Non-Violent Action at General Conference

As I alluded to briefly, earlier this week the General Conference of the United Methodist Church has been meeting in Fort Worth for the past two weeks. I’ve been there almost every day of those two weeks, primarily supporting a cause near and dear to the heart of many in our church: full inclusion of GLBT persons in our denomination.

I have never written much about these issues on this blog, and there is no specific reason for this, other than that I’ve written about it extensively in sermons and on our churchblog.

Sufficed to say, it was a difficult week. Two votes that were seen as crucial to advancing the cause for GLBT persons went down to defeat. In other years, votes like this have ended in defeat as well. But for some reason, this year feels different.

In part, because the Reconciling Ministries Network had worked very hard among the American UMC to build bridges with delegates, and tell the story of GLBT persons in the church. There were extremely positive signs that allowed us to hope that the church had heard this positive word of inclusion, and that perhaps this time would be different.

New, and beautifully crafted language, was voted out of committee by a truly diverse group of conservatives, moderates, and progressives. As one member of that committee told me this week, “the old language we have used for 30-years simply does not work…it’s time to say something new.” Read it here.

This language was a golden opportunity to strike a new, almost “third way” path beyond the old divisions.

But in a move that shocked many –not just Reconciling UMs– this language was defeated in favor of language slightly worse than the status quo.

There is a truth in this loss that I will unpack fully in the coming weeks: that if only the votes of the American delegates were counted, it is very likely that the two crucial votes I refer to would have gone in a positive direction by a wide margin.

The new truth is this: the American United Methodist Church is ready to create the kind of “big tent” that would allow for full inclusion of gay and lesbians in the life of the church. That is a huge shift.

Unfortunately, what we also had confirmed this week is something we had feared for years: that ultra-conservatives have cornered international delegates –now 25 percent of the voting population– in an alliance that virtually assures the defeat of progressive ideals.

This is a shocking, eye-opening, development. I blogged about it earlier this week, in an entry that, I am sure, probably confused many who don’t know the inside story. Some who read this blog entry might wonder, “Why the big fuss over the gift of some cell phones?”

Giving 150 international delegates cell phones, and a list of candidates to vote for, IS a big deal. It confirms our worst fears about this new alliance. And it should deeply concern not just progressives, but moderates and conservatives alike. There will be much more to say about this truth later.

For now, I want to share the video below. The day after the two negative votes, the supporters of GLBT issues engaged in a non-violent protest on the floor of the General Conference. It was a negotiated interruption of conference business, at the invitation of the Bishops. Almost 400 persons took place.

I was honored to be one of the many from our church who took part. When it’s no longer possible to work through the normal legislative process, the teachings of MLK, Ghandi, and others, remind us that such non-violent resistance is called for.

And, in fact, we’ve heard from many delegates that they deeply appreciated the tone of this “action.”

The whole video is below. You’ll see glimpses of 20-25 of us from Northaven Church, here and there. You’ll see the other 400 persons who engaged in the “witness.” And, I hope you will note the many actual delegates who stood with us, who came forward from their seats to place black cloth on the communion table. What you cannot see in the camera angle is that 2-300 more people were standing with us in the balcony, all around the arena.

Here the whole action:


Witness on the Plenary Floor from Reconciling Ministries Network on Vimeo.

It was wonderful, powerful, witness.

But it is not enough.

There is much more to say later.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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