A few months ago, I among others suggested we close the conference. We were roundly attacked by people who abused rape culture and the narratives of People of Color (see something of a rebuttal here. This type of colonizing narrative is common among modern progressives). This was actually met with a call that such discourse is somehow responsible and spiritually discerning. It is not.
If only, though, we could see something like our proposal in action. If only there was a serious meeting that would prevent bullying and let the work of the United Methodist Church proceed without disrupt… if only….
This past weekend the Connection Table of the UMC met. This part of the UMC is,
The Connectional Table discerns and articulates the vision and the stewardship of the mission, ministries and resources of The United Methodist Church as determined by General Conference and in consultation with the Council of Bishops.
The panelists included contributors to a book about the future of the United Methodist Church. It also included 4 videos selected by the Connectional Table. Each video presented represented the inclusive side.
I want to point you to the story found here and engage it briefly. First, I am heartbroken by the suicide of anyone, and the more so for reasons such as this. I am disheartened that it has been used to shame the UMC as a whole. I want you to compare Andy Oliver’s (a staff member of Reconciling Ministries) comments to that of Ms. Wood, the young man’s mother. Andy, via the best medium in the world for stupid sh..tuff, writes,
Ben took his life last year… His blood is on the hands of every United Methodist (including my own) who has ever called for patience and more conversation–from clergy and laity who don’t want to rock the boat to bishops who think the greatest thing at stake in our church’s fight over #LGBTQ discrimination is the unity of the church. I appreciated Bishop Carter’s words today, but they did not go far enough. Bishop, LGBTQ people don’t need more grace, they want freedom from discrimination, the ability to live out their call, and to live. They want a bishop and pastors to boldly say that our church’s law is immoral and wrong. So to my #UMC colleagues in ministry, including my friends and father, who continue to choose silence, more conversation, don’t ask don’t tell strategies… and you do so because of money, false unity, fear, or the sheer ignorance of never listening to a queer person the church has harmed… Why the hell are you still in ministry? Your silence and calls for more patience killed a boy name Ben and his blood is on our hands.
Ms. Wood told UMC press,
she did not want to identify the congregation because the incident was “not characteristic” of the congregation. The youth pastor involved is no longer at the congregation or part of the denomination….(she) now attends another United Methodist congregation with her family. At her new church, she said she sees people of all sexual orientations and all races getting along.
By way of…sources… the youth minister in question who shamed the young man was never a United Methodist and is now part of a team leading a non-denominational church that is extremely conservative.
It would be a grave mistake to blame the entire UMC for the shaming of the young man by a non-UMC youth minister when the mother herself, still a UMCer, wouldn’t even shame the local congregation.
If you were able to catch the live stream, you would have noticed the absence of the UMC insurgent lobbying group, Love Prevails. They were actually barred from entering the room, no doubt due to their constant threats and their usual actions in carrying out those threats of disrupting these meetings with bullying tactics. I note LP fundraises to keep the UMC in a state of pain and disempowerment. Of course, all other outside observers were barred as well. The only people allowed to participate were those given the authority by the Book of Discipline and General Conference to do so.
There is a lot of good, and some really stupid, tweets about the meeting as well.
Over all, as Cynthia has pointed out, the meeting accomplished something remarkable. I disagree with some of her statements, but over all, I think she affirms that the tenor of the meeting and the hopeful signs that emerged provided something we haven’t seen — respectful conversation. Not only that, but it allowed for cyber-attendants to participate. Tweeters were allowed to submit questions via twitter.
What did this meeting accomplish? Dialogue. It opened up dialogue about the future of the United Methodist Church between those who see a place for inclusion and place for exclusion, but all within unity. And that scares people. It scares people because some in the fringes what 100% victory and would use any means necessary, even destroying the United Methodist Church, to do it. Their policy is one of bullying of scorched earth, of shaming those who disagree with them. Indeed, many on the left are just as guilty as that youth minister is — yes, so are many on the right (I reference the extremes).
As the new Council of Bishops President said today, we need to be heard, we need to tell our story in order to trust. You cannot tell your story (which must include a Scriptural foundation) if you are in a room full of people shouting how unworthy you are.
We need more dialogue like this because only in doing the actual work of the Church will we see the right path to follow. We need to focus on biblical hermeneutics. We are a denomination that has Scripture as our prima authority. If we remove that, that’s fine, then we do not need to have this conversation (and you’ll lose the rest of the connection to the Church universal); however, we have not. We are still Wesleyan at least in that regard. Yes, there are several interpretations to Scriptures, but when it comes to something like this we need to find the right one or at least the one people can live with. As readers know, I believe there is a Scriptural argument to be made for inclusion. Shoot, depending on how you approach you, I believe you can use Natural Law to argue the same.
This dialogue, at the very least, showed our two starting points. The left starts with “what I feel” while the right starts with “how I read.” We need something more, but if nothing else, at least they are talking.
And that is why I am renewing my call for a closed session. Unlike last time, left me define what I mean by closed. Anyone not a delegate or staff of the General Conference should be removed if a closed session is called. At that time, the floor is cleared, but the live stream is allowed to stay on as are news reporting entities. This will only close the floor to public demonstrations and private threats. This is not to say the session is held in secret, only held in such a way as to honor the work of the Church.
We have seen a little progress by keeping the disruptions out. Imagine what we could do if the entire General Conference were able to speak to one another without fear and intimidation. Imagine if the entire General Conference was a safe space. Imagine if both sides would agree to something besides 100% victory. There are plenty of progressives not represented by the dominating force of Love Prevails and Straight White Male Progressive Colonizers on social media. There are plenty of conservatives not in lock-step with the IRD. There are plenty of people in the middle who do not want a schism, who really want love to prevail and scripture to remain as our authority.
Again, from St. Paul:
Love is patient and kind.
Love envies no one, is never boastful, never conceited, never rude;
love is never selfish, never quick to take offence.
Love keeps no score of wrongs, takes no pleasure in the sins of others, but delights in the truth.
There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance.
Maybe we should give some heed to Scripture?