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Annual Conference Report

Dateline: June 10, 1999
Rev. Kent L. Svendsen
Northern Illinois Conference
United Methodist Church

Now going directly to 24 states: CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, ID, KY, MD, MA, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, NV, NC, NY, OK, PA, TX, WI

Today I received in my e-mail a note from Jade Dell who is the wife of the Rev. Gregory Dell. As most everyone knows, Rev. Dell is the minister who was convicted of performing a same-sex commitment ceremony and will begin his punishment early in July. I don't have her permission to print her message, so I will simply say that she indicated that she was going to study a letter I had addressed to James Preston in response to his book "We Were Baptized Too". It was a letter that I wrote clear back in June of 1996. It can be found at:

Here is my response: (with some additional editing and clarification comments for our national readers)

Did you know that I complained to Bishop C. Joseph Sprague over a year and a half ago about a lack of dialogue and gave him a copy of the letter to James Preston. I asked him to encourage some kind of a response from your group and you did respond. Do you know what I received. I received an e-mail from Mark Bowman saying it wasn't worth their time to respond and that they were too busy being in ministry to the gay an lesbian community to give me the time of day. Also, I received a very short note from James Preston saying that the Task Force had discussed it, but decided there would be not response or something to like that. (I am saying these things from memory and do not have copies in front of me of their exact responses. I do know for certain that not one of my questions was ever addressed.)

So now that your group has had this stunning and powerful victory, why are you interested in talking? (Our annual conference was almost a complete rout for the liberals in the conference.) Why not just go ahead and try to accomplish what you started. After all, I may be very busy over the next year. I am now getting calls and e-mail from people within the conference and across the nation who are very angry over the results of our annual conference and they want to get involved in responding to the situation.

Many within our conference feel betrayed by what happened. After all, whatever happened to inclusiveness? It seemed to go out the window this year, did you realize that? I guess that was because there was an agenda to accomplish and pushing through to victory left no room for anything or anybody else. I can now honestly say that I am part of an oppressed and marginalized group within our conference. We have been taken captive and our voice silenced as concerns the upcoming General Conference.

Electing Greg [Dell] to General Conference sends a strong message, doesn't it? (Rev. Gregory Dell was elected as a delegate to General Conference. The bishop ruled him eligible with the understanding that he would not be seated if his conviction was not overturned or he did not sign a statement supporting the Book Of Discipline. But, you must understand that there are many messages that have resulted from that action. Other messages that action sends to people my be more destructive to your cause than you might think. So enjoy the great victory over your opponents that was had at annual conference. Remember the shouts of joy coming from the gathering over an election that almost completely excluded the evangelicals of our conference and in so doing prevented their voice from from being heard at General Conference. There was a great uproar and many cheered and hooted and rejoiced over that great victory. But unseen by them was the pain and mourning of many of us who sat in despair. Oppression can be a very strong motivation for opposing the liberal system which has entrenched itself within the leadership of our denomination. The hypocrisy of it all was devastating. Many of those rejoicing were some of the same people who continually call for equality and inclusiveness. However, when it came down to power and politics, that all seemed to go out the window. Why? Because it's politics and the goal is victory and not inclusiveness, right? So I guess we can look forward to more of the same at General Conference.

I honestly don't know how much talking we will be doing, but I have always been open to dialogue. I have been trying to talk for a long time and no one cared to do that before, so I don't quite know how to handle that. In all honestly, I am not as interested in talking now as I am in taking actions. There is a lot to do to get ready for General Conference. Your side may have won a great victory in Northern Illinois, but I have also heard that many other annual conferences fared a lot differently than ours did. So I am anxious to see how the debate and voting goes at General Conference and I'll probably see you there.

I would like to share with you several things that happened to me at annual conference. On Tuesday, I dressed in black, because I was in mourning. Greg (Rev. Gregory Dell) said hello to me in the hallway and I avoided him and didn't respond. That was sin on my part and please apologize to him for me. In all honesty, I needed to avoid him because I was afraid of what I might say in anger if I were to be pulled into a conversation at that moment. I was also continually stopped by individuals in the hallway wanting to talk and several said to me, "How could this be happening?!" You might also be interested to know that the lay person who sat next to me in session is the woman who taught me in after school kids club when I was growing up. She was devastated at the outcome and to the point of tears. I tried to comfort her as best I could. The shouts of victory from your invading army were like knives in her heart. It was as if she were looking at a dear friend who had been slain in battle and watched them bleed out as the unsympathetic enemy shouted their victory chant.

Enjoy your victory while you can, because I believe you may pay a high price for it. People are now offended and angry enough to take actions. I say all of this openly and honestly, because I am sick in spirit over the subversive tactics that seem to have been employed so far. Here's a good example:

Resolution 700-18 "It is the role of the church to bless covenants; i.e.committed human relationships that reflect our ultimate covenant with God. It is vitally important that we seek liturgical ways, i.e. "services of commitment," to acknowledge the commitment of two persons....Therefore, be it resolved, acknowlege the commitment of two homosexual persons to be in loving and mutually beneficial relationships with with each other and with God."

I thought that it would be helpful to get to the central issue here by eliminating some of the wordiness. The words were legally displayed in such a way that there was plausible deniability about the intent of the resolution. It was publicly declared: "This has nothing to do with the approval of same-sex ceremonies." But there were no doubts in the minds of anyone I talked to concerning what this resolution was designed to accomplish. From my considerably biased perspective, I felt that the whole thing lacked honesty and integrity.

You have won a great victory in Dekalb, but that victory may work against you. I am talking about the response that people around the country will have when they hear that Greg Dell, Larry Pickens (Greg's Clergy defense during the trial), James Preston (The author of "We Were Baptized Too"), and the rest of the reconciling power team have all been elected as delegates. That fact is sure to create a ground swell of strong opposition and move people out of the sidelines and into the fray. The sleeping giant called the United Methodist Church has been slapped again and again and she is now awake and preparing to take action to remedy the situation. I have told many of those devastated by the outcome of the last few days to put up a sign for them to look at occasionally. It says this:


I understand from reports coming in that you might have a real surprise coming at General Conference. Too bad it is only now that dialogue is considered. Perhaps I could have given some sage advise if I have been invited in to represent an evangelical perspective. For you may not have the majority at General Conference that you have here in Northern Illinois and they might do the same thing to your group, that your group did to us at this year's annual conference.

Rev. Kent L. Svendsen

Rev. Svendsen is the Northern Illinois Conference Coordinator of The Confessing Movement Within The United Methodist Church