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.