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.

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4 thoughts on “On Civil Rights and Being Friends with Queer People

  1. I am beyond dismayed and angered that the majority of the UMC is voting to full-on disenfranchise and damage the LGBTQI community. I am so sorry. I am UCC, and our congregation prayed for you all this morning. Jesus is weeping, and so are we.

    • Thank you so much for your prayers and support, Kathryn, and UCC, it is truly appreciated. I might wonder if this isn’t the darkness that precedes resurrection.

  2. Seems there are well over 100 LGBTQ UMC pastors who can now invest themselves in over 100 UCC new church plants!! UMC leadership and delegates are determined to go down in a ship that continues to lose members and the money necessary to fund the ‘beast’…

  3. Everyone should have the right to marry. I am ashamed at the Council of Bishops and the fact that
    Rev. Vicki Flippin could not give her sermon with an affirmation to all LGBTQI persons. It is
    not spiritual and not in the spirit of Christ at all. It is sad and wrong. People will have to really
    protest in the future. I hope that ministers disobey the wrong part of the Discipline by marrying
    same sex couples.

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