Wednesday, April 30, 2008

President Sirleaf and an illustration of a divided church

God gave us bread for the journey today as President Sirleaf of Liberia addressed the General Conference. It is tradition for United Methodist world leaders to be invited to address the body and President Sirleaf was introduced as a true "daughter of Methodism". A member of our church and graduate of the College of West Africa, a Methodist secondary school founded in 1839, it was clear to everyone that the first elected female head of state in Africa is a part of this movement. Former First Lady Clinton addressed General Conference in 1996 (since she is a member) but our current president, although a member, has never accepted the invitation. A choir from Africa of all orphans also sang at the celebration. I think I'll remember those sounds and those dance moves forever. At the end all of the thirty-ish minute address, President Sirleaf shook hands with all of the bishops and it was projected on the big screen. The funniest interaction was Bishop Soriano who took a picture of her with his cell phone.
We dealt with several pieces of legislation that recommended reducing the number of episcopal areas in the United States of America so that funding could be made available for Africa. This was the picture of a very divided body. There was an enormous amount of debate and parliamentary maneuvering (as in hours worth) that I don't think were terribly helpful. In the end it was referred to another body for recommendation at General Conference 2012. I suppose I'm at a new place with all of this where I think the difficulty we're getting into is that people are trying to do the right thing but simply don't know how given our current structure. Several of the votes in this debate (on amendments or choosing how and what to adopt) were within fifty votes going one way or another with about 800 being cast.
In theory, at this point we are finished with all petitions that have financial implications... I think. I believe that we will begin consideration on petitions regarding sexuality on Wednesday April 30th. But it may be on Thursday. The minority report that will be put against our full committee recommendation has been printed on the consideration calendar. It pretty much looks like the current language with some minor tightening. Certainly, all of the nasty stuff is still in there.
So it looks like tomorrow is our chance to bring the church to a better place on this one. There will be lots discussed about homosexuality after we open the flood gates (marriage, membership, ordination, funding of ministries) so it isn't just the stuff I've been working on. But the prayer is that we will set the tone for where the conversation goes.
Bishop Peter Weaver of the Boston area (my bishop) will be presiding over the morning session, which I think is significant. The afternoon will be presided over by Bishop Timothy Whitaker of Florida. I think it is accurate to say that Bishop Whitaker is the most outspoken opponent of GLBT at the top level of church administration. So the prayer is also that Bishop Weaver will be handling the conversation before lunch.
Okay, this only happens every four years, and only if everything goes well, which it has. So let's really pray.


Keith McIlwain said...

Let's hope that both bishops preside in a fair manner, and that the Conference faithfully follows the Spirit into whatever future God has for us.

jadedjabber said...

I just wanted to send my love to all the Methodists out there working for full inclusion of all us queers. Ya'll are in my prayers this week. Keep on drummin'. There is a child being born today that will not have to go through all of this because of the work that you are doing. (not to mention the people already alive who will be treated as fully human and fully Christian).

jadedjabber said...

I was watching the conference on live feed today with two of my friends here at seminary in New Jersey. We heard the RMN folks singing Jesus loves me in the background. Here is my song, with you in solidarity today.

Jesus loves me. This I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
You may doubt, where I belong.
As I have said, my call is strong.

Jesus called me, this I know
For my God has told me so
My call is deep, my heart is warmed
And here I stand, throughout the storm

Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes Jesus called me
Yes, loves me, The Bible tells me so.