Friends, you heard my pain, frustration, brokenness and even some anger in my last post. The people I care about and the issues and petitions that mattered to us took terrible hits over the first nine and a half days of General Conference. Yes, we failed to change the UMC’s policy on homosexuality being incompatible with Christian teaching, but there was so much more. We’d voted on God’s grace. We’d chipped away at Methodism at its very heart.
The last day of General Conference 2012 found me very discouraged.
We had already approved Plan UMC, which was a hastily reworked version of the Call to Action IOT restructure plan and the Plan B restructure plan (but not the MFSA version of the plan), all of which sought to increase efficiency and reduce cost for the denomination by consolidating the boards and agencies. But it did so in a plan that was put together in way that was non representational and left voices disenfranchised, and it would keep on doing that.
In part, the plan that was passed was so nasty in my opinion because it consolidated representative power for the more conservative parts of our country and our globe—and they really weren’t needing any help! It also eliminated all of the Boards and Agencies of our church, including some of my favorite parts of the church—the General Board of Church and Society, the General Board of Global Ministries, the General Board of Discipleship, merging different actions of them into one board. It eliminated the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW) and the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR), two independent bodies that monitor our denomination for fairness and inclusiveness, and separately work for the needs of the people they represent. This plan merged them into a less powerful Committee on Inclusiveness, making them report to the very groups they would be trying to monitor rather than serve as independent auditors and advocates.
We’d tried two Hail Mary passes to undo the damage of Plan UMC: I had asked to wait on a final vote until we heard back the financial implications—this was supposed to be something to save us money, but I doubted it made a difference—and we had asked for Judicial Council to decide if the Plan could be implemented with a simple majority, or if such elimination of aspects of the work of our church were in fact unconstitutional.
In the mean time, we tried to fix the elimination of COSROW and GCORR and move to restore the two commissions in a lively and ultimately fruitless debate that left several of my fellow delegates in tears of frustration and anger and grief. Women, persons of color, and particularly women of color (who better than anyone understand that the effects of racism and the effects of sexism are not the same) felt entirely silenced.
By that point the church, in my mind, was dead.
We were passing through budget legislation piece by piece, and I had actually begun to simply vote no on everything. It was the only voice I had left. I was in a spirit of negativity, and I felt like nothing we decided mattered. My full intention was to go home and figure out how to get myself and my family out of the United Methodist Church as soon as possible. If I could take my church, my Annual Conference, or my entire Jurisdiction with me, so much the better. If not, it didn’t matter. This was no longer my church.
We’d voted that God’s love was extended to all by a 3% margin. We’d stepped away from our historic commitments to social justice. We’d eliminated guaranteed appointment without allowing debate. We’d silenced and marginalized the voices of women, people of color, GLBTQ persons and their allies, young people, clergy who differ theologically from the majority view in their conferences, clergy nearing retirement age, and pretty much anyone I could think of who wasn’t a middle to older age Caucasian male moderate or conservative. We had a vote coming up to alter our “quadrilateral,” radically changing the way we view the bible and all but eliminating the important dialog we hold with our tradition, reason, and experience when we interpret and apply scripture. Remember when I blogged about the reasons I wanted to remain Methodist? We’d chipped away at all of them.
We had a little victory that a lot of people didn’t recognize: the body voted to change the statement that the church was in ministry to help people in their marriages and families to say that we are in ministry with all people who are single, and in families in their various configurations. This had largely to do with how Rev. Brad Laurvick, who is now one of my favorite people on the planet, and someone with whom I am so blessed to be in ministry, framed the conversation, highlighting the importance of single persons, and family units comprised of grandparents, adoptive parents, and so on, never once mentioning family configurations that feature gay or lesbian couples. It was as if we had to trick people into being loving and grace-filled. When Brad got off the stage, I planted the world’s happiest kiss on his cheek.
Other than that, it was time to submit to the fact that the worst had happened and would continue to happen for the rest of the night. It was over. We’d been outnumbered and outgunned. We were going to lose everything. And I could hardly muster the energy to care.
At about 4:15, the Judicial Council ruling on Plan UMC came down, and in many ways, the history of the United Methodist Church changed forever. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. At least, it’s definitely what it felt like at the time. Hmm. Nope. Still feels that way.
The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church ruled that Plan UMC was unconstitutional on at least four grounds, having to do with the distribution of power and oversight. The scathing ruling, which you can read here, stated that the Plan (and by extension the others from which it was drawn) was irreconcilably flawed and could not be salvaged into something constitutional. It was therefore struck down.
The room burst into murmurs, and a request for a recess was called. Groups hurried to huddle and try to get their heads around what this might mean. A large group of progressive delegates from various committees, but all of whom had worked tirelessly against Plan UMC, descended upon the communion table in the center of the room, where many of us had demonstrated a little over 24 hours earlier. What now? How would boards and agencies, suddenly reinstated, function? How many pieces of previously passed legislation were now in conflict? What were the most important pieces to pass now to restore some order?
The Holy Spirit had arrived in all Her glorious wily beauty.
But we all know how the Holy Spirit sees the opening of Chaos.
(to be continued)