I have read a lot of articles, blogs, tweets and posts about the Special Called Session of General Conference. What I have noticed is that there is a slant to most of what I have read and I have done my best to keep quiet but I can’t stay silent any longer. I want to begin by saying I am sure what I am going to write will make some people angry. I can’t help that. All I am writing about are facts. Facts don’t care about your feelings. If facts hurt your feelings then you should probably stop reading this right now. I will wait while you find something else to read.
Well, if you are still here that means you are interested in some facts that may disturb you but I will nevertheless state them. My intent is not to make you angry (even though some of you will get angry) nor is it to be perceived as being mean and uncaring (even though some will say that I am those things). My intent is to share the other side of a story that is not being told. The other side of the story is being drowned out and covered up by a narrative that appears to have the intent to vilify those with whom they disagree. I will simply let the facts speak for themselves. You can draw your own conclusions.
I attended the Special Called Session of General Conference of the United Methodist Church held in St. Louis on February 23-26. I observed every session and listened to every speaker. I knew this was going to be an historic conference and I also knew it was going to be one in which the delegates and the observers would be passionate about their positions concerning the issue at hand. What was the issue? Should the UMC maintain it’s historic position on human sexuality, the definition of marriage and the ordination of homosexuals? The positions of the UMC on these issues are as follows:
- All people are people of infinite worth and value.
- With that understanding we do find that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.
- Self-avowed practicing homosexuals will not be ordained as pastors nor will homosexual unions be performed by UMC pastors nor will homosexual unions take place in UMC churches.
- Marriage is defined as being a union between one man and one woman.
This has been the stance of the UMC since our inception in 1968. This issue has been debated every General Conference since 1972. The position of the UMC has not changed. This called General Conference was called for the express purpose of addressing this issue yet again.
The two plans that made it to the floor of the General Conference for a vote were the One Church Plan and the Traditional Plan. Very briefly, the One Church Plan wanted to change our Discipline so that each local church, Board of Ordained Ministry and Annual Conference could decide their own position on these issues. Also very briefly, the Traditional Plan sought to maintain the current position of the UMC as stated above.
As United Methodists we believe in what is called holy conferencing. That means that we are supposed to be able to disagree without being disagreeable and treat each other with respect and grace and hear what each side has to say on the issue and come to a consensus and then go out and support the position the majority agreed upon. That is not what happened in St. Louis. It was the most unholy conferencing I have ever seen.
Before I continue I want to share these facts with you. They are easily verifiable. All you have to do is watch the videos from the General Conference to see that what I am writing is the truth.
We were told by the ones presiding over the meetings (our bishops) that we needed to be in order. We were told not to clap for the speeches given or to disrupt the sessions with our actions. Not a single individual in favor of the Traditional Plan disrupted the sessions. Not a single person supporting the Traditional Plan tried to shout down the speakers. Not a single person supporting the Traditional Plan called for the injury or death of those who opposed the Traditional Plan. Not a single person supporting the Traditional plan called those in opposition to it a terrorist. Not a single person supporting the Traditional Plan held up signs in protest of other plans or individuals. Not a single person supporting the Traditional Plan tried to intimidate or bully those who opposed the plan. Not a single person supporting the Traditional plan accused those who opposed it of buying votes. Not a single person supporting the Traditional Plan had to be restrained by police and escorted out of the building because they wanted to invade the floor of the General Conference to show they didn’t like the votes. Not a single person supporting the Traditional Plan gave a speech in which they accused those opposed to the plan of being hateful and unloving and uncaring. The same cannot be said for those who opposed the Traditional Plan.
I have stated publicly and I will repeat it here – General Conference was not only disgusting to watch but it was also embarrassing. The only thing spiritual about General Conference was the spiritual warfare. Let me explain.
The first day of General conference was designed to be spent in prayer and preparation for the work ahead of the delegates. Scripture was read and prayers were prayed and songs were sung and protests began. During a prayer time in the afternoon some people gathered on the floor of the conference holding up a rainbow-colored flag and while we were supposed to be praying and focusing on the task at hand, they were dancing around with the flag. For some that might not be a big deal but that action was not helping us focus on worship and prayer. That action brought attention to the people waving the flag and dancing with it. Worship is not about the individual. It is about God. The focus of worship is always supposed to be God. That was not the focus of the dance.
On day two we entered into the legislative session in order to set the priority of what petitions and legislation we would address. These pieces of legislation were voted on by the delegates who placed a priority on what would be brought to the floor of the General Conference for action. During day two and day three we heard the debates around the pieces of legislation and the votes were taken and the decisions were made by the body. The only plan voted to go forward to the floor of General Conference was the Traditional Plan.
On day four of General Conference a minority report was brought forward to petition the General Conference to allow the One Church Plan to be presented even though it was voted down in the legislative committee. The motion passed and the One Church Plan was presented for debate and vote. Rev. Tom Berlin gave the minority report. Berlin stated that those in favor of the Traditional Plan were intentionally injecting a virus into the denomination that could not be cured and would destroy the church. A terrorist is someone who intentionally brings irreparable harm to someone without concern for the individual. In essence Berlin was accusing those in favor of the Traditional Plan of being like a terrorist. At the end of the debate and before the vote, Berlin told people to vote for the One Church Plan and if they couldn’t vote for it, then just abstain from voting. You read that right. Berlin wanted people to vote his way or to not vote at all.
In an effort to derail the Traditional Plan and stop the vote on the plan to take place Carlene Fogle-Miller accused those supporting the Traditional Plan of buying votes. There was no evidence presented and not one delegate was named in the accusation. She just dropped that on the General Conference and motioned for it to be referred to the Commission on Ethics. If this is true it needs to be addressed but there also needs to be evidence presented and not just accusations. As of the writing of this article these allegations have not been proven nor has anyone been charged with buying or selling votes.
If you were to listen to those who opposed the Traditional Plan, you would think that every young person in America was going to leave the church if this plan passed. That is an intimidation tactic and a lie. Just ask Aislinn Deviney. She told the General Conference that she and many more like her believed in the stance of the UMC on human sexuality and that she and many more like her believed in a traditional marriage between one man and one woman. But the opponents ignored her.
Rev. Mark Holland, with a stack of amendments in his hand, threatened the General Conference saying he was going to tie up the vote on the Traditional Plan until the end of the General Conference so that the plan would fail due to not allowing a vote to take place.
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey presided over the debate and the vote for the Traditional Plan. While she had a hard task I watched her interrupt and stop speeches being given by international delegates while allowing American delegates to come to the microphone for a point of order but who wound up giving speeches against the Traditional Plan without raising any points of order. This happened multiple times.
There are individuals I once respected and admired but I lost my respect for them because of their actions on the floor of General Conference and due to their reporting following the General Conference.
Rev. Mike Slaughter used the threat of people leaving the denomination in order to intimidate people to vote against the Traditional Plan. Apparently he didn’t care if those in favor of the Traditional Plan left the church if the plan was not passed.
Rev. Adam Hamilton is a pastor I had met before, listened to him preach, read his books and highly respected him. But I lost all of that respect when he came to the floor of General Conference and began attacking the Wesleyan Covenant Association for their support of the Traditional Plan. He ended his time by trying to intimidate the delegates in favor of the Traditional Plan by having the delegates opposed to the plan to stand. This was followed by cheers from the observers who opposed the Traditional Plan.
Immediately following General Conference, Bishop William Willimon published an article about the conference in The Christian Century (www.christiancentury.com). Though in previous years I had heard this bishop preach, and I had read his books, and admired him, I lost respect for him after reading his article. Here is one quote from what he wrote: “At some point my prayers (at General Conference) shifted to, ‘Lord, melt the hardened hearts and SMITE everyone who intends to vote against the One Church Plan.’” Yes, you read that correctly. To smite someone means to cause them to receive serious harm or injury or death. A sitting bishop who is supposed to be a leader in the denomination and a pastor to pastors prayed that God would severely injure or kill those who opposed the One Church Plan. Despicable, sir!
The opponents of the Traditional Plan used parliamentary tactics to stall the vote and to prevent amendments from being made to the Traditional Plan. The opponents of the Traditional Plan were constantly interrupting the proceedings with clapping, yelling, protesting, marching and singing. They were constantly being rude and disrespectful. Supporters of the Traditional Plan were called hateful, bigoted, homophobes, among other things, by those who opposed the plan. They were also told they just need to leave the church.
I have heard that the Traditional Plan would drive young people away from the UMC. If that is true, then why aren’t those churches busting at the seams with young people who are in violation of the Discipline and who have homosexual pastors? Why aren’t the annual conferences that are in violation of the discipline growing by leaps and bounds instead of dwindling away? Why aren’t the denominations which have already accepted the full inclusion of the homosexual lifestyle and ordaining homosexuals as pastors exploding with growth instead of shrinking and dying? Why aren’t the four other denominations that have voted for full acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle and ordaining homosexuals receiving record numbers of people instead of dying an agonizing death?
It was the international conferences that helped to pass the Traditional Plan. The African Church is 100% in favor of the Traditional Plan and they are growing faster than any other part of Methodism. How is that possible if what the opponents of the Traditional Plan say is going to happen with the young people is true? Because it is not true! Jason Schifo tweeted, “It is a modern day parable of sorts that the African Church which you (UMC) planted and trained in the truth years ago returned this past weekend to remind you of the truth.”
After watching everything that went on at this General Conference Chad Holtz tweeted this, “Judging by my #GC2019 feed, gay folk would be far more welcomed in a traditional church than a traditionalist would be in a progressive one.” Based on what I observed at this General Conference I would have to say I agree.
The next time those who oppose the Traditional Plan start talking about how mean, hateful, bigoted, unloving and uncaring those who support the Traditional Plan are just show them this post. They won’t like it or won’t believe it because it doesn’t fit their narrative but that doesn’t change the facts. What they are accusing the Traditional Plan supporters of doing they are doing themselves in more ways than can be counted. And doing it all in the name of wanting unity and inclusion.
I could go on and on but I think you can get the picture. It is a sad time for the United Methodist Church. We used to focus on making disciples and winning people to Jesus and now we focus on fighting at General Conference. We are not presenting a witness to this world that honors Christ. Why would anyone want to be a part of the United Methodist church if they watched any of the General Conference? We need to do better. We can do better.
It is important for us to remember some vital truths that are unchanging. All people stand in the need of being forgiven. All people are loved by God. God desires to have a relationship with all people. May that be the message we share with the world and stop all this arguing.
My Prayer: God, I am so sorry that this part of your universal church is acting this way. Please help us get back to what you have called us to do and stop debating issues you have already settled. May we be about making disciples instead of playing politics. God, please heal us and make us into what you want us to be. We need you now more than ever. Amen.