The United Methodist Church’s unofficial LGBTQ caucus, Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) and activists, had a very busy day at General Conference on May 16. Beginning at 9 a.m., LGBTQ activists marched around the Oregon Convention Center, recalling the Israelites’ march around Jericho.
Here’s my video of the Jericho-inspired LGBTQ march:
During delegates’ lunch recess, primarily white protesters wearing RMN logo T-shirts stormed the plenary floor delaying parliamentary procedure. The demonstration was ostensibly about Black Lives Matter. But it appears racial injustice was used an umbrella concern for other social justice causes, as the protest quickly evolved into chants of “Homophobia has got to go!” If you’re interested, this evening RMN will host training for non-violent protests.
Emily McFarlan Miller captured the plenary shut down here:
Before the lunch-time disruption, however, RMN hosted a press conference offsite coinciding with the General Conference’s Judicial Council elections. Huddled in a nearby hotel courtyard, LGBTQ activists called on the denomination to accept openly practicing homosexual clergy and lay leaders.
Moderator Rev. Matt Berryman, Executive Director of RMN, opened the press conference stating, “We are joined this morning by United Methodists, both pastors and lay people here, who have personally been harmed by the discriminatory policies in our Book of Discipline. Each of them will briefly share their story.”
Among the speakers was Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, Senior Pastor of Washington D.C.’s historic Foundry UMC. “We affirm that our call as United Methodists is to end the discriminatory practices of closing God’s pulpits and not ordaining our openly LGBTQI sisters and brothers,” she said. “We believe our call is to practice Biblical obedience and we will not tire in our efforts. Today I stand as a representative of my clergy colleagues who with me are committed to full support of our LGBTQI sisters and brothers.”
Over 1,500 clergy allied with LGBTQ affirmation have signed a letter of solidarity sponsored by RMN. The letter calls for the UMC’s General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, to “remove the prohibitions against openly LGBTQI persons being ordained and serving as clergy in our churches.” Gaines-Cirelli added, “We call on other clergy to do the same.”
“We are at the beginning of a revolution,” she continued. “The church must be willing to take risks, cross boundaries that have been traditionally seen as forbidden, and welcome those formerly and erroneously believed to be impure and untouchable.”
Ordained UMC elder Rev. Cynthia Meyer shared her summary of coming out to her congregation explaining her congregation took the news “pretty well.” However, an official complaint was filed with the denomination. “If the language in that Book of Discipline is not changed at this General Conference, then I will very likely face church trial later this summer and it is quite likely that I will lose my credentials,” said Meyer. “I will no longer be ordained in this church and will lose my livelihood as well.”
“It’s time this week that the language in the Discipline is eliminated and all are allowed to serve as they are called,” she continued.
Ben Hutchinson, a former UMC minister now ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, next raised the issue of suicide rates among LGBTQ teenagers. Hutchinson explained he serves as a psychiatric social worker who works with LGBTQ teens and adults who’ve attempted suicide because of opposition in their communities. “So I’m calling out the United Methodist bishops and saying it’s no longer suicide; it’s homicide. I ask them, ‘How do you sleep at night knowing you are killing our children?’”
Little introduction was needed for Frank Shaefer, the pro-LGBTQ United Methodist defrocked for officiating his son’s same-sex wedding. “I am not an LGBTQ person, but I have experienced some of the harm that has been done mainly to our LGBTQ community as I was put on a trial,” said Shaefer. “I have to tell you it was a very painful process that sort of reminds of the inquisition, medieval tactics of the Church, of the witch burnings in our country here. It was a very painful process not only for me but for my family, and especially for my gay children. I have three gay children.”
Shaefer said the UMC’s sexual ethics is “a shame” because it is “driving out so many wonderful preachers and pastors that are people with gifts and graces beyond measure.”
The California pastor asserted that there are many foreign delegates at the General Conference who unintentionally marginalize LGBTQ persons because of their cultural experiences. “In fact, they come from cultures that actually deny the existence of LGBTQ people. So it is important to show that LGBTQ persons are part of our families and of our church communities and our clergy.”
Next, Kelly Bardier and Jaclyn Pfeiffer shared their experience coming out while employed by a Methodist church preschool. Serving as a preschool teacher and substitute teacher, the women were also in a same-sex partnership. They were let go from their respective positions for violating the church’s teaching on sexual ethics.
Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey, RMN board member and Associate Dean at Boston University School of Theology, rounded out the speeches. Looking forward, she said to expect more public declarations of LGBTQ affirmation. “We were not fooled that our work would be easy. In fact, we understood that the delegate vote was against our cause. But I’ve been working with the Black Lives Matter campaign. And one thing I’ve learned. One protest song that I love goes like this: a people united will never be defeated,” she said.
Lightsey promised increased church trials for disobedience of the Book of Discipline’s sexual ethics, which could have financial implications for the UMC. “We will refuse to obey,” said Lightsey. “The church better have a lot of money in its bank account.”
A busy day, indeed. And it’s only Monday. General Conference continues until Friday.