- Rev. Troy Plummer -
The 2012 General Conference missed following the Great Commandment to Love Your Neighbor up close, face to face, respectfully affirming diversity and difference, and walking hand in hand towards Jesus. Putting powerful worship messages into practical living together proved to be too big of a leap. Even the attempted Holy Conversations violated our core value to “Do No Harm.”
Antigay policies remain intact. Thirty-eight more votes were needed to tell the truth – that the UMC is divided on justice for LGBT people. In 2008, 45.4% of delegates voted for language naming significant disagreement in Christian teaching regarding the practice of homosexuality. In 2012, 46.2% (439 of 952) voted for to say we disagree as a church, pastors of two of the largest growing mega-congregations in the US.
This nearly 1% gain is revealing considering that the explosive growth of our world church decreased US votes by 10%. If I believe the myth that there is no support for inclusion outside the US, I would have to believe that 439 of 606 US delegates or 72.4% voted to tell the truth. But neither the world church, nor the US church is monolithic.
Though I believe we won the US church by 60%, what does that mean when United Methodists still live under antigay policies and continue to be bullied, assaulted, raped, incarcerated, and driven to suicide in neighborhoods, rural and urban, where we have United Methodist churches around the world? We celebrate the inclusion of gender identity in our anti-violence paragraph (162), but when having a United Methodist Church nearby doesn’t make the road to Jericho any safer, just how are we transforming the world?
What can your congregation, district, annual conference do? How can you make the Road to Jericho in your own backyard safer? Some efforts are already underway: recruiting more Reconciling United Methodists, supporting congregations in inclusion, training reconciling coaches, organizing in annual conferences, building relationships in central conferences.
On May 4, 15 bishops gathered in the Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle to support Bishop Melvin Talbert as he proclaimed:
“… the derogatory language and restrictive laws in our Book of Discipline are immoral and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience…the time has come to call for …’An Act of Biblical Obedience’ based on the two-fold commandment of Jesus: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart; with all your mind; with all your soul and with all your strength. This is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like unto it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” …I call on the more than 1,100 clergy who have signed the pledge to stand firm in their resolve to perform marriages between same-sex couples in the normal course of their pastoral duties, …(and) to invite your congregations to support and help you in your efforts to be faithful to the gospel by taking actions to support you in using local church facilities for such marriages.”
How will your neighborhood regard unjust policies as immoral –for laypersons, clergy, and bishops—and take action?
Annual Conferences across the U.S. are responding to the harm done by The General Conference. Check out this article, “Conferences Voice Support for Gays,” by UMNS Reporter, Kathy L. Gilbert.
The motion prevailed in written ballot, 400 to 169.
Meeting in annual session in Saint Cloud, Minn., May 30-June 1, session members approved a resolution sent by a group of churches against the proposal that only a union of one man and one woman shall be recognized as marriage in Minnesota. The proposal will appear on the November ballot.
Those who submitted the resolution drew on a United Methodist stance that “all persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence” (The United Methodist Book of Discipline, paragraph 161F). They argue that many civil rights are based on one’s marital status: health insurance, equal taxation, retirement benefits, and health-care directives.
“Hundreds of thousands of current and potential United Methodists in Minnesota would benefit from equal protection of civil rights,” the resolution’s sponsors said.
The resolution is advisory and does not obligate individual United Methodists or their churches.
Only the Minnesota Conference in annual session can speak for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. All Minnesota United Methodist clergy and an equal number of lay people are session members, who meet annually to set mission and ministry policy for the regional body (conference). There are currently 72,000 members of 353 United Methodist churches in Minnesota.
Reporters may contact
Victoria Rebeck, director of communication for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, for more information.
RMN is thankful for the witness of Rev. Amy DeLong at General Conference as well as the deep thought and energy put into her document on clergy covenant. It is our hope that the Church responds to her invitation to dive more deeply into issues pertaining to clergy covenant and create systems and policies that respect the sacred worth of all people.
To read Rev. DeLong’s paper, visit: http://www.loveontrial.org/pages/covenant_document.pdf.
- Jorge Lockward -
It started 47 years ago in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where I was born and raised in an evangelical family. I could not wait for 6 p.m. on Sundays when we would go to my favorite service, Holy Communion, and sing our hearts out. Everything was picture perfect. I was expected to follow in my father’s steps. Prominent Biblical scholar, amazing preacher, distinguished diplomat, educator, and politician.
My first sermons were delivered with much trembling and received with surprising gratitude and affirmation. I was encouraged in this path and later became a deacon in my congregation. In the middle of it all, I had my first crush. Pretty natural for a 14-year old, except it was on a classmate…in an all-boys school. What followed was a private hell of desperate prayers and clever self-imposed mini-programs designed to change myself into who I thought God wanted me to be.
There was a program for learning how to “walk like a man,” another program to deepen my voice, a program to learn what to do on a date with women. Yet, no matter how much I prayed and “practiced,” things remained the same. One day, at the end of my rope, asking God to change me, I heard an inner voice that said “OK, but if I take that part out there are other parts that will also need to go.” That’s when I saw how everything that I am is linked together: my creativity, my spirituality, my sense of wonder, my kindness.
My “gayness” was not an appendage that could be severed; it was integral to my being. In that moment, I experienced the love of God in a fresh new way. Before then, I knew that God loved people, but at that moment I knew that God loved me. On that day I was born again.
Moving to New York brought about a return to the Methodist roots of my grandfather. The “gay” thing was a still a secret but no longer the heavy burden it was in my teen years. Slowly, I came out, first to close, supportive friends, then to family and eventually to the church.
In 2000, I experienced my first General Conference. For some it was a disaster for gay rights; for me it was an exhilarating ride – leading people in song as we marched on the streets of Cleveland, seeing bishops go to jail because of their commitment to gay rights. Their commitment to me was something I never dreamed possible. The 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh was a mixed bag: I was a part of the music and worship team which severely limited my witness. Fort Worth 2008 was great. I was elected a delegate from New York and was able to speak from the floor of General Conference on behalf of the ordination of gay and lesbian persons. We were so close. The committee brought a recommendation to eliminate discriminatory language but the full house voted it down by a slim margin.
We are marking 40 years of exclusion of gay people and arguing about why we are losing members. In Tampa, we had “holy conversations” in small groups meant to open dialogue among delegates on this matter. A sister delegate from Sierra Leone said, “I just don’t know how to even start speaking about this ‘thing.’”
I get it. She has not had the opportunity to see openly gay people in stable relationships, raising children, worshipping together. She does not know parents who are proud of their gay children. The concept of a pastor who is gay is unthinkable to her.
So, what do I hope the next four years will bring? It sounds petty and selfish, but primarily I hope to survive them. I hope to be given the inner strength to stay in relationship with people who see no problem in comparing who I am to a thief or a murderer. But I hope for more. I hope for a miracle of grace, for a moment when God does something we thought impossible. My mentor, the Rev. Pedro Pirón was the last person I came out to. He was just too important to me to risk. I waited until he was retired in Florida and very ill. In his car after hearing me speak the difficult words “I am gay,” he looked at me long and said, “Yoryi, God has called you to be a prophet.” Now I see that it was Pirón who prophesied that day – that no one could separate me from the love of God and that be being myself, I can share that love of God with a hurting world.
The church is catching up with the Holy Spirit who moves among us and brings life to us all. I pray that no child will ever again wonder if God Loves them because of who they love or how they express their gender. It is time to live into love.
- Gerry Dungan -
On May 6, during the church service of Willow Grove United Methodist Church, Rev. Cynthia Skripak stood behind the pulpit and talked about heartbreak.
“If it were possible to hear the sounds of hearts breaking, you would have heard a thunderous crack late this past week coming from Tampa, Florida,” Skripak said. “That’s where our global United Methodist Church was meeting for the every-four-year General Conference.”
In a sermon she titled, “Nobody’s Perfect,” the pastor of Upper Moreland’s longest-running church preached on why her church’s General Conference got it wrong with its stance on homosexuality.
The 2012 United Methodist Church General Conference
Every four years, the United Methodist Church (UMC) holds a global General Conference in order to review and vote on policies in the church’s governing work, called the Book of Discipline.
The 2012 General Conference took place from April 24 – May 4. This event hosted 998 delegates and approximately 4,000 visitors, all of whom represented United Methodist churches from five continents, according to the conference’s website.
Among the policies reviewed was the church’s position on homosexuality, which was referred to on the conference’s agenda as “Human Sexuality.”
Within this agenda item, a resolution was introduced that would state the church was not of one mind on the subject of homosexuality.
“And, that was voted down,” Skripak told Patch in a recent interview. “Even this middle ground was not approved by the majority of the body.”
She said what was left was the church’s longstanding position that while all individuals are considered to be of sacred worth, “being a homosexual is incompatible with Christian teachings.”
Skripak said that the vote was close, passing with a majority of 60-percent.
With the global UMC functioning as a representative democracy, Skripak suggested that the reason behind the vote may be due to United Methodist recent major growth in Asia and Africa, where churches there are traditionally more conservative.
Just two days after the final day of the General Conference, Skripak said she was inspired to write a sermon based on the ill-fated resolution.
“Our church has set up an institutionalized system that does not welcome or affirm or include anybody and everybody who loves the Lord,” Skripak said in her sermon. “It is hurtful language and exclusionary language, although it is not intended to be.”
In her sermon, Skripak said that the Book of Discipline‘s language presumes that the determining factor of whether someone should consider themselves a member of the church is based on who that person loves.
“We can talk about the individual lives of people I know who have been traumatized by the church’s position,” Skripak said in her sermon. “And how we are losing gifted members, pastors, preachers, because of our church’s stance.”
A 2005 New York Times article reported the defrocking of Beth Stroud, who was then the associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Germantown, for being openly lesbian. According to the report, The United Methodist Church’s highest court found her to be in conflict with the church’s stance against ordaining “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.”
In the same article, the pastor of South Hill United Methodist Church in South Hill, Va., was reinstated as the church’s pastor, after the court upheld his decision to prohibit an openly gay congregant from joining his church.
The Rev. Cynthia Skripak
In the interview, Skripak shared that she grew up in the United Methodist tradition, attending services in a rural up-state New York community. She couldn’t recall an instance in which the subject of homosexuality was discussed. In fact, she said the subject wouldn’t be talked about until she attended seminary, where the traditions and policies of The United Methodist Church were taught.
Ever since then, Skripak said, she became a proponent for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. However, approaching her 21st year this month as an ordained United Methodist minister, she has no plans on being subversive against the traditions and policies of the church.
“For me, working within the system is where I can have influence,” Skripak said. “I’m not going to be doing same-sex marriages anytime soon.”
She added that there are other United Methodist ministers who share her perspective, and also try to work within the system to reform church policies.
“There are gay clergy, but they don’t tell anyone,” Skripak said, explaining they would also run the risk of becoming defrocked.
In light of the close 60-40 resolution vote, the General Conference website also reported a large, but peaceful protest of clergy and UMC members gathered after the vote’s announcement. The protest group’s singing was reportedly enough to end the rest of the business proceedings early.
According to Skripak, she along with other clergy demonstrated a similar protest during last week’s Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference, which took place in Oaks.
I didn’t want to be vague
During the interview, Skripak emphasized that her stance on church acceptance of homosexuality is her own opinion, and does not represent the opinion of Willow Grove United Methodist Church.
And, while she participated with group protests before, her sermon on homosexuality was a first in her 21-year ministerial career.
Skripak said that she’s heard other pastors preach on acceptance and diversity, essentially dancing around the subject.
“I didn’t want to be vague,” she said.
Skripak did acknowledge traditional conservative perspectives taken by a majority of Christian ministers and preachers, who often refer to specific biblical text opposing a homosexual lifestyle.
“But, Jesus never said anything about homosexuality,” Skripak said.
“There are other things he didn’t talk about, he didn’t talk about iPhones, he didn’t talk about TV, but he didn’t talk about homosexuality.”
Skripak explained that she takes her cues on the way Jesus lived and interacted with people, based off of her understanding of scriptural text.
“He did talk a lot about love. And, even more importantly than what he talked about is how he lived,” Skripak said. “And, the way he lived was by loving the unlovable, the outcast and the marginalized people.”
Mid-way through her sermon, Skripak paused.
“Now, everybody take a deep breath,” she said. “Remember, this is a sermon, not a diatribe or a political statement.”
In the interview, she said it’s likely her sermon was the first time Willow Grove United Methodist Church congregants have heard such a direct message on the subject.
After the service, while Patch covererd an art show at the church, it was not apparent the immediate reactions of congregants.
However, according to Skripak, she’s received numerous positive comments about it – the most she’s received about any sermon in her two-decades long career.
And, while she said she wasn’t trying to make a political statement, Skripak seemed pleased to “beat Obama” in his endorsement of gay marriage, made a few days after her sermon.
Skripak said that the announcement is evidence of a momentum building around the acceptance of homosexuality in both the larger and faith-based communities.
“It will be in my lifetime,” Skripak said. “I hope it comes soon enough to bring young people into the church.”
Louise Brooks, Communications Director of Integrity USA, has recently completed her documentary film, titled, “Voices of Witness: Out of the Box,” which explores the subject of gender identity through the perspectives of transgender people and their allies in the Episcopal Church. Watch the trailer below:
To watch the film in its entirety, visit Integrity’s YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/IntegriTV.