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.
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.