I have just received the “WE WILL NOT BE SILENT” statement approved by the Rocky Mountain Conference. I was particularly inspired by these words: “RESOLVED, that the Rocky Mountain Conference looks forward to the leadership of our annual Annual Conference and the Western Jurisdiction Conference in formulating an action plan for a new day in our denomination, based on the 2000 and 2004 statements, We Will Not Be Silent …”
Is it not time for United Methodists who “affirm full and ecclesiastical privileges of all persons including LGBT persons…” (I would add same-sex couples) to act in “executive fashion” in response to the failure of the denomination to do this in the 2012 General Conference? President Obama has done this in response to the failure of Congress to act on immigration matters. The Western Jurisdiction Conference, in response to the significant steps forward on gay rights by President Obama, Courts and State Legislatures and the bi-partisan efforts to achieve marriage equality for same sex couples, has an opportunity “to be the Church” in ways that General Conferences since 1972 have not been.
My suggestion of “executive action” by the Western Jurisdiction Conference is based on this rationale offered at the end of the Rocky Mountain Conference statement:
“No other marginalized group has been singled out in the Book of Discipline for discrimination or special exclusionary treatment. We believe this is in conflict with our traditional and historic emphasis on God’s grace being available to all. The discriminatory language is itself in conflict with the inclusive language in other parts of the Book of Discipline, including the Constitution of the denomination.”
I have wondered for years why General Conferences and Judicial Councils have not seen the “conflict” as described in the rationale above. Our nation’s Congress does not have the right to enact legislation that is in conflict with the Constitution. And, I do not believe that a General Conference has the right to single out a “marginalized group…for discrimination or special exclusionary treatment.”
Many of us have wished that our Judicial Council could “rescue” the denomination from enacting legislation that is at variance with the inclusive language of the Book of Discipline and the UMC Constitution. Long ago United Methodism should have realized that our discriminatory and exclusionary language and legislation in response to LGBT persons and same sex couples, “places us in bed” with the language and legislation of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and even the anti-homosexual vulgarities of the pastor and members of the Westboro Baptist Church.
The Judicial Council meeting in Tampa ruled the proposed denominational re-organization plan unconstitutional. Yet, the Judicial Council has been unable to rule that the anti-gay, biased, language and legislation in our Book of Discipline contradicts the language of inclusivity of our UMC Constitution, Book of Discipline and the Bible. The inability of the Judicial Council to do so, compels the Western Jurisdiction Conference and other Jurisdictional Conferences to act.
I cannot as a third generation “cradle Methodist” who has resisted the language and legislation of discrimination and exclusion regarding black persons in both the Methodist and United Methodist Church, now be silent as General Conference after General Conference mis-uses “The Authority of Scripture” to claim that, “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” I have as a black lay person and now clergyman, lived through a time in Methodism when being black made me “incompatible” for full participation in the life of the Methodist/United Methodist Church. This was also justified by “The Authority of Scripture.”
It is difficult to understand why some women and blacks who have known discrimination in Methodism based on “The Authority of Scripture” and lived to see that discrimination end, even though Scripture has not changed, can now support Scripture-based prohibitions against same gender loving persons.
If I were “silent” in response to the anti-gay language and legislation of today’s United Methodism, I would be no different from the white persons who in the past were “silent” in response to the anti-black language and legislation of earlier Methodism.
Paragraph 543.7 of the Book of Discipline, page 346 says this of Central Conferences: “A central conference shall have power to make such changes and adaptations of the Book of Discipline as the special conditions and the mission of the church in the area require ….” If we are serious about “the special conditions and the mission of the church” in the Western, Northeastern and North Central Jurisdictions where states and the District of Columbia have approved or are considering marriage equality for same sex couples, then these Jurisdictions are challenged to preserve the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church vis-a-vis same sex couples through affirmation and action.
The General Conference in Tampa illustrated some dysfunctionality in our denomination and the illogic and irrationality of quadrennial decision-making. Jurisdictional Conferences as they meet in July, if they have the will, God-given boldness and a desire to preserve the justice commitments of The United Methodist Church, can act in ways that preserve the integrity of the mission and ministry of the denomination.
I suggest that at each Jurisdictional Conference these words from Hymn # 577, “God of Grace and God of Glory”, “set the table” for the decision-making that must follow:
“Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore; let the search
for thy salvation be our glory ever more. Grant us wisdom, grant us
courage, serving thee whom we adore, serving thee whom we adore.”
The Rev. Gil Caldwell is a retired elder of the Rocky Mountain Conference/Western Jurisdiction.