The Spiritual crisis caused by the requirement to discriminate

Resolution for the 2012 New York Annual Conference

Whereas, in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”; and

Whereas, the nonviolent Civil Rights movement fought for justice and equality in civil and religious life in the United States with compassion and courage. Yet injustice continues to threaten us, in the United States and in the United Methodist Church; and

Whereas, the recognition of the full humanity, sacred worth and equal rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people is crucial to the civil rights struggle of our time. Gay, lesbian and straight United Methodist laity and clergy are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny; and

Whereas, the continuing denial of full access to all the rights and privileges of church membership in the United Methodist Church is causing deep spiritual harm to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and is a threat to us all; and

Whereas, in his sermons “The New Birth” and “The Catholic Spirit,” John Wesley taught that as long as we hold in common the essential elements of our faith, and as long as we unite in love, meaning that we love one another, that we commend each other to God in prayer, that we provoke each other to love and to good works, that we love each other not only in word but in deed and in truth, then our hearts are right and we should walk together hand in hand. Wesley further taught that differences of opinion ought not to tear this union of hearts asunder; and

Whereas, the forcible denial of rights and privileges to gay and lesbian persons through provisions in the Book of Discipline serves as shackles on pastoral care and ministry; and in their harshly punitive application these provisions of the Discipline are not only a grave injustice, they strike at our union in affection, challenge our ability to live amicably in disagreement and violate the sacred command to love our neighbors as ourselves; and

Whereas, for over three decades the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church has taken a stand calling for the inclusion of God’s gay and lesbian children in the full life of the church.  It has affirmed that “sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons” and that the diversity of that gift should bar no one from answering the call to ministry, from recognition of her or his covenantal relationships, or from membership in the church community.  It has gone on record in support of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in civil society; and

Whereas, in taking these positions at annual conference meetings and in petitions from the conference to the UMC’s General Conferences, this annual conference has acted in opposition to the doctrinal prejudice and institutional discrimination enshrined in the UMC’s Book of Discipline; and

Whereas, this annual conference intentionally and repeatedly embraced the name and mission of the “reconciling” movement. When the Judicial Council in 1999 prohibited conferences form labeling themselves as reconciling, our conference passed a resolution accepting that position but also renewing its commitment and support for reconciling United Methodists and the Reconciling Congregations Program. It has explicitly and repeatedly rejected the national church’s assertion that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching”; and

Whereas, in 1972 the General Conference of the United Methodist Church enacted legislation inserting into our Book of Discipline abusive mischaracterizations of gay persons and subsequently added punitive regulations restricting equality in the United Methodist Church, and at every General Conference in the last 40 years, the voices of those wounded by these words and regulations have been raised, and the demand for justice has been pressed, but hearts have remained hardened, and the Discipline’s prejudice has remained unchanged; and

Whereas, in 1978 the clergy of the New York Annual Conference meeting in executive session stood in solidarity with a gay brother, Paul Abels, the first United Methodist pastor to come out, and over the objections of the bishop declared him to be a full Elder in good standing, refusing to recommend for him a leave of absence; and

Whereas, year after year the New York Annual Conference has declared itself to be in opposition to the bias, discrimination, exclusion, and punitive spirit of the United Methodist Church  in regard to its characterizations of LGBT people, its restrictions on their rights and privileges within the United Methodist Church, and the proscribing of the rights and   duties of the clergy in ministering to all persons equally; and

Whereas, in 1999, the annual conference passed a resolution explicitly reflecting the conference’s belief that the UMC policy barring the recognition or celebration of “homosexual unions” “inhibits appropriate pastoral freedom in grace to respond fully and completely to God’s call to inclusive ministries” and urging conference members to accordingly exercise restraint in filing charges against clergy, and in the event of church trials, to devise penalties reflective of the conference’s opposition to UMC policy; and

Whereas, in 2005, this annual conference passed a resolution that notes that “the Book of  Discipline’s assertion that ‘the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching’ is unfounded in Scripture, unsupported by the lessons of the Gospel and indeed, itself incompatible with Christian teaching” and recognizing that “individuals may be called  to acts of conscience in response to God’s call to inclusive community”; and

Whereas, in 2010, the New York annual conference passed a resolution explicitly reaffirming the 1999 resolution; urging clergy “to minister equally to all members of their churches and to consider the conference’s call to inclusive ministries in deciding how to honor their congregants’ covenantal commitments”; and further strengthened its lived efforts to foster inclusive ministries by recommending a penalty of one day paid leave for clergy convicted of blessing a gay or lesbian relationship; and

Whereas, in 2011 leading African-American United Methodist scholars issued a declaration challenging the United Methodist Church to embrace equality; Black Methodists for Church Renewal’s national body declared its members to be opposed to the discriminatory policies of the United Methodist Church and urged their repeal; and the majority of retired bishops of the United Methodist Church made a similar declaration; and

Whereas, in 2011 the United States military abolished its discriminatory policies with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and New York State enacted marriage equality, following upon the legalization of gay marriage in Connecticut in 2008, making the entire New York Annual Conference an area in which persons of the same sex are legally free to marry; and

Whereas, in 2011 the New York Annual Conference passed a resolution once again affirming our longstanding support for the full inclusion of  LGBT people in the United Methodist Church and committing the conference to take out ads in LGBT publications that state that our conference disagrees with the UMC’s prejudiced views and policies and that we are working to change them; and

Whereas, despite threats of punitive actions by individuals opposed to the full rights of LGBT persons and despite the institutional pledge to enforce discrimination against LGBT persons in the United Methodist Church, LGBT people are finding welcoming places in the United Methodist Church and in the New York Annual Conference; they are finding clergy, laity and congregations embracing them joyfully as members of the body of Christ, as United Methodists in good standing and as gifted children of God entitled equally to all the ministries, ceremonies and sacraments of the church; and

Whereas, this welcoming spirit represents the future of the United Methodist Church and it brings to life our conference’s decades-long commitment to inclusive ministry; and

Whereas, the United Methodist Church is facing a pastoral crisis wherein every clergyperson and every congregation has been or will be called upon to provide the full range of its ministries to LGBT persons, and the denial of such ministries wounds both those who are denied these means of grace and those who deny them; and

Whereas, significant numbers of laity and clergy have declared themselves unwilling to look into the eyes of conscientious and faithful people and deny them any of the ministries of the church on the basis of their sexual orientation; and

Whereas, the United Methodists Church cannot rightly claim to be a church of open hearts, open minds and open doors or to be a church that practices radical hospitality until our hearts, our minds, our doors and our polity truly are open to all; therefore be it

Resolved, that the New York Annual Conference reaffirm its historic commitment to the civil and ecclesiastical rights and privileges of all persons, including LGBT persons, and declare its passionate opposition to continued distinctions of church law that restrict the rights and privileges of LGBT people in the United Methodist Church; and be it further

Resolved, that the New York Annual Conference, acknowledging the grave pastoral crisis facing the church at all levels with regard to the pastoral care of LGBT people, acknowledge that clergy, lay persons and congregations encountering institutional discrimination that inhibits equal access to the means of grace for all persons may feel bound by conscience to offer the ministries and sacraments of the church to all persons on an equal basis. Those who so act according to conscience do so in a way that is consistent with the long-standing principled declarations of this annual conference; and be it further

Resolved, that the New York Annual Conference acknowledge that leaders of the conference, including cabinet members, bishops and members of boards and agencies of the annual conference, while bound by the Book of Discipline, are also bound to exercise their consciences and are bound by Jesus’s commandment to stand with the marginalized and the oppressed in our midst when called upon to enforce unjust laws, policies and procedures to the detriment of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals wishing to participate fully in the life of the United Methodist Church and those who minister faithfully to them; and be it further

Resolved, that the conference recognize that individuals who take punitive actions against others for offering the sacraments and rituals of the church on an equal basis do so contrary to the historic expression of the New York Annual Conference at the risk of causing grave harm to LGBT persons, their loved ones, their sisters and brothers in Christ, faithful clergy and the annual conference itself.

Passed June 8, 2012

After this resolution was passed at annual conference, a member of the Wesley Fellowship challenged it and asked for a bishop’s ruling of law on whether it was permissible under the Book of Discipline. Bishop Park’s ruling offered a resounding defense of the resolution. At its October 2012 meeting, the Judicial Council upheld the resolution and Park’s ruling thereon (rulings of law are automatically reviewed by the Judicial Council). You can read the Judicial Council decision here, and the MIND brief in the case here.