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:
- Institutions based in white supremacy, patriarchy and heterosexism will always work in the best interests of everyone, including the oppressed;
- People in power within institutions know what is best and are doing the best they can to work on behalf of everyone;
- 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.
As one who was surprised and disappointed, I am grateful that you have helped me see my own complicity in the system. (And not for the first time – or probably the last). God help me continue to deeply see …. and more deeply see … and use the power and privilege I have to make space for the voices that have been shut out.
Of course seeing this about oneself is never easy, and yet this gives me hope because becoming aware of my complicity can lead me to new choices – something that is actually in my control. I am in prayer about how to more deeply engage with LGBTQIA brothers and sisters AND as you have inspired me, to ask critical questions of our collective prayer to be linked with collective action.
Thank you for your presence, your work and your inspiring faith in our God, who is so much more than we dare to dream.