United Methodist General Conference only convenes once every four years, an endurance-length gathering that drew 864 elected delegates and an estimated 4-5,000 exhibitors, church staff, seminary students, reserve delegates, volunteers and other visitors to the Oregon Convention Center in the heart of Portland. It can be a lot to take in, and IRD staff have already authored in excess of three dozen articles about events taking place in and around the two weeks of General Conference.
John Lomperis and Mark Tooley have authored their summaries of General Conference elections and legislative activity, but the IRD staff want to share with you our favorite moments from Portland — some of which were far from the plenary hall. Here are our Top 10 General Conference moments:
#10 “Hallway Shaming” Instructional Video
Who needs enemies when you have friends like these? That’s what squishy bishops might have thought after Will Green issued a video on the Facebook page of Love Prevails, instructing fellow LGBTQ activists how to shame wannabe “allies” who were not as vocal as Green insisted they should be. Expertly modeling his debasing technique for the camera, a head shaking Green responded to an imaginary smiling bishop “because they just love you and want to be your friend and give you a hug” with a finger wag and a direct charge:
#9 Ethnic Appropriation Dancers
UMC officials were excited to showcase their “Imagine No Malaria” initiative to conference delegates, and a full-on production delivered. As worship pastor and “American Idol” participant Jeremy Rosado belted out “Our God is Able” a troupe of energetic dancers in African costume (but mostly as White as U.S. United Methodists) cartwheeled, shimmied, and leapt across the stage, eventually grabbing colorful streamers and bounding into the tables of seated delegates. We didn’t poll the sizable contingent of African delegates about their response to the presentation, but we’re looking forward to clogging and square dances performed by conference hosts at the scheduled 2024 General Conference in Zimbabwe.
— UMC Reformer (@UMCReformer) May 18, 2016
(Skip ahead to the seven minute mark for the performance)
#8 Whitesplaining Black Lives Matter
General Conference is ground-zero for protests, and the 2016 gathering saw a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration on the conference floor facilitated by the LGBTQ-affirming Reconciling Ministries Network and mostly stocked with Caucasian middle-aged lesbians.
This just in: a bunch of white people are protesting for BLM at GC2016 #UMCGC
— Trevor Warren (@Rev_Trev1) May 16, 2016
I’m confused, just catching up. Did RMN or BLM protest? #UMCGC
— Drew McIntyre (@DrewBMcIntyre) May 17, 2016
Ahhh, a bunch of white people are arguing about BLM via the #UMCGC. Guess how that’s going?
— El Geño (@TheSnortherner) May 17, 2016
The protest quickly delved in anti-homophobia chants, but we were more interested in what followed, when Michael Coyner, the Indiana bishop presiding over the session, began to “whitesplain” to foreign delegates about what Black Lives Matter was, stating that there is a perception of police violence (and immediately getting some Twitter blowback). In summary, this was an LGBTQ protest in the guise of a BLM protest, “whitesplained” to overseas delegates. Now that’s intersectionality!
— Jeremy Lafary (@RevJeremyLafary) May 16, 2016
— Martha Myre (@Pastor_Martha) May 16, 2016
#7 Susan Henry-Crowe “All Lives Matter” Mea-Culpa
We may often disagree with General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) official Susan Henry-Crowe, but the UMC’s lobby chief is savvy enough to know when she’s tread onto thin ice with her base of Social Justice Warriors. Following the “Black Lives Matter” demonstration, Henry-Crowe took to the podium to smilingly proclaim “All Lives Matter,” the phrase that BLM co-founder Marissa Jenae Johnson denoted as a “new racial slur”. Ruh-Roh!
The cringe-worthy moment provoked groans from delegates and visitors, as the GBCS chief stumbled headlong into the same rhetorical minefield that has already ensnared several well-meaning politicians on the political Left. To her credit, Henry-Crowe almost immediately recognized her error and within mere moments issued a kowtowing statement to appease the wrathful gods of justice (and at least she wasn’t this guy).
— JanessaC (@JanessaC) May 16, 2016
#6 Haters Gonna Hate
IRD’s UMAction Program had a display table in the General Conference exhibit hall where IRD intern Barton Dempsey could often be found, answering questions during the occasional busy times and quietly reading during the more common slow-traffic hours. Barton wasn’t the only one with time on his hands, however: fresh from her unofficial “grassroots ordination” in the convention center corridor just days earlier, perennial lesbian activist Sue Laurie stopped by to peruse the literature and confront the perpetrators of injustice.
“Why do you hate me?!” Laurie reportedly demanded of our unassuming bespectacled and bow-tie wearing intern. Undeterred by Barton’s claims that he didn’t hate her – or anyone else, for that matter – the former Reconciling Ministries Network staffer continued to prosecute the allegedly malevolent intern.
Momentarily satiated in her quest for justice, Laurie resumed her impromptu speaking tour of the exhibit hall with a visit to the Good News table.
#5 North Carolina Isn’t the Only Place In Need of a “Bathroom Bill”
Legislative Committees consumed much of delegates’ time on the first week of General Conference, with visitors competing for scarce space in the committee rooms. As IRD’s Chelsen Vicari, an observer at the hot button issue-laden “Church and Society A” committee wryly noted, there were no bathroom breaks during committee meetings. Anyone who unilaterally took a break was immediately replaced by one of many observers-in-waiting, forcing everyone to remain glued to their seats. Then again, maybe staying seated was for the best: on the heels of the Church and Society committee chair who collapsed May 13, May 14 brought a second collapse: that committee’s vice chair, who fainted during discussion.
#4 Sign Language
Watch those twitchy hands! On May 18, Northern Illinois Clergy Delegate Greg Gross accused the presiding bishop of “telegraphing” votes with his hands during voting on Pastor Adam Hamilton’s proposal to refer sexuality petitions to a panel appointed by bishops. There were even demands for the bishop (Bill McAlilly) to step down. Hamilton on Twitter called out efforts to discredit the bishop as shameful.
— Andy Oliver (@HeyAndyOliver) May 18, 2016
Gregory Gross just called the Bishop for telegraphing votes. ????#umcgc
— Sean Crews (@SeanzieCrews) May 18, 2016
Deeply disappointed in the way Bishop McAlilly was treated. He’s a good man. No excuse for this. #umcgc
— Adam Hamilton (@RevAdamHamilton) May 18, 2016
— Drew McIntyre (@DrewBMcIntyre) May 20, 2016
Liberia Clergy Delegate Jerry Kulah, who had a couple of good, fiery moments at the mic, is a veteran of multiple General Conferences as well as a dean of the Gbanga School of Theology:
“We want to thank the Bishop Stanovsky who just preached, and we want to thank her for the message, but we want to emphasize that we don’t want anyone leaving here thinking that African delegates are being manipulated to vote. Everybody in this hall should have a game plan and the African delegates have game plan that are based upon the scripture that is our primary authority for faith and practice. Our game plan is focus on ensuring that The United Methodist Church is a vibrant church that is biblically committed, Christ-centered, evangelistically functional, Holy Spirit empowered, and vision-driven. Thank you very much.”
— Keith Mcilwain (@KeithMcilwain) May 20, 2016
— Drew McIntyre (@DrewBMcIntyre) May 20, 2016
#2 Awesome African Methodist Worship
Sunday morning brought a longed-for break from legislative work and the opportunity to join in worship organized and led by African UMC delegates.
IRD’s Evangelical Program Director Chelsen Vicari blogged that these Methodists “make Pentecostals look like Baptists” as she participated in the United Methodist Church (UMC) Central Conference Africa Worship Service on May 15.
“A beautiful picture of a vibrant global church came to life as delegates and visitors from across the globe paused from General Conference business to hold hands together while dancing and singing praises to the Lord,” Vicari wrote. Liberia Annual Conference Delegate Jerry Kulah preached on Jeremiah 6:16-17:
“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ I appointed watchmen over you and said, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But you said, ‘We will not listen.’”
“So what does this mean for United Methodists in Africa? What does this mean for the global United Methodist church?” asked Kulah. “I’ve come to realize that our life’s journey there are always crossroads to encounter. At the crossroads of life it becomes our responsibility to carefully identify the paths that lead to our destination.”
“At the crossroads you decide for God or you decide against God. At the crossroads you choose to take the right direction or take the wrong direction. …The United Methodist Church is at the Crossroads. [God] is asking us, ’What path are you taking? Will you take a new path or will you take my path? Will you take the path that looks good and feels good or will you take the path that leads the wrong direction? The crossroads is the point of decision making.’”
Rev. Dr. Jerry Kulah of Gbanga Seminary in Liberia is ON FIRE at the African #umcgc worship!
— John Lomperis (@JohnLomperis) May 15, 2016
— Dionne Hammond (@dionnehammond) May 15, 2016
#1 “Trust Me, I’ve Dated Plenty of Jews”
Anti-Israel divestment proposals may have gone down in flames during committee meetings — and the General Board of Global Ministries was encouraged to withdraw from the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation — but Israel critics still had a lighthearted moment at General Conference.
Speaking in opposition to a resolution on Confronting Twenty-First-Century Anti-Semitism, Delegate Sarah Nichols “from the awesome Oklahoma Annual Conference” produced a moment worthy of Seinfeld’s finger-wagging Elaine Benes when she declared “Trust Me, I’ve dated plenty of Jews” and still found room in her heart to criticize Israel. Never mind that the resolution explicitly rejected conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism. Everyone laughed, and we all subsequently logged on to J-Date in order to build up our own street credibility on this issue.
“Trust me, I’ve dated plenty of Jews” quote of the day from the floor #UMCGC
— Matt Miofsky (@mmiofsky) May 20, 2016
— UMC Questions (@UMC_Questions) May 20, 2016
What were your favorite moments from General Conference? Please share them in the comments section below!