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Twelve Bishops Join Planned Pro-homosexuality Disruption Of Conference Session, Some Arrested Again

Friends of A M A R PRESS RELEASE - May 11, 2000

Contact AMAR Office: (216) 443-1000 x4415

General Conference is "disrupted" and called into accountability

CLEVELAND--General Conference is "disrupted" in a call to accountability for its continuation of Disciplinary language that states that "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." After the vote to maintain the "incompatibility" language (which was a vote in concurrence with the Faith and Order Committee's recommendations), representatives from the AMAR coalition entered the floor of General Conference reserved for official delegates only, thereby illegally crossing the bar of the conference. They requested that the presiding Bishop Dan Solomon allow designated spokespersons, Sue Laurie and Randy Miller, to speak to the floor on behalf of all those who had entered. The spokespersons said that the church had broken faith with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) United Methodists and asked the delegates to prayerfully declare a moratorium on the implementation of all language that excludes LGBT United Methodists.

Approximately 300 delegates stood in support of the action even after the Bishop called a 20-minute recess. Twelve Bishops and other conference officials stood on stage in solidarity with the witness. Led by retired Bishop Leontine T.C. Kelly, volunteers in the balcony and delegates on the floor sang, "We Shall Overcome," "Amazing Grace," and "They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Love." Soon the auditorium looked more like a tent revival than a demonstration.

In a terrifying moment after the statement, a non-United Methodist woman stood on the edge of the balcony railing declaring herself to not be bound by United Methodist rules. She told the conference she had been gay since birth and implored United Methodist to change their policies. She was assisted down from her precarious position by several by-standers.

According to AMAR leaders, the action of going onto the conference was planned to bring attention to the conference that such Disciplinary language feeds self-hatred of LGBT persons and justifies violence against them. The Coalition acted prayerfully, advisedly, and after negotiating with the presiding Bishop. They said they were committed to displaying the frustration many people felt when the vote was to continue language which denies and demeans LGBT United Methodists.

At the same time as the floor witness, and during the whole time of the debate, volunteers from the AMAR coalition as well as other allies in the balcony and delegates on the floor wore stoles from the Shower of Stoles Project to represent voices silenced by the church's stance on homosexuality.

The presence of the stoles symbolized the LGBT persons who the church has excluded from full ministry in the church. Most of these stoles represent ordained pastors who were forced to surrender their orders when they declared their true identities. Other stoles represent congregations and groups of people who mourn the loss of the gifts, talents, money and skills of the LGBT persons cannot offer to the church when they are excluded because of who they are.

All during the General Conference, the AMAR coalition activities focused on telling the stories of exclusion of LGBT persons and their families through a variety of activities. However, AMAR members were frustrated when hearing from some delegates that even though they were moved by these stories and felt that the discriminatory language would eventually change, they found themselves unable to vote for removal of the "incompatibility" language "just yet."

Some within the coalition were uncomfortable with the disruptive action but did not block consensus for the action after hearing the pain and sense of urgency of those who have been affected by the current church's policy.

After much prayer, debate, and discussion of the history of the civil obedience as a means of changing discriminatory policies, some friends of the coalition decided to act.

The membership of AMAR coalition regretted greatly that this witness was necessary. They had hoped that the earlier witnesses would make the General Conference delegates aware of the deadly consequences of continuing the "incompatible" language. Many recognized that the debate and work to change the laws will continue during the next four years. However, there was great concern for those who do not have reconciling congregations or supportive communities to support them during the time of struggle. Sue Laurie, laywoman from the Western Pennsylvania conference, stated, "It's easier to wait four more years when you have a church to return to."

All week, the Coalition has been calling for moderating the current "incompatibility" language in the Discipline. In the AMAR newsletter, "Just the Facts," the Coalition said the language must be changed because: 1) It's untrue. The truth is, there is a diversity of Christian teaching regarding sexual orientation and this reflects only one of them. 2) It continues the contradictions in UM polity. We say LGBT persons are of sacred worth, but at the same time we condemn their sexuality with our language. 3) It's driving people from our churches. LGBT people and their families are taking their gifts, skills, money and fellowship away from our church due to our discriminatory policies. 4) It's deadly. The church teaches that LGBT person are not acceptable to God, and many, many LGBT persons commit suicide or are killed by others for this reason.

Phil Wogamon, a clergy person from the Baltimore-Washington conference presented the Minority Report from the Faith and Order Committee charged with processing all of the petitions dealing with heterosexism and homosexuality. The Minority Report acknowledged the current disagreement of the church and highlighted the church's history of errors in excluding whole groups of people. He quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu who called for accepting our Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters into the church, then ended by saying, "with great respect, great respect, we ask this report be accepted." It was defeated by a vote of 60.9% to 39.1%.

Then, the delegates debated the Majority Report from the Faith and Order Committee, which affirmed the current "incompatibility" language. University professor, Traci West, spoke powerfully and passionately reminding the delegates that women and African-Americans should be silent and submissive respectively if following the strict word of scripture. She said the church should be about worrying about the outcasts and therefore remove the incompatibility language.

The majority report was affirmed by a vote of 65.1% to 34.9% therefore the "incompatibility" language remains as it is currently in the Discipline.

After a twenty-five minute recess, Bishop Solomon called the house back to order and explained to the delegates that the approximately 28 persons remaining on the floor were making a witness and were under the conviction that they must remain on the floor until the delegates agreed to a moratorium on the implementation and penalty of the Disciplinary language condemning homosexuals. Those protestors on the floor then sat while the debate occurred. It was argued that the moratorium would give the church the time to continue to processs and discern what we believe. What the church needed, delegates argued was not more trials but rather more time for care and healing. The moratorium failed by a wide margin, 66.6% to 33.4%.

Next, the Faith and Order Minority Report, which recommended removing the prohibition against ordaining "practicing homosexuals," was voted down. Then the session was adjourned for lunch leaving the demonstrators standing in front of the stage and in the center isle.

After lunch, the Conference began by considering the Faith and Order Minority report that recommended that the words "shall not" be changed to "should not conduct same-sex holy unions." The Minority Report failed 63.9% to 36.1% and the Majority Report was affirmed by a margin of 68.7% to 31.3%.

Following the vote, the demonstrators in front of the stage made their way onto the stage. They again stated that they had chosen this non-violent action because the church had broken covenant with LGBT persons. They said that LGBT persons were no longer welcome in the church and were treated like second-class citizens. "The tapestry is unwoven" they said and their removal stood as a "symbol of the broken covenant."

Bishop Solomon then replied, "I bury my head in prayer; I cannot witness what is about to happen." Individuals in the balcony and delegates on the floor joined together singing, "We shall overcome" while the Cleveland Police arrested the individuals on stage. Bishop Susan Morrison and Bishop Joseph Sprague joined the group being arrested. Several other Bishops left their seats to reach out, to shake hands, and to cry with those being arrested.

Following the arrest, nearly one-hundred volunteers in the balcony moved to the AMAR hospitality room and divided into small, prayer groups to process the day's events. They reported responses overheard from the delegates which were varied. One delegate said that the arrest were necessary considering the continued votes against LGBT persons. Others were angry with the disruption and raised questions as to why the action was necessary. Some even suggested that the non-United Methodist woman who terrified and surprised everyone by climbing on the balcony railing was a planned part of the protest.

Quotes from the volunteers who were part of the balcony witness included:

"I'm so angry but I'm not leaving." "I don't think people's hardened hearts can stay that way after today!" "I saw the movement of God today." "I didn't think I'd live to see the day when police removed people from the conference floor." "I don't know if I'm staying in the denomination." "Change is happening and it is a mighty force." "The municipal judge who dealt with the protesters yesterday said he was proud of us and our stand. Even walking down the street, I feel that the people are rooting for us." "This fight is really about control and power that the more fundamental persons want to have over the rest of the United Methodist Church." "It was great to see all those delegates on the floor standing in solidarity, including some entire delegations." "It was amazing to the see the stony hearts that looked into the face of our people's pain and did not change." "I pray for those who will hear of what we've done today and know that they are not alone." "I did this for my daughter who left the UMC." "I have never been so ashamed of my church or so proud of those who stood up." "I'm grateful for the cookie lady' at the conference who was so glad to see the RCP tag I had on and said her daughter was a lesbian who was driven from the church." "I think of the woman at the registration table who said, "I've been neutral all this week--now I want one of those rainbow crosses to wear."

Before leaving to continue their work at General Conference, the volunteers prayed for thirty minutes and sang, "Lead Me On Precious Lord," "It is Well with My Soul," and heard an update on those who were arrested and may spend the night in jail.

In a related note, Marilyn Alexander, Interim Executive Director of the RCP, and Kathryn Johnson, Executive Director of the MFSA, were interviewed by National Public Radio for the Morning Edition Show.

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