GC2019: Sleepless, Grieving Night At The Conservative Takeover

GC2019: Sleepless, Grieving Night At The Conservative Takeover February 25, 2019

My sleepless, grieving night accompanies my fatigue and my frustration as I see yet another conservative takeover. They’ve done a great job taking pages from the Southern Baptist playbook. 

As most people who are following the events of yesterday afternoon know, the results of the voting for the order of the petitions to be discussed in the legislative committee ended up with these top five priorities.

    1. Wespath Recommendations-pension liabilities and CRS
    2. Traditional Plan, except 90042 and 90048) 90032-90040, p. 182-186, 190-194
    3. Disaffiliation–Taylor–New Paragraph 2553.
    4. Disaffiliation–Boyette–new Par 2549
    5. One Church Plan, Except 90015), 9001-90014, 164-168.

The first piece was voted on last night and passed. I’ve seen major criticism that we’d start with pensions before dealing with the complex issues facing the church, but, frankly, this was a routine and absolutely necessary piece of legislation. It clarifies what might happen to clergy pensions should a schism take place and certain clergy either be forced to leave or request to leave The United Methodist Church. It didn’t allocate money or fatten anyone’s pockets. So, lay off, folks. This was no big deal.

The slavery and the gay parallel

The big deal is what we now face: an exceedingly divided church. Think “Civil War” type divisions–and that was another time when the Methodist church split before, something which led to southern (we keep our slaves because God says we can have them) and northern (slavery is wrong in a wider reading of Scripture) branches of the church.

We are now very close to the same situation, but it will read conservative (we keep gays out with a narrow definition of human sexuality because the Bible says we can exclude them) and centrist/progressive (we welcome all because a wider reading of Scripture demands radical hospitality and open arms especially to the marginalized and oppressed and those formerly declared unclean).

At this point, and please remember I am speaking only as an observer here, not as one who sits in the inner circles of delegate discussions, I do not see any real hope of the church holding together. We find ourselves caught now in the most horrific place a church can go: a “winner take all” and “best of luck, losers” moment where it is possible that the difference between “winners” and “losers” could be as little as 1 or 2% of the vote.

Last night, the folks at the Crackers and Grape Juice people and I met and recorded a podcast. Three young clergymen, Jason Michelli, Teer Hardy and Taylor Mertins, along with producer Tommie Marshall (who is going to have one major editing job in front of her as the conversation became a bit too freewheeling) and I opened aching hearts over what is happening. One thing Jason said particularly stuck with me: with a vote clearly this close, no responsible pastor would ever subject his/her congregation to this.

He’s absolutely right. Any wise pastor would never, ever hold this vote in the congregation. When a group shows evidence of differences this great, particularly when our first rule of the church is “do no harm,” it is time to return to Christian conferencing. Otherwise, unquestionable harm will indeed be done.

Sleepless, Grieving Night

As I sought to deal more thoroughly with my emotions last night, I realized the greatest right now is grief. The baby before Solomon is going to be torn to bits, and blood will flow everywhere.

We have a solution that does not bring harm. The developers of the One Church Plan worked carefully to ensure freedom and space for all, but the anti-gays appear to reject it out of hand. I don’t get it, but that is the fact.

this fly on the wall had a sleepless, grieving nightQuick note: we just learned that 31 of the delegates are not here because they were denied visas to enter the US. And another of my frustrations just rose to the surface: what were the organizers thinking by not having those things covered long in advance?

Now, the leader just read off two pages of complex instructions about how the committee operates under Roberts Rules of Order differently than the plenary session (tomorrow) will operate. I’m frantically looking for a written copy of those directions, but so far unsuccessfully. I honestly cannot imagine how those who just heard all that gobbledygook talk made sense of it at all.

A few moments ago, a major motion on the floor: to postpone discussion of the separatist punitive traditional plan until the end of the day. Rationale: its negative effect on the US church, generally much more aware of our GLBTQI friends, neighbors, children, family members than the some of the overseas delegates face. Ultimately, the motion failed by about a 60%-40% vote. On we go . . .

Sexuality and Human Existence

Now, back to my role here: I’ve got hobbled feet by the lack of access to the floor. I can’t see faces, sense emotions, watch body language, observe the tensions that were apparently all over the place. So right now, I’m writing my heart.

Time after time, human nature shows us that we’d rather divide than stay together. And I admit that, on occasion, we do face times when a division is the only recourse. I don’t think this is the situation before us.

I don’t get the underlying hatred and horror here of something that has long been a part of human existence, i.e., same-sex partnerships. They may not have been legally recognized as marriages for much of human history, but they have certainly been recognized as part of normal human sexuality.

Now, those partnerships are not procreative. Same-sex couples cannot produce children without some artificial or outside intervention. Right now, with massive human population growth overloading the planet and depleting our resources, honoring the love and commitment of a non-procreative relationship makes sense. After all, we do let men and women marry who are unable to bear children. No fertility test has yet been required.

And the phrase, “But the Bible . . . ” can be so twisted as to say that it is OK in the name of hospitality to offer one’s daughters for gang rapes that I’m not sure of its trustworthiness to adequately address these kinds of covenantal relationships.

I hate Twitter but . . .

Now, if you want to see a blow by blow of what is going on, I’d suggest you turn to Twitter, using either #GC2019 or #UMCGC2019 or #UMC or all three and thereby lose what might be left of your mind. At this moment, delegates are starting to offer amendments to the Traditional Plan, also known by me as “The Mean Girl Manifesto.” 

Just a note: The evidence of how poorly the Traditional Plan was written appeared in all its glory when Maxie Dunnam went to the mic to offer a large packet of material to the delegates to explain all the amendments necessary to bring it in compliance with our constitutional requirements.

Now, all that material MUST be translated into Portuguese, French, and Kiswahili. The person in charge of such things said that he requested the materials two weeks ago. As he was speaking, someone hands him a flash drive with the materials in digital form.

This is ridiculous. If the traditionalists want everyone else to follow the rules, it is about time they do the same.

Frederick Brewington, a delegate from New York,  then went to the mic to read those translation requirements from the rules for all to hear and see. What a crock Dunnam, the master architect behind splitting the church, is proving to be.

You can probably read my fatigue, my frustration, and my sorrow here. Thus my sleepless, grieving night as I see yet another conservative takeover. They’ve done a great job taking pages from the Southern Baptist playbook.

I’m going to take a break, publish this and start another post in a while.

Let me amend that: the “I hate gays,” “let’s split the church” and constitutionally unacceptable traditional plan has just been passed by the legislative session to go to the plenary session tomorrow. Should it pass there, it will be ruled unconstitutional again by the judicial council when they meet again. Thus, a several million dollar boondoggle takes place yet again at a General Conference.

Photos: (c) Christy Thomas; screenshot of the live feed, Christy Thomas

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  • Rudy Schellekens

    “My sleepless, grieving night accompanies my fatigue and my frustration as I see yet another conservative takeover.” Hm, would it not be a “progressive takeover?”

    • Kate Johnson

      Sadly, the conservative church today is no example of the teachings of Christ. More like a tribalistic, self congratulatory social club, whose love only extends to people they approve of, just like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They are far more concerned with establishing us vs them, than living out the sacrificial love and radical hospitality exemplified by Jesus. It’s why so many are leaving the church. Sadly, it’s often a whited sepulcher, as the widespread sex abuse scandals in the Catholic and Southern Baptist churches have clearly demonstrated. With those scandals and the election of Trump, conservatives have no moral credibility at all.

      • Rudy Schellekens

        I have a feeling that the “conservative side” would say the exact same thing about the “progressive side.” I would appreciate it if you would leave out suche generalisations as “conservatives have no moral credibility at all.”
        I AM a conservative, and even a Republican – but am deeply ashamed about our current president. I wrote against him from the very start, and could not believe it when he ended up being the candidate left standing. And I happen to know that there are many like me.
        It’s like saying that all progressives might as well dump the Bible, since they are ripping out one sin after another and calling it “good.”

        • swbarnes2

          The conservative side is the one demanding that some particular members can’t be full members and live an authentic life as who they are. The progressive side isn’t saying that at all.

          If you support all the policies that Trump enacts and virtually all elected Republican officials agree with, then saying you dislike one particular guy doesn’t mean much.

          • Rudy Schellekens

            Why do you think I am ashamed of this president??

            Would you allow an habitual adulterer to become a “full member?” Or an habitual thief? Murderer? All of these are considered sin in the Bible. The “conservatives” happen to believe that same sex relationships are sin, as well. They have a strong Biblical case for that. But “progressives” are moving further and further away from Biblical standards, and all use the same faulty reasoning… “God is love, and would not…” But the Biblical God indeed is love and does…”
            There are innumerable examples of God disciplining those who disobeyed, plain and simple. We cannot and should not hide that aspect of God. You will have limited God even more than when you say that He is nothing but love!

          • Kate Johnson

            So God, with full foreknowledge and absolute premeditation, created all of us, knowing full well his “plan” would involve sending the vast majority of humans who have ever lived on this planet, into eternal unending torture, all to gain the worship of the “elect” few who manage to arrange their theological ducks in the correct row? And this is good news??? Because really, he was planning to cast everything that he, himself chose to create, into eternal, unending torture, and the fact that he’s letting a few folks off the hook makes him a really good guy? Wouldn’t have been much more loving to not make us in the first place? It’s a pretty hard sell to a modern audience.
            There’s so much that just doesn’t make sense and falls apart under closer scrutiny. I believe in God. Just not that one. If God really “so loved the world” you’d think he’s “save” more of it. I do.

          • Rudy Schellekens

            So where does YOUR image of God come from???

          • Kate Johnson

            From the Bible, the history of the church, the early church fathers and mothers, like Francis and Claire of Assisi, and from long hours of meditation and prayer. I just don’t take the Bible literally nor do I believe it’s inerrant. I believe it’s an inspired book of wisdom that has much to teach. I do not turn it into an magical idol, locking in and enshrining antiquated social customs and mentalities from millennia ago, while sacrificing the true spirit of the gospel to do it. I don’t believe epileptic seizures are demon possession either. I came from the evangelical tradition, and in the end, for me, their view of God simply didn’t hold up to my actual daily experience of God. But each to his own. I just think the good news is better than you do.

          • Rudy Schellekens

            Since I am reading the same books you seem to read, I find it interesting that your image of God is so different. But when I read that you have a much more subjective, and therefore much more malleable image. After all, if YOUR understanding of God works for you, you really can’t argue with me about MY understanding of God after reading the same materials. Nor would you have the right to condemn 53% of the voters that they do not accept YOUR image! Theirs is as “real” to them as yours is to you! And since all you have, according to you, is subjective views on both sides – each has the right to have your own view and the responsibility to accept, without judgment.

          • Kate Johnson

            I condemn no one, but I will call BS when I see it.

          • D.M.S.

            Lgbtq is against all that God/Jesus stands for and God/Jesus condemns the perversion of all lgbtq sexual relationships everywhere.

          • D.M.S.

            There’s you problem.
            The Bible is the inerrant word(s) of God/Jesus.

        • Kate Johnson

          Since the majority of conservative Christians voted for Trump, I do not feel I was in error in attributing his election to them. Glad you didn’t, but the point still stands. What they did effected the reputation of the conservative church. In the Catholic and Southern Baptist sex abuse scandals, we now know that the organizations themselves were repeatedly complicit in covering up the abuse and shaming the victims. These are both conservative denominations, and their behavior has effected the reputation of the conservative church I’m very sorry that these realities disturb you, but it doesn’t make them any less true and it certainly effects the moral credibility of the conservative church. I know exactly what the “conservative side” would say because I used to live in that world. It was too small for me. A favorite quote says it best, “One of the most persistent stumbling blocks to dynamic faith is the continuing attempts from all sides of the faith spectrum to codify, systematize, and clarify that which, by its very nature, is resistant to all of the above. Each thinks they can control God like a piece of technology and that they’re the only ones who have the secret code. But, of course, the divine is not manageable and cannot be domesticated.” -Sara Miles

          • Rudy Schellekens

            These realities disturb me, and I am the last to deny those truths. And yes, it has hurt the credibility of the “conservative side.” I like the quote, “… Each thinks they can control God like a piece of technology and that they’re the only ones who have the secret code…” What makes you think “progressives” are immune to this?? As I read through the writings of “progressives” I get the same impressions, but it is considered their secret code – “We understand the Bible better and newer than the “others.”

          • Kate Johnson

            You can tell a tree by it’s fruit. There’s tons of error on both sides. Humility is the only real logical answer. That’s why I’m an open doors person, I won’t elevate my understanding above others and am not telling anyone they are not welcome. You are welcome to believe as you will, but you don’t know any more than anyone else, and claiming you do and using that supposed knowledge to think you are the one who decides who is worthy and welcome is where I have a problem. I find that nonsensical and not Godly at all. Love is the only thing that matters, period. All this other stuff is just temporal. We have far more important things to focus on than this.

        • tyler

          I have a feeling that the “conservative side” would say the exact same thing about the “progressive side.”

          they would, indeed, say exactly that. and they would be wrong. some guy once upon a time said by their fruit shall you know them, and the fruit of conservative theology is depression, self harm, and suicide in lgbt people. the facts are in, they keep coming in, and conservative christians simply don’t. care. some – more, i suspect, than just the ones that actually say it out loud – even consider it a good thing. but the simple fact is that conservative theology = dead gays, every time. and rather than own up to that many conservatives would rather outsource their moral conscience to a human written manual that oh-so-conveniently will allow female pastors and infant baptism but a lesbian couple in the parsonage, oh that’s over the line! whatever. apparently man was made for the sabbath after all. may the UMC receive exactly what it deserves in the coming days and weeks.

          • Kate Johnson

            This is nothing but an excuse for bigotry. If the UMC thinks it’s only the LGBTQ folks that will be leaving over this, they are very much mistaken. I may not be one of them, but I’m DONE with the base hypocrisy and profound stupidity this entire subject has been dealt with, and I know I’m not alone in that. It’s pathetic and criminal and most of all a HORRIBLE WITNESS! Way to confirm to the younger generation that the UMC would rather cling to your tired lifeless traditionalist exclusionary views rather than extend and be an example of the radical love and mercy of Christ. To them, this is just one more confirmation that church is just a tribalistic, self congratulatory, social club with nothing to teach them about God or his love. There’s a reason most people under 30 don’t go to church. This is a great illustration. Pharises – 1 Jesus – 0

      • pen44

        Exactly, Kate Johnson, I follow Jesus, not man made up doctrines…not any political party or president.

  • Jon Altman

    If the Draconian penalties are Unconstitutional, isn’t the TP just symbolic?

  • kcwookie

    No worries, the church will do the right thing when it runs out of wrong things to do. This is normal.

  • Kate Johnson

    Very sad. Depending on what happens, I guess I’m back to church shopping. I’m done with churches who aren’t open to all. Most churches in America these days look absolutely nothing like Jesus. They share virtually none of his qualities or love.

    • Rudy Schellekens

      Kate, churches are open to all. But being open to all should not mean that all behaviors should be accepted. Does the concept of repentance mean anything to you? Do you get to pick what God should/should not accept? You “accuse” the “conservatives” of being loveless.

      • Kate Johnson

        That is truly hilarious, seriously slap my leg hilarious! There’s not an evangelical church I’ve ever been to that even a celibate gay would ever truly be welcomed in, let alone any transgendered person. To disturbing to their little binary fantasy. They might not even make it out alive in some churches. You can sell that alternate reality nonsense to someone who didn’t come out of that tradition and doesn’t know it for the absolutely blatant lie it is. How about divorce then? You know Jesus himself said that “God hates divorce” and that any remarriage is almost always adulterous.Yet somehow it seems many in the church have decided that divorced people can come to church, get remarried in the church, take communion and serve in leadership. I can only assume, if you are at all consistent in you application of scripture, you must be as against letting these unrepentant adulterers off the hook, and are counseling all those divorced folks to return to their original spouse or be remain celibate. Right? Or are you finally going to admit that you are a picker and chooser too, just like everybody. It’s just divorced people make you less uncomfortable than gays, which makes it so much easier to condemn them.

        • Ron Swaren

          The New Testament also added “effeminate” into its list of sins. And yes there are lots of sins that conservatives wink at, too.

          I live in a city where any kind of church membership is extremely low; One of our liberal politicians put out the welcome mat for gays. So now they are part of the political coalition that conjures up all kinds of expensive projects, and ways to raise taxes, and new burdensome rules. I have had online debates on issues that are non-partisan, and they will only see it their way, and then they play the victim card on top of it. Not saying all are like that; but the activist types can do a lot of damage.

          A few decades ago we had a fundamentalist political activist whose main accomplishment was to get a property tax limitation measure. Had that not happened, this new coalition I mentioned above would be coming up with all sorts of schemes to waste money.

          • Etranger

            I always laugh at the effeminate word in Paul. There is nothing more effeminate than a man in church, especially preachers and born agains lol. They are very blind to their own projection.

          • Ron Swaren

            But you like to comment on church related stuff?

          • Etranger

            Yeah why not?

          • Etranger

            I should have responded more fully – yes, I comment on church-related stuff because church folks seem to write a lot and do a lot of things in public that affect me as a gay man. Until I no longer feel the effeminate arms of the church men in my life, I will continue to read and comment on the misguided church posts regarding gay people.

      • But what if the behavior in question involves the verb “be”? Did you consciously choose your gender? your sexual preference? For most people, these are God-implanted qualities, part of the “is” of each individual; how does one behave in a godly way outside an owned “I am…”? The fact that some cultures have not accepted same-sex partnership (they have all at least flirted with same-sex acts) is a human perspective, not God’s, who made us all.

        • Rudy Schellekens

          Let’s take your argument a little further, that God made us all. You assert that sexual behavior/identity are “built-in” by God, right?
          What about being a sociopath? A psychopath? A philanderer? A kleptomaniac? Where does the argument stop? When is it determined to be the work of God?

    • D.M.S.

      I’m sure that you’ll find the Satan worshiping church that you’re looking for they everywhere in the world. It’s that perfect one that embraces the debauchery of the lgbtq crowd that you really are look for that warms disgusting cold heart.

  • frharry

    My experience of this within The Episcopal Church is that what you are encountering is perhaps expectable. Closed door huddles to plan strategies, anything to win. A disregard for process, institutional rules and the persons of those negatively impacted. Bear in mind that if you begin with a presumption that “fallen” people (i.e., everyone outside the circled wagons of the “elect”) are incapable of doing the right thing due to their “depravity,” failing to follow the rules and deal with others with respect is not only acceptable, it’s seen as a clever way of winning the day. And don’t kid yourselves. This is about power so winning at all costs is the bottom line.

    I wish you all well in your process. I am one of many ex-Methodists who left the church years ago for this very kind of behavior. Life is too short to languish in the control of bigots who know better but won’t do better.

    • Alan

      Good point. I still remember long ago where in an evangelical context any disagreement with leadership was called “rebellion” and “as the sin of divination”. If you don’t agree with us, you’re clearly lost. You can go to hell. That’s where you belong.

      • Ivan T. Errible

        Both “Progressives” and “Fundiegelicals” have been self-segregating for years; now both are complaining that they live in bubbles.
        Even for religious people, this is so pathetic.

  • Kate Johnson

    Maybe in the end, it’s for the best for the UMC to split from those who cling to the past and approach the future with a clenched fist. Those for whom “open hearts, open minds and open doors isn’t a mission statement they want to be a part of, but instead, want a firmly established us vs them doctrine endorsed or else. Let them go off, just one of many denomination out there, clinging to tradition, considered entirely irrelevant, hypocritical and out of date to the vast majority of the younger generation, for whom they have little to offer. They will ultimately fade into obscurity as their congregations die off and no one else comes to fill their pews. Perhaps that’s the only way forward here. Let the regressives stay in their little bubble and move on. You can’t put new wine into old wine skins.