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Actions of General Conference marginalize some people, delegates says

Issue Date: 
Wed, 05/14/2008

It may be too soon for me to fairly reflect on the recently concluded 2008 General Conference. The hundreds of petitions that were acted upon at General Conference will do a lot of good in the church and in the world.

The General Conference recommitted itself to Africa University and expanded service in the world in fighting AIDS and malaria -- especially in Africa. It continues to fund the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which has been doing much good work in Mississippi and Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina. These are all good things that I believe the Church should be involved in and support.

Ralph WilliamsHowever, despite Christ's invitation for all to come into God's Kingdom, most of our churches continue to be fixated on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people as a kind of pariah and continue to close their doors to us. As a result, the experience of attending General Conference is a deeply wounding experience for LGBT people, their families and friends. 

As a delegate on the floor of General Conference, I sat as my brothers and sisters in Christ called us "children of Satan." LGBT people, their parents and friends and brothers and sisters were further wounded when there was no attempt by the presiding bishop to halt this type of speech on the plenary floor.

Unfortunately, since the norm in many churches is to hurl cruel jokes and ridicule at LGBT folks, church leaders often see nothing wrong with such wounding words.

Shortly after hearing such a speech, delegates to General Conference overturned the recommendation of a legislative committee to remove from the Social Principles the statement "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" and replace it with language stating that faithful Christians differ on this issue.

Still, later in the day, delegates approved legislation that allows a pastor to exclude from church membership anyone they believe is not worthy. This issue came before the General Conference because the Judicial Council had previously upheld a pastor's decision to deny church membership to a man solely because he is gay.

It appears that to enable pastors to screen out LGBT people from our churches we would reverse the Methodist Church's historic welcome to all who commit to follow Christ and take the vows of membership.

How does one respond to this continuing violation of our humanity as well as our baptismal vows?

It was with both sorrow and a sense of conviction that I participated in the protest "witness" with other LGBT people, their families and friends at General Conference. I joined this witness to declare my opposition to this injustice and oppression within the church that is fueled by both bigotry and ignorance. 

I was pleased to hear the supporting words of Bishop Melvin Talbert who broke from the general silence of our bishops. Bishop Talbert spoke out prophetically against this General Conference's marginalization of LGBT people, drawing on linkages to the church's past role in fostering segregation and racial oppression.

He declared that the decision of this General Conference to marginalize LGBT people is as wrong as the previous decision to segregate black members in a Central Jurisdiction.

The good news is that the General Conference is not of one mind in its decision to marginalize LGBT people. Twelve bishops agreed to be in dialogue with us over the next four years; legislation was passed to work for civil rights protections for LGBT people; and proposed legislation to increase discrimination against transgender people failed to pass.

Even where the General Conference was successful in adopting legislation to continue the marginalization of LGBT people, the 55 to 45 percent majorities in one instance and 51 to 49 percent majorities in another hardly indicate that the United Methodist Church is unified on these actions.

Our United Methodist baptismal vow calls us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. These anti-gay policies and practices of the United Methodist Church are unjust and oppressive and I am committed to doing what I can to change them.