Will Green on the Council of Bishop’s Meeting

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by Rev. Will Green
(compiled from Facebook posts)

Post 1: The morning after General Conference I went to the hotel where the bishops were staying with this sign that reads “Press 1 for Unity. Press 2 for Incompatible. Please vote now.” The UMC has created a situation that guarantees failure. They can promote their version of unity, which leaves many of us incompatible with Christian teaching. Or they can support the church’s current statements on sexuality, which means we are not united. There is no more time to figure this out. The General Conference decided to follow the leadership of the Council of Bishops, which means deferring all actions and decisions for several more years. This leaves gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other queer people incompatible and outside of the UMC’s unity. It is obvious to everyone that we need other options. I have chosen to continue using my power by disregarding the church’s unjust rules and applying pressure on the people who are upholding the institution.

Post 2: Friends who are trying to put a positive spin on the Bishops’ Commission or figuring out how we can use the system and the process to our advantage… we can’t! If you think we are going to get the best of the system if we get the right people in the right seats and get them to vote the right way, then hope will die again and again and again. We have been doing that for 44 years and we have lost, lost, lost… Our power is not in the system. Our power is in withdrawing our support from these systems and joining together in collective action that challenges the institution. (Coming out, not just as GLBTQ, but also coming out as ones who will continue to defy injustice! Ordaining GLBTQ people! Performing same-gender weddings! Being in meaningful relationships and ministries with queer people! Learning to tell the truth and not repeat popular lies!) The institution is powerless without our complicity. That is why we disregard unjust laws, refuse to comply with attempts to intimidate and practice solidarity with others. (Go ahead and refer to it as the Book of Disregard when we are taking about the hateful parts that are written to hurt people!) We are strong when we act together for what is right. God will keep doing beautiful things through our faithfulness.

Post 3: Today the Council of Bishops voted to refer setting up the special Commission to their Executive Session meeting in November of this year. This means it will be 2017 at the earliest before the Commission even meets… General Conference adjourned less than 24 hours ago and I hope that people can now accept that this Commission is not going to both organize a special session of General Conference AND create comprehensive reforms to every paragraph in the Book of Discipline that deals with “sexuality.” The bishops’ plan worked very well – business as usual! Who was it who thought the Bishops would “lead” us forward again?

 Thoughts on the Final Day of UMCGC

Love Prevails members Rev. Will Green and Laura Ralston share their thoughts headed into the final day of the United Methodist Church General Conference. These were originally posted on Facebook.

IMG_4216Rev. Will Green: On my way to the last day of the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. All that remains to be seen is whether or not the right-wing will be able to bring forward the legislation that begins to undo the trust clause. But it seems that the Bishops will simply not allow that happen since the presiding officer has total discretion to control the floor. Regardless, the denominational schism will continue. And soon the United Methodist Church will be left with nothing but theology it does not believe, debt it cannot afford and a need for forgiveness it has been too proud to ask for. We are being lead by two generations of leadership who have been trained to lie about who they are and what they actually believe. Our greatest skill is our willingness to fight with ourselves, which is why the only new idea that is coming out of these two weeks is the possibility of having more frequent General Conferences. It is going to be sad to see this day end, as I’m sure it will, with another resolution supporting “unity”.

 

FullSizeRender (1)Laura Ralston: This morning on my last run along the Willamette River I thought through some of my uneasy feelings about the last 10 days. For me today, I am specifically thinking about the lists that have floated around. The queer UM clergy list, followed by a queer clergy list of support from other denominations. That was followed by a list of UM clergy allies, followed by a list of lay people who also call the church to be inclusive.

I am not on any of those lists. I don’t have the privilege of clergy orders, I am seminary educated and not ordained. I don’t really feel like a lay person, even though I am. I made the decision to not pursue ordination because I wasn’t sure I could do that without going back in the closet and goodness knows I have spent enough time there. That would ruin my marriage and lead me down a path I do not believe I could recover from or live with.

Tomorrow I head home, back to my life in Denver with Erin. Working with friends to imagine a new faith community in Denver. Walking alongside people as they discern their next steps in their call to ministry.

I do not throw my hands in the air because my name is not on one of those lists. Instead, I will continue to work for justice in the United Methodist Church to remove the discriminatory language against LGBTQI people in the Book of Discipline.

 

Getting Played for the Okey-Doke

Rev. Dr. Julie Todd

13064667_10153997621681005_1496842297994785205_oI learned this phrase yesterday from our Soulforce comrade and nonviolence trainer Haven Herrin, which they learned from their colleague DJ Hudson. The way I understand this, “getting played for the okey-doke” means that when you are on the brink of real possibility for resistance and transformation, institutional power will respond by poking a hole in the fully drawn sail that is catching the winds of change and building momentum. The wind comes out of the sail and the momentum for change is lost. That is what happened to us yesterday. We got played for the okey-doke.

The passage of the bishops’ not-unanimous proposal, “An Offering For a Way Forward” (also known as the Howard Motion), surprised our movement for LGBTQ justice and inclusion. It poked a hole in the sail. Because we never win any votes. I know it disoriented me. I didn’t know how to feel.

Some claimed it as a victory, a step in the right direction. I don’t see it that way. To me, in that moment, we lost some of our collective outrage at the pain of so many years of exclusion and struggle. We ate the crumbs thrown on the floor for us at the General Conference.

This is not to say that what happened was not important. Certainly our pressure before and during GC has prevented worse legislation for LGBTQ United Methodists and their allies from coming before the General Conference for a vote. Votes we would have lost. The collective resistance of our entire movement brought us to this moment. It is good to celebrate that we are a force to be reckoned with. But we need to be clear that we have not won. It is important that we not claim victory.

The status quo of categorical discrimination against LGBTQ persons remains in The Book of Discipline. Nothing has changed. The last paragraph of the bishops’ Offering read, “We will continue to explore options to help the church live in grace with one another – including ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm while we uphold the Discipline.

Our movement seems to be focusing on the first part of this sentence and ignoring the second part. The original draft of this statement from the bishops did not include these last words. Early in the morning, these words entered this document as an official part of this statement. Nothing has changed. Those bishops who choose to pursue complaints and charges against LGBTQ folks and their allies will continue to do so. Those bishops who choose to avoid charges and complaints instead of taking a risk to challenge the status quo, will continue to do so. Nothing has changed.

We have been played for the okey-doke. Our belief in the system, that those entrusted with power have integrity and will act for good over against the maintenance of the institution, poked a hole in the sails of change. Our progressive movement is delusional if we believe that either this Commission or our Bishops will function to serve the well-being of LGBTQ, much less serve that which makes for justice.

13233099_890710957705668_4985865991270562402_nMany progressives will hear this as pessimism and cynicism. That may be true, but it is born of experience and knowledge of our movement’s history.

Recall that in 1988, the General Conference created the Committee to Study Homosexuality, which made very strong suggestions for LGBTQ justice and inclusion to the 1992 General Conference. Here is a description of what was proposed in 1992 (the entirety of this history can be found at http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_umc6.htm):

The * committee was able to reach a consensus on four items:

·      The 7 references to homosexuality in the Bible represent ancient culture and not the will of God. They cannot be taken as definitive.
·      Homosexuality is a normal human sexual variant, which can be healthy and whole.
·      Covenantal, committed, and monogamous homosexual relationships should be affirmed.
·      These conclusions are supported by God’s grace, which is visible in the life of lesbian and gay Christians.

A majority report recommended:

“The present state of knowledge and insight in the biblical, theological, ethical, biological, psychological, and sociological fields does not provide a satisfactory basis upon which the church can responsibly maintain the condemnation of all homosexual practice.”

The committee recommended that Paragraph 72 of the Social Principles be augmented to include:

  1. G)Rights of Homosexual Persons.Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to support those rights and liberties for homosexual persons. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting their rightful claims in same-sex relationships where they have: shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships which involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law. Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against gays and lesbians.

The homosexual report was “received” by the General Conference, but was not approved. 

The last sentence of that description is the most telling and relevant to our current situation. Since 1992, the discrimination and punishments for queer folk and their allies in The Book of Discipline have only gotten worse. The only year this was not true was at the 2012 GC, when Love Prevails held and occupied the floor of GC, resulting in negotiations by which the anti-LGBTQ legislation was pushed to the end of the formal agenda, from which it would not be resurrected. The Book of Discipline, however, remained the same.

Here we are again. The events of yesterday caused us to believe that some positive change took place. Yet The Book of Discipline remains the same. The perceived yet delusional feeling of victory poked a hole in the winds of creative tension and resistance that were mounting in the plenary yesterday. We could have pushed for more. We could have rejected their crumbs. We got played for the okey-doke.

Now we hear progressive voices believing there is a real shift in the institution, signaling hope that justice for LGBTQ folks is possible through this Commission. We hear that our bishops should be applauded for their leadership. We hear that certainly the acceptance of LGBTQ candidates and the end of church trials is on the way.

10615386_622181251225308_1699391787083688447_nHaving traveled around the country with Love Prevails these last four years in order to Disrupt the Council of Bishops’ and Connectional Table meetings, I can report first-hand that the dysfunction, fear and lack of leadership in moral courage and parliamentary procedure on display at General Conference is replicated at these meetings. The very bishops and other leaders that we believe to be on our side lack the guts to create change.

The problem is the failure of moral courage of progressive United Methodists, bishops and others, to disrupt the status quo. The Council of Bishops is a complete disaster area. I have never witnessed anything like it. They are neither willing nor able to act quickly or decisively on mundane matters, much less the matters of justice of almost any kind. This will not change with this Commission. The assumption of personal and collective integrity is mistaken.

Simply speaking, the order and peace of the institution is prioritized over justice for LGBTQ people. The painful truth of the matter is that they really just don’t care that much. When they demonstrate care, it is because we have cajoled and forced them to do so. That is my testimony.

I am angry with myself because in the moment that the bishops’ proposal passed, I also got played for the okey-doke. The wind came out of my own sails. I did not know how to feel or to act yesterday. I temporarily gave away my power and outrage. I have repaired the tear in my own sail today.

I heard many liberals yesterday say that they were prepared to force the issue for the next four years. They say they are ready create continued pressure, commit to hold our bishops accountable, and disrupt the ongoing unjust status quo.

Honestly, I doubt this is true. I hope to see people in this movement proving me wrong. Otherwise, we will have truly and lastingly been played for the okey-doke.

*Editor’s note: This previously said (presumably 100% heterosexual) which was language taken from the cited website. Here is a comment from Jeanne Knepper about the committee: The lesbian on the committee was Jeanne Barnett, of Cal-Nevada. Her partner, Ellie Charlton traveled with her to every meeting after the first because it was so brutal. The gay man appointed to the study left early on. Jeanne spoke in a prepared presentation of the report at the 1992 General Conference, the first time an identified LGBTQ person had spoken to General Conference since Keith Spare had 3 minutes in 1976. Your analysis is accurate and persuasive, but I would not like to lose Jeanne Barnett’s heroic work from our collective memory. We are grateful for the memory shared and apologize for sharing the misinformed citation.

Sue Laurie: A Rainbow of Feelings

May 17, 2016
(Edited from Facebook)

FullSizeRender-1.jpgSome days I wish I was more competitive. But I want everyone to win. As I enter the General Conference hall every day, I feel the hatred. It is palpable. I let it in. I do not try to block it.

And I feel the love. Love of friends. And I feel the love of God. I feel the anxiety of the process and I feel gratitude for those who have worked so hard. I am excited to see people of the larger UMC, longtime co-conspirators and new advocates for grace and inclusion.

So every day is a spectrum of emotion. A rainbow of feelings.

Today, as the news of the Bishops getting busy is confusing. I am not interested in creating oases of safety for the privileged few. Following Jesus is dangerous ministry. I do not want to abandon LGBTQI people in hard places.

However, I am also feeling very positive feelings – perhaps that the silence is breaking! The code language and double speak has crushed the integrity of the body of Christ. My good and faithful friends have had to leave in order to be whole. The closet has been enforced, even by “allies.”

However, I am also feeling very positive feelings – perhaps that the silence is breaking! The code language and double speak has crushed the integrity of the body of Christ. Integrity as our strategy! Wow.

I will be smiling because the Spirit has been set free from the “covenant” that silenced and killed relationship in this church.

I will be grateful for the faithful witness of people who would not participate in the hypocrisy and led the way, sometimes by leaving.

I am remembering you today.

I will be apprehensive because we do not know how painful the speeches will be as this is considered. We do not know the outcomes. And, wanting Bishops to lead sounds so unfamiliar to my experience of their history of “washing their hands” of leadership.

Then, it may be defeated and we are back for the anti-gay legislation. Whew.

Meanwhile, we will continue with our calling to share the grace and understanding that God’s love is for LGBTQI people.

Love Prevails.

From Complacent Bystander to True Ally

I’ve always considered myself a progressive, a liberal, someone who has the needs of others at heart.  After a week at General Conference working with Love Prevails and witnessing committee work, dynamics in the hallways, and learning the code of church politics, I find myself asking for forgiveness.

Since seminary and ordination 20 years ago I have done little to nothing to make a difference in the lives LGBTQ people.  I have quietly thought good thoughts.  I have carefully said well intended words in safe audiences.  I mailed a box of cookies to a friend.  I invited someone to dinner.  But I have not bothered to witness the harm being caused by our church.  I have not spoken truth to power.  I have not risked anything.

And I am sorry.  I am ashamed.  I have allowed damage to be done and I have averted my gaze.  I have considered myself an ally, but in truth, I’ve been a complacent bystander.

I was challenged to attend General Conference to witness what happens to those marginalized by the church.  I wasn’t sure what that meant.  And I really would have felt more comfortable with an assigned role.  But I learned that witnesses are vitally important.  You can’t really believe how awful it is until you see it for yourself.  My seminary friend, Sue Laurie, told me that people often don’t believe the full extent of the stories she tells.  It helps to have a cloud of witnesses who have also seen, heard, and felt.

My witness and my apology mean nothing if I continue to speak safely and quietly.  They mean nothing if I don’t work to make a difference in my local church, my community, my annual conference and beyond.  There must be substantive action.  There must be risk.

So I call out to my friends who would claim the terms progressive or liberal.  We have abandoned our LGBTQ friends.  Our silence has been betrayal.  Our calm has caused damage.  Our theology means nothing without word and action.

13177288_10154167598222603_1725590365421272884_nHave you witnessed the carnage at our General Conference?  Lord have mercy!  Even the stones should be crying out.  So why aren’t we?

Several people offered me bail money before I left.  For better or worse, there were no actions while I was there that would have made me need it.  However, others will need bail money this week.  Soon, in fact.  Send it to https://loveprevailsumc.com/donate/
Send a lot.

But there has to be more than money, we must be moved to word and deed.  We must follow the example of Jesus Christ and speak truth to authority, work always for justice, and effect change in the world.  God is calling you in this moment to show up.   What will you risk?

Rev. Cathy Weigand

 

On Civil Rights and Being Friends with Queer People

Rev. Will Green
A Report from General Conference: Day 5, May 13, 2016

IMG_5299I hesitate telling you about what is going on at General Conference… I’ll start with this specific example because I just can’t repeat it all: we failed to affirm the statement, “We support the right of people to marry.” It failed in subcommittee and failed in full committee. Both agreed that supporting marriage as a civil right is something the United Methodist Church cannot do.

To be clear, the petition mentioned nothing about GLTBQ people, but it didn’t matter. GLBTQ people were brought up in every single speech against the petition. Furthermore, in the full committee a woman who identified herself as an attorney stated that if we affirm the right to marry, our clergy and churches will face lawsuits from same gender couples who will be able to sue pastors or the denomination if they cannot get married in our churches. Thankfully another delegate stood up who is also an attorney and said, of course, that this is not true. The committee chair summarized the back and forth by saying, “Okay, so we see there is some debate between attorneys about whether or not affirming the right to marry will open the church up to lawsuits.” Just to be clear, this was a petition about whether or not people have to right to marry. It mentioned nothing about GLBTQ people. But all people have to do is just mention the word “homosexuality” in a speech, and any petition will fail…

That same subcommittee also voted not to affirm the statement “We reject laws that criminalize homosexuality.” To say it again, the General Conference human sexuality subcommittee would not allow the church to say that being gay should be legal. This was overturned by 3 votes in the full committee and that was one of our big victories today in the United Methodist Church. We successfully voted 36 to 33 to affirm the statement “We reject laws that criminalize homosexuality.” It remains to be seen how all of this will be handled next week by the full plenary…

To step back from these particular votes and give some larger context of the conference itself, you may have seen a well photographed protest in the morning when many GLBTQ people stood with our mouths duct-taped during the morning session of the full conference. This was in response to a ruling of a presiding Bishop from Thursday that a delegate could not say the phrase “GLBTQ” from the floor.

Think back to what I just said about committee work. You should notice a big contradiction. In legislative committees you can say the words gay, lesbian or homosexuality anytime you want to kill a petition. Even if the petition does not mention GLBTQ people, it doesn’t matter. In the full plenary however, someone was ruled out of order for simply saying the phrase GLBTQ. The bishop literally cut her off after she said got to the ‘Q’. What is the difference?

If you know anything about the United Methodist Church, it should be obvious. The person in plenary who was ruled out of order by the bishop is a lesbian who was speaking about protecting us from harm. She is, by definition, out of order. The people in the committees who use the same words are straight people who are trying to do us harm. That solves it. It is okay to hurt us and talk about us, it is not okay for us to exhibit agency and participate in the church. This is of course consistent with how the United Methodist Church operates…

The bishops have a little song and dance they often use to explain why what they are doing is okay and they did it again this time. They called a secret little meeting with the queer person that they were willing to beat up in public and tried to pacify her in private. In this particular meeting, apparently the person the bishops had singled out to make an example of was not cooperative enough with their “dialogue session” so the bishops refused to offer any sort of an apology at all. They said “we’ll pray about it” and then they told her no…

In protest of this, a wonderful delegate who is a straight man found a way to get the floor and read a solidarity statement this morning. We stood up with our rainbow duct-tape and got our pictures taken…

This happens at every General Conference. We get to have little protests and read little statements and cry in front of the cameras and at the microphones. This is a pacifying technique that the bishops have learned to exploit beautifully. It just makes it that much easier to pass the most harmful and offensive legislation they can possibly justify….

As we were standing in protest, when the delegates finally exited for their break, I saw someone from the Human Sexuality subcommittee working his way up and down the line of protestors. He was hugging everyone, shaking hands, saying “God bless you”, saying, “Thank you for this witness.” It was the man who has been successfully leading the vicious attack against queer people in the subcommittee. When he got to me I ripped off the tape and said, “If you are serious, then stop doing the harm you are doing. Change your votes and stop the violence.” He tried to hug me and I wouldn’t let him. He said he wanted to be my friend and I said, “I am not your friend. Friends do not attack each other the way you are attacking me.”…

IMG_5354
Sure enough, tonight when discussing whether or not we would support a petition that says he are opposed to homophobia and heterosexism he said, “I’m not a bad guy. I love people who are GLBT. In fact, I’ve met many people here at this very conference who are gay. And I want to hear their stories and get to know them. I want to be their friend. If we vote to say we are opposed to homophobia then you are just calling me a name and ending the conversation. I want to be in dialogue and learn from these people so please don’t vote to say that we are in opposition to homophobia.” This is a man with a doctorate in counseling. He is a professional Christian therapist…

And this is how it works. People smile and give us hugs and say they are sorry for how we feel, and then they use stories they extract from us to discriminate against us even more. At these gatherings there are people who flock to us just so they can feel better about themselves and exploit every interaction they have with us to do us more harm…

Tonight, as the legislative committee came to the end of their work, the queer people in the room had had enough. We disrupted the meeting. After the human sexulity subcommittee finished their report to the whole committee, we shouted “SHAME! SHAME ON THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH!” We booed. We yelled. We stood up. We sang “Jesus Loves Me”, and I REALLY projected my voice especially at that last line “THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO!”… The chair said, “Friends – ” And we yelled back from the gallery as loudly as we could, “YOU ARE NOT OUR FRIEND! DO NOT CALL US FRIENDS.” He said, “Thank you, now I’m going to ask you to please sit down and be quiet” And we yelled, “NO! WE WILL NOT!” We yelled, “STOP THE HARM!” We shouted, “END THE VIOLENCE!” We screamed, “WE ARE THE PEOPLE YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT!” We yelled and screamed and shook things up for a few minutes. It was a good few moments…

On my way out of the Convention Center I saw the therapist who had been trying to hug us in the morning and hang us in the evening. I told him, “Never call me your friend. You do not have the right to talk about me or any other queer person like we are your friend. That is a lie and you need to stop doing it.”…

If you know me, you know I call everyone “friend”, literally. It is the word I use to address another person. General Conference of the United Methodist Church is a good way for even me to learn that some people are not your friend.

Reflections on Day 3 of General Conference

by Will Green

Will GIMG_6105reen (left) shared the following reflections about General Conference after Day 3 on his Facebook page. We share his thoughts here with his permission to show you what is happening from a Love Prevails perspective.

Post 1: Remember in seminary when “Covenant Groups” were just a time for some students to complain about their classes, but those same people never wanted to carry any water or take any risks to change the school? Ever been to a clergy gathering where it was all about listening to someone complain about how “their church doesn’t let them do anything” and how nobody understands how hard it is for them? If so, then you know what it is like to go up to a Bishop at General Conference to talk to them about how GLTBQ people are getting slaughtered and ALL THEY CAN SAY is how “dysfunctional the council of bishops is” and how you can’t imagine how bad it is to be a bishop. My response in these conversations is, “I do know, I can tell. Let’s do something about it.” Of course they don’t know how to do something about it. That is why they have risen to the positions they have risen to. They are well trained and well practiced in how to survive and advance in the system that exists. Tonight every time I said, “Let’s do something about it”, the response was “I want you to know that I am personally very sorry for what is going on.” We have lots of sorry, sorry people in our denomination. We need more people who are ready to do something about it.

20160513_112608Post 2: trigger warning: child abuse, violence, homophobia, transphobia – an update from the United Methodist General Conference ‪#‎UMCGC GLBTQ people don’t just get beat up on the plenary floor at General Conference. We get massacred in every subcommittee in the convention center. As many people know, a successful strategy for many years has been to insert as many discriminatory statements in as many parts of the Discipline as possible. This way it isn’t just the Social Principles that deal with our lives. It is all over the place. But this little update just comes from the Church & Society B, Human Sexuality Subcommittee. To get to the point, we are going to lose every single vote in this subcommittee this time: every single vote. For example, today they voted down a resolution on culture and identity (petition no. 60114) that affirmed human diversity is a reflection of God… because, to directly quote a delegate who spoke, “the only culture that matters is Biblical culture”. They voted down a resolution on “Reducing Harm for LGBTQ Children and Youth” (petition no. 60841) because, to directly quote a delegate, “He that does not punish the child, does not love the child.” (To be clear, the group voted with those who said – out loud – that disowning, beating and punishing children for being GLBTQ is not something the church should be against because it is a way of disciplining children and does not harm them at all.) They voted down the compromise resolution from the Connection Table called “A Third Way on Human Sexuality” (petition no. 60820) that states there is disagreement over how United Methodists understand sexuality because, to directly quote a delegate, “Jesus is Lord. We must follow Jesus.” It is unclear whether they will tighten the church’s current sexuality statement (which of course says “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”), or if they will simply let it stand as is. One thing I will say about the UMC in 2016 is that perhaps we have finally become so anti-GLBTQ that even the conservatives do not feel they have anything left to prove. They already know they run the church and can pass whatever they want. Liberals have been wasting time talking about process and tinkering with new rules that would allow us to share our stories in “safe” (sic) space. Since those conversations are now clearly and cleanly out of the way, they are now proceeding with destroying us.