UM Social Action Org Celebrates Anti-Israel, Anti-Marriage, Pro-homosexuality, and Pro-abortion Gains At GC2004
Date: Fri, 28 May 2004 15:19:09 -0400
From: "Kathryn J. Johnson" <email@example.com>
Subject: SQB Articles
Dear Members of the MFSA Board of Directors:
I have just finished the June-July Issue of the Social Questions Bulletin
and sent it off to the printer. I realize, however, that some of you have early Annual Conference sessions and will not be able to get printed copies in time.
Therefore I am sending along several of the articles, hoping that they will be helpful as you try to interpret General Conference at the Annual Conference level.
Jay Newlin will be trying to make a PDF version of the newsletter over the weekend so we can get it up onto the MFSA web site.
P.S. I will send the articles individually for those who have older computers. I will attach and cut and paste.
Progressive Witness Strong and Faithful
By Kathryn Johnson
Progressive United Methodists had a mighty presence at General Conference 2004. With a clear sense of purpose, MFSA and other progressive groups and individuals built on the careful organizing done prior to GC and remained steady, faithful and strong throughout the two weeks in Pittsburgh. Our witness bore fruit in a variety of areas including legislation, education and relationship-building.
Legislatively there were far more successes than disappointments as the UMC continued to take strong prophetic stands on a number of justice issues. Across the board, efforts by conservative groups within the church to fundamentally change the nature of the work of the Women’s Division and the General Board of Church and Society were met with stiff resistance. Likewise, efforts to more narrowly define the theology and doctrine of the church were rebuffed.
Angered and saddened that GC upheld, and in some cases strengthened, church policies that exclude and discriminate against Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender persons, we did not let this diminish our witness. A steady presence in the plenary hall, a prayer vigil held along the entryway as delegates entered the Convention Center twice a day, daily publications and frequent worship grounded all of our efforts in our love of God and love of neighbor. The haunting melody of the hymn, “What Does The Lord Require,” still rings in the ears of many as we sang these words for hours on end.
Morning briefings and evening strategy sessions kept people informed and provided opportunities for progressive delegates to meet and plan together.
Hundreds of delegates, volunteers and visitors attended lunches each day at Smithfield Church where our hearts and minds were fed by exceptional speakers who informed and inspired delegates, volunteers and visitors.
Weekend events, including MFSA’s Ball Award celebration, provided opportunities to laugh and enjoy fellowship with one another amidst the intense work of GC.
The final event of the entire General Conference, a communion service conducted by the Reconciling Movement Network just after midnight, sent us singing into the night ready to continue our work as faithful disciples of Christ.
LEGISLATIVE ACTION TO CELEBRATE
• strengthened UM opposition to the death penalty.
• called for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, respect for human rights and for the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis to condemn all violence.
• acknowledged the breadth of the problem of violence against women and children, holding the church accountable for any culpability and calling on faith communities to make a just response.
• expressed support for a US Department of Peace.
• adopted a Mission Plan for Restorative Justice Ministries.
• affirmed International Law and Cooperation as the cornerstone of multilateralism.
• called on the UMC to educate and to take action in “transforming the criminal justice system.”
RACIAL AND INTERFAITH JUSTICE AND RECONCILIATION
• added “racial discrimination” to the list of chargeable offenses in the Discipline.
• reiterated support for reparations for African-Americans.
• protested increased discrimination against Muslim and Arabs in the USA.
• denounced racial profiling as an “unjust and evil reality” that needs to be corrected.
• affirmed and funded the Native American Comprehensive Plan, National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry, Asian American Language Ministry Study and the Korean American National Plan.
• passed a resolution, “Global Racism and Xenophobia,” calling on UMs to be actively anti-racist.
• strengthened the UMC’s statement on Affirmative Action.
GOD’S INCLUSIVE HOSPITALITY TO ALL PERSONS
• added clear, strong language to the Social Principles calling on UMs to advocate for initiatives which would prohibit job and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity throughout the world; and to advocate for initiatives which provide for extra penalties for crimes which are expressly committed for the purpose of harming someone based solely on their race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, or disability.
• called on the General Board of Church and Society to develop educational tools designed to provide for open and healthy dialogue and understanding of sexuality in the world with the specific goal of protecting the human and civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.
• authorized and funded a study on the causes and prevention of teen suicide focusing on sexual identity crises.
• affirmed UMC support of the full implementation of the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and urged all congregations to implement and enforce the provisions of the ADA and all disability related programs within every area that members of the United Methodist church reside with the same vigor and interest as they would any other law affecting their able bodied constituency.
• called on local churches and annual conferences to develop specific ministries to meet major needs in rural areas of the U.S. and called on UM seminaries to prepare clergy to be more effective pastors in rural areas. Additionally the UMC called for agricultural policies that are just, participatory and sustainable.
• affirmed the importance of international trade and investment in an interdependent world and called for trade policies that support the dignity of the human person, a clean environment and our common humanity.
• acknowledged that homelessness is a crisis that strikes at the soul of the nation and at the heart of the church, called for a comprehensive, all-out attack on poverty, and articulated specific actions that can be taken by general church agencies, annual conferences, and local churches.
CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES
• affirmed the prophetic tradition of dissent and called on all UMs to publicly speak out for the protection of human rights for all-including the right to dissent through peaceable assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of speech and other nonviolent means.
• affirmed its historical position on the separation of church and state whereby government may not engage in, sponsor, supervise, aid, or lend its authority to religious expressions or religious observances.
• renewed UM support for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
• affirmed those persons who wish to enhance medical research by donating their early embryos remaining after in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures have ended.
• urged Congress to pass legislation authorizing federal funding for medical research with embryonic stem cells, and encouraged the US Health and Human Services to establish an interdisciplinary oversight body for all research involving stem cells.
MFSA CELEBRATES THAT THE FOLLOWING THINGS WERE DEFEATED:
• attempts to reduce UM presence on Boards of Trustees of colleges and seminaries.
• an attempt to require the Board of Discipleship to produce materials in line with the philosophy of the Transforming Congregation movement.
• attempts to impose rigid doctrinal standards on clergy, bishops and agency staff.
• attempts to limit academic freedom and freedom of the pulpit.
• attempts to restructure the University Senate.
• efforts to adopt more restrictive language on abortion.
• attempts to make UMW optional in the local church and/or give equal status with other women’s organizations in the local church.
• repeated attempts to take the Methodist Building and its endowment from the General Board of Church and Society.
• an attempt to institute prohibitions on the ordination of transgender persons.
• an effort to redistribute the Ministerial Education fund to benefit conservative seminaries.
MFSA affirms the fact that shortly before adjournment, GC delegates called for a full investigation into the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners. Likewise, we appreciate the statement released by the bishops shortly after GC lamenting “the continued warfare by the U.S. and coalition forces” and urging the U.S. government to request United Nations help in establishing a transitional government in Iraq.
It is a major disappointment, however, that apart from these statements there was an almost total lack of discussion and action related to the war in Iraq and associated foreign policy issues. The timing of GC provided an opportunity for the UMC to speak with a loud, clear voice about the misguided policies which have led to death and destruction in Iraq and have isolated the U.S. from the international community.
With regard to the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in the life of the church we are bitterly disappointed that the UMC was not willing to acknowledge that persons of good faith disagree on the “compatibility” of homosexuality with Christian teaching. Additionally the extension of the ban to the annual conference level that prohibits UM money being spent to “promote the acceptance of homosexuality” was deeply disappointing.
Given several opportunities to celebrate and support families in their many and diverse expressions, GC delegates chose instead to define “family” in very narrow terms. They also added language to the Social Principles stating that marriage consists of the union of one man and one woman.
Methodist Federation for Social Action 212 East Capitol St., NE Washington, DC 20003 (202) 546-8806 http://www.mfsaweb.org
Homosexuality, Schism and Unity
by Kathryn Johnson
At each General Conference (GC), effort is made to secure translators for non-English-speaking delegates. This year, it occurs to me that many English-speakers may be in need of some translation as well.
Within a few days time, the delegates at General Conference did the following:
• Clearly demonstrated the deep divisions over sexual orientation (and related underlying issues) within the church.
• Consistently voted against any resolution that honestly confessed our divisions.
• Read or heard about a proposal being circulated calling for schism.
• Overwhelmingly voted for unity.
What in the world does all this mean? Translator please!
During the first week of May, many United Methodists experienced deep anguish as the church once again declared that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” a position with which a very large minority in the church strongly disagrees.
Those advocating for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in the life of the church focused their efforts at this GC on getting the delegates to remove the “incompatibility” language and to replace it with the acknowledgement that “Christians of good faith” disagree on the subject.
Delegates were given two opportunities to add these words of acknowledgement during the plenary sessions of the conference. On the first vote, coming out of the Church and Society Legislative Committee, the body voted 527 to 423 against adding language stating that “Christians disagree” on the compatibility of homosexuality with Christian teaching.
Later in the day a similar resolution came before the body, this time from the Faith and Order Legislative Committee. Again, this time by a much slimmer margin (466 to 436), the body voted against acknowledging that faithful Christians disagree.
As these votes were taken hundreds of visitors, volunteers and delegates throughout the hall sat with anguished looks upon their faces. For some the tears flowed immediately. Others stood in stunned silence. The tears, and anger, would come later.
What is it that the church was saying through these votes? Clearly the church is deeply deeply divided on issues related to homosexuality. Why is it that delegates refuse to even acknowledge these divisions, to admit that we are struggling to find common ground?
United Methodists have been struggling over issues related to sexual orientation since 1972 when the phrase “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” was added to the UM Discipline.
Among those on either side of the issue are General Conference delegates, caring pastors, dedicated lay people, seminary professors and bishops who have served the church over a lifetime. Certainly there are Christians of good faith on both sides.
Those who hold that sexual orientation, whether it be heterosexuality or homosexuality, is a good gift of God do not hold this opinion lightly. Indeed, many have come to this conclusion only after years of struggle, prayer, reflection and study. Clergy who act on this conviction – by supporting the ordination of LGBT persons, performing same gender weddings or union services, by being honest about their own sexual orientation – risk having charges brought against them and losing their clergy credentials.
On the other hand, those who believe that homosexuality constitutes sin, hold ardently to this position and have not budged for nearly thirty years.
Clearly we are divided. Deeply. So why do people refuse to acknowledge this truth?
A DESIRE FOR UNITY
Perhaps those who hold the “majority opinion,” however slim that majority may be, hesitate to admit that another viewpoint has any validity because they fear this will jeopardize their tenuous hold on the current language in the Discipline. To admit that there are “faithful Christians” who hold a view that differs from their own, raises the question of whether changes should be made in church polity to reflect this.
Another possibility is that the vote has far more to do with a desire to keep the church from splitting than it has to do with convictions about sexual orientation. At various times over the years, conservative groups in the church have stated that they will not remain in a church that affirms and accepts homosexuality. Could it be that some votes to retain the current language are actually votes cast in an effort to keep the church, or some significant portion of it, from splitting?
The strong desire for unity in the church became crystal clear on the last day of General Conference. The previous day the Rev. Bill Hinson had delivered an impassioned speech to a breakfast meeting sponsored by Good News and the Confessing Movement where he shared his conviction that the divisions within the church are too deep to be bridged. He said that the church needed to look at the inevitability of schism and should figure out a way to separate “amicably.”
During the day that followed, a draft proposal made its way throughout the General Conference. It was not written by Dr. Hinson, and it was not introduced on the floor of the General Conference. Nevertheless, it had come from someone within the conservative groups and in some ways just made more concrete the suggestions of Dr. Hinson at the breakfast. The proposal was very specific. It called for a Task Force of 21 persons to be set up to come up with a proposal for an “amicable separation” within the UMC. This Task Force would be headed by three people, indeed names were even suggested, and would report back to a special session of General Conference in 2006. For the better part of the next 24 hours there was much confusion.
The press had gotten hold of the document, and articles were appearing about the possibility of schism within the UMC. Many delegates were utterly confused.
CATHARSIS AND RELIEF
On Friday morning a delegate from Eastern Pennsylvania was recognized and presented a resolution for unity. The resolution passed overwhelmingly as delegates confirmed their desire to remain united in ministry.
As United Methodists we remain in covenant with one another, even in the midst of disagreement, and we reaffirm our commitment to work together for our common mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the world.
(Resolution adopted by the 2004 General Conference by a vote of 869-41)
Within a few days time, the General Conference had voted against any resolution that honestly confessed our divisions. Delegates faced the specter of schism. And they overwhelmingly voted for unity.
For many in the body the vote for unity was heartwarming and cathartic. Tears were shed and hugs were had all around.
WISHING DOES NOT MAKE IT SO
I find myself interpreting this General Conference action somewhat differently than many others with whom I have talked.
First, I do not see the vote as a sign of unity, but rather as a sign of our deep desire for unity. To express this desire does not make it so. The things that have threatened unity remain firmly in place coming out of General Conference.
Second, to say we “remain in covenant” does not necessarily make it so. LGBT persons who are baptized into the church and proclaimed of “sacred worth” are then refused ordination and other affirmations such as recognition of same gender covenant relationships. Covenant has been broken say progressives. On the other side of the equation, those of us who disagree with the UM Discipline as a matter of conscience and faith continue to state our intention to circumvent or defy provisions related to LGBT persons. Covenant has been broken say conservatives.
Third, I believe we have skipped an essential step if we have any hope of actually achieving the unity spoken of in the resolution. Until we honestly admit that faithful Christians within the UMC have profoundly different understandings of some crucial issues, we will not be able to work out any resolution that will allow us to achieve authentic unity.
THE TASKS AHEAD
We have some very hard work to do in the years ahead if we are to achieve the unity that General Conference indicated it desires.
Clearly defining the issues:
Once again at this General Conference, homosexuality was the issue around which debate took place. Most of us know that homosexuality is only the “presenting issue.” Different understandings of the interpretation and authority of scripture underlie our convictions about the stance of the church on homosexuality. The way in which we understand revelation, impacts our convictions as well. This is not new. We know this. But somehow we continue to focus on homosexuality. As one person put it at the end of General Conference, “Once again we have sacrificed LGBT persons in the church’s inability to deal with the underlying issues.”
Honoring and living with our differences:
Once we have defined our differences and faced them honestly we can begin to seek creative solutions for creating a church in which people who hold different perspectives can co-exist. Those outside may well ask why we would even try to coexist if our differences run so deep. At least part of the answer is that our Wesleyan heritage. John Wesley was clear about schism – it is among the most grievous of sins. He was also clear about that which matters most – “if your heart is as my heart, take my hand.”
Making changes, considering alternatives:
What changes must we make in order to remain united in the midst of our differences? There are no easy answers here. It is likely that changes in structure will be necessary as well as changes in the way, or the level at which, we make decisions. A proposal came to the floor of this General Conference that decisions about ordination be made at the Annual Conference level, thus allowing for regional and cultural differences related to ordaining LGBT persons. The proposal was defeated but may gain some traction if people study it as one of the ways to honor differences and to maintain unity.
General Conference was clear in its commitment to unity within covenant. All avenues to attain this unity must be explored. Unity must not become an idol, however. It must be chosen, not imposed, and it must be a vehicle for living out the Gospel and not a hindrance.
Some in the church, believe that schism is not only inevitable, but the most faithful way to respond to the Gospel as they see it. We should not fear talking about this, exploring what separation would mean. Unlike the draft proposal floated at General Conference, however, this exploration should not presume that separation is inevitable.
People within the UMC have passionately held beliefs. This is good. People within the UMC take covenant seriously, hence the anguish when covenant is broken. Continuing to be the church, united in mission and ministry is hard work. We have a rich history on which to draw, however, and a future open for our creative expressions of our faith. God willing we will create that future together.
ANNUAL CONFERENCE ACTION
The deadline has long passed for submitting legislation in most Annual Conferences. Should the opportunity arise, however, MFSA chapters may consider submitting the following resolution, or something to this effect, that continues to communicate that church trials are tremendously costly and ultimately will not lead to reconciliation within the church.
SAMPLE RESOLUTION ON CHURCH TRIALS
Whereas the United Methodist Book of Discipline acknowledges that "Church trials are to be regarded as an expedient of last resort." (Par. 2707), and Whereas the General Conference of 2004 commended to the churches the work of JustPeace, an agency of the United Methodist Church specializing in mediation, conflict resolution, and restorative justice, and Whereas Matthew 18:15-20 specifies the approach Christians ought to take when they differ with one another, and Whereas church trials can often cost in excess of one hundred thousand dollars, jeopardizing mission and ministry, breaking faith with contributors, and risking financial insolvency, and
Whereas church trials are being advocated by some persons in the church as the preferred means to deal with questions related to homosexuality, a matter around which our Church is deeply divided,
Therefore be it resolved that the _______________ Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church rejects such a use of trials and urges its bishop to vigorously pursue every alternative to church trials in seeking to be faithful to the Discipline of the Church.
Further be it resolved that if a trial is held on a matter related to homosexuality, the bishop be requested to describe the alternatives pursued to the next executive session of the annual conference.
Methodist Federation for Social Action 212 East Capitol St., NE Washington, DC 20003 (202) 546-8806 http://www.mfsaweb.org
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