Diary of a Delegate: Yeah, so that happened

JoAnn, Annie, and I share communion in the midst of the Body’s brokenness. Photo from the UMNS.

Earlier this week I tweeted: just because it’s expected doesn’t make it hurt any less.

We– whoever “we” are– did not expect to win any ground on the church’s position about homosexuality this quadrennium. But I’m a believer in the resurrection promise. That sometimes means that I every so often and ever so naively hold on to hope.

I was hopeful because Revs. Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter had come to the place where they could not only support but speak for, advocate for, even write, legislation that simply said our church could not agree about sexuality. I was hopeful because I had heard delegates from Africa say that, while they could never vote for full inclusivity for persons who are GLBTQ, they did not want to stand in the way of us doing ministry with all people in the United States.

Like I said. I can be overly optimistic sometimes.

It didn’t happen that way.

And when it didn’t happen that way, when the body rejected first Adam’s petition (by about 53/47%) and then an amendment to the Global Young People’s petition (53/47), and then debated with hateful words, equating loving and faithful same gender relationships with illness, perversion, and bestiality with only mild rebuke from the chair, and then defeated all changes by over 60/40%, when that happened, we did the only thing we could do.

Lifting the bread and cup. Photo from UMNS

We set the communion table in the center of the room. We welcomed the visitors and supporters from outside the voting bar and delegates from the floor. We blessed bread and cup. I was the elder closest to the bread, and I lifted it in the air, breaking it as we are broken. I looked across the table and through my tears I saw my new friend and fellow laborer for justice, Gregory Gross, holding the cup.

We sent servers with (gluten free) wafers and cups of juice to serve those around the room. Some bystanders received communion with from those with whom they disagree, and some refused. I served those around me, offering them the Body of Christ as we all wept.

We stayed at the table when the session attempted to reconvene. Unable to get the delegates back to their seats and the visitors off the floor– indeed unable to even to get people to stop singing, the Bishop had no choice but to call for an early lunch.

Lifting the broken Body of Christ, tears in my eyes. Photo by UMNS

I later tweeted- Becca Clark@pastorbecca: You cannot legislate love. Grace is never out of order. The communion table has no bar. #GC12love #gc2012 #nowalls

We were told that the police were called. They never came.

For the next three hours we sat, stood, prayed, sang (okay, I didn’t), and waited. I stayed on the floor, without any intent of getting arrested, but with the full intent of protecting my friends as a human shield if need be, and with the intent that if one or two particular friends were arrested, they would not be going anywhere without me. We also had conversation with the bishops and it was decided that no further votes on human sexuality would be taken that day, in an effort to do no harm. Hey! Protest making legislative change! Awesome.

An agreement reached to shuffle human sexuality legislation to the end of the calendar and hopefully therefore do no further harm, the protestors took our seats on and off the floor, and legislation resumed. The topic was pension; an important topic, but I couldn’t focus. I called in a reserve and left the floor intending to return, but ended up seeking food and drink and long, healing conversation with a friend, and going to sleep.

Steve and Leigh Dry do the only thing one can do in the face of such brokenness. Photo by UMNS

I’m actually in an okay place about the vote on this legislation. We didn’t really expect improvement on the church’s policy here. I felt good that the response in protest was an act of love and faith rather than anger coming from the deep pain we all felt.

What is so discouraging to me is that this vote was only a symptom of the entire General Conference’s pattern, moving away from the Wesleyan principles of prevenient grace, social holiness, and commitment to hearing and honoring the voices on the margin. We are becoming more totalitarian, more Calvinist in our theology, and more exclusive of voices and people who disagree from the majority– a majority that has been using its power to assure that they will have a super-majority in four years.

That will be the subject of many a blog post to come.

Today, we wrap up business, and then Saturday I will return home to my family and to rest. Monday morning, we live into a new quadrennium, and begin building a new church.

We have built strong coalitions and allies here, people who can come together across the continent and the world, across theological and sociopolitical divides, united in our love of Christ and the Wesleyan heritage of the UMC. I told you I’m naive, but I have hope once more.

Becca Clark@pastorbecca: Also, let the record show that @RevAdamHamilton & I hugged it out. He’s a man of integrity, & was bold to try for inclusion today. #gc2012

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34 Responses

  1. Becca: I hadn’t yet cried over any of this, this time, until reading this blog….at the point when you talked about lifting up the bread.

    Thanks for helping with my own healing tears.

    • Thanks for sharing them. We weep for our church and for sisters and brothers everywhere.

  2. Thank you for your witness Becca! If you want to start a new church…I’m in with you.

    • I’m going to give it at least one more shot at fixing this one first, but I hear you!

  3. We shall overcome.

  4. My heart is still heavy this morning, but I too believe in the resurrection spirit and am more determined than ever (am still off to seminary!). Thank you for sharing your experiences and for your faithful witness!!

  5. Ambivalent then hopeful then sad then angry then amazed.

    Heh, my comment grew way too long as I began to flesh that out, growing from a comment into a post of it’s own. I have a blog, so I’ll be posted this weekend.

    Becca, It has been a pleasure to get to know you through Twitter. I am grateful for your witness and your pastoral leadership.

    • I look forward to reading your blog post, Doug. Thanks for reading and wresting in this difficult time.
      Blessings!

  6. The saddest aspect of this is that so many United Methodists want to legitimize sin. Have you ever considered that your pain is caused by your own choice(s)? Homosexuality is sin and it would be a terrible tragedy for the UMC to call it anything less or to agree to disagree that they’re not sure about it. Coming to a saving faith in Christ means repenting from sin, not excusing it or rationalizing it. Jesus said “go and sin no more;” He did not say “go and do whatever feels right to you.” The heart is deceitful above all else and we are all born with a sin nature. We are to take up our crosses and die to self daily. Following Jesus is a life of sacrifice, obedience and submission.
    Matthew 7:21

    • Love your neighbor as yourself. These are Jesus’s words, and he didn’t add “unless your neighbor is gay.” Homosexuality was such a huge sin that Jesus didn’t even mention it. He mentioned greed and adultery, but mostly he said love your neighbor. Following Jesus means following his teachings, not listening to hatred and judgment from people who seem to forget the two main commandments. Shame on all who profess Christ’s love while denying their brothers and sisters the same rights within our church. But I will pray for the living Christ to change hearts.

      • Oh I agree. We are to love everyone and everyone is always welcome in church. I’m commenting on a behavior only. All I’m saying is that unrepentant sin should not be condoned by the UMC or any Christian Church.

        • Isn’t sin defined by human beings? You don’t hear God condemning people for sinning, only other people. Would a God who is all powerful and loving condone a little person like you, no doubt with your own addictions or perversions, besmirching another little person because of purely human acts that have little to do with religion or dogma — that in fact originate with love for another human being? I find your position repulsive and a definite reason for rejecting your concept of Church, not to mention God. I cannot even fathom the being you would worship.

          • No; sin is not defined by human beings. Sin is defined by God in the Holy Bible. And consistently throughout the Bible, God does condemn sin. God is powerful and loving, but he does not condone me because I am a sinner. The only way I or anyone else can approach God is through His Son, Jesus Christ. And salvation through Christ is available to anyone who repents of his/her sin and asks Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of his/her life. Repentance means admitting sin is wrong and turning away from it. That’s why homosexuality – the behavior; not the people – can’t be legitimized or condoned by the Christian Church. It is unrepentant sin. Living a lifestyle of sin is incompatible with following Jesus and it is inconsistent with Biblical teaching. LGBTQ people are loved and should be welcome in any church, but the behavior, the sin itself, is wrong. It is not hatred or judgment to read and adhere to the Bible.

            • You are a confused person. You claim devotion, the ability to have a choice, then lay off your responsibility on the Bible. There are many homilies in the Bible. They specific acts that the Church decries only became “sins” in post-Roman times, in the Dark Ages to be precise, reinforced by a hypocritical Church in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance. You mutter all the right invocations of responsibility in the service of absolute irresponsibility, unwillingness to confront the fact that there are good Christians who live differently than you do. If the tables were turned, they would be entitled to chuck you out as a too-proud human being. They wouldn’t. I wouldn’t care to. Your ideas are of another time. They too will pass, and quite soon. But I’ll pray for you. Maybe you will find redemption instead of hate in your heart. (BTW, I’m a straight man in my 60s, lest I be accused of self-interest in the matter. My only interest is an end to dogma and hypocrisy.)

              • Robert, I appreciate your comments and the spirit of justice behind them. Please try to keep them from being personally directed, but stick to an individual’s beliefs or words. I know that’s a fine line indeed. Blessings.

          • I also want to apologize to you if I misrepresented God to you in a way that makes you want to reject Him and/or His Church. That would be my own inability to express how absolutely loving He is. He doesn’t want any to perish. But I also can’t ignore His Holiness and His demand for perfect righteousness that’s only available through laying our sins on Christ’s alter and intentionally following Him in daily obedience and submission. If I’m conveying it in a way that is offensive, I apologize.

            • Sin is that which separates us from God. Therefore, what you are doing here is sinning. What PastorBecca is doing is not. My life, my relationship with God, is testament to who present here right now is sinning. I use the standard Jesus set, not the standard followed by those who killed him and who continue to kill the Body of Christ. That is, not the standard set by you.

              • Well I don’t set any standards. The Bible sets them. I just do my best to follow them. Homosexual sex is sin; the Bible says so. Someone living in a sexually-active homosexual relationship is living in sin. Living a lifestyle of sin with no repentance is inconsistent with living for and following Jesus Christ. I agree – sin does separate us from God. That’s why a homosexual lifestyle choice is a sinful lifestyle choice and is incompatible with having a relationship with our Holy God. God will never bless a homosexual union. And that’s just Truth whether you or anyone else agrees with it or not. The Bible doesn’t change; God doesn’t change. Sin is sin and always will be.

                • Nonsense. The Bible is a book. You can read it anyway you like. You want to judge people, arrogate to yourself what is God’s alone in your own faith? Maybe you’re closer to the Devil than you think.

                • Clearly not everyone reads the bible the same way, Paige, and not everyone understands sin in the same way. The problem, especially at the denominational level at which I was working, is trying to define such things together when we come from vastly different contexts. I don’t think we can say such blanket statements with any certainty. God works in ways we don’t understand.
                  Bless,
                  Becca

              • FSG, my definitions of sin and standards are both very close to yours.
                Peace,
                Becca

          • Thank goodness that no one person holds the corner on the concept of church or God. I too can’t worship the God described above, and yet I love both God and church deeply!

    • Hi Paige, thanks for reading and commenting, even though we disagree. I’m not going to flesh out a response here since I do it in other places, but I will simply say that I don’t believe homosexuality is a sin. I think there are faithful interpretations of the bible and of our faith that support this claim, and I live in those.
      Peace to you,
      Becca

    • How can anyone possibly believe that homosexuality is a lifestye “choice”! Who in their right mind would choose such a difficult life, one that receives insult, bias and hostility daily? You are born that way or you are not! Those who happen to be born heterosexual, thank God, and have some compassion for those born otherwise. Those of you who are born homosexual, you are no less children of God. Rejoice!

  7. I’m not a co-religionist, so I am not fully able to empathize, but I left my religious tradition when I realized that it was only people attempting to emulate their God, not their God who would hardly be so primitive. You need to reevaluate. Otherwise, objectively, your complaints seem so insane. Why subject yourself to constant hurt and abuse? Wasn’t the banishment from Eden sufficient to seek another way to reunion with Spirit, rather than absorbing more hate speech and hateful acts?

    • I hear you Robert, I do. I have thought about leaving many times. But I still love the UMC and find in it a faithful way to seek healing and wholeness and relationship with the God of my understanding. There may come a time when I can no longer affiliate with the UMC because of the hateful things members of the body say and do, or because there is no longer hope to change it. Right now, however, there is a huge opening for the possibility of change, and I still believe I can do more from within than from without. But I have wrestled with that question a lot, especially over the last 2 weeks.
      Peace to you,
      Becca

  8. Becca… first, thank you. Thank you for your presence, your voice, your courage. I find it ironic (? maybe not the right word, maybe disturbing is better) that the director of communications of my conference – a conference which voted 55%-45% in favor of the motions on sexuality – reported only that many of our delegates were glad at thow the votes went. Nothing at all on the pain and sadness of the rest of our delegation.

    • You’re welcome. Our perceptions shape our reality, don’t they?
      Blessings and peace in these troubled times,
      Becca

  9. Thank you for your witness. I’m no longer a member of the UMC, but I still feel connected to it because I grew up in it. I joined another denomination where I felt my values were more welcomed, a place where I could embrace their theology with my whole heart. Still I followed the General Conference this year and was moved to tears by the way I saw the spirit moving those of you who took a stand for those on the margins. Please continue to speak truth to power and know how much it means to people on the outside to see you trying to create change from within. Praying for you and for the whole church.

    • Thank you so much, Kasi. I’m glad that you have a spiritual home, and that you keep praying for those of us in the “wilderness.” One day, I do believe, we will fully know even as we are fully known. Until then, our human brokenness gets in our way, but God is so much bigger thn we can imagine.

      Peace in the struggle,
      Becca

  10. […] her own blog, here is Rev. Clark’s recollection.  After the Conference rejected several petitions, including an “agree to disagree” statement […]

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