Saturday, April 28, 2012
Holy Conferencing, Batman!
Earlier this week delegates to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church participated in an hour of “Holy Conferencing” to discuss the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the United Methodist Church.
It didn’t go well.
At least it didn’t go as well as some had hoped. In some of the small groups, LGBT persons were met with words and actions that were “dismissive and hurtful.”
Are we surprised?
First, a personal confession. I don’t like “Holy Conferencing.” If we are looking for open and honest conversation, then we should call it that. Conferences are about the business of the church. They are sometimes “holy” and sometimes not. There are often moments of grace. But Holy Conferencing on the subject of LGBT inclusion sounds to me like a veiled way of telling those who are hurt by an oppressive and exclusionary policy not to make a fuss.
The United Methodist Church is deeply divided on this issue. There are many clergy, laity, bishops, and district superintendents who openly advocate for full inclusion. There are others who are quietly supportive. Others just want the issue to resolve. And finally, there are those who believe strongly in exclusion.
Many of the small groups apparently went fine. Everyone played nice and no strong opinions were expressed.
But in some groups, the LGBT folk were sitting with the very people who strongly believe that they should be excluded. In other words, the oppressors sat down with the oppressed. Not surprisingly, that didn’t go well.
Oppression in the name of God is still oppression.
Proponents of slavery claimed it was God’s will. Opponents of women’s rights claimed they were doing God’s will. Advocates of segregation claimed they were doing God’s will. And they all used Bible verses to “prove” they were right. Some day we will look back on this the way we now look back on those issues.
Yesterday the conference participated in An Act of Repentance service toward healing with indigenous peoples. My colleague We Hyun Chang reported that during the service Scott Campbell, who has been a voice of conscience on many issues, whispered, “Some day we will have an Act of Repentance for our gay brothers and lesbian sisters in the General Conference.” And he commented, “Yes, soon we will.”
Karl Barth said that Christians can never look back at history without feeling the need for repentance. That is true. And it would be true if we had changed course years ago. And we will always fall short. But it is long past time to be done with this.
For years United Methodists have been wringing their hands about aging congregations and our inability to connect with young people. It would be foolish to claim that changing this policy is the key to making the church more appealing to youth and young adults. But I am certain that the majority of young people see this policy as narrow and bigoted and one more sign that the church is irrelevant.