I love mystery dramas like Law and Order. I pride myself on being able to figure out the real criminal before the end of each episode. I’ve learned every good mystery show or book uses distractions to keep the audience from knowing the true culprit and foreshadowing to give glimpses about what is to come.

When I think about the work to bring about justice for all God’s people, I believe the greatest distractions come when we are not fully committed to ending oppression.

Now, some may think that the bishops’ proposal, An Offering for a Way Forward, is nothing more than distraction, especially since word is being leaked that the Commission which is to be established by the Council of Bishops may not meet until 2017. All this is possible. Time will tell. Right now, I prefer to be hopeful and remain vigilant, thinking of it as divine foreshadowing pointing to an end we cannot yet know. Of the many legislative pieces, this is certainly one about which we must not only pray but watch and continue to work diligently against this oppressive system to ensure it provides a just and righteous outcome for LGBTQ persons and our allies.

But if you think General Conference was only about full inclusion of LGBTQ persons you are mistaken.

It was filled with efforts to keep The United Methodist Church uninvolved in many of the major issues of our time using logical fallacies to garner votes and support for some of the most oppressive and harmful legislation I have seen in quite some time. As a result, the denomination debated creationism, withdrew its affiliation with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, refused to divest from the fossil fuel industry, and more, too much to write about in this blog.

And then we have the predictable response to the huge #BlackLivesMatter protest that took place on the plenary floor.

Those who wondered about its relevance because they could not make the connection that the oppression of LGBTQ persons directly impacts the lives of Black LGBTQ persons and their families. Some even took an additional step to critique the makeup of the protest: not enough black people, too many white people. One writer even criticized it saying it was created by Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) as though RMN is not made up of Black and Brown people, totally missing the commitment RMN has had to the movement for Black lives for quite some time. Another writer placed Rev. Amy DeLong, a white lesbian activist as present and one of the leaders of the disruption when in fact, she was not at the conference center at the time of the protest. On the whole, I could care less about these responses. I draw attention to them because I know these false narratives are only misdirection techniques to keep persons genuinely concerned with justice from knowing the true culprits at work in this unfolding history making.

Dead red herrings are being dragged across the world stage to deceive and continue harm.

The genuine clues to help us expose the deep bigotry held by far too many within our denomination come by watching the evidence of the mounting coalescing of persons who believe it’s time to end oppression. These persons understand that where you find homophobia, transphobia and institutional racism, you will also find strategies to deny reproductive rights, ecological justice, affordable healthcare a living wage, and much more. It takes a committed group of persons working together to dig out the works of injustice often buried deep within a petition or the several amendments and amendments to amendments! Amidst it all, what was perhaps the most refreshing twist to this real life drama were the open letters by out clergy, ally clergy and lay allies as well as the letters from denominations supporting LGBTQ United Methodists.

This is a big movement and it stretches beyond one group or one denomination.

In fact, what you and I have witnessed at this General Conference is directly related to what is going on in our nation. We cannot truthfully say, “Bigotry is coming to a church near you” for the Church universal has a history of functioning as a midwife for bigotry.

What it has not birth, it has accommodated.

Those politicians and the wealthy who seek to maintain power and control of the few over the many, who are determined to support discriminatory public policies, they come to our churches. They read “one” Corinthians (as one politician described it) but they live far from I Corinthians 13.

Thankfully, the Church has also been the sight of protest against injustice. Those “protestors” against injustice within the early church planted the seeds for what we now call Protestantism. Major denominations such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church was birth in protest to the racism Blacks experienced in their attempts to worship with White Christians, and yes, Methodists. The Suffragettes demanded the right of women to vote though the Church of England’s position was that women should be denied such rights.

Throughout the ages, it has been the responsibility of people of faith to call the institutional church to task whenever it fails to be prophetic, fails to be a headlight not a taillight, and fails to adorn itself with a sanctified garment bejeweled with precious stones of hope, love and justice.

Our responsibility did not end with General Conference 2016. Now is our time to overcome the work of oppressors and to declare unequivocally, “A people united will never be defeated!” (clang)

Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey

Rev. Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey is an ordained elder of the Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church serving as Associate Dean for Community Life and Lifelong Learning at Boston University School of Theology. She is the author of “Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology: and
serves as co-chair of the Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society Group of the American Academy of Religion. An Army veteran and mother whose son served in Iraq, Dr. Lightsey is active in social justice ministries but particularly those focusing on global peace, LGBTQ civil rights, eradicating racism and the engagement of viable reconciliation methodologies. RMN’s history and work is contiguous with her own experiences. She has worked with RMN and supported its several programs and is happy to offer her scholarship and ministry skills to the organization. Pamela hopes to help RMN especially to understand and further support the unique challenges of being a queer person of color.
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