Monday, May 05, 2008

A Future With Hope

This year's General Conference theme was "A Future With Hope." According to some on the theme committee, there had been considerable debate during the process as to how to punctuate that sentence...

"A Future with Hope."
"A Future With Hope!"
"A Future With Hope?"

Many of us in the denomination share that ambivalence. Increasingly the future of our denomination looks less and less hopeful...not just for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons who have struggled through 36 years of discrimination, but also for the institutional church that bears the growing burden of financial instability, membership decline, and pressure from outside political action groups like the IRD.

The posts on this blog last week reflected the dismay and despair at certain points in this General Conference as the denomination, by a narrow majority (in some cases just a handful of votes), voted once again to ignore the theological diversity of our denomination and instead proclaimed a false unity based on institutional uniformity. The drastic revisions to 161G and the refusal to declare our membership open to all persons fostered a sense of loss for many in our Church.

Yet, despite these set backs in our struggle for justice for all people, the General Conference did take some very powerful and prophetic actions that will indeed lead us into a more hopeful future. Here are just a few of these acts of hope:
  • Dismissed all anti-transgender legislation by wide margins.
  • Passed a Constitutional amendment that declares "all persons" eligible for membership.
  • Weakened the funding ban against homosexual caucuses to allow for financial support for activities that would help the Church not "to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends."
  • Passed a resolution against heterosexism and homophobia.
  • Voted in a new definition of family that recognizes "two parents" instead of "mother and father."
  • Created an ethics committee to monitor the action of lobbyists and delegates during General Conferences in the future.
  • Installed a new Judicial Council comprised of members committed to fairness and integrity.
  • Created a study commission for the worldwide restructuring of the Church that gives the committee freedom to explore all options.
In addition to the activities of the institutional Church, the Reconciling Church that gathered also gave witness to a Future With Hope in varied ways:
  • Anointed and blessed conference members and visitors as they entered the convention center.
  • Distributed "leaves for the healing of the nations."
  • Honored the faithful witness of parents in leading the Church to compassion and justice.
  • Decried discrimination against transgender persons.
  • Illustrated the connections between racism and heterosexism.
  • Drummed for justice.
  • Highlighted the voice of youth and young adults who already embody a fully inclusive Church.
  • Honored OUT activists and allies with Affirmation.
  • Witnessed to the death of the Church when it cuts off members from the Body of Christ.
  • Celebrated in worship God's love for our One Family Tree.
  • Proclaimed a commitment to being Church in the world despite institutionalized discrimination.
  • Celebrated God's love made visible in the marriage of Sue Laurie and Julie Bruno.
This is just a brief list of all the ways in which the Holy Spirit moved in and among the General Conference to witness to God's love breaking down walls of exclusion, injustice and oppression.

While there were moments of deep pain and despair, I do believe that the people of the United Methodist Church are moving toward a Future With Hope!

For a more complete account of the activities at General Conference and to see these actions of hope for yourself, please check out the RMN blog and photos.


Sean Delmore said...

Thanks for this overview of General Conference, Tiffany. It's very helpful - even those of who were there found it challenging to get a handle on all that happened!

Just a note about one of the pieces of legislation that did pass: I think it's wonderful that the church's definition of family was broadened. But let us remember that the current "two parent" definition continues to do spiritual and emotional violence to so many people, GLBT & straight folk alike. How many of us were raised by single parents, by grandparent(s), or in families that otherwise do not match the "two parent" standard? It seems our church has a long way to go on multiple fronts, before it can truly recognize and affirm the many ways in which we love ourselves and each other into the kin-dom of God.

Rev. Tiffany Steinwert said...

Thanks for catching that Sean....I think my mind was on the old definition of family (pre-2004) which included a laundry list of diverse family structures. That was amended last time to take out anything but "mother and father."

At one point in our UM history we did honor ALL families.