The spiritual discipline of justice-making

Report from Day 2 of annual conference

traci“It is increasingly difficult to explain to my friends why I am a Methodist,” said Nehemiah Luckett, a MIND steering committee member, in introducing our resolution “Commendation of those who have taken a stand for justice.” He went on to say that it is the heroes of our movement – those who have at risk to their own careers lived their United Methodist faith by ministering to gay and straight people on an equal basis – that are providing the answer. For many of us, it’s the answer to the question about why we stay United Methodists; and it’s the answer to the question about how the church can reverse its slide into irrelevance.  Punctuating that urgency was an amendment that was added to the resolution commending Tom Ogletree along with the others named in it.

Thus began the debate during the afternoon’s legislative section. In the end, all three of MIND’s three resolutions were passed: the “Commendation” one, the Boy Scout one and “A single garment of destiny: Global solidarity with LGBT people.” As in past years, there was opposition, though overall the debate was shorter if not less contentious.  Someone said that “this is definitely going against God” and that advocating for marriage equality risked breaking the church in half. “While I don't want the church to be broken in half, I also don't want to be broken in half,” Luckett said.

Wongee Joh introduced the “Global solidarity” resolution by saying that as Christians we have an obligation to speak up in opposition to those urging the criminalization of LGBT people worldwide. Here, too, there was opposition, and at one point Luckett reminded those present that we were talking about people who are literally being persecuted and killed.

The afternoon’s most moving appeal belonged to Jodi Cross-Hansen, who said, “"We are discussing homosexuality as an abstract. There are gay people in this room…There is no them or us. God has created children, of all different colors and all different types. And some of them are gay. And they are beautiful."

The power of non-violent conflict

“God is doing a brand new thing in the church right now,” Traci West told the annual MFSA dinner. “And God is doing it through conflict.” West was being honored with the Gwen and C. Dale White Award, and she used the opportunity to talk about the importance of law-breaking in prophetic witness and social progress. She particularly lifted up the Covenant of Conscience community, but also spoke about the work that church communities do in support of undocumented immigrants. While conflict is challenging to live through, “conflict and law-breaking on behalf of LGBTQ people” is an instance of “God…teaching us how to do evangelism,” she said.  Earlier in the day, during the legislative debate, West had said “the church needs to respond to people who are being literally beaten for who they are,” referring to the current wave of anti-gay violence that has besieged New York City. She ended her remarks by saying “I need you – all of you – on this spiritual discipline of justice-making.”

Bishop McLee: “Saying no to the face of bigotry”

The day ended with Bishop McLee’s first episcopal address to the New York Annual Conference. He began by saying “I am going to be myself” and straightforwardly shared his views in a wide-ranging speech. “Let’s talk about the complaint process,” he said, tackling head-on the current prosecution of Tom Ogletree (though not by name). He stood by his position that he has no choice but to refer a case to counsel for the church if the evidence supports the complaint, and noted that he had gotten responses critical of that position, some of them demeaning. But he also proclaimed, “For the last 13 years I have been an advocate for the full inclusion of God’s gay and lesbian children in the life of the church.”

Bishop McLee also addressed the hate crimes going on in New York City and announced his participation in New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s call for a spiritual response. The conference, he said, would be part of an event, and from the stage he asked Traci West if she would headline the event for NYAC. “We have a responsibility to keep saying no to hate, to face what’s going on,” the bishop emphasized, “saying no to the face of bigotry and saying no to the face of violence.”