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.