I confess: the headline is a slight exaggeration about the Connectional Table’s recently concluded April 28-29 meeting (this last Monday and Tuesday) in Chicago. But it did decide to respond to the demands of DeLong by formally committing itself to aligning with her single-minded agenda to sexually liberalize the United Methodist Church. So you can read the details below and decide for yourself how slight my exaggeration is.
First, some background is in order.
The Connectional Table (CT) is composed of representatives from every major UMC leadership body – the Council of Bishops, the general agencies, the jurisdictions, the central conferences, and the General Board of Discipleship’s Division on Ministries with Young People. Furthermore, slots are not allotted to representatives of any ethnic ministry program of any official church body but rather to five unofficial caucuses which claim to represent African-American, Hispanic American, Native American, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander United Methodists.
I have noted earlier how drastically unrepresentative this elite table is of the denomination. While Sub-Saharan Africa is home to some 40 percent of United Methodists, only three of the 47 voting members (six percent), and none of the additional members with voice but not vote, are African. Meanwhile, the radicalized U.S. Western Jurisdiction accounts for less than three percent of church membership but has been allotted 17 percent of the CT’s voting membership.
The CT’s executive committee consists of ten Americans plus one European, several of whom are very outspokenly progressive but none of whom are similarly outspokenly orthodox.
For its two slots, the Division on Ministries with Young People named a gay activist youth, Kevin Sauceda, and a young pastor, Eduardo Carrillo, who wore a pin at the last CT meeting touting his support for the far-left agenda of “Love Prevails” on sexual morality and abortion and its any-means-necessary, anti-Golden-Rule tactics.
Love Prevails is a self-described “radical sexual liberationist” group consisting of Amy DeLong and a few friends, and has been nicknamed “Love Bullies.” (The nickname “Love Bullies” is copyright 2014 Rev. Evan Rohrs-Dodge.) DeLong’s full-time job appears to be stridently demanding that the United Methodist Church bless her active lesbianism.
Like a classic case of an abusive relationship, there has been an accelerating pattern of DeLong and company taking outrageously bullying actions against the United Methodist Church (tactics which no one in IRD or the UMC renewal group would ever do, or would ever hear the end of if we did), bishops and other denominational leaders falling over themselves to appease her, DeLong becoming encouraged to push even further, and the cycle repeating.
After the 2012 General Conference failed to adopt a petition replacing the denomination’s biblical stance on sexual morality with a standard that largely amounted to “anything goes” (besides exploitation), outside protesters illegally took over the floor to prevent business from continuing. Some led by DeLong refused to leave until our bishops submitted to her demands. She demanded that the legislative agenda of the conference by re-ordered and a prayer be offered to open the next General Conference session, all according to her specific dictates. She celebrated getting her ultimatum met and putting our bishops “on notice.” This emboldened her to then vow to use physical force again to prevent the General Conference even considering a petition to end the denomination’s affiliation with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). A key chapter of the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) cheered this commitment to defending abortion violence by silencing fellow church members.
Since then, I have not seen one bishop have the courage to publicly say such tactics are not appropriate for decision-making within the body of Christ.
So DeLong became further encouraged.
The Love Bullies loudly interrupted last November’s CT meeting to protest the UMC’s affirmation of biblical standards for sexual self-control. In response, the CT decided to shelve much of the church’s business to submit to being harangued by DeLong. The CT also decided to form a human sexuality task force led by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of North Carolina.
The CT further decided to dramatically re-order its agenda for the next several meetings to hold dialogue sessions on sexual morality. Lest there be any doubt, on Monday Bishop Bruce Ough of the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area, the CT chair and future Council of Bishops President, made a point of crediting Love Prevails with pressuring the CT into arranging these dialogues.
He admitted that in many ways, these dialogues were “nothing new,” but said that they were breaking new ground by live-streaming the dialogue and inviting online submissions of questions.
During breaks, DeLong and other Love Prevails protesters held signs with messages like “DIVEST FROM THIS ABUSIVE #UMC.” I overheard one rudely confronting a church agency staffer for walking by while paying insufficient attention.
For some context, for years I have attended UMC agency meetings as an observer. If I have something to say, I do not hijack the meeting but rather speak privately and respectfully with people during breaks or between meetings. While I appreciate being heard, I understand that the denomination has not entrusted me with an official role in these structures.
In sharp contrast, Love Prevails was repeatedly allowed to interrupt to inject its agenda. (During one portion of the meeting involving voting, Bishop Ough finally restricted the discussion to actual CT members.) Once they interrupted, in an apparently coordinated way with Bishop Sally Dyck of Chicago, to highlight the pro-homosexuality stance of the congregation whose band was selected to provide morning worship music. At another point, DeLong demanded to know what the new CEO of the UMC’s Washington lobby office would do about homeless gay teenagers. Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe agreed to make sure the issue was raised at her next board meeting. DeLong also announced her interest in attending the CT’s next meeting, to be held in Liberia, and demanded to know what the CT would “do to ensure safety of LBGT people who go there.” Even as we received communion on Tuesday morning, Love Prevails activist Sue Laurie (a former staffer of the Reconciling Ministries Network) was allowed to stand next to the servers offering a blessing to recipients while prominently wearing an enormous gay pride ribbon.
CT members themselves were also eager to inject sexual liberalism into other areas of concern. In a discussion of our need to recruit young clergy, Tracy Merrick of Pennsylvania claimed “[w]e have highly vital LGTBQ Christians who could be serving in ministry, but we aren’t letting.” (He did not elaborate on how that is working out for the UCC.) In discussion of ecumenical relations, not only did CT members generally exhibit their usual myopic focus on the narrow world of oldline American Protestantism, but were rather explicit in urging the UMC into follow these dying denomination’s lead in sexual liberalism.
Interestingly, at least three outspoken sexual liberalizers, Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, Rev. Rachel Birkhahn-Rommelfanger, and Bishop Arichea basically admitted their giving up on winning over the hearts and minds of less liberal United Methodists, noting that people have made up their minds and agreement was unlikely, though they still expressed vague hopes for getting along.
The bulk of Tuesday morning was devoted to a panel discussion of homosexuality. While the UMC Discipline requires that the church’s teaching be “fairly and equally represented” at such apportionment-funded dialogue events, the panel consisted of two strong opponents of the church’s teaching and one token supporter.
Afterwards, the CT scheduled an extra-long lunch break to encourage further sexuality dialogue.
So how appreciative were DeLong and company of the CT allowing them to forcibly take over the last meeting, repeatedly inject their agenda into this meeting (even the communion service), publicly praising them, and shoving aside half a day’s worth of work to discuss their concerns?
Apparently, the CT did not pander enough.
During the panel’s question-and-answer session, Sue Laurie took to the microphone to declare that “[t]here has been violence done to GLBT people today,” apparently by allowing one person who openly disagreed with Love Prevails to speak. DeLong declared that “unity” is one of “a whole list of churchy words” that she has “come to hate” because of how it has been cited in arguments against her agenda.
After lunch, Bishop Ough invited further feedback about the morning’s dialogue. This led to over an hour of further discussion, overriding time set aside for other important church matters.
DeLong and her follower Julie Todd took to the microphones to declare that the dialogue was “not legitimate” since LGBTQ activists were insufficiently involved. Ms. Todd, who is ordained in the New England Conference, emotionally lamented the CT’s lack of leadership and complained that she did not hear any CT member clearly denounce the sexual-morality teachings of the UMC Book of Discipline.
In response, Bishop Ough dutifully invited members to respond to her invitation.
Immediately, Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the California Pacific Conference made a motion for the CT to petition the 2016 General Conference to remove all language from the Book of Discipline disapproving of homosexual practice.
The two top staffers of the UMC’s main pro-homosexuality caucus, RMN, were then in the room, suggesting that they knew this was planned all along.
Several CT members at different points indicated that they saw dialogue as largely valuable for the goal of leading non-liberal United Methodists to change their minds. Many speeches urged adopting the liberalization motion. Bishop Dyck delivered an especially impassioned one, making a point of speaking dismissively of the panel’s token conservative, who serves within her annual conference.
Several CT members argued against rushing this motion through. Revs. Ole Birch of Denmark and Harald Rückert of Germany both expressed strong support for the substance of the motion but argued that this was not the right way to do things. No one directly defended the church’s position, though Bishop James Swanson of Mississippi noted that his position was no secret, and shared that his friendship with Pamela Lightsey was possible because they avoided win-lose actions like this motion. He told fellow CT members, “If you want to be in a hurry to win at all costs, then you go ahead.”
And they went ahead. Two motions to delay the rush to establish a liberal position, and to leave time to hear from more voices, were shot down.
The final motion was a substitute version offered by Bishop Ward, who openly presumed a sexually liberal consensus on the CT. Her version would have the CT “affirm parallel paths through dialogue and e-mendment of the Discipline to fully include LGBTQ persons in the life and ministry of the church.” In other words, the CT would commit itself to the LGBTQ affirmation agenda, and would both prepare relevant General Conference legislation and would make explicit that this was the point of its ongoing dialogues.
Immediately before the vote, Bishop Ough rather dishonestly claimed that this somehow would not decide the central question.
The motion passed overwhelmingly. I recall observing only four nay votes (one European, one African, and two Southeasterns), though there were many abstentions.
Immediately afterwards, Bishop Dyck rushed across the room to rather rudely yell at me without even a greeting. I had accurately live-tweeted that Carcaño and Ward had introduced motions which pandered to Love Prevails, and in my 140-character-limit shorthand had referenced the “Love Prevails motion.” Apparently, the top pastoral leader of United Methodists where I live, whose yelling at me was loud enough to be heard in the hallway, was upset that my reporting the facts may have made her and others look like puppets. I will continue to report the facts accurately and let readers draw their conclusions. It is worth recalling that Bishop Dyck was one of the bishops involved in the negotiations with Ms. DeLong at the last General Conference, and also that after some Reconciling Ministries Network activists demanded that Bishop Dyck issue a public dissent from the Council of Bishops rebuke of Bishop Melvin Talbert, she obediently did so a mere three days later.
After her performance with me, Bishop Dyck was thanked by a watching Love Prevails activist, with whom she walked off triumphantly.
Right before closing worship, DeLong interrupted one last time to announce a “prayer vigil for gay and lesbian people, who were largely left out of today’s conversation.”
Thus the CT ended up powerfully demonstrating the truth of some comments made on Monday morning by its Executive Secretary, Amy Valdez Barker, who challenged claims that the church was dysfunctional by arguing that “[t]here is no such thing as a dysfunctional organization,” since “every organization is perfectly aligned to achieve the results it currently gets.”
The earlier parts of the two-day meeting were peppered with talk about unity and strengthening the denomination’s internal connection, and even had some talk about the church reaching new people. In contrast, one of the protesters declared with her sign that “MY #1 AGENDA” was removing the language from the Book of Discipline affirming biblical standards for sexual self-control. For Love Prevails, absolutely nothing, even making disciples of Jesus Christ, is more important than setting aside everything else for this.
By the end of the meeting, the same prioritization had become the official policy of the Connectional Table.
In other business:
- The CT members approved a grant of $125,000 to the UMC General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) to hold 5-6 consultations around the world (two in the United States and one in each of the overseas continental regions where the UMC is organized) as part of a process to comprehensively revise and shorten the Social Principles for the sake of making them more theologically grounded and globally relevant. The three European Central Conferences had petitioned the 2012 General Conference to set up such a process. The General Conference referred the motion to the General Council for Strategy and Oversight, which would have been created if the restructuring proposal had not been judicially invalidated. Nevertheless, the CT decided earlier in the quadrennium that it had the authority to implement this. However, an earlier version of the proposal would have sought input from a wider range of voices and not been exclusively administered by the GBCS. The GBCS has yet to firmly identify which parts of the Social Principles it will try to delete, but the American liberal faction of the church it has long exclusively represented (under its previous leadership) has been known to cynically silence orthodox social concerns by inaccurately claiming they are not global issues.
- The CT will move forward by sending mailings to all delegates to the last and upcoming General Conferences apparently intended to keep alive the agenda to create a U.S.-only central conference. This was already rejected by the majority of annual conference delegates in the United States and some 95 percent of those in Africa. But given the widely agreed-upon unlikelihood of the global General Conference to agree sexually liberalize the church, some American United Methodists have clung to such global segregation as their “only hope” for the theological and sexual liberalization of the UMC.
Expect to hear many insistences in the days ahead that these two secondary agendas of the CT are completely unrelated to what has now become its “#1 agenda.”