Tuesday, May 06, 2008

General Conference Wrap-up Reflections: Human Sexuality

I'm finally home from General Conference, and beginning to recover enough to put some thoughts together. I'd hoped to write much more than I did, but the schedule just really made that impossible for me - I don't know how other folks got so much blogging done. I have several different sets of things I'd like to write about, so I am going to try to take them topic by topic for the next few days, and hope that by the time I'm done, you aren't wishing you'd never hear of General Conference again!

The voting related to issues of human sexuality happened on Wednesday, April 30th, which happened to be my birthday. I figured depending on how the voting played out, I could have a really good birthday or a really bad one...

I went into General Conference expecting our official stance on human sexuality to remain unchanged again for another four years. I didn't expect change to come this time around. But once I arrived in Fort Worth, there just seemed to be a sense in the air that things might be changing. Just a feeling I was getting. A movement. My childhood pastor and now colleague, Rev. Bruce Webster, was NCNY's representative on Church and Society 2, the legislative committee dealing with all the sexuality-related petitions (or the vast bulk of them at least.) He reported that things were going well. In his sub-committee, the recommendation came 14-6 to change the language of the discipline to reflect the deep disagreement we have in the church around sexuality. Then in the full legislative committee, the vote was the same - the majority report would recommend a change of language on the full floor. Not to be fully inclusive, just to acknowledge that faithful Christians disagree about homosexuality and how it fits into Christian practice. To my recollection, the legislative committee hadn't recommended anything but retaining the same language since 1996. And so I started to get a little hopeful.

When the conversation came to the main floor, I dared to get even a bit more hopeful. We adopted a petition against homophobia and heterosexism. That may not sound like much, but I thought it was hopeful. The conversation surrounding the majority and minority reports also gave me hope - the process of amending both reports led me to believe there were enough votes to make a change.

But, in the end, by such a close margin (55-45%, less than a hundred votes separating out of 992 possible votes), we voted against saying we disagree about this issue. What irony! 55-45 that we don't disagree.

The next day, we had a witness from members of the GLBT community, supporters, friends, family, etc., and delegates. I really can't do this witness justice. I invite you to watch it here (simply listed as 'witness' under the archives of Thursday, May 1). I had gone back and forth in my mind about whether these witnesses were effective or not from a strategic standpoint, based on the demonstrations on the floor of conference in 2000 and 2004. Do these witnesses make moderates more or less likely to have a change of heart? I'm not sure in general. But this witness, this holy witness seemed needed, and deeply moving.

Things that strike me:
- During the witness, when you include the gallery of visitors, together with delegates and bishops, it seemed there were many more people standing in support than not.

- The narrow vote margin (less than 100 votes separation) leads to speculation. If only US delegates had voted on this issue, I suspect the recommendation of the majority report would have passed. We are global church though. How do we exist as such with such cultural differences? The Discipline allows for some differences in Central/Regional Conference, but the US is not yet classified as a Regional Conference, and has no place for differences that might be US-specific.

- IRD's blog originally referred to the witness as people "storming" the floor. I think that blog post title has since been edited. It would be hard to characterize the witness as people storming the floor.

- During the parliamentary debate, it seemed that many of those who wanted us to retain our current language of 'incompatibility' would make recommendations of how to vote right before voting took place in the guise of asking a question for clarification. This tactic was so blatantly used that people were literally groaning aloud every time someone came to the mic and said they didn't understand what we were voting on. I have deep respect and love for many of my friends and colleagues who feel differently about issues of sexuality than I do. But using these tactics, the things I witnessed, I cannot respect.

- Many of my parishioners told me they read about the church retaining its position in the newspaper this weekend. I was so grateful for the various comments I received on Sunday morning. People expressed disappointment in the decisions made, and one woman told me how she chose FLUMC in part because it was clear that people with a variety of lifestyles were included in the leadership of our church - that was important to her. I had young people asking questions and wanting to know more. I appreciate how engaged they were in what was going on.

- Rev. Jeremy Smith at Hacking Christianity has several good GC-related posts, including these three posts that I would recommend for some reflection/analysis of our decisions, especially the third listed.
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