Intersection: Can We Come Out to Each Other?

Intersection: Can We Come Out to Each Other?
A Joint Witness of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCOSROW) and the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR)

This article may make some uncomfortable, but please read on.

“Coming out” names the experience that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, intersexed, queer, and questioning persons engage when they begin the process of affirming their identity.  Coming out requires understanding and affirming one’s own gender and sexual identity.  It is a process of being honest with one’s self and with others.

At the intersection of General Conference 2012, we find ourselves faced with a related issue: Can we be courageous enough to be honest with ourselves and each other?  Can we make this space safe for mutual “coming out”?

General Conference 2012 is recommending legislation that will impact the entire body of Christ called the United Methodist Church for the next forty years.  Some of our judgments and perspectives have affirmed our unity in Christ, while other continue to separate the body.  One tweet states it this way: “Church narrowly approves grace for all!” Another says “Humans may not like Grace for all.  Good thing God does.”

We are at a potential impasse.  It is like two vehicles that come down a narrow road toward one another with each vehicle insisting that they have the right of way.  The dynamics of oppression become more likely when one vehicle is larger than the other, whether it is the vehicle of economics or at the table of decision making.  The larger vehicle seeks to move the smaller out of the way.  There is no grace, there is no making room, there is no forward movement.  Both vehicles are stuck.   What do we do at the impasse?

Can we come out to each other?  Can we be honest and name our fears?

These are some of the fears that have been expressed during general conference:

We are afraid that the work of ministries like the General Commission on Religion and Race and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women are going to be diminished or lost.  We are afraid of the growing numbers of United Methodists outside of the United States, and what it will mean for the future of our denomination.  We are afraid that young people will replace us.  We are afraid of losing control of the resources of the denomination.  We are afraid of the ordination and full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, intersexed, queer, and questioning persons.  We are afraid of losing our own individual places of influence and control.  We are afraid of clergy taking advantage of the guaranteed appointment system.  We are afraid of episcopal leaders having too much influence.  We are afraid of not making vital choices while in a state of transition, decline in the United States and of rapid growth in the southern hemisphere.  We are afraid that non-guaranteed appointments will cast out prophetic voices under the guise of “effectiveness.”  We are afraid that there will no longer be freedom of the pulpit.  We are afraid that we will remain in decline in the United States if we don’t deal with clergy ineffectiveness.  Laity are afraid they will receive ineffective pastors or that they may receive a pastor that is not like them.  We are afraid that women and people of color may be in control of the leadership, polity and resources of the denomination.

We are afraid that “liberals” will be in charge.  We are afraid that “conservatives” will be in charge.  We are afraid that we will not have enough money to meet our congregational obligations to pastor’s salaries, pastoral benefits, apportionments.  We are afraid of the uncertainty of relating to each other covenantally.  We are afraid that the hierarchy of the church will adversely impact the ministries and prophetic voices of pastors.  We are afraid that our specific concerns will not be heard or will be lost.   We are afraid that we will not be able to control how our financial resources contributed to the denomination will be used.  We are afraid that there will be discriminatory action against female and racial ethnic pastors.  We are afraid that people of color that will continue to be denied access and equity at the table of decision-making.

These are just a few of the many fears that are a part of the intersectionality of each of us, and a part of the intersection of GC2012.

We are afraid of each other.

The way we are engaging one another, out of fear, points to our inability to be honest with ourselves about our vulnerabilities and to be vulnerable with each other.

Observations and Challenges

Challenges continue with English-only on screens and in published documents.

During the Monday evening worship experience, all ministry goals, except two, presented during the worship were for the U.S. context.

Only males, except the legislative committee chair, spoke during the debate on the set aside bishop for the Council of Bishops.

There was a repeated challenge with delegates in back of the auditorium seeking to speak not being recognized.

No Asian American or Pacific Islander spoke during the morning plenary.

During the Tuesday morning plenary discussion, when a point of order was raised about an equal number of speeches for or against an amendment, the presiding bishop ignored the speaker.

Fears can be alleviated when we confront them honestly.  Why can’t we be honest with one another?  We are playing politics, strategizing, moving pieces around without talking about the real issues.

One white male participant said to an African American female participant, “Y’all need to do what’s best for the church.”

The recommendation of the UMC plan diminishes the necessity of the roles and voices of women and persons of color to have full equity and access within the church structure.

We continue to hear few women’s voices during plenary discussions.

Celebrations and Best Practices

We celebrate that a delegate from one of the European central conferences brought forward in behalf of his colleagues a request not to translate future DCAs into German so that there could be translation into Swahili.

Good to see the first female bishop presiding during a plenary at 2012 GC.

We celebrate an historic moment during Sunday evening’s plenary when Bishop Nhanala, the first African female bishop presided over a plenary session during General Conference.

We celebrate the election of an African female clergy woman (the first woman ordained in the Southern Congo Conference) Kabamba Kiboko as member of Judicial Council.

We celebrate the election of African American pastor Dennis Blackwell and Liberian lay delegate N. Oswald Tweh, Sr., as members of Judicial Council.

We celebrate that thirty-six percent of all delegates to GC2012 are new.

We celebrate the increased participation of Central Conference delegates’ participation in Tuesday morning’s plenary session.

We celebrate the number of young adults actively participating at the 2012 General Conference.

Becoming Community at the Intersection

As of this writing fear continues to limit the full participation of all of us.  Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, intersexed, queer, and questioning persons are not fully included in conversation.  They remain outside full participation in our decision-making.  They stand in integrity and in the truth of who they are.  While we continue to hide behind fears and insecurities.  James 4:1 ask us: “What is the source of conflict among you?  What is the source of your disputes?  Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives?”

PLENARY SNAPSHOTS   GCORR/GCSRW
Monitoring Report
MON (morning) 4-30-12 MON (afternoon)    4-30-12 TUES  (morning)       5-1-12
Female delegates

38%

38%

38%

Female participation

28%

40%

30%

Male delegates

62%

62%

62%

Male participation

72%

60%

70%

Racial/Ethnic delegates

22%

22%

22%

Racial/Ethnic participation

22%

14%

12%

Central Conf delegates

41%

41%

41%

Central Conf participation

14%

19%

29%

 
First-time delegates (339)

36% of delegates

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