Love Prevails post-General Conference Statement

While Love Prevails expected the outcome of this Special Session of General Conference, our hearts genuinely go out to the people who are surprised. However, the shock and dismay of moderates and liberals is at the heart of the problem.

You were lied to.

The system is set up to generate lies and to create obedience.

Here are the lies:

  1. Institutions based in white supremacy, patriarchy and heterosexism will always work in the best interests of everyone, including the oppressed;
  2. People in power within institutions know what is best and are doing the best they can to work on behalf of everyone;
  3. Trust the process.

There are countless moderate and progressive people, delegates included, who thought they could “fix” the “gay issue.” These people thought they had the power to make the hatred and discrimination at the core of who we are “better.”

We were told countless times that nobody really “likes” the One Church Plan, but that it was the only reasonable solution – as if identifying our level of comfort with throwing some LGBTQIA+ people under the bus would hold the church together.

The bishops are central in this deeply deceptive dishonesty.

Instead of listening to the people who are most harmed by LGBTQIA+ discrimination, instead of working with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and other people who were most directly impacted by the homophobia of the institution, the leadership of the church trusted their own power and position. They neglected to talk deeply and vulnerably with those most affected by their policies. They trusted institutional processes. They supported a corrupt legislative process that, for 47 years, has never once served queer people.

Rather than seeking justice, the leadership of our church has bowed in the direction of money and pacified the masses with phony prayers and false piety. The first unofficial day of this specially called session of General Conference began with a Day of Prayer. We know how that day turned out.

We have prayed our way forward and backward. We repeatedly called upon the Holy Spirit: “Please, Holy Spirit, DO SOMETHING.”

This was always meant to be a form of passivity and abdication, but never a source of inspiration. Throughout General Conference, leadership repeatedly called us to submit to God’s will – which in this context of wicked oppression translated into a willing renunciation of our own agency in partnership with God.

Prayer is not a renunciation of responsibility, a singular act of surrender or submission of power. Rather, prayer is an integral part of action. In the Hebrew Bible, the prophets condemn prayers that neglect engagement with the oppressed. Throughout the gospel texts, Jesus did not substitute prayers for actions. He retreated to places apart for prayers that we do not know the content of and returned to the public sphere to act. Prayer functions in the gospel as being in relationship to, not in opposition to, engagement.

It is a different way of coming to understand surrender and submission, when we ask ourselves, “What does the Spirit require of us? What does it mean when the word is made flesh in us, when the word is made in our flesh?” It is truly a dangerous act to ask the Spirit what it requires. The UMC has been taken over by this anti-theology of prayer that demobilizes people, trains us not to act, not to be engaged, not to show up in our bodies, but to contain the spirit and follow orders.

And now, even after the carnage of these past days, there are again calls for prayer, prayer, and more prayer. Certainly your bishop has already sent you a letter asking you to pray for the future of the United Methodist Church. Do not let anyone tell you that prayer is the next step for anything. Do not let calls to prayer pass without asking critical questions about the connection of these prayers to collective action. What is the relationship of our prayers to our engagement with our justice for LGBTQIA+ people? Love Prevails demands a bridge between prayer and embodied proclamation, an exchange between the internal disposition of relationship with the divine and action in the external world of oppression, including the church.

Additionally, Love Prevails has heard the calls for a new denomination, a new future for progressive United Methodists. We have a deep and well-founded fear that moderates and liberals will try to build a new Methodist Church based on the principles of the One Church Plan.

Those who created and supported the One Church Plan should be the last people to help define what the new church looks like. The One Church Plan lacked any meaningful, generative encounter with the gospel or a radical vision of justice. One Church Plan authors and supporters sold out LGBTQIA+ folx, clearly misread the depth of the hatred directed at us, and were not in tune with a broader and abundant vision of the body of Christ.

One Church Plan supporters must now take a back seat and let the most marginalized lead.

At this General Conference, queer people of color called us to remember the white supremacy and colonialism that is at the heart of the Traditionalist Plan. Love Prevails pledges itself to be in deeper relationship with queer people of color. As we call upon our straight allies to step aside so queer people can lead, we commit to decentering whiteness in the new church that is being built.

We do not need the old denomination back, or its bishops or leaders. We cannot put new wine in these old wineskins.

The last thing we want to hear is that we have wasted too many resources and too much time on these debates over LGBTQIA+ people. Or that it is time to move on and get back to what’s important. If heterosexism, patriarchy, and white racism are not dealt with directly, and if queer people are not leading the conversation about the future of our church, then it is not a church worthy of the gospel.

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The Feeling of Being a United Methodist This Morning

It seems that all United Methodists are scared and fearful this morning about what’s going to happen today. This is what it feels like to be an LGBTQI+ United Methodist. This is what it feels like every moment of our lives, since 1972 when the United Methodist Church created these horrible policies that are killing us and destroying our lives. We’ve been the crosshairs this whole time.

A lot of other people are feeling like targets today – bishops and leaders of the denomination. Will they stand with us and protect us or will we get sold out again by the continuing harm of the One Church Plan? The One Church Plan betrays the gospel and the teachings and ministry of Jesus.

People are so outraged right now, but where has their outrage been for the years that we have been trying to tell them that this is a predictable outcome of their silence, complicity and hypocrisy? It’s good that people are scared today. We’ve been scared for a long time, and ignored and suppressed for a long time. We have begged to be at the table because we knew we could help. We who are LGBTQI+ people could have helped to prevent this. So many people are in pain today – LGBTQI+ people, allies, family members, churches. This sort of pain, chaos and fear is what it feels like to be queer in the UMC in between the highs and lows of General Conferences.

And so the question we have going into today is: are people going to stand with us? Are the bishops going to stand with us, the people who are feeling the fear, the delegates, the people who say they want to stand in solidarity – will they defy the limitations of the exclusion of the One Church Plan? Or will they sell us out again? We must defeat the One Church Plan and commit ourselves to full inclusion and full affirmation of the lives and ministries of LGBTQI+ people in our church.

We have been begging the church to take this crisis seriously for a long time and we have been consistently closed out, kept away from the table and shut down. Now the church is feeling the pain of its own policies and it is killing the church. Will people try to make this better today and abandon us again, as we’ve been abandoned so many times before? Or will they invite us to help lead the church to a new place?

The Truth Will Set You Free

Throughout our years of direct action, Love Prevails has felt called to expose and name the truth. The truth of the goodness, dignity and faithfulness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer United Methodists and the truth of the sins of homophobia, heterosexism, hatred and exclusion that lie at the heart of our denomination’s policies towards people with non-conforming sexual orientations and gender identities.

Sometimes it is hard work to expose the truth to others.

Sometimes the truth shows up on its own.

This is what happened yesterday when the majority of delegates voted to make debate of the Traditionalist Plan, the most extreme and punitive anti-LGBTQ+ of the plans, a top priority. And today it was approved to move to a final vote tomorrow.

From Love Prevails’ perspective, the prioritization and possible passage of the Traditionalist Plan may be the closest to springing the truth than we have ever been. The truth is ugly. This truth is: at the heart of our denomination is a hatred for queer people. We have a deep fear of admitting this is the truth.

The majority of forces within our pro-LGBTQ movement have this same fear: that at worst the powers that be in the church hate us and at best they fail to care deeply about our lives. If this were not so, then why would we accept any plan that does not make a statement of absolute and utter affirmation of lesbian, gay, queer, transgender and queer lives? Why does our movement affirm plans that at best (the Simple Plan) remove the language of hate and discrimination against us, but says nothing affirmative about queer folx, and at worst (the One Church Plan) continue to explicitly sanction discrimination against us at local levels?

Love Prevails believes the following. If the progressive movement were to force an unequivocal affirmation of our queer goodness, the backlash would be so fierce that the truth of the depth of our hatred would be undeniable. So to avoid this truth emerging, the movement returns over and over to the strategies and plans of the past – attempting to convince a moveable middle (that has never moved because it never existed), finding ways of smoothing our speech and actions to protect ourselves from ultimate rejection, and believing that agreeing to disagree is a gospel solution to confronting injustice and evil in whatever forms they present themselves.

The truth is that Traditionalist Plan is who we have allowed ourselves to become, through our own complicity, complacency, comfort, privilege, internalized oppression, inaction, and tolerance of evil. The Traditionalist Plan in the UMC was predicted twenty years ago in analysis after analysis of the Christian right’s strategy to dismantle mainline Protestant denominations after the successes of the 1960s in African-American struggles for freedom, the battles for binary gender equality, and trans-led resistance for queer lives. We have naively believed that this would not happen to us.

Liberals and progressives have a fantasy that we are better than this. This moment reflects that we are not. The greater harm than the Traditionalist Plan may be continuing to lie to ourselves about this. This may sound cynical. We think it is true. We at Love Prevails are not planning to do anything to tamp this truth down. We will see how this process unfolds to reveal just how corrupt the process is and how dishonest we have been with ourselves.

Thoughts on the Day of Prayer

As a denomination, yesterday we spent roughly $925,000 on prayer that was not prayer. The initial call for the presence of the Holy Spirit was followed by a day-long parade of entirely scripted speaking-called-praying presented exclusively by bishops from a stage. Delegates prayed at tables. Observers may have prayed from the distance away that they are segregated from the plenary floor.

At best, it was boring and hollow. There was almost a complete lack of feeling. Aside from the anger generated by the utter hypocrisy of the day, it fell flat. It felt empty. It was dishonest and a cover for deep, deep harm. Part of the violence of it was the inanity of it. It was not only false, it was wasteful.

The only item on the agenda for the actual legislative session of the General Conference is to deal with the level at which we will continue to discriminate against lesbian , gay, bisexual, transgender and queer persons. This is the only agenda item set before us for three days. Despite this being the only reason for which we have been specially called together, there was exactly one reference to LGBTQ persons in the four hours of prayer before lunch. This one reference was not an affirmation. On the contrary, this reference was a rejoinder to erase differences, to the effect of: “We don’t come as gay or straight, we come as children of God.”

We sat and listened to multiple bishops speak to the mission challenges and opportunities in their region of the world: poverty, gun violence, immigration, health, education, women’s and children empowerment, hunger, homelessness, incarceration, migration. All matters that matter deeply to us. Not one of the bishops indicated that sexuality was a troublesome spot of challenges or opportunities in their part of the world. The one thing we are intended to speak about deeply was never even mentioned.

It is unconscionable that we gathered with the intention of figuring out how to regard the lives of queer people, and made only one mention that in fact requests queer people to put down their queerness for the sake of unity.

After lunch, and only after queer delegates confronted the bishops, were the lives of queer people centered. For about 10 minutes. What was modeled here was invisibility, erasure, silence, cowardice, and unwillingness to name the thing as the thing.

The whole day was egregious act of control, superficially making noise so that we didn’t don’t have to ever get to the painful center of the discrimination encoded in our denominational life. The whole day was an act of dishonesty, using the language of surrender and submission in carefully crafted narratives of unity.

We were asked to “set our desires aside” when in fact what we are being asked and the bishops embodied was to use the cover of prayer so that the Spirit never breaks in to liberate desire.

How is it on the brink of the possible devolution of the denomination, there is no emotion in the room, no rending of garments, no collective weeping and gnashing of teeth? Because the day of prayer was a farce and we all knew it.

One Church Plan Critique – Petition #15

From Wesley White’s Critique of the One Church Plan

Central Conference Implementation – Par. 543.17

This is a practical petition, given the different realities of Central Conference meeting times and language translations. Would that other petitions could have the same foresight of difficulties.

Amend ¶ 543.17 as follows:

  1. In a central conference or provisional central conference using a language other than English, legislation passed by a General Conference shall not take effect until twelve 18 months after the close of that General Conference in order to afford the necessary time to make adaptations and to publish a translation of the legislation that has been enacted . . .
    • Nonetheless, it is vital that this petition is defeated.
    • Left as is means there will not be an experience of the decisions of 2019 until after a next General Conference in 2020. Already, the current 12-month boundary means there will only be two or three months to experience the decisions made in 2019 before being pushed to look at their early results and make adjustments in 2020.

One Church Plan Critique – Petition #14

From Wesley White’s Critique of the One Church Plan

One Church Plan #14

Chargeable Offenses – Par. 2702.1

It is important to wonder about the significance of adding a code word to marriage—monogamous. I’m not savvy enough to catch its importance in this attempt at unifying United Methodists around topics of human sexuality when we have such a lack of educational resources to help us hold hands as we attempt to think together. I am suspicious that those behind the “religious liberty” language are also forwarding this “monogamous” language without any rationale about its importance in the realm of human sexuality.

Amend ¶ 2702.1 as follows:

¶ 2702. 1. A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference (¶ 370), local pastor, clergy on honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may be tried 168 DCA Advance Edition when charged (subject to the statute of limitations in ¶ 2702.4) with one or more of the following offenses: (a) immorality including, but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual a monogamous marriage; (b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies; (c) crime; (d) disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church; (e) dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church; (f) relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor; (g) child abuse; (h) sexual abuse; (i) sexual misconduct including the use or possession of pornography, (j) harassment, including, but not limited to, racial and/or sexual harassment; (k) racial or gender discrimination; or (l) fiscal malfeasance.

  • While pleased to see the removal of the “incompatibility” clause as an automatic path to investigation and trial, it is important to note that the whole of ¶ 2702.1.b needs to be removed. There is no accepted definition of what constitutes Christian teachings. The vagueness of “teachings” opens a door to charges based on variations of themes of human sexuality or other personal identity issues.
  • Petition 3 deleted the phrase, “Christian teaching,” and here we are keeping the plural form, “Christian teachings.” If there was any confidence that this term meant an appreciation of the breadth of Christian experience and learning from it, this might be a helpful word. However, the history of that phrase over these last 40+ years is one of searching the history of Christianity to find a detail that can be used against someone or the developing of an artificial category of persons.
  • There is nothing to be gained by keeping “Christian teachings” here and only much to be lost by setting up future disruptions. Only time will tell if the delegates are willing to leave this seed of contention as a reason to charge someone.
  • Dropping the word “homosexual” deals with a current specific but leaves open the creative uses of “Christian teachings” to practically have no effect on the potential trials that will be held.
  • There are enough doctrinal protections present in our Constitution (Preamble and ¶¶ 1–61) and Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task (¶¶ 101–105 and Conclusion). A simple removal of ¶ 2702.1.b is in order.

One Church Plan Critique – Petition #13

From Wesley White’s Critique of the One Church Plan

Business of the Conference – Par. 605

It is funny to watch the church attempt to schedule Grace, Mercy, and Justice. Generally, we don’t bind future decisions by a present one because we have noticed that G*D works on a different timeline than ours. It’s hard enough to keep up with where G*D has been, much less where G*D now is. This petition authorizes a freezing of wisdom for 30 months—and by 30 months we mean 3 years because of annual meeting schedules.

Amend ¶ 605 by adding new sub-paragraph after 605.9 as follows:

  1. At any clergy session of an annual conference, the chairperson of the Board of Ordained Ministry shall, if directed by a vote of the Board of Ordained Ministry, present a motion regarding certification, ordination, and appointment of self-avowed practicing homosexuals. Provided, however, that any clergy session of an annual conference that votes on such matters shall not, without the consent of the presiding bishop, take up any subsequent motion on that issue during any called or special session of annual conference held within 30 full calendar months from the date of such vote regardless of the outcome.
  • If General Conference should remove the “incompatibility” clause from the Book of Discipline, the only reason to have a motion such as this is to direct the Board of Ordained Ministry not to accept any LGBTQ+ candidates.
  • If this passes, an annual conference will be able to return us to the position we are currently in, deciding for G*D which category of people is not eligible to receive the call and gifts and graces for ordained ministry.
  • This petition falls into the speaking-out-of-both-sides-of-our-mouth. Of course, that is something The United Methodist Church has excelled in ever since the “incompatibility” clause passed. Case in point are these two back-to-back sentences in ¶ 161.f:

The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to anyone.

  • This petition effectively returns the “incompatibility” clause to annual conferences after it has been removed from General Conference documents. In so doing it repeats the intent of Jim Crow laws in a new setting. This is what local option means—pockets of discrimination in congregations, districts, and annual conferences. Wherever a majority can do an end-run around the absence of formal approbation of LGBTQ+ persons—the infection of “incompatibility” is reestablished.