After a long and emotional debate, the 2008 General Conference voted April 30 to retain statements in the Social Principles that the “United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”
However, in an act of witness in front of delegates to the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, more than 200 people declared that the denomination's policies and practices against homosexuality are "sinful" and that "sexuality is a gift from God."
Primarily dressed in black, demonstrators walked onto the legislative floor at the Fort Worth Convention Center, formed a two-lined cross around the communion table located in the center aisle and draped it in a black shroud to witness against the church's stance on homosexual practice. They entered silently, but once all demonstrators were in place, they sang, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?"
The black shroud and the black worn by the demonstrators to "recognize our brokenness" and "to acknowledge that the body is broken," said Audrey Krumbach, who read a statement during the witness.
The 15-minute demonstration was in reaction to the April 30 decision to retain the denomination's decades-old proscription in the Social Principles and other parts of the Discipline describing homosexual practice as "incompatible with Christian teaching."
Delegates voted 501-417 to keep the stance and also passed a resolution against homophobia and heterosexism, saying the church opposes "all forms of violence or discrimination based on gender, gender identity, sexual practice or sexual orientation."
Among those who came forward was retired Bishop Melvin Talbert. Referring to the creation of the racially segregated Central Jurisdiction in 1939, Bishop Talbert said, “That action was a sin against God. In the name of Jesus Christ, we have taken an action that is wrong. Those in the Central Jurisdiction remained in the church and worked out our relationship. But we leave out these LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
“General Conference, General Conference, this is wrong. I invite you to reconsider your action.”
“We have agreed to love, serve and lead all United Methodists, to preach the gospel and to live out the ‘three simple rules’,” Bishop Palmer said. “We’re inviting the whole church to be in conversations.” [The “three simple rules” refer to John Wesley’s instructions for Methodists to “Do No Harm. Do Good. Stay in Love with God.”]
Also speaking during the press conference, the Rev. Troy Plummer, executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, noted wryly that “today is better than yesterday.
“We were in shock,” Plummer said. “We were hurting at the harsh actions taken by General Conference on membership. We thought we’d have to have civil disobedience in order to be heard. Instead, the trust we’d built through our conversations with the Council of Bishops before and during General Conference saved us. We were able to tell the Good Friday story, to tell of the church’s brokenness.”
Plummer said the actions taken April 30 were so shocking because Common Witness observers had heard so many “holy conversations” around petitions relating to LGBT issues during legislative committee meetings.
Bishop Scott Jones (Kansas Area) said he joined the conversations May 1 in response to a plea for volunteers from the Council of Bishops from Bishop Sally Dyck, one of the negotiators. He emphasized that “holy conversations” are difficult to sustain amid the legislative context of General Conference.
“Holy conferencing requires time, small groups and building trust,” he said. “How do you do that with 1,000 people in only 10 days? You’d need a month-long General Conference.”
Bishop Dyck (Minnesota Area) said the conversations between bishops and LGBT leaders on the last day of General Conference probably will focus on next steps in continuing the dialogues.
“We have no idea where this will go,” she said. “We’re building this bridge as we’re walking on it.”