On Wednesday the executive committee of The UMC Council of Bishops announced that they had sent out invitations to the people they hoped would constitute the special commission formed at General Conference to discuss the vexing issue of whether and how the church will continue to discriminate against LGBTQI people.
Lots of people have already pointed out that the commission is inexcusably skewed towards institutional power: eight bishops, 13 additional clergy, and only eight lay people. This is rightly seen as a slap in the face of lay people, who, after all, constitute the vast majority of the church; who keep it afloat with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness; and most importantly, who do not have to fear reprisals when speaking truth to power in the church and who do not have personal economic interest in the status quo. A commission dominated by bishops is a recipe for more of the same cowardice, equivocation, and institutional self-preservation that has characterized the Council.
But there is an even more fundamental problem here. This commission, typically euphemistically named “Commission on the Way Forward,” was constituted expressly and solely to deal with the issue of how The UMC treats LGBTQI people. Yet once again, we are not even mentioned by name.
This is not an auspicious beginning, to say the least, for a body that will consider whether the existing anti-queer hate language calling us “incompatible with Christian teaching” should be removed from the Book of Discipline; whether LGBTQI people called by God to ordained ministry will continue to be rejected by the church, forced to wound themselves by staying closeted or face threats, complaints, charges, and trials if they are honest; whether faithful LGBTQI United Methodists will continue to be denied ministry when they seek to have their covenantal relationships blessed by their pastors; whether, when those pastors offer such ministry, they will continue to face threats, complaints, charges, and trials; whether clergy will continue to have the right to deny membership to LGBTQI people; and whether the church continues to bar church funds from being used to defend our human rights.
The fact that the Council has never described these rules and restrictions against us as discrimination, which is plainly what they are, is a problem.
Just as troubling is that the bishops don’t think it’s important to indicate whether they have invited any LGBTQI people to join the commission. Their press release speaks of creating a commission “representative of our global connection and theological diversity,” but somehow representation of the class of people whose status in the church is being debated does not warrant mention.
We are not named, our oppression is not acknowledged, and our voice is not sought. At the very outset of a process that is supposed to move the church “forward,” what we have here instead is a continuation of 44 years of being legislated about but never negotiated with.
Conservatives in the church feign bewilderment about why queer people and their allies have chosen to live in open defiance of The UMC’s codified system of discrimination, though I and many others have explained it to them many times: institutional channels of changes are foreclosed to us. There is no other way to address the injustice of our continued exclusion. As MLK famously explained, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”
Speaking of conservatives, they are gathering today under the mantle of the new Wesleyan Covenant Association, where they plan to issue an ultimatum to the church. Regarding the commission, it preemptively rules out negotiation over the status of LGBTQI people in the church: “A plan that requires traditionalists to compromise their principles and understanding of Scripture, including any form of the ‘local option’ around ordination and marriage, will not be acceptable to the members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.”
So before we even get started, the bishops have erased LGBTQI people from visibility and voice in the commission discussing our fate, and the conservatives have announced that they will refuse to consider alternatives to the current discriminatory and punitive rules.
This is not a “way forward.” This is the road we’ve already trod for half a century. Queer family, you know what you need to do.
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