Ministry for all
Two thousand twelve was a watershed year for the United Methodist Church. The hate-filled language and legislative outcome of the church’s General Conference made clear to many what MIND proclaimed boldly with the launch of We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality the year before: We cannot wait for that distant day when the UMC finally abolishes its unjust rules. We can and we must stop discriminating now. In its second year, We do! has continued to grow – we now have over 1,000 signers on the Covenant of Conscience – and inspire others across the denomination. Last year was also a breakthrough year for our annual conference witness. And in June 2012, the Ministry to the Marginalized ads we organized for two years to make possible ran in Gay Pride publications throughout the conference’s geographic jurisdiction.
Doing harm at General Conference
The 2012 quadrennial meeting of the global church was remarkable for both the intensity and the extensiveness of anti-gay hate that was expressed. LGBT people were exposed again and again to hate speech that accused them of bestiality, called them drug addicts, prostitutes and alcoholics and denounced them as evil. Legislative petitions to remove the Incompatibility Clause and end the exclusion of LGBT people from ministry and marriage were defeated. But equally troubling was the assault on core Wesleyan principles – for instance the attempt to replace the Wesleyan Quadrilateral counseling the use of “scripture, tradition, reason and experience” for guidance with a sole focus on scripture – and the efforts to restructure the church at the expense of agencies like the Commission on Race and Religion and the Committee on the Status and Role of Women.
In the end it was largely a courageous act of direct action taken by LGBT activists on the conference floor on the penultimate day that kept much additional harm from being done. They occupied the conference floor and forced conference leaders to agree to refrain from bringing further harmful legislation to a vote.
MND leaders and activists served as GC delegates from the New York Annual Conference and were key organizers of the Love Your Neighbor coalition that coordinated the efforts to push for a more inclusive church. In 2012, that coalition included for the first time almost all of the UMC’s ethnic caucuses.
General Conference was a Good Friday moment in the life of the church. But we all know that Good Friday doesn’t have the last word, and the last word at General Conference belonged to Bishop Melvin Talbert. “The derogatory rules and restrictions in the Book of Discipline are immoral and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience,” Talbert said at a press conference on the closing day called to promote the national marriage initiative movement inspired by MIND’s We do! “I call on the more than 1,100 clergy [who have signed marriage initiatives] to stand firm in their resolve to perform marriages for same-sex couples and to do so in the course of their normal pastoral duties, thus defying the laws that prohibit them from doing so.”
We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality
Talbert’s words gave courage and inspiration to the national marriage initiative movement, which has, since General Conference, embodied the crisis of authority that the church’s stubborn insistence on discriminating has brought upon itself.
In 2012, we continued to work to make We do! broader and deeper. Clergy signers continued to talk one-on-one with colleagues and added several dozen new names to the Covenant of Conscience, bringing the total to 208 as of this writing. Lay signers also grew, now at 865 from 93 separate congregations. We did not add any new congregational signers in 2012 (we are working on it for 2013!), but the six congregations who have committed themselves as a formal matter of church policy to extend their ministries to all couples represent the greatest number of such churches in any conference in the nation.
At the beginning of 2012, MIND held a series of regional gatherings for covenant signers. Meetings in Long Island, New York City, the Hudson Valley and Connecticut brought together signers to answer questions, share legal information and not least of all, worship and celebrate this new ministry together. Our ability to hold separate meetings in multiple locations also reflected a growth in our organizational capacity.
The most gratifying result of We do!’s second year was getting reports of marriages that are happening all over the conference. The central pastoral aim of this project is to make marriage equality a lived reality in the New York Annual Conference, and seeing ministry extended to gay and lesbian couples is evidence that we are on the road to realizing that goal.
Ministry to the Marginalized
MIND’s pastoral commitment and emphasis on making a positive, concrete difference in LGBT people’s lives was also realized in last year’s Ministry to the Marginalized ads.
As reported in our previous annual report, our second effort to pass the “Ministry to the Marginalized: Welcoming LGBT people into NYAC” resolution at annual conference succeeded in 2011. The resolution called on 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. Because of the anti-gay funding prohibition in the UMC Book of Discipline (which prohibits conference funds from being used to “promote homosexuality”), the resolution stipulated that the funds for the ads would be provided entirely through voluntary contributions. MIND raised over $3,800 in a special fundraising campaign. The implementation team set up by the resolution then met and researched the best venues for the ads.
It is with immense pride that we report that full-page Ministry to the Marginalized ads ran in the 2012 New York City Pride Guide, the Triangle Community Center’s summer and fall 2012 newsletters in Connecticut, the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center’s 2012 Pride Guide, the Long Island GLBT Community Center’s 2012 Pride Guide and the LOFT’s 2012 Pride Guide in Westchester. Hundreds of thousands of LGBT people, most of whom have been exposed to years of anti-gay Christian hate, saw these words of truth and solidarity during Gay Pride 2012:
The New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist church welcomes ALL God’s children, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
We want members of LGBT communities to know that we do not share our denomination’s belief that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and we are deeply sorry for the harm that this belief has caused. We are working within the UMC to change its prejudiced policies.
We invite you to join us!
Breaking the silence at annual conference
Two thousand twelve was a breakthrough year for MIND at annual conference. LGBT people were named from the stage of annual conference for the first time, including by our bishop. The harm done to us at General Conference was acknowledged and mourned. The dean of the cabinet asserted in his report that churches are strengthened when they welcome LGBT people. The ordination preacher, Bishop Sally Dyck, held up one of our blue armbands during her sermon. These highlights took place amidst the usual highly visible presence of MIND activists, t-shirts and armbands.
Our featured speaker was Rev. Amy DeLong, who – like the previous year’s speaker, Rev. Greg Dell – has refused to discriminate in her ministry and was tried in a church trial in 2011 for it. DeLong reminded us that change is not possible without audacity, and it is not possible if we are afraid to face conflict. Right on MIND’s talking points, she urged us to stop discriminating, now – “not in four years, right now.” Reminding us that Jesus overturned the tables in the temple, DeLong said we “must be troublemakers.” Her message was enthusiastically received by the MINDful.
MIND introduced and passed one resolution at the 2012 annual conference, “The spiritual crisis caused by the requirement to discriminate.” The resolution is a reaffirmation of the conference’s longstanding opposition to UMC prejudice and discrimination and a recognition that those who “feel bound by conscience to offer the ministries and sacraments of the church to all persons on an equal basis” do so “consistent with the long-standing principled declarations of this annual conference.” The resolution sparked a brief but conference-wide moment of discussion about the necessity of ecclesial disobedience in the face of unjust church laws.
After the resolution passed, the conservative Wesley Fellowship challenged it and asked for a bishop’s ruling of law on it. In one of his final acts as our bishop, Bishop Park offered an unequivocal defense of the resolution’s permissibility, which was upheld by the Judicial Council at its October 2012 meeting. For its part, the Wesley Fellowship’s brief to the Judicial Council argued argued that the problem with the resolution is that “this language sets up the exercise of one’s personal conscience and obedience to Jesus’ commandments as overriding the Book of Discipline.”
Later in the summer, the resolution was picked up and passed by the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference as well as the Northeast Jurisdictional Conference.
Also at the 2012 annual conference, a resolution supported by MIND set up a committee to study alternate ways to be a Wesleyan church. It was a direct response to the General Conference outcome, and the committee is mandated to study options for living faithfully in a Wesleyan tradition without being compelled to exclude LGBT people. It includes two representatives from MIND, and many of its other members are also MIND activists.
Last year we also once again marched in the New York City Gay Pride March, gathered for fellowship at the annual MIND picnic, and debuted the Dick Parker Memorial Casserole – a fitting Methodist tribute to our dear late friend.
In 2013 MIND is focusing on making our churches safe for LGBT people and making our ministries available equally to all in two main ways. One, of course, is the continuing commitment to We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality. The other is a commitment to congregational development. We have developed an intense two-day workshop that provides training to congregations building welcoming churches and working on becoming congregational signers of the Covenant of Conscience. It will be offered several times during 2013.
Bishop Melvin Talbert will be our featured speaker at annual conference and will help us once again to mount a powerful, unavoidable witness.