Déjà vu all over again…

Why the conference can and should pass the Ministry to the Marginalized resolution

If this resolution looks familiar, it should. We introduced a nearly identical one last year. In 2010, the resolution was signed by 58 individuals, co-sponsored by MIND and MFSA, and passed by the legislative section with an 85% margin. Bishop Park ruled it out of order on the conference floor before the body was allowed to vote on it. MIND challenged his ruling, requesting a ruling of law, and the case was reviewed by the Judicial Council. The council declined to intervene on the grounds that the matter was purely a parliamentary one. (Read more about the 2010 resolution and the Judicial Council case.)

The text in the “whereas’’ clauses of the 2011 resolution is the same, with the exception of some updated statistics. We have left it the same to underscore that the urgent need for people of faith to speak out against religious homophobia has not abated. Indeed, in light of the anti-gay torture, assaults, murders and suicides that briefly grabbed headlines in the last year, the need is greater than ever.

We have researched appropriate LGBT publications, and spelled out in greater detail than last year the content of the proposed advertisements, their placement and the process by which this resolution is to be carried out.

We have addressed the sole objection raised by Bishop Park in his written ruling of law: “[T]he resolution requires an advertisement in a public newspaper, which includes a phrase, ‘NYAC (New York Annual Conference) has long been opposed to UMC (United Methodist Church) policy on homosexuality.’ This phrase as a public statement does not accurately define the standing of the New York Annual Conference as it relates to The United Methodist Church policy on homosexuality.” While the 2010 resolution did not in fact specify the wording of the proposed ads, we have phrased that clause with more precision this year, referencing the conference’s opposition to “the discriminatory parts of UMC policy on homosexuality.”

We have further addressed the bishop’s concern by adding the proposed text for the advertisements, whose sole reference to the language of the Discipline is NYAC’s position thatwe do not share our denomination’s belief that ‘homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,’” a position documented in resolutions passed by NYAC in 2005 and 2010 as well as in petitions NYAC sent to the 1992 and 2000 General Conferences calling for the removal of the Incompatibility Clause.

Bishop Park’s ruling of law did not respond to our written request to specify “in what way petition 2010-304 is in violation of the Discipline, and in particular whether it violates ¶613.20, which vests the Conference Council on Finance and Administration with the responsibility ‘to ensure that no annual conference board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodists funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.’”

We believe that the 2010 resolution was not in violation of the funding prohibition, but we have taken additional steps (taking guidance in part from amendments offered last year) to ensure that the revised resolution in no way runs afoul of this restriction (as offensive as it is). The 2011 resolution mandates, in fact, “that no conference funds shall be involved in the production, promotion or placement” of the proposed ads. It further specifies that the ads will be “entirely paid for through voluntary contributions.” Those contributions are to be received by MIND, which is not a part of the New York Annual Conference or the United Methodist Church but rather a wholly independent body with no legal connection to the church. Thus the funding of the advertisements is entirely outside the church and any church bodies.

The Judicial Council has ruled that an annual conference resolution “may express disagreement with the current language of the Discipline and may express its aspirational hopes, but an annual conference may not legally negate, ignore or violate provisions of the Discipline” (Decision 1120; see also Decisions 913 and 1044; these are alll reviiewed in our brief to the Judicial Council). The Ministry to the Marginalized resolution clearly falls within this range of permissible expression of dissent. Its “aspirational hopes” for a church that can transcend its prejudice against LGBT people and offer safe harbor to them in a hostile world follow similar hopes expressed repeatedly in NYAC resolutions since 1984. Meanwhile, the resolution deliberately steers clear of any action that would “negate, ignore or violate” the Discipline.

All that the Ministry to the Marginalized resolution asks the conference to do is to communicate to those beyond our church doors what we have stated for decades that we believe. It seeks to let LGBT people know what we have resolved in their defense. It aims to make our resolutions relevant in the world.