Thursday, May 01, 2008

General Conference- May 1

I'm disappointed, although not really surprised at the way many things have turned out at the 2008 General Conference. Perhaps no issue encapsulates the stalemate we find ourselves in as the issue of sexual orientation.

I saw one report that said there were more petitions submitted to General Conference on the issue of sexual orientation than on any other single issue. They ranged from one petition that wanted to make it unconstitutional for any person to try to change the denomination's stance on sexual orientation (thus making it necessary to change the Constitution before any changes could be made), to petitions allowing homosexual persons to serve as clergy and allowing for clergy to perform same sex unions. We have seen at this General Conference, and at many previous ones, that some of the strongest lobbying has gone into this issue by all sides.

So I am not surprised that no real progress was made on this issue at this General Conference. I am disappointed, however, that the delegates chose not to take a step that might at least relieve some of the tension. A majority report from one of the legislative committees recommended adding a clause to the Social Principles that said, “faithful and thoughtful people who have grappled with this issue deeply disagree with one another; yet all seek a faithful witness.” It would not have struck the clause that said that the UMC "considers homosexual practice incompatible with Christian teaching", nor would it have changed the fact that we exclude people from ordination and marriage based on their sexual orientation.

I don't see what would have been wrong with at least acknowledging that we're not all on the same page when it comes to this issue. The United Methodist Church prides itself (sometimes too much so) on that fact that we are a diverse, global church. Would it not have been in the spirit of "Holy Conferencing" to officially admit that we may not all agree but that we acknowledge that people with differing opinions are still good and faithful followers of Jesus?

It's even more unfortunate that when the issue came to the entire assembly that such hateful language was used in the debate. I received an email from one person who was present at the session in question who said that the tone of the debate was even more hurtful than the outcome of the vote. Again, how is this practicing "Holy Conferencing"?

This is especially sad in light of the sermon that Bishop Violet Fischer preached on the same day as this vote was taken (I think the video is available online). While the primary subject of the sermon was on the sin of racism, Bishop Fisher's text was the incident in the gospels where Jesus overturns the moneychangers tables in the Temple courts. She preached very powerfully that for the church to truly be living out the reign of God in the world, some unpopular actions will have to be taken and a number of people made uncomfortable if all of God's children are to be equally welcomed. 

It is unfortunate that such a prophetic message was preached in the same space on the same day that a sad social status quo was upheld by a slim majority who feel we're not yet ready to fully include all of God's image bearers in the life of the church. Hopefully one day we will truly hear this message and act on it accordingly.

1 comment:

Jessica Miller Kelley said...

It makes me so sad to see all the news pieces that come across the wire where the UMC is patting itself on the back for its "inclusivity." They are mainly speaking of racial and ethnic inclusivity, but it makes my stomach turn to think of what is not being said in those articles.
May God have mercy on us.