By Gwen Ashby, Associate Director, Believe Out Loud
Like many of you, my heart broke yesterday as I read the news that the United Methodist Church voted 61% to 39% not to change their doctrine against homosexuality.
After last year’s successful policy change in the Presbyterian Church to ordain gay clergy, the numerous ballot victories for marriage equality, and the incredible organizing of LGBT-inclusive Methodists via Reconciling Ministries Network, An Altar for All (1000+ Methodist clergy for marriage equality) and the Common Witness Coalition, I was hopeful that the spirit of love, compassion and justice would win the day.
But while my heart broke, I was not surprised.
Throughout the week, I had been following the Facebook notes of my dear friend Mark Miller. Mark is a voting delegate to the Conference - the son of a Methodist pastor, an organist, composer, choir director, and all around spiritual tour de force. He is also gay, married and the father of two wonderful children.
Mark has been sharing the experiences of many LGBT-affirming Methodists in attendance. These experiences have ranged from discouraging to abusive, to profoundly uplifting.
More than anything, they put a human face on what happens when a collective body – in this case the UMC General Convention – votes on the side of discrimination.
On Wednesday afternoon, April 24, General Conference delegates were to spend two hours in ‘Holy Conversations’, one conversation around “Foundations on Identity and Theology” and other on “Human Sexuality”.
The conversations were given two and a half hours in the agenda but unfortunately, most of the delegates were in meetings that went way past their allotted time. Some delegates got almost all of the 2 hours, some didn’t even attend, and most of us had an abbreviated session.
This was the first problem: there wasn’t nearly enough time to create community or a safe, honest space for sharing. The second problem was leadership: there was no helpful facilitation in the small groups of 8 or so delegates to lead conversation, keep things on track and make sure things stayed civil.
The most profound problem came with the actual conversations. I understand that people of conscience disagree on substantive issues, but gay people are demeaned when we are told we are a ‘problem’ and can be ‘fixed’. And to 5 or 6 of the GLBT delegates I spoke to, this occurred over and over.
One delegate was intimidated when another delegate got very close to him and was forcefully waving his hands, brushing up against him, speaking on sexual sin. Another delegate shared a story about how a woman who wore short pants in his town was stoned, leaving the implication hanging in the air in the silence that followed.
Mark goes on to say that, while he is “used to people's judgmental words and actions making glbt persons feel less than worthy…it always takes me by surprise to hear such bigoted language coming from other delegates to the General Conference. “
Yesterday, in preparation for the vote, he wrote,
Today will be the day we debate human sexuality on the floor of General Conference. But we won't really talk about everyone's sexuality, just those of us in same-gender loving relationships.
I spoke to a young man tonight who has been beaten down by the hateful rhetoric and divisive mood that has pervaded a good chunk of this conference. We spent some time talking and I reminded him of how incredibly special he was and that, despite how difficult it was to imagine, these people actually didn't hate him.
Many of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender need to prepare ourselves for going into 'Christian' communities. Later this morning will be no different- we will need to put on the armor of Love and prepare to confront evil and find the spiritual strength to say "God, forgive them when they say things and they really don't know what they're saying."
Goodness is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Thank you for those inspiring words, Bishop Desmond Tutu! We will not lose sight that Grace and Love will always have the final say.
While grace and love did not have the final say yesterday, I know they will soon.
In the meantime, we must raise our Christian voices for LGBT equality. Take hope and believe. In love. In grace. In justice. And over the next four years, when the UMC General Conference meets again, hear these words shared by Mark on the conference floor.
“…today we are standing as gay and lesbian delegates. And yesterday the United Methodist Church did us harm. When we are harmed, the church is harmed.
We serve at every level of the church though no one will admit it. We were bullied- emotionally, spiritually, and physically. And no one really did anything.
We abide by Wesley's rule of 'do no harm' and that rule was broken.
We are standing because we cannot wait for broken promises to fix themselves. It’s time for this church to live our resurrection faith. And I know that there are others delegates who are GLBT and delegates who have family members and colleagues who are GLBT. We invite you to stand with us at this moment.
All means all. Stand. Stand, because we can do a lot better.”
Standing with you today, tomorrow and always.
Image by Michael DuBose, United Methodist News Service