“Giving life the shape of justice”

Report from annual conference 2011Sara Lamar-Sterling, Benz, and Wongee Joh

Annual conference got underway yesterday, and from the very beginning the MIND table became a gathering place for friends old and new. Always prepared, we hung our banner high – literally – with the help of a step ladder, laid out our literature and information on all our upcoming activities and started answering questions and selling t-shirts. We soon found that additional signers on the Covenant of Conscience brought us tantalizingly close to the 500 mark for lay signers (492 at last count).

Official conference business began with separate sessions for clergy and laity, and General Conference candidates were introduced. The clergy voted in their first two rounds of balloting. These sessions as well as the evening’s opening worship were also marked by wonderful spirit-filled music (led by MIND member Jorge Lockward) and some inspiring liturgy. As is frequently the case at such events, the beautiful words and imagery left some of us pondering the gap between their intention and the reality of the United Methodist Church with its entrenched anti-gay rules and bias. “Spirit of life…move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice,” we sang. Of course, it is up to all of us here at annual conference to give those words real life, and today’s legislative sections will give us an opportunity to do that. MIND’s leading piece of legislative is the re-introduced Ministry to the Marginalized resolution, which calls on the conference to communicate to LGBT people what we as a body have resolved for many years in their defense, namely that this conference dissents from the UMC’s prejudice and discrimination. A resolution on hate violence, jointly sponsored by MIND and the other organizations that put together the My Brother’s Keeper symposium on hate crimes, calls for congregations to deepen their awareness and witness. Both resolutions emphasize concrete, practical action – our resolutions must move beyond affirming words; they must help us give life the shape of justice. MIND is also co-sponsoring MFSA’s set of petitions for General Conference that call on the church to finally abandon its ban on gay weddings.

Bishop Park’s sermon during the opening worship, reflecting on John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience, talked about the wonderful, amazing reality of God’s love for each of us – we are all beloved children of God – and the ability to believe that, the assurance that Wesley noted in response to his famously heart-warmed moment. The emphatic insistence from the bishop that God “accepts you as you are” was, like the singing, an experience of mixed emotions for LGBT people and their allies. At one point the bishop noted that there are people who are convinced that they are not God’s beloved. In that moment, what he didn’t add also spoke volumes: that this is hardly a surprising outcome for LGBT people, who are told by the church that they are “incompatible with Christian teaching.” In between the words of assurance and the experience of assurance lies the necessary step of modeling God’s love in our lives and the life of the church. That is the task we will turn to today through our resolutions.