On Thursday June 9, Shanna Jackson from Grace United Methodist Church in Covington, GA addressed the North Georgia Annual Conference with these vital questions for the church before a vote on the resolution to support an end to suicide and homelessness among lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and questioning youth.

Shanna shared,

“In The United Methodist Church, the rationale for our mission of ‘making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world’ is that the best way for us to go about achieving this mission is by ‘exemplifying Jesus’ command to love God and neighbors.’

With this knowledge, I have some questions to ask of this conference.

If the most important commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, being and mind, then I’m curious to know how exactly we will show this love by refusing to provide help and support and staying silent about the issues that plague our neighbors.

Will we remain silent about the struggle of those that are transitioning into adulthood because we do not agree with their sexual orientation or gender identity? Will we allow them to be placed into slavery through the human trafficking industry? Will we silently condone these exploitations of sex? Through our lack of action, will we encourage hopelessness and depression to those youth that are discriminated against? Or can we love our neighbors, caring for them and helping them out where we can?

Can we show that no matter how divided the church is on the LGBTQ community it is possible for us to cast our own individual ideas on sexuality and gender aside and show the love and light of Jesus Christ by caring for those that find themselves in a dark place? Can we truly be a community of open minds, open hearts, and open doors? Can we live by the principles that we say we live by or is the world right to call us hypocrites?”

Unfortunately, Shanna’s testimony was followed by an amendment by Jerry Landers which changed the focus of the resolution and resulted in the following amended version – stripped of the power of specificity and of speaking in support of those most at risk, LGBTQ youth. Sadly, in the final resolution, all references to sexual orientation, gender identity, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, straight, prejudice, and statistics on suicide rates and homelessness among LGBTQ were removed. 

As the results of the voting were being counted, the Bishop led the gathered in a rendition of, “Grace Greater Than Our Sin.” The irony of this song was not lost on those who were advocating to send a good word to the young and marginalized.

Help End Suicide and Homelessness Among lesbian, gay, [At Risk] Youth bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ)  [And Others]

WHEREAS, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ)  [at risk] youth [and others] are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers (The Trevor Project); and LGBTQ youth comprise forty percent of the homeless youth population (The Williams Institute); and almost sixty percent of homeless LGBTQ youth have experienced sexual assault (National Coalition for the Homeless); and

WHEREAS, The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church state that “The church has an obligation to see that all persons have access to needed pastoral and medical care and therapy in those circumstances that lead to loss of self-worth, suicidal despair, and/or the desire to seek physician-assisted suicide” (¶ 161N of the Book of Discipline, 2012); and

WHEREAS, The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church state that “Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting the rightful claims where people have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law. Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against all persons, regardless of sexual orientation” (¶162J of the Book of Discipline, 2012); and

WHEREAS, homeless LGBTQ youth often run away or are turned out of their homes due to discrimination, name calling and abuse. Due to the abuse and rejection experienced by many LGBTQ youth during childhood they are more likely to experience low self-esteem issues and are diagnosed at higher rates with mental health problems, putting them at a much higher risk for trafficking or turning to sex work in exchange for shelter, food or rent money (National Institutes of Health, 2010). During the first forty-eight hours after running away or being turned out of their home, one in three homeless youth are recruited by a trafficker into commercial sexual exploitation. Engaging in survival sex often leads to violence and rape. LGBTQ youth are 7.4 times more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than heterosexual homeless youth; and

WHEREAS, The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church state that “We deplore all forms of the commercialization and exploitation of sex, with their consequent cheapening and degradation of human personality” (¶ 161H of the Book of Discipline, 2012); and WHEREAS, our Lord has expressly given to the least, the lost and the hurting a place among the people of God, which holy privilege must not be denied them. Remembering the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40 NRSV);

THEREFORE, as the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church seeks to follow a Biblical mandate of hospitality to the stranger and edification of the least, the lost and the hurting; and in order to prevent suicide, sexual assault, trafficking, and to end homelessness of LGBTQ [at risk] youth [and others];

BE IT RESOLVED, that the following resolution is adopted by the North Georgia Annual Conference:

We vow that, as churches and people of faith, we will not be silent about the value of each and every life. To that end, we categorically oppose the practices of human trafficking and slavery in all its forms. We urge our churches, Committees, Campus Ministries and Camping Retreat Ministries to create safe space for each and every child of God. [We will develop knowledge of National Suicide Prevention guidelines, 1-800-273-TALK, and let us remember that the largest number of suicides occur among senior citizens.]

Further, in the spirit of advocating for safe sanctuary, we call upon every United Methodist to respond to acts of hate, harassment and acts of violence filled with long-held prejudices against all persons, with acts of compassion and liberation.

Moreover, we call upon the Church and society to intentionally support, advocate on the behalf, and minister to all at risk youth regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity [and others at risk of suicide].

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