General Conference 2016 – God Is Better Than The Church
“I believe in the sun / even when it’s not shining / I believe in love / even when I don’t feel it /I believe in God / even when God is silent.” At General Conference 2016, these words from Mark Miller’s song “I Believe” became our mantra of sorts. Wednesday, May 18th was supposed to be the big day that all “human sexuality” (their term, not ours) legislation came to the floor for a vote. On Wednesday morning, queer clergy as well as LGBT allies gathered outside the convention center for a silent protest. Queer clergy were robed and joined by allies holding crosses with stoles from the Shower of Stoles Project, representing the lives of LGBT people of faith.
As delegates and bishops entered the convention hall they walked by queer clergy and allies standing as a witness with signs that read, “I am your sister” and “I am a queer pastor.” Many of the people that walked by thanked us for our witness and several were in tears as we stood strong, basking in the bright rays of the morning sun, knowing that we are all God’s children and that God called us here. It was a powerful witness to the fact that LGBTQI individuals are people and not issues. As worship ended, we processed in the convention hall through the bar (where the delegates are seated) and gathered around the table that sits in the middle of the hall. All of this occurred while the session was taking place--there was no way anyone in the hall could miss our powerful silent witness--where we faced the bishops, then turned and faced the crowd, offering both a blessing before walking out singing.
Shortly after, Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the Council of Bishops, presented a plan designed to keep the church from splintering over its discriminatory stance on LGBTQI rights titled, “An Offering For A Way Forward.” Ough said the bishops continue to hear from people “that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local regional and global contexts.”
Bishop Ough was careful to note that support for this plan was not unanimous within the Council of Bishops.
The plan would:
- Create a diverse commission to research and revise the Book of Discipline’s language about LGBTQI people
- Call for a special session of General Conference. Should they fail to complete this work in time for that special General Conference, there will be a two-to-three day gathering before the 2020 General Conference for this purpose.
- Finally, the plan would also defer votes on all human sexuality petitions coming before the 2016 General Conference.
The General Conference passed this plan by a narrow margin (428-405 votes).
“An Offering For A Way Forward” prevented any new legislative action that would further harm LGBTQI people, but does not stop the current harm that is already being done. Nothing in the Book of Discipline has changed. Harm is still being done. No moratorium was called on church trials. The Bishops need to call on a complete moratorium on disciplinary actions against LBGTQI people and any clergy who marry them, as we believe that unity without justice is a false unity. We are calling on unity that is honest, respectful and inclusive of all persons.
During morning worship on the last day of General Conference, Bishop Elaine Stanovsky reminded us that, “The church is of God, but the church is not God. The good news is that God is better than the church.” God is better than the church. Additionally, Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey reminded us on Pentecost that, “We’ve got to obey God rather than the Book of Discipline.” As the Bishop's Commission starts its process, we pray that they would keep Bishop Stanovsky’s challenge for us to get out of the tomb and look for a true way forward including all voices at the table. Bishop Stanovsky said, “If you believe the Bible condemns homosexuality, but you’ve never asked a gay Christian how they read the Bible, you’ve got to get out of the tomb.” We’ve got to get out of the tomb as a United Methodist Church. We firmly believe that any change that happens is a result of our movement’s pressure on the institutional church to create change.
We will continue to work to create change. We did not let the last day of General Conference go by without one more reminder that we are still here, with one final protest, and singing, “I am not forgotten / you are not forgotten /God knows your name.”
MIND Steering Committee
Mt. Calvary/St. Mark's United Methodist Church