The main order of business on the second day of annual conference, Thursday, June 10, was discussion and debate of resolutions in legislative sections, and LGBT issues took center stage for most of the four hours that Section 3 met. The four resolutions that MIND had initiated and drafted were all passed and will come to the plenary floor Friday. Several other resolutions concerning LGBT people, which MIND supported, also passed, as did an important petition co-sponsored by MIND calling the church to action in opposition to the recently passed anti-immigrant law in Arizona. Legislative section members also voted to support the New York City living wage campaign.
There was, as in past years, a minority of opposition to our cause of justice for LGBT people. In one instance, someone took strong offense at the passage in the resolution on hate crimes that names the UMC’s official prejudice and discrimination as factors that contribute to a hostile and dangerous environment for LGBT people. An amendment to strike that language was narrowly defeated and provoked a passionate response from MIND supporters, who emphasized that the church’s words and actions do have an effect in the larger society.
A highlight of the day was the MFSA dinner, which this year honored Rev. Joe Agne and Deaconess Dana Jones for their tireless advocacy for the Social Gospel. In her remarks Jones reflected on her career as a journalist and her call to tell the stories of the voiceless. She shared this realization with the assembled listeners: “God is not objective. God takes sides. And God ask us to take sides.”
For his part, Agne called for a response of ecclesial disobedience to the “abusive and unjust” anti-gay rules of the UMC. He reflected on Martin Luther King’s prophetic insistence that we have an obligation to disobey unjust laws, and on the critical condition of the church resulting from the loss of the gifts of so many LGBT people and allies. He ended by leading us in singing Holly Near’s gay rights anthem “We Are a Gentle, Angry People.”
Friday’s agenda is a full one for both the conference and MIND. Plenary debate of resolutions will start today, and it is clear from the schedule that conference planners have not allotted sufficient time for meaningful discussion. It’s not clear how that will be addressed. Meanwhile, MIND’s lunch with keynote speaker Mark Milller will be the highlight of our day.
Friday is also MIND t-shirt day, when we ask everyone to wear our distinctive purple shirts as a visible witness for an inclusive church. At the ordination service, we will once again hand out blue armbands to lift up those called by God to ordained ministry but rejected by the church.
The 211th session of the New York Annual Conference began Wednesday, June 9, 2010, under the theme of “building up a healthy body of Christ,” with MIND’s witness there to remind all that “the body of Christ needs the gifts of all its members to be healthy,” as one of our banners says.
Even as we were still hanging the banners and putting out flyers, people were stopping at the MIND table to find out who we are, to join MIND, to buy a t-shirt, to connect. MIND volunteers were so busy talking to people they never got away for dinner.
At the official opening of the annual conference in the evening, Bishop Park gave an Episcopal address that focused on the need for the church to “bear fruit” by “producing more disciples.” He began by taking note of the church’s decline in membership. “We keep losing people as they move away or pass away,” he said, and their ranks are not replenished by new members. He neglected to acknowledge that the church also pushes away LGBT members and potential members and that many have chosen to walk away from the UMC because they cannot abide its prejudice against gay and lesbian people.
While the bishop said that “radical change” was needed in order or the church to have a “viable future,” his address did not lay out any proposals for change. The Gospel lesson for the evening was John 15:1-17, in which Jesus commands his followers to “love each other as I have loved you.” Bishop Park missed an opportunity to not only acknowledge how the body of Christ has been maimed by the church’s exclusion of LGBT people, but also to spell out the radically inclusive nature of Jesus’s love that should guide us to take extra efforts to welcome and embrace the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed.
There are four days every year when we have a unique opportunity to be in ministry with the entire New York Annual Conference at its annual conference session, which this year will be June 9-12 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island. MIND’s annual conference witness puts the inconvenient fact of the church’s discrimination before the entire conference and seeks to move people to action in response.
Join us in our witness by attending the MIND lunch, with guest speaker Mark Miller; wearing your MIND t-shirt on Friday as a visible witness to your belief in the welcoming, inclusive church; wearing an armband at the ordination service in protest of the church’s exclusion of lesbian and gay people from ministry; helping staff the MIND table; and other activities and events. Go here for more, including copies of the resolutions MIND has submitted to annual conference.
Organizers for the symposium on hate crimes have finalized a date for the event — Saturday, November 20, 2010. Planning for the event, envisioned to lift up all vicitms of hate crimes and articulate a Christian imperative to respond, is gathering momentum. For details, or to get involved, see the MIND initiatives section.