A Way Forward…for Whom? [Guest Post]

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When schism and unity conversations come up, including A Way Forward, it is usually a lot of straight white men talking. Even if proposals are signed and supported by minorities or women, the people in front and the bloggers pounding on the keyboard are straight white men. Given that I myself am a straight white man, it’s important that I look beyond my own perspective and seek out others’ on these important conversations of unity and schism.

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting guest posts and quotes from LGBT readers of the blog (named and anonymous). Since schism and unity conversations revolve around LGBT inclusion, it’s important that their voices are heard and I’m happy to offer this blog as a channel for that conversation.

Our first post is from Dr. Dorothee Benz, a laywoman from New York.

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A Way Forward for Whom?

By Dr. Dorothee Benz

As a scholar of social movements I have long been aware that as movements evolve into institutions, they take on a life of their own. Protecting and perpetuating the institution becomes a goal in itself, eventually eclipsing the goals of the movement that gave rise to the institution. It is clear that we have firmly arrived at this point in the United Methodist Church. The question everyone who is anyone is asking is “how do we avoid schism?” The question, “What would Jesus do?” seems of less interest. The church as an institution has shoved the church as a movement of Jesus’s followers into the background.

So my first beef with “A Way Forward,” the latest Hamilton-Slaughter proposal, is that it exists at all. It prioritizes the wrong question. Its primary purpose to protect the institution, not the people. It talks about churches losing members if there is a schism, not about people losing churches. It talks about “devastating consequences” if General Conference were to overturn the UMC’s anti-gay laws, meaning the loss of conservative members. It doesn’t discuss the devastation to those members. It says nothing at all about the harm done to LGBTQ people by our current church law.

Homophobia, not Homosexuality, is the Problem

My second beef with the Hamilton-Slaughter proposal is that it further problematizes LGBTQ people as the source of division in the church. In this regard, I am particularly disappointed with progressives who embrace it (including some good friends), seemingly unaware that the framing of the entire thing feeds the false narrative that the problem in the church is homosexuality – i.e., our very existence. Why is the opening line of this proposal, “The ongoing debate over homosexuality continues to divide the United Methodist Church” and not “The ongoing debate over homophobia continues to divide the United Methodist Church?” Seriously, why? We are not the problem; discrimination is the problem.

LGBTQ people are not the first, nor will we be the last, to be blamed for tensions and divisions in the church. Our church has been mired in conflict over its support for slavery and segregation and its exclusion of women from ordained ministry. Each of these sins of exclusion were corrected after decades of tension, division, debate, and yes in some cases schism. Moving past these forms of bigotry required great struggle in the church. And not for nothing, these struggles are not mere historical artifacts. That much should be clear from the 2012 General Conference attack on the General Commission on Religion and Race, the Committee on the Status and Role of Women, and the guaranteed appointment system that has served to protect those who would otherwise fall victim to employment discrimination. The point is that struggle is not something to be avoided; rather it is the crucible in which we create a better, more inclusive church. We need to engage in the struggle to change our church, not try to sidestep our way around it.

Structurally Neutral Solutions are an Illusion

Apart from these general problems, the current Hamilton-Slaughter proposal fails in its attempt to offer a neutral structural solution for resolving our differences. It proposes to let local churches decide whether they will treat gay and straight parishioners equally if the pastor requests it and a supermajority of the congregation agrees. This is a stacked deck if ever there was one. Imagine if you could only pass civil rights laws in your state if they were initiated by the governor and approved by a legislative supermajority. As for ordination, the proposal wants to leave that up to conferences, but would explicitly allow individual congregations to deny employment to LGBTQ clergy. I dare say if we proposed that it be permissible for a congregation to reject clergy on the basis of race or sex or ethnicity, we would see that this isn’t an acceptable “solution.”

In truth, the belief that that one can design structurally neutral solutions that punt the substantive struggle over whether we will continue to discriminate to another level of the church is an illusion. Any proposed structure will either create genuine conditions of equality or it will not; and in that choice such structures expression a position. There is no neutrality. We cannot get through this struggle without resolving it.

Just as importantly, this proposal is DOA at General Conference. It is abundantly clear that all proposals to allow some kind of local or regional autonomy on matters of discrimination, as well as all resolutions that merely acknowledge theological diversity in the UMC, will be voted down by the same anti-gay conservative majority that predictably votes down the lifting of the discriminatory rules in the Book of Discipline. Without the possibility of General Conference approval, how do Adam Hamilton And Mike Slaughter envision this proposal being implemented?

Institutional Channels of Change are a Dead End

The anti-gay majority at General Conference – and their advance forces, the Good News authors of the current threat of schism – will not tolerate a church that recognizes the humanity of queer people anywhere, even in one small corner of it. They control the institutional channels of change, which are therefore closed to us. There is as much hope for a legislative resolution to anti-gay discrimination in the UMC as there was for an end to segregation in a southern state legislature in 1960.

The analogy is deliberate, because it was the recognition that institutional channels of change were foreclosed to them that led Black civil rights activists to engage in strategies of non-violent resistance. Those of us in the UMC fighting to end its current era of discrimination are inspired and instructed by that historical example. The movement to withdraw our complicity in discrimination that has taken root in the church in the last three years is born of the recognition that there are no other avenues to change available to us. This movement is now so widespread that it has created a crisis of authority for the institutional church and provoked the ire of those hellbent on persecuting us, inevitable byproducts of the successful spread of a strategy of non-violent resistance.

Along the way we have rediscovered the church as a movement. Following Jesus’s example, our priority is the people of the church, not the policies of the church. We are no longer in thrall to an unjust rule book and we are renewing and remaking the church from below. This is the only way forward and the one that will eventually transform the institutional church.

Dr. Dorothee Benz is a member of Memorial UMC in White Plains, NY, chair of Methodists in New Directions (MIND) and a lay delegate to the 2016 General Conference.

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Thoughts?

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Comments

    • Elizabeth Jones says

      Once again, Benz, you are the voice of inspiration, honesty, justice. Thanks for giving me a framework for my own bumbling words that I’ve been trying to express to numerous people, including those in my ‘adopted in retirement’ Annual Conference in Oregon-Idaho. No matter how ‘progressive’ and ‘welcoming’ – even friends and supporters – some still ‘don’t get it.’ Again, my thanks for your wisdom and empowerment and courage. I’m grateful it rubs off on some of us!

  1. Ben Anderson Hensley says

    I hear this. For myself, I don’t see this completely as a protection of the institution over the people. If this doesn’t work, it doesn’t… but it is the first “non-violent” way forward. It would be nice if the church was full of people that were of one heart and mind to have open hearts and minds, but if we can’t find a way to move forward together, rather than defaulting to breaking up every time we disagree, then what does that say about our ability to accomplish anything of lasting effect? We are at a point where we can choose to be defined by more than our political/theological (more political than theological in my opinion) position regarding the full inclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Swallowing a bitter pill of letting this go through and seeing it as a victory might be a narrow path for LGBTQ persons and their allies. For me, society is going to push the Methodist Church towards inclusion over a matter of time anyway.

    I also think that, as Rev. Jeremy Smith has mentioned in previous blogs, that allowing congregations to make a choice on whether or not the church will accept marrying LGBTQ persons forces the question to a congregation that likely hasn’t had to discuss it before. It makes the congregation decide, rather than the pastor.

    I want to say that I completely understand where you are coming from and agree with you, but I think it’s a necessary first step in bringing the WHOLE church towards full inclusion, rather than rush toward it as a broken one. Thank you for your words.

    • John Thomas says

      Wonderful comment Ben, the A Way Forward proposal is not an “end all be all” proposal, but a step in the right direction, that acutally has the possibility of passing GC– I see a good number of conservatives on that list, it can be an incremental step towards justice. The all or nothing approach will definitely not pass, and given the rise of conservative UMs and the flight of progressives from the UMC, it’s the best hope for LGBTQ Wesleyans called to ordained ministry.

  2. Pam NAve says

    Excuse me but what are you calling an unjust rule book? The Bible? I am sorry the Bible plainly states that a man should not lay down with a man. It is an abomination to God. Can’t get much clearer than that. Bible was written for us to follow not amend.

    • Ben Anderson Hensley says

      Obligatory, “I hope you don’t wear blends of fabric” comment. The bible is not a rule book. Nor are we meant to blindly follow it as Methodists without also considering tradition, reason, and experience.

      • The Rev. Holly Boardman says

        An EXCELLENT example of a “red herring fallacy”. May I use this example as an illustration of such?

        • Ben Anderson Hensley says

          I don’t see how what I said is a red herring when it uses the same logic that someone uses when they call intimacy between gay people an “abomination.”

    • Robert Farr says

      While it is true that it says that in the bible that man wrote. But I think it was an instruction as to who men were to lay down with, because they didn’t know how to procreate. I believe God was saying, “I want the earth to have more people, and you can’t do that with another man”. So the instruction was just that, and no more. It didn’t say it was a bad thing, it just said if you want to produce children, go lay down with a woman and not a man. God was merely explaining because man was rather stupid and didn’t know what or who to have sex with to produce children. That’s my take on it. After all, He did say get in the boat, even thou it was obvious. Man needed instruction cause he didn’t think they could figure it out for themselves.

    • rural ny um says

      The ‘unjust rule book’ the author is reffering to is the UMC’s Book of the Discipline, I believe, not The Bible. Although the Discipline is based on an interpretation of the bible, so down the rabit hole we go.

  3. Scott Masters says

    Your statement:

    “I dare say if we proposed that it be permissible for a congregation to reject clergy on the basis of race or sex or ethnicity, we would see that this isn’t an acceptable ‘solution’, ” articulates my concerns with the proposal perfectly.

    Thank you for your insight.

  4. says

    Best-articulated analysis of both the current state of the church and the flaws in Hamilton-Slaughter. Picking up for UM Insight with your permission.

    Cynthia Astle

  5. Doug Cunningham says

    Insightful analysis Dr. Benz. You’ve really named the problem and pointed the way forward: a grassroots movement of United Methodist people refusing to discriminate and acting instead for full participation and rights for all.

  6. John Handy Bosma says

    I loved this article, but I have some questions. What’s the role of lay people in this nonviolent resistance you mention? It seems to me you and the larger RMN have them sitting on t heir hands doing nothing. Non-violent resistance during the Civil Rights struggle was different from the current RMN strategy in many key respects. In that struggle, it wasn’t pastors alone who resisted authority and provoked institutional crisis. It wasn’t pastors alone who put themselves at risk. Indeed, pastors were often at less risk than others, simply by virtue of their being ministers. The current strategy of a few pastors performing LGBT weddings makes *them* the target, but leaves lay people and to some extent even the LGBT couples whose weddings they perform on the sidelines. Their weddings are for the most part performed in states where marriage equality is the law. The marriages themselves and the participating couples are untouched by the mechanisms of the church. Nonviolent resistance is far more – it’s active engagement of an entire community, demonstrating a willingness to resist, and calling into question the ability of the institution itself to function. So pastors performing LGBT weddings are at most just a laudable first step. I certainly respect the willingness of some pastors to step forward … and I respect the willingness of others to perform private, unannounced weddings for family members and to be lionized later once they were prosecuted. Still, those steps aren’t radical and they don’t call the institution into crisis as effectively as they might. In some ways, I can understand the pressures that lead many pastors who know what’s right not to put themselves at risk for the time being – or to perform weddings in secret and then soak in the praise once prosecuted. Still, if the Civil Rights struggle is the right analogy, then the current RMN approach is simply not enough. It’s an inherently accomodationist, incrementalist, conservative strategy that leaves out too many parts and does little to resist actively. It’s just not radical and it leaves out too many people who can help.

    Examples might help – I think it’s well past time time for lay people to resist. It would be reasonable for those who have appropriate authority under local law, pastors or not, to perform or participate in unsanctioned weddings at churches that discriminate. Let the lay people perform the wedding – this would be legal in almost all states. Or let the lay people recruit pastors from other denominations who do not face the threat of expulsion from their church, loss of retirement savings, etc. That would be radical. Let the UMC decide if it will prosecute lay people, too – not just in the church trials of little consequence, but under the color of government. That would be the kind of step that would provoke a true institutional crisis. Why dither?

    In fact, I think I’ll probably do just this sometime in the next couple months – I’m always willing to officiate, whether or not it’s recognized by the state. I’ve done it before – no reason it shouldn’t be done on church grounds, whether or not the church agrees. Anyone who knows of a couple who would be interested, feel free to look me up on Facebook. If I can’t do it myself, then I’ll try to hook you up with someone who can. In the meantime, RMN should immediately begin to recruit pastors from other denominations that would not penalize them for nonviolent resistance to UMC’s bigoted policies. If we lack enough pastors to do this, there is still nothing preventing us from reaching across denominational lines. That’s what the Civil Rights movement did, even as the UMC resisted and sat on the sidelines during that movement, too.

    • Susan Hunn says

      As a layperson, I always feel I cannot do enough, and I am excruciatingly conscious that my risk is very low. Nevertheless, I hope that all the incremental steps will amass to be effective – sooner rather than later. There is a role for the laity, including the actions you recommend. Laypersons in California-Nevada Annual Conference have initiated a Declaration of Inclusion, that affirms we will not deny services or property use to anyone based solely on sexual orientation. Some would read that as defying the Book of Discipline. Please see the website, http://declareinclusionumc.wordpress.com/, for the document, background, a list of signatory churches, and directions for others who wish to sign.
      Thank you for your insightful remarks.

      • John Handy Bosma says

        Brilliant! I’ll bring this to my church and see how it goes. I’m thinking we might begin to see flash weddings at some of the more discriminatory churches, complete with lovely videos posted to youtube. To me, that would be an example of active resistance by the larger community, inclusive of lay people. The Declaration of Inclusion is perhaps abetter example, but each has it’s merits.

        I’ll close with this – I am not only hopeful, but also determined. It’s not just hope that will achieve equality, but also the determination to see equality realized.

        Thanks!

  7. Jaime Spaid says

    “I am particularly disappointed with progressives who embrace it ”

    You shut me down right there. You have some good points and some that I don’t agree with. Unfortunately the judgemental stem end you through in there shut me down before I could openly consider your argument. Perhaps instead of being “disappointed” in people for their point of view you should attempt to see it through their eyes as much as you want others to see it through yours. Remember we each come from a place of scripture, experience, reason, and tradition that is unique. I for one have seen this work as a means to bring people together from the bottom up, My experience…
    It makes sense to allow all individuals to have a say, not just delegates at a conference, My reasoning…
    In growing up I have always been in a community that has given each voice merit. Even the least of these, My tradition…
    Philippians 2:3-4 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t look out only for your own interest, but take an interest in others too. Our scripture…
    The beauty of being a Methodist… Using all of these things to know what is right and what warms ones heart.

    • John Handy Bosma says

      You lost me when you omitted what the “it” in that sentence refers to. The “it” refers to the Hamilton-Slaughter proposal, and her disappointment that “progressives are seemingly unaware that the framing of the entire thing feeds the false narrative that the problem in the church is homosexuality – i.e., our very existence.”

      It is quite odd to see you scold Dr. Benz for not considering it from other people’s perspective, then in the very same sentence, indicate that you feel she “shut me down before I could openly consider your argument.” First, she does consider it from their perspective – she’s just disappointed in their perspective, and their seeming lack of awareness of the implication that homosexuals are the source of problems in the church. Second, you’re saying she’s wrong because she isn’t understanding of others’ perspectives, but you can’t even consider her argument, despite the fact that it has good points, some of which you agree with.

      I can see why some progressives wouldn’t have noticed that the proposal treats homosexuality rather than homophobia as the source of problems in the church. I can also see why she would be disappointed in that. Instead of giving her a hard time about it, maybe you could do as you suggest and consider it from her perspective, and you know, actually consider the points she’s making.

  8. says

    I think the Via Media Methodists have anticipated a lot of these arguments and helpfully critiqued them, especially around the simile of the Civil Rights Movement.

    I appreciated the clarity of the speaking for the most part. I take issue with a couple parts. Namely, when the claim is made that Good News has consistently and emphatically denied the humanity of LGBTQ persons, I think that is off base. They have spent a lot of ink and breath stating the case for the sacred worth and value of all persons, explicitly these folks. While they might not agree that non-hetero sexual exercise is not a sin, they do go out of their way to acknowledge the humanity of all persons. And when I say ‘they’ I do mean Rob Renfroe and Tom Lambrecht, their main leaders.

    I also think it is just weird when one caucus group makes claims that the other opposite caucus group is in charge. Traditionalists feel like MIND has more control because sympathetic persons are over-represented on UM boards and in our bureaucracy, and folks in their camp have been able to effectively derail UM gatherings to put their agenda up front. While the Good News folks do have much power, to paint a picture where they have a virtual monopoly, where they have all this backroom dealing authority, seems dishonest at this point. I don’t think an impartial observer would see what Dr. Benz sees…

  9. says

    You are right on.

    And also: as far as I can tell (and if this is totally off-base, I stand corrected), the current nonviolent strategy has, at its most effective, had results that de facto look a lot like the Hamilton/Slaughter thing. Reconciling congregations, pastors performing same gender weddings, and annual conference decisions not to have trials sound pretty similar to what is being proposed by the ‘way forward’ folks. Claiming victories, even partial ones, is kind of key to nonviolence (otherwise boycotting lunch counters would never have been accepted as a tactic because it wouldn’t represent total victory). So I guess I’m now just a bit confused what the nonviolent strategy is here? Genuinely asking, not being snarky.

  10. Katherine Newman says

    I think the Methodist Church has a job to do. Change the rules to reflect the time we live in. We welcome all who want to worship in our churches. There is no person checking people at the door to see if they measure up to some “stereotype “. Every person in this great country has the right to be treated equally. How can we say to some people, you do not have the right to marry! Then say to other people, you fit our conformity requirements, so you may marry the person on of your choice. It has got to be freedom and rights for all not some!

  11. Karl Kroger says

    Dr. Benz,
    I think your article raises a number of a good points and valid critiques of “The Way Forward” proposal. The exclusion of LGBT persons from the church is a justice issue we all need to be working on.

    I am also deeply concerned with folks on the left demonizing people on the right for being homophobic. Asking people to go against their deeply held theological convictions, based on their understanding of scripture, is a big ask–one that’s even more complicated than shifting people’s views on women and persons of color. You’re asking them to in essence–violate their faith. Personally, I think Hamilton and Slaughter are helping us find a way forward, with wisdom and grace.

    • John Handy Bosma says

      I am deeply concerned with folks on the right pretending that their theology isn’t grounded in and formed by a history of official bigotry and persecution on the part of the Church. Asking people to “go against their deeply held theological convictions?” Oh, please. Folks are pointing out the flaws in those convictions, their roots in historical bigotry, and asking folks on the right to stop taking homophobia as an article of faith and instead to consider with an open mind. The idea that it’s more complicated than shifting one’s views on women and persons of color (code word for slavery and segregation) is absurd and disingenuous in the extreme. I’ve not seen anyone ask someone to “violate their faith.” I have seen many ask with great humility and respect that people reconsider — often with more respect than they deserve.

      I’ll state it thusly: I think you’re wrong on what the Bible says. Are you willing to consider with an open mind? I’ll also say it this way, if God intended it as folks on the right contend, then Christianity itself is a bigoted religion.

      • says

        Thank you JHB. I’ve tried to talk nicely about this topic in my church, but when I heard a DELEGATE at the GC here in Tampa get up and compare gay people to bestiality, I was pretty much done. Even more so that he was not immediately gaveled out of order by the Bishop presiding at the time…not even directly admonished immediately after speaking, but when a gay delegate, and asked those who felt bullied as he did to stand with him to stand…he was called out of order.

        So, I’m done with the hatefulness of the IRDC, and the Timothy Whitakers (who’s at least finally retired), and Eddie Fox (who’s somehow managed to continue as a delegate to the Conference for about as long as we’ve been United Methodist…if not longer). If they can be that ugly, then it is time to speak power to truth, and call it out for what it is, as you’ve done so well.

        Fox’s long stint as a delegate is part of a larger problem. At the GC here in Tampa, tribute was paid to a lady was there as a delegate at her 10th consecutive GC. With all due respect to her service, I ask you, is that appropriate. What that means is that for 40 YEARS, she has taken up a slot from her conference, meaning that for 40 YEARS, no others have had a voice.

        Honestly, the best thing we could do is impose term limits on General Conference and even Annual Conference delegates. That will start moving out some of this old guard, and allow for some younger people to have a voice.

        So I propose the following. “No person shall serve as a delegate to any annual conference for more than three consecutive conferences, and there must be not less than five annual conferences prior to their eligibility to serve any future term as an annual conference delegate, and no person shall serve more than eight terms in a life time. No person may serve more than two consecutive terms as a General Conference Delegate, and not more than five terms in a lifetime. Any person serving as a delegate to Annual or General Conferences must maintain their primary residence in said conference.”

        Let’s get some rotation going within the voting delegates, and I think we’ll start to see some meaningful changes. That, I believe, is the way forward.

  12. Walt Fulps says

    While I agree with much of the article, I’ve endorsed the proposal for the same reason many others have: it’s a step in the right direction, even though it is certainly not the final step. That said, I take issue with the complaint that the first statement of the proposal supposedly assigns blame to homosexuals for the current friction. I don’t read that sentence the same way. I read that the DEBATE is what’s causing the current conflict. Now, that said, should the debate be about homophobia instead of about homosexuality? No. It should be about both. There are those who have a knee-jerk negative reaction to homosexuality, because they think it’s “gross.” There are others who have negative opinions mostly due to their interpretation of scripture. Both opinions need to be addressed, and that is done through discussion about both homophobia AND homosexuality, including how scripture addresses it. While those who are closed-minded will never admit that they might be wrong about their current mindset, there are certainly those who are willing to listen. So, let’s keep the lines of communication open.

    • John Handy Bosma says

      I rather like your notion that there are two debates … but really, Dr. Benz gave reasons why one of these debates is the wrong one to have. You haven’t answered Dr. Benz’s question – why? “Why is the opening line of this proposal, ‘The ongoing debate over homosexuality continues to divide the United Methodist Church’ and not ‘The ongoing debate over homophobia continues to divide the United Methodist Church?’ Seriously, why? We are not the problem; discrimination is the problem.”

      Read the whole Hamilton-Slaughter letter – closely and not with an eye eager both to acquit people of the sin of bigotry and to permit it to continue. The letter is offensive. In its opening sentence and its entirety, it’s all about how “this issue” (homosexuality) divides the Church, and not at all about how the issue of discrimination in both church law and practice divides the church. In its opening paragraph, the letter treats the problems of “subordination of women” and the “acceptance and regulation of slavery” as prior, resolved issues. Are you able to discern the important though subtle rhetorical difference? Note that to Hamilton and Slaughter, it’s not “the debate over women;” nor is it “the debate over Negroes” or “the debate over slavery. Back when conservatives didn’t know better, that’s what they called those debates, as if the issue wasn’t *their* bigotry toward women and blacks. The authors fully know they can’t say it that way for those topics, but they have yet to learn that they can’t say it that way about the debate over bigotry toward LGBT persons. From that perspective, Hamilton-Slaughter is an attempt to preserve permission for local churches to engage in bigotry toward homosexuals, just as earlier proposals sought to divide the church such that bigotry toward blacks and women could continue. Here’s the problem – Hamilton and Slaughter treat this debate as a reasonable and irresolvable difference between those who disagree, and not a resolvable difference between people who favor freedom and those who endorse discrimination.

      So, unless you also take issue with the Hamilton-Slaughter letter for having privileged only one framing of the debate, then really, I think you have no point.

  13. Zzyzx says

    “My second beef with the Hamilton-Slaughter proposal is that it further problematizes LGBTQ people as the source of division in the church.”

    Very good point that articulates something I did not have words for. Thank you Dr. Benz.

  14. Mark McRoberts says

    Well, I have been studying and LIVING this issue my whole life. When I was 11 in 1967 when the church was the MEC not UMC There was not any discrimination. But in society the LGBT community were treated to legal discrimination, physical abuse, and concerted effort to ruin a person reputation for LIFE. Then all hell broke loose on June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, NYC. There in a mafia controlled bar the normal discrimination, physical abuse and police effort to beat up the fags & drag queens. The LGBT led by drag queens and hustlers decided enough was enough and they fought like the men they were. Which the police ended up barricaded in the bar to escape the fight. Bottom line is that people were tired of the discrimination. Similar but not the same type of discrimination as what MLK and Representative John Lewis experienced on the Edmund Pettis Bridge on Bloody Sunday. Then I can imagine in the conservatives circles of the new UMC decided they were not going to stand by and allow the church to go any further liberal. This is my guess (based on my sociological education). But the bottom line of advancing women’s rights, African American Rights, Labor rights, and then the scarry faggots, oh excuse me homosexual rights scared these conservatives so much that they wanted to stop the advance of freedom by religiously stating that homosexuals were not welcome in the church and they could not be clergy or God forbid married in the church. All of these discipline changes happened within 3 years of the riot. I know that I experienced the rejection of both of my parents for the sin of being made by God through them…gay. Remember, heterosexual Methodists create homosexual Methodists as they want to remind us that only straight people make babies…. (Sometimes, but that is another story.) At that time when I was so confused because on one hand I had experienced that strangely warm feeling in my heart that John Wesley felt when I was at church or studying my faith. I truly believed in what I was told in Sunday School and VBS which I will add said nothing about being gay. Thank God. But I moved away from my home town to a big city and had a long term relationship which ended for a lot of reasons and my parents needed my help on the farm so I moved back and tried to make a go of it. Anyway there was not any preaching about homosexuality from our pulpit. So I never did know how much my religion discriminated against people like me, even though Jesus never said a thing. But when I returned to the University and the Minister at Mizzou Wesley Foundation and through his wonderful preaching and Sunday school lessons I experienced the call to the ministry (just like my Grandfather and Great Grandfather). When I went to that man to discuss ministry and to come out to him he very coldly informed me that I was not eligible nor was I able to become a lay minister. I was not really welcome in the heirachy of the church. That was a stab into my heart. I soon thereafter quit coming as regularly and started to go to the Newman Center as they did welcome gay men in the priesthood. But that was a big change. Well I flirted with the Catholic religion but in the end I came home from school and just did not go anywhere until the death of my father and then I returned to church with my mother. Experiencing great and not so great preachers my faith grew and my faith was recognized as being strong and I was asked to consider the lay ministry I made excuses as I was not out to my church. Well I know that this is a long posting but I’m going to fight for the church I believe that we can be. A loving inclusive church which is accepting those folk who do not necessarily fit into the old ideas of church going people. Our churches need to reach out in new and creative ways to reach the unchurched BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY WE NEED TO REACH THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN CRITISIZED OR DISCRIMINATED AGAINST. With marriage equality there will be many gay families with children who are natural, sourigate, or adopted. How are you going to reach out to those families if the children hear that my 2 moms or 2 dads are not whatever that word is. Or how about your conservative child inviting the child of a gay couple to VBS and they hear all those words of discrimination. I recently heard one of the ladies in the older women’s Sunday school group complaining about their children who are not married or who are sexually active before marriage and she was not accepting of her own family. Her grand children don’t understand why Grandma wants them to change to her wishes if they are to receive her approval. Where is the acceptance of the individual and showing Jesus’ commandant to love, YES LOVE without restriction. When are we going to live out Jesus’ commandant to love each other as we love ourselves and GOD. Jesus was all about love. I don’t know about anybody else but I take Jesus at his word as the definitive thing to follow. Not necessarily Paul. I can’t wait to hear from all the haters. But we need to clean out the discrimination in the BOD. Just sayin.

  15. Kerm Towler says

    I’ve thought about this whole issue from both sides.

    Neither solution is entirely practical. Example: The Baltimore Washington Conference coveres a both urban and rural territory. There are people still fighting the Civil War, at least in their own minds, to this day in certain rural areas.I would hate to put certain issues up for fear of what spawn as a result of ignorance.

    I also appreciate the very good point that allowing churches to decide creates a social division that is impractical at the very least, and immoral as it leaves some people in and the others are in their own version of Belarus.

    On the other hand, General Conference seems to be unable to come up with a viable solution and in fact the most recent conference was downright unChristian at some points in time.

    So what do we do?

    The idea of schism has been promoted on both sides, for their own particular reasons. My own particular view of the conservative side is that they don’t want to play nice in the sand box with anyone and the field is more like “no man’s land”.Progressive Christians have been beating this drum since 1972 and it only becomes more difficult as time goes on.

    I am suspicious of single-issue discussions because it puts people in camps for far too convenient ( and unrelated) reasons. I heard about that at the GC in Pittsburgh.

    I would suggest the Holy Conferencing model as a means of having discussion. It was very effective at the latest Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference.

    Another part of reality is that delegates have to understand that being in management means having to make decisions that will make some contingent unhappy. You will never be the popular person.

    Worshipping the Bible (biblioidolotry) or the Book of Discipline (anyone care to invent a word?) are sins and people need to recognize it as such.

    I guess I would ask the question: Do worship the church, its structures, and policies or do you worship the Holy Trinity? The choice doesn’t become easier does it?

  16. says

    Thank you, Dr. Benz, for your excellent post. I support the Hamilton-Slaughter proposal and your analysis and critique of the same. Let us remember, as others have noted in these comments, that the Hamilton-Slaughter proposal is simply a “way forward” and is not an end in itself. Even repealing the discriminatory language in the BOD is not an end in itself. We all know that to be true. Regardless of what the BOD says or what laws are passed or what courts declare, homophobia and racism and discrimination of all sorts will continue to exist. Let us find ways to move forward that bring as many people as possible to a more just future.

  17. Marcia says

    I appreciate Dr Benz. What she says is what I believe to be true of “A Way Forward”. This is not really a way forward at all. Unless the UMC can continue to slog through these concerns together and come out on the other side more inclusive and still together, then perhaps a schism may be necessary. I would really rather that then leave it up to individual churches. For folks who live in small towns or rural communities where the churches are likely very conservative, this proposal leaves them and all of us with very little hope. Thank you.

  18. Randy Teich says

    Has anyone considered the feasibility of allowing local congregations to align with a conference other than their geographically assigned conference? We are in the 21st century and many of the issues of physical meetings with peers can be easily remedied through current and future technology. Why should a church be required to provide financial support to a conference that is committed to a position that is contrary to the beliefs held by the majority of the church’s members?

    The flaw here in my mind is that there may be future differences on other issues that may cause congregations to continually shop for an accommodating conference. I would hope that some constraints could be built to make changing conferences difficult enough so that the process is more deliberate than whimsical.

  19. Gerson Costa Filho says

    An important reflection. Specially as we pass the Unity week.
    Let us pray and trust that more open and molecular alternatives shall come and lead us into a way to Love and commune with all!
    God bless us all <3

  20. David Mauzy says

    @Randy Teich: A form of what you are suggesting has been proposed by the Rev. Dr. Christopher Ritter of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. His proposal calls for jurisdictions, rather than conferences, with alignment based on ideological rather than geographic grounds.

    More on his proposal here: “A Deeper Look at How Strategic Disunity Might Save United Methodism,” June 10, 2014: http://peopleneedjesus.wordpress.com/

  21. Mark Davies says

    I guess I missed something. Why exactly is schism a bad thing? Isn’t it often a very good thing? I hate to think what Christianity (any of its three movements) would have been like if there had not been a Protestant Reformation. Perhaps we should all just shake the dust off our sandals and move on.

  22. Lucinda Featherstone says

    “Along the way we have rediscovered the church as a movement. Following Jesus’s example, our priority is the people of the church, not the policies of the church. We are no longer in thrall to an unjust rule book and we are renewing and remaking the church from below. This is the only way forward and the one that will eventually transform the institutional church.”

    Dear Dr. Benz,

    Can you elaborate on this “rediscovery of the church as a movement?” Since you say it “is the only way forward,” I would like to know more about your vision for our church. Aside from the obvious full inclusion of every LGBTQ person–which I, too, wholeheartedly desire–how would this movement operate differently from the current UMC? Since you clearly wish to do away with the Book of Discipline, what kind of operational guidelines would you use? I have read a lot of your writing, and it seems you don’t speak in depth about Christ and the workings of the Holy Spirit in the church very often. How would the spiritual life of the new version of our church be different from the current? You see where I’m going here–I want to know a lot more about this movement if “is the only way forward.”

    Thank you for this piece and for your response.

  23. says

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. I’m a gay Methodist at a church that rebels against the denomination by facilitating same-gender marriages, so I support Benz’s general take on this issue.

    But, after following this debate for so long, I think “A Way Forward” is a better approach in order to make basic progress. Conservatives are not without compelling arguments about human sexuality (though they are arguments I believe are wrong) and it is my experience that they are not so much trying to exclude queer people as trying to enforce a paradigm of obedience to a Biblical view of sexuality. I personally believe that their approach to sexuality is based on an incorrect and damaging exegesis of how scripture applies in 21st century America, but the arguments they make are often logical and well-reasoned, from a certain worldview.

    Since we are dealing with competing and fundamentally distinct worldviews, schism is the only alternative to a neutral, “agree to disagree” proposal for the future of the UMC. We have far more important things to accomplish as a unified institution, such as disaster relief and combating disease and poverty.

    We should allow enough breathing space for both conservatives and progressives to work within the UMC. Therefore “A Way Forward” is the right kind of approach at this time.

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