I’ve never ceased to be amazed how hateful the anti-gay and anti-trans sentiments and actions of the United Methodist Church really are. At every General Conference I attended until 2012, and in the implementation of the church’s policies every year in between, the situation for queer people and their allies only got worse. No matter what we did – write letters, sign statements, tell stories, pray, craft legislation – it only got worse. Yet while the hateful speech and discrimination, persecution and prosecution of gay people and their allies continued unabated, for the first time since 1972, the church at GC 2012 in Tampa didn’t codify more prohibitions and penalties in the Book of Discipline.
There is a reason for this: we so significantly disrupted the GC that they could not carry on with business as usual. After the “agree to disagree” legislative compromise failed for the fourth GC in a row, the Love Your Neighbor Coalition executed a witness in which volunteers and delegates broke the bar and entered the plenary floor. We offered communion. During this action, the bishop called a recess of the conference. When communion was over, the Coalition planned to leave the floor. Love Prevails members decided to stay. The rules of the GC would prevent reconvening if non-delegates remained. Dozens stayed and we sang. We sang for three hours. Ultimately, bishops and conference organizers negotiated with us to attend a meeting with the Calendar Committee, where a representative group of UM leaders agreed to effectively bury all matters on sexual orientation and gender identity at the end of the agenda, preventing them from coming up. This was an ambiguous solution. We do not promote not dealing with GLBTQ oppression as a way of resolving injustice. But it seemed better that the BoD not change than to make it worse.
This is the bottom line: we disrupted the normal business of the Conference to such a degree that they had to negotiate with us to stop the clearly approaching anti-gay legislative train-wreck. We were willing and open to creatively engage in disruption, and we seized the moment when it arrived. And we had an impact. In 2016, we will be there, ready with new acts of creative disruption.
Julie Todd is an elder in the New England Conference. She is Affiliate Faculty for Justice and Peace Studies at the Iliff School of Theology.