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Lesbian Dammann's Conference To General Conference:  We are not sexual perverts, we are just "diverse"

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Pacific Northwest Delegates

2004 General Conference

2112 3rd Avenue, Suite 300

Seattle, Washington 98121

April 2004

Brother and Sister delegates to the 2004 General Conference,

Christ is Risen! We write to you as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the author of our faith and the hope of our salvation.

We write in the wake of the trial of the Rev. Karen Dammann, anticipating General Conference and longing to be known to you as brothers and sisters in Christ. We hope to take this opportunity to foster relationships of mutual care and trust that will build up The United Methodist Church. As we meet in Pittsburgh, we hope you will invite us into conversation, not so much about the trial verdict, as about Christís will for his church.

In recent weeks we have read and heard descriptions of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference that we do not recognize. People who are disturbed by the verdict represent us as unhealthy, unbalanced or unfruitful. While we share with our whole church in the United States a need to be more effective in our evangelistic outreach, 65% of our churches received at least one new member on profession of faith in 2000, compared with 59% nationally. Overall membership of our churches fell by 3.4% in 2002, well below the 6% decrease nation-wide.

We are not a one-issue conference. Most of the time, our churches do not focus on issues that are considered newsworthy. Our churches are like churches anywhere, doing what churches do: praising God, preaching Christ, teaching, serving, visiting, administering the sacraments, reaching out to new people. Our ministries serve diverse ethnic communities: African Americans, Filipino Americans, Native Americans, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Samoans, Tongans, Fijians and South Asians. We are just completing a 3-year capital campaign to purchase our third camping and retreat center.

We are a mission-committed conference. Last year we sent 25 Volunteer in Mission teams to 15 different countries. Over 6 years we have raised $490,532 and sent 9 teams to work with our partners in the Southern Congo building Jaama Letu orphanage and offering ministry with refugees and street children through the Bishopsí Initiative, "Hope for the Children of Africa."

We are a theologically diverse conference. We embrace the same breadth of opinion and struggle with the same issues as the whole church. Our churches encompass varying biblical interpretations, and social applications of biblical teaching.

And yet, we may be different from the denomination as a whole. Over the past 20 years individuals and churches in this conference have taken seriously the admonitions in the Social Principles, "not to reject or condemn their lesbian and gay members and friends," but "to be in ministry for and with all persons." (∂161 G). Thirteen of our churches and campus ministries participate in the Reconciling Ministries Network. Many others also welcome openly homosexual persons into their church families.

Through these ministries many leaders and members in our conference, though by no means all, have been transformed in our understanding of sexual orientation. Many of us see the fruits of the Christian faith in homosexual persons. We see the evangelistic effectiveness of these ministries in our communities. We witness God calling people into relationship with Jesus Christ and into leadership in the church regardless of sexual orientation.

Many have begun to question whether the present teachings and laws of The United Methodist Church reflect the fullness of Godís will and Godís continuing revelation to Godís people. The Pacific Northwest Conference has sponsored legislation to General Conferences since 1988 that would change the provisions in the Book of Discipline. Our experience of Godís grace working in and through the lives of homosexual persons has driven us back to the Bible, asking "Have we understood the scripture fully and accurately?" Is it possible that the living Christ, through the testimony of the Holy Spirit is transforming our understanding of scripture?

To the distress many experience following the trial, we offer our experience, our stories, and a word of faithful assurance. In answer to the question, "can the church survive?" we recall that the church has already survived 30 years of questioning and searching about the role of homosexual persons in the church. We are not lost or abandoned in the present uncertainty. The Lord is our Shepherd. God is with us in the midst of this turmoil: teaching, guiding, tending. The verdict of the recent trial court does not have the power to break the covenant of our great church unless we, the leaders and members of the church give it that power. But, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through us, the church continues its works of mercy, mission and ministry, while not ceasing to seek the mind of Christ. God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3: 20-21)

Your sisters and brothers in Christ,

The delegates and first alternate delegates from the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference

Rev. Elaine Stanovsky

Alissa Bertsch

Rev. Dr. Craig Parrish

Kristina Gonzalez

Rev. Dr. Robert Hoshibata

Tom Wilson

Rev. Mark E. Williams

Amory Peck

Rev. Bonnie Chandler Warren

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