The public forum that was agreed upon as part of the resolution in Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree’s case took place on Saturday, May 10, to a full house at the Westchester Marriott. Opening remarks by Bishop McLee and Tom, and a prayer by Rev. Roy Jacobsen, were followed by a panel discussion in which two advocates for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people – there’s no other way to say this – ran circles around two other panelists. MIND’s Rev. Dr. Althea Spencer-Miller and RMN’s Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey spoke graciously and passionately, with deep knowledge of biblical scholarship, history and Methodism. Both during the panel discussion with Dr. Bill Arnold and Rev. Drew McIntyre and during the Q&A with the audience afterwards, they expounded on the central theme of the day: what it means to be in covenant within a community where we do not all agree.
Against Arnold’s rigid insistence that the clergy ordination vow to obey the Book of Discipline means any violation of the rules is a breach of covenant, Spencer-Miller spoke of covenant as a dynamic idea. The terms of the covenant change from the Old Testament to the New Testament, the Book of Discipline changes every four years, and at the heart of the idea of covenant is relationship, not rules. Both Spencer-Miller and Lightsey eloquently gave voice to the legitimacy of LGBTQ people and their allies seeking change within the UMC. We are not, said Spencer-Miller, “an alien force, but part of the covenant.” Lightsey urged people to remember our history, the battles over the church’s support for slavery and segregation. In response to several suggestions that queer folks should just leave the church if we are not happy with its rules, Lightsey said a one point, “Why should I leave this church? I love this church.” Protest is a faithful, covenantal response to the systemic exclusion of an entire group of people. Moreover, the fixation with why we don’t just leave is about making queer people responsible for the dissension in the church, which is a false and problematic framing of the issue.
It’s impossible to do the richness of the discussion justice in a few hundred words. The forum was videotaped and you can watch it here.