2019 UMC Immersion

Journal/Blog Day 3

Today started out very difficult. I could feel the fatigue from the early morning and the late nights from the first two days of the conference. The morning meeting was interesting how the history of the church used to be convergent or the people had similar thoughts of unity and how life revolved around the church, but through generations that conflict would sometimes reverse each other in feelings and beliefs and became a divergent body. The debates used to work when the church was converging but now the church and generational thoughts are diverging, which means the debates no longer work, they only show us how much the church is divided. This makes the debate only focus on a winner and loser. The point is not to come to a conclusion but to win. We saw this today.

This is the day when the debates started to get ugly. Rules were broken, decisions were challenged, scripture was used as a weapon and hearts were pleading to be seen. Protests were the theme of the day. The voiceless felt powerless, they felt unseen. There was a lot of shouting, singing, body protest (standing, sitting, laying and being seen) and even protests on the event floor and the stage. It took a lot of energy to hold all the feelings of everyone. To me the protests were important but sometimes distracting and definitely disrupting to the conference. I felt the importance of the protest but I also feel there is a respectful way to protest that you don’t just become noise in the background. I probably only say this and feel this way because of my privilege. I think it gets even more difficult when you’re the one being placed in the minority. I am sure my feeling would be different if I was the one persecuted and felt the weight of that on my heart. I may never feel this persecution because of my privilege but I hope God opens my heart to listen to the cry of the oppressed with more compassion, to the point I am moved to stand for voices I have never heard before and recognize the oppression around me.

One of the examples of protests working against itself was when a group of protesters in the bleachers for almost an hour started shouting, “Stop this farce.” I wanted to have a heart to be with them but it almost felt like it worked against their cause. They were heard and seen but they almost felt obnoxious because of all the yelling. To me it was a little too forceful.

To give an example of a powerful protest to me was the delegates on the event floor carrying a cross to the stage. They were told to stop by one of bishops but they did not stop. They sat on the stage in front of all the bishops and all the observers and delegates in silence. To me that seemed peaceful and less forceful and that act was symbolic and seen and didn’t feel disruptive, they were witnessed without force. To me this is a powerful symbol of a God who is always present but never forces in anger or out of frustration people who don’t hear God’s voice to listen. To me it was the “still small voice” that is present but not overpowering. It is a voice not fighting force with force but fighting force with love and commitment.

Another protest happened on the floor once the Traditional plan was passed as is, even with all the unconstitutional amendments. Delegates gathered in song and repeating words to sing a song and have others repeat phrases after them. They even invited those in the bleachers to join and sing and repeated them. It was so disruptive a recess was called. When the conference was finally over people begun to protest with singing in the downstairs lobby. They also served communion and everything was videoed on social media.

I am all for protest and the voices of the oppressed to be heard. I am glad LGBTQI+ and allies were able to stand in solidarity during this event. LGBTQI+ were “otherized” during this event, which separated them from over half the body. This is a shame, that they have to deal with being judged before they are even heard or seen. It is also a shame that not everyone will listen to their stories, their truth. The LGBTQI+ community protested and was seen but was still not seen/heard enough by the some of the delegates, which make the church not seem affirming. This community was “otherized” and that is a shame.

When this community (LGBTQI+) was “otherized” it made the debates about Them and Us, when the debates should have been about unity as a body. This made the atmosphere of disconnection, rather than connection. I also want to say the LGBTQI+ community sometimes “otherized” those who were against them as well, which made for even a greater disconnect. Maybe they were in the right to “otherize” those who “otherized” them, but in this “otherizing” it built a greater disconnect when the overall goal, I would hope, was to be connected. Both sides made the other side different from them, which built a greater disconnect.

On the debate floor there were a lot of stall tactics and powerful speeches. Many quoted scriptures for both sides or different beliefs/interpretations. Progressives started calling the conservatives hypocrites. Progressives called for language in the amendments beyond what the traditionalist wanted to show them, to show that they were only discriminating the LGBTQI+ community, basically by telling the conservatives to keep the language of practicing homosexuals but adding people who divorced or remarried to the list. This showed the issue was not about sexual practices but discrimination and fear against homosexuals.

People were passionate on both sides but most of the passion seemed to come from progressive side near the end of the debate. Conservatives seemed to leave the fighting between the progressives and the international delegates near the end of the debate. There was even a call that there could have been possible bribery in the voting process. As the debates were nearing the end, it seemed like the votes for and against amendments were getting closer to the 50-50 margin. Who knows if the debate continued if more hearts would be changed to understand or start to feel more for the LGBTQI+ community?

Later we debriefed about the tactics of the Wesleyan Covenant, that they wanted something different from the church. How they could have paid other delegates and promised money but how they didn’t get what they wanted from the church. It was even suggested that the Wesleyan Covenant could still plan to leave after tearing the church apart. How they could have just played the international delegates from Africa. I hope the truth gets discovered if there was bribery and lies/withholding of information from international delegates in the voting of the conference.

Despite all the messiness and the hopelessness for those left in the margins and the division of the church, many people stepped up and said they were not going to leave even in the division. Then Western Jurisdiction stepped up at the end of everything and said we are not going to leave, and they will still be affirming so if anyone wants to join and they will accept all people. There is hope in the hurt and in the division of the church that still stands bright.

“Resurrection could be around the corner in a way or ways we may have never expected, we are a resurrection church”

(paraphrased from Brian Atkins and others who shared their feeling at the conference).