Rev. Dr. Julie Todd
I 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.
Many 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:
- 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.
Having 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.