the birth of The United Methodist Gay Caucus, soon to be renamed Affirmation, and The Reconciling Congregation Project (RCP) would be a later outgrowth in the 1980’s. At a second meeting that year in Kansas City, others joined the group. Their primary activities in 1975 were to prepare for a ministry of presence at the 1976 UMC General Conference in Portland.
One positive development at GC 1976 would be networking with like-minded groups. Common worship services were conducted with the Women’s Caucus, the Young Adult Caucus, and the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA). That tradition of cooperative, collective action by progressives continues. At GC2012, the “Common Witness Coalition” includes Affirmation and Reconciling Ministries Network—the spiritual heirs of that first meeting in 1975—and the Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, the National Federation of Asian-American United Methodists, and the Native American International Caucus.
They jointly publish a paper newsletter—Neighbor News– distributed at GC2012 and also online—click here.
Yesterday, the Coalition sprang to action in an impromptu demonstration. Three hundred demonstrators lined the hallways as the plenary hall emptied. The day before, the schedule included time for “Holy Conversations” regarding human sexuality, spread over a number of meeting rooms. In some of the rooms, holy conversation did, indeed, take place. In others, however, gays were bullied and derided.
“After the holy conversations yesterday, there were a number of people who felt abused in what we believed was intended to be a truly holy conversation space,” said Marla Marcum of Lexington, Mass., a volunteer coordinator for the Love Your Neighbor–Common Witness Coalition that organized the demonstration. “But for whatever reason, in many, many of the rooms, that was not borne out, and delegates and observers were bullied and … (some were) met with derision and scorn.”
For full treatment of the failed conversations and the ensuing demonstration, check out the blog post by Tim Tanton on the UMC News Service website.
As a positive note, there were two “firsts” in the honored laity speakers on Tuesday. Betty Spiwe Katiyo was the first African laity address presenter and Amory Peck, the lay leader of the Pacific Northwest Conference, was the first lesbian—though she doubts everyone knew that–and she regrets that she wasn’t able to use her speech to note that fact.
I was sad that I could not say that openly. But the Laity Address is about bringing people together. Of course gays and lesbians are active in the church, but there is fearfulness in being open about it. I wish we could lift the silence because the silence is crushing.