Diary of a Delegate: Days Four and Five- Let me be full, let me be empty

Twitter topic cloud for Friday 4/27 from @andrewconard

When Bishop Weaver gave his episcopal address a few days ago, he concluded by inviting us to share in the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer, which contains the phrase “let me be full; let me be empty…”

The past two days have been both full and empty.You’ll note that I don’t distinguish between the two days or what we did which day; I honestly can’t tell them apart.

The daytime hours have been filled with subcommittee and committee work (in rooms empty of even cell signal…). From the very beginning, it was clear that my subcommittee, dealing with issues of reproductive rights, was going to be a very conservatively-tipped body. Most of the votes, when we came to voting, split 14 to 9 in favor of conservative positions. However, we worked an entire day in a very collaborative way, rewriting the Book of Discipline‘s paragraph on abortion. At the end of the day, we had crafted something of which I am proud– and it needed only two changes to keep it from being a decided step back for women’s rights. Both amendments were made in the full committee, and in my opinion the petition we are supporting is an improvement to the current language in the BOD. I was filled with a sense of achievement for what we did together.

But on the issues related to GLBT inclusion and rights, we took major losses. Despite passing the most progressive legislation through sub-committee, the main committee of Church and Society B voted down any and all changes to the denomination’s stance that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. We will bring the fight to the plenary floor as well, so it’s not officially over yet, but at the lunch break after the vote, I sobbed uncontrollably in the arms of Will Green, as he sobbed in mine, and then I did the whole thing again with Annie Britton. My dear, dear friends and colleagues in ministry, two of the most clearly gifted pastors I have ever encountered.

Someone put food in front of me and I ate it, but I have no memory of what it was. In fact, I’ve eaten so little and walked so much this week that I have dropped 3 pounds. My body feels empty.

Twitter topic cloud for Saturday 4/28 from @andrewconard

At one point in my committee work, I was so filled with rage I could barely speak; (presumably) straight white male delegates called for a vote by standing– as opposed to paper ballots or raised hands, “to expedite our voting.” This request was raised for the first time when we read the first piece of legislation that contained the word “transgender.” One old white man said “I vote my conscience and it doesn’t matter who is watching; it’s a matter of integrity.” Easy for you to say since the system is built to serve and protect you, (insert colorful descriptor here). The chair overruled the request eventually, and after the paper ballot was taken and the legislation protecting transgendered persons from violence was passed, I called for a moment of person privilege and laid the smack down from the mic. I said that the transgender community has suffered more harassment, humiliation, and violence at the hands of the church and the wider community than any other, and that calling for a standing vote on so vulnerable an issue was not about expediency, but bullying and intimidation of the highest order. I ended by saying that a vote won by intimidating others into silence would not be progress toward any end but an evil one.

Finally, as I could have predicted, the full committee voted to withdraw the united Methodist Church from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (which, when you think about it, is ironic, since withdrawal is no guarantee…). What was most frustrating about this vote is that a conservative delegate presented “research” she had done off the internet, and it was factually inaccurate complete and utter lies. She said the RCRC opposed any restrictions on late term abortion (they, like the UMC, support them only if the mother’s life is in danger), had made no changes in the policy and focus of being solely pro-abortion (they have, after much conversation with the UMC, shifted focus to maternal and fetal health, contraception, education, and advocacy for access to safe, legal abortions when they are needed), and that they support the work of pagan witch doctors (yeah, I dunno). But when we tried to bring a person who actually worked with the RCRC to speak, they would not let the “witness” if you will give testimony. Lies and dirty tricks, and women around the world– particularly those without health care and family support– will pay the price.

That was the last action of the day, and after all of that, my overwhelming feeling was emptiness. Shock. Numbness. Emptiness.

I left it all on the field, every ounce of energy, creativity, hope, and connection. We will live to resurrect some legislation for another day, and make our case on the plenary floor for full inclusion and the protection of women’s rights. But in that moment, there was nothing.

Later, again out with friends, I was filled with laughter, and the smallest glimmer of hope.

Today, we stand in recess for the Sabbath. Church continues, sermons are preached, justice marches onward, if not always in places we can see.

13 thoughts on “Diary of a Delegate: Days Four and Five- Let me be full, let me be empty”

  1. How utterly frustrating, and mind boggling that must have been. I am outraged with you and I am not even a woman! Jesus, whose message of radical inclusion started first with the inclusion of women and children and with the outcast, oppressed, shunned and forgotten, must have to summon extra “holiness” and compassion for those who misconstrue and alter his message to assuage their own fears. I am not so divine, and I am roiling with anger at not only the UMC but at my own church and others whose exclusionary and pedantic attitudes harm and drive out our brothers and sisters. Fundamentally the issues of reproductive rights and of full inclusion are resisted from the same paradigm of fear and egocentric righteousness. And these are but a few of the reasons why I do not choose to associate with a denomination. God help us all!

  2. Becca – my thoughts and prayers are with you and all at Conference (though perhaps a few more for those on our “side” of issues =). I was disappointed to see the posts about the vote on RCRC petition, but have hope that it will go differently on the full floor. To that end, will your “witness” be able to speak on the floor? If not, hopefully they can provide the truth to someone that can, or to those that bring it to the floor to begin with, – so those same falsehoods can not go unchallenged there. Enjoy the day off and know you are supported by many back home

  3. Becca,
    Thanks so much for your passion, your faithfulness, and your willingness to speak truth. i keep hoping (praying, dreaming) that the day of full inclusion for all of us will one day be a reality, but I am also very aware that the voices of my straight friends and colleagues carry far more weight than mine does. I left the UMC at 15, am clergy in another (more affirming) denomination, yet my local community of faith is UMC, in the midst of the reconciling process.

  4. I’m glad you are there. I’m glad I’m following along as best I can and that there are voices who are willing and able to speak up. My heart hurts for the lack of compassion and the judgement that continues to “win.”

    1. Marty, I’m sorry you feel this way, but I must disagree. I am naming privilege. When a person represents the majority of power in the room and in the church, he or she needs to be sensitive to things like saying “I feel safe so everyone feels safe.” I had that privilege as a straight person in the room. Just because I feel safe does not mean everyone does. Certainly just because older white men who have the power in the church feel safe does not mean other people do. The move was a targeted attempt at intimidation. There were people in the room who identify as queer. There may have been people in the room who identify as transgender. There were people in the room who identify as theologically liberal, with members of their more conservative boards of ordained ministry sitting in the viewing area behind them. It was not a safe space, and a person of privilege can’t speak to what is safe.


      1. Wandering in from the blogosphere of following this whole mess, it seems to me that you need more grace in respecting the fellow people you are dealing with. Fact is, just like *they* might not know everyone else in the room’s life situations, *you* do not know *their* life situations. The vitriolic politicization concerning these sorts of issues has been harsh on both sides of the board all over this country and in the UMC. Your own words reflect that.

        Indeed, what’s disheartening to me is when anyone of any kind ‘fights the good fight’ (whatever that means to them) by labelling those who disagree into dismissive and unimportant groups like ‘old white man’. People are not groups. People are people. Everyone has a unique voice, unique situation, and unique perspective that ought be respected regardless of what sorts of culture groups you want to label them with and dismiss them.

        1. It was a very difficult moment in which to hold this fellow in grace, I will grant you that. I perceived him as intentionally trying to suppress votes through intimidation. He then argued that everyone should feel they were safe simply because he did. If the speaker who said that had been a young Asian woman, speaking about issues of gender and race, and I therefore mentioned how she fit in those demographics, would that be grouping all young Asian women together? I labeled him as he was identified because it is relevant in the conversation. More importantly, hear me, because I very much mean to say this: I dismiss his “right” to speak for whether or not people who are not older, or straight, or white, or male. I will always do so.


    2. PS are you my Marty from my district? If so, thanks for at least disagreeing with me directly. Peace.

      1. Yes, it is me. To refer to someone in the tone as you stated ‘old… white… man’ categorizes an ‘old white man’ as I am as a pejorative… and, I believe that you meant it that way. I found that a very unwelcoming statement. This ‘old white man’ served in the army infantry in the 3rd Division with many black brothers. They would have laid down their life for me in combat, as I would have for them. Remember, you serve as a woman of privilege as a representative of my/our conference. Your attitude of response when someone disagrees with you on various matters doesn’t warrant you to call them ‘old or white or male’ in the sense that you did.

        1. Marty, does it help if I say he was older instead of old? He was white and male. And as such he was a person of power and privilege in the room compared to some of the young, or ethnically diverse, or female, and certainly the queer individuals in the room. I did not say that all the older white men in the room, let alone in the world, held the same position or abused their privilege. I hope that’s clear. However, curiously, all of the people who did hold that position happened to be white men. Brother I respect you, and I am painfully aware of my privilege. I won’t say I’m grateful for it, because it takes from others, and it comes with a tremendous responsibility to be sensitive to others. I would hope you know of my respect for you and others who have served in the military, and I think that’s kind of separate from the question of white privilege.

          Peace, Marty,

  5. I am not a member of the UMC but another Church body that is struggling with the same issues.

    We must realize that the decisions we make here in the USA will have an impact on the rest of the Body of Christ…and when it comes to homosexuality, we might want it one way in our western culture,but our decisions smack the rest of our brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith right in the face!

    we live in a global church now, we cannot just do what we want when we want it!

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