Monday, February 25, 2019

General Conference Day 3: What to say? #umcgc #gc2019

It was a really hard day at General Conference. Hard is not the right word. Painful. Sad. Harmful. For those of us who have advocated and worked on behalf of full inclusion of our LGBTQ siblings in the life of the church, today was a gut punch, one that was many years in coming. You could trace that gut punch back to 2008, perhaps, or 2004. We voted down the very plan that 2/3 of our bishops recommended (though it will likely come up as a minority report tomorrow).

I have been thinking a lot today about the sins of the fathers. For as much as I have heard more traditionalist delegates say, "Oh, it's the same percentage against same-sex marriage every General Conference," as if the needle has not been moved on the issue, the truth is that the composition of the delegates changes each quadrennium. Just as marriage equality gains steam in the United States, more and more delegates from outside the US are coming to General Conference. All of this has put us on an unsustainable course for a church with democratic, connectional polity. And we set up this global arrangement without so much as a study committee! I am all for the worldwide church; I worked professionally in mission for years, for goodness sake. But I am not for using the nature of the worldwide church to push agendas. I don't think we should use the church at all. The church was not made for us. We were made for the church.

We knew from our prioritization work on Sunday that the Traditionalist plan had the most support of all the plans (beyond necessary pension adjustments). I was not surprised when it passed. The thing that surprised me the most today was the support for the exit provisions. Including the traditionalist plan, we voted to support three of them. Three! As I wrote yesterday, loosening or eliminating the "trust clause" is a radical departure from our Wesleyan roots. These petitions have not received final passage yet--we were dealing with all legislation today in committee--but I suspect at least one of them will pass tomorrow, provided the petitions pass constitutional muster (and I suspect they will). The whole day felt a little bit like an episode of the Twilight Zone: not because things were horrific, but just because they were so weird. For as much as the traditionalists fuss at the progressives for talking about the way that the African delegations vote as a block, the delegations from Africa largely did just that. You can sit in the stands and watch certain American delegates (including from my delegation) working the members of the various African delegations. I don't begrudge the Africans for voting how they want. I do begrudge the American delegates for instructing African delegates how to vote and for offering financial incentives. It's not like colonialism. It is colonialism. And I have to say, the unwritten rule that we must not call out these practices as what they are--which is to say, sinful--has gotten us to a place where the church is on the precipice of schism. No more. I will not sit idly by as these people harm the church I love.

I sometimes get dinged by those with whom I disagree about full inclusion who say that I'm just "letting the culture take over," as if I were somehow unable to differentiate the waters in which I swim from the Clear Teaching of Scripture, such as it is. I wish those people could experience General Conference, and how toxic its own culture has become. Hanging onto integrity and advocating for those on the margins is often the very definition of counter-cultural in this work. I don't mind getting dinged. And I don't mind disagreeing with people. But the harm we are doing to beloved children of God is downright violent. I'm running out of my own ability to stomach it.

I won't go into many more of the specifics of the day. I am still pretty angry about the trajectory of the day, and I have discovered that writing while angry is rarely a good idea. (I may wake up tomorrow and wish I hadn't written about the colonialism bit! But I doubt it). James Howell has written a helpful summary of the day, including word we're hearing through the grapevine that the official United Methodist seminaries plan to pull out of the denomination if the Traditionalist plan passes. We will learn more tomorrow morning about the constitutionality of the plans we passed today, though we already know that the traditionalist plan is full of problems.

What I do want to say is this. To my LGBTQ friends and family: you are seen. You are beloved, by God and by me. And I am broken-hearted that you are so often treated as otherwise, especially by the church. I am not done fighting for you. I will not be done until homophobia is dead. I suspect I will never be done. I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry.

Let me say one more thing. I am so grateful for the many prayers of the people who love me. The church I serve probably got tired of me talking about the upcoming General Conference as if it were some impending doomsday. The truth is, I have come to understand that my need to talk about General Conference in the last few months was really about my need to say to the people I love: "I really need you to pray for me. This is how you can best love me right now." I have to say, my family and friends and church have delivered. I really feel those prayers. For as hard as today was--and for as heartbroken (and just downright exhausted) I am--I am not afraid. I do not know what the future holds. I continue to be concerned about dissolving the trust clause and the likely decision of our seminaries to pull out. I don't know what form the United Methodist Church will take, nor do I know if traditionalist churches will leave (as I suspect) or some new, more inclusive denomination will be formed at some point down the road.

I do not know any of this for sure. And yet I can honestly say that I do not have fear about what will come next. This is a remarkable thing for me to say, and I have been reflecting on it tonight. I tend to be scared of everything! But I do not have fear about the work that God will do through me, nor through the congregations I presently serve, nor through the church. For as dark as things seem, I know--I know--I KNOW--that God is for us, and if God is for us, who can be against us? How else can you explain this honest-to-God expression of Pentecost?

Tomorrow will be an important day as we conclude our work. The judicial council is set to rule on several provisions. With General Conference, it isn't over until it's over, and even then it isn't necessarily over. I am reminded that at the end of the day, our hope is in Jesus, whose love confounds even the General Conference. What will emerge, I do not know. I do know that God is still God, and people still need Jesus. Resurrection happens. Hold onto hope. I am holding on, too.


  1. Thanks for sharing from your heart. Prayers are going up for you. Praying tomorrow will bring enlightenment

  2. Tomorrow is now dawning, and I am praying for you and all the delegates and sending love.

    I know that in the midst of the complicated process, the historical context and historical rhymes between what is going on between the Americans and the Africans is not helpful to consider...but as a white SC-raised UM preacher’s kid, it is one of the things that is driving me crazy.

    And I also don’t know who is supposed to leave? The traditionalists (with their property) or the ones who reject the bad theology and incoherent language of the BOD (as exemplified by the theology schools and their resources). I suppose after today we’ll know more. And I’m praying for a miracle turnaround.

    Jim K from NDUMC pointed out that Moses had to die before Joshua’s generation could come forward. I resemble that remark as a woman of a certain age.

    But also, I grew up with a lot of those people in SC who are leading the charge to schism (the descendants of the ones who blew it up in the 1840s), and yet I learned that God created and loves every one, no matter what. That is what I believe and I am grateful for that and also convinced that I am right.

    I really struggle with anger and the desire to hate those who don’t see it the same way I do. I guess the lesson is they are doing the best that they can and I am too. I’ll keep praying and trusting in God’s guidance.

  3. You, all the delegates, the UMC and literally all the people of the world, stay in my prayers, my precious friend. May we find some way to express the love of Jesus without hurting anyone. My heart is heavy . . .