Earlier this week, Fossil Free UMC broke the story that The UMC Pension Board showed a video at pre-conference briefings directing General Conference delegates how to vote on socially responsible investing guidelines. But only at pre-conference briefings outside the U.S.

This is deeply disturbing and speaks volumes about the troubles our allegedly “global church” is having.

Let me be clear: I think it is reasonable, indeed inevitable, that general church agencies have perspectives on some things (e.g., GCORR opposes Plan UMC; the Pension Board opposes divestment; GBCS favors divestment; etc.), and framing their perspectives for delegates is OK. That was done in at the U.S. pre-conference briefing in Portland, for instance, by the Pension Board around divestment issues.

What is not OK is a bald instruction to vote a certain way, let alone an all-caps one: the video literally has a caption line that said “DO NOT vote for divestment.” General Conference decides church policy, not the Pension Board.

The video had that caption, I should say. Sometime in the last six hours the original YouTube video was pulled down – which is why you can no longer view it in Fossil Free UMC story linked above – and a slightly sanitized version made available here. The voice over still says the words “Do NOT vote for divestment,” but the words no longer appear on the screen.

Imagine if U.S. delegates had gotten that same all-caps video instruction. Nuff said.

And therein lies the deeper, far more disturbing problem: the fact that the Pension Board and briefing organizers felt that it was OK to tell central conference but not U.S. delegates how to vote.

There is an awful lot of lip service given to how The UMC is a global church, and a significant amount of earnest energy expended on efforts to make it one. Fossil fuel divestment is a quintessentially global issue – climate change affects everyone, but impacts the global south much more – and discussing it should involve everyone in our church. The central conferences have more at stake in this than the U.S. ones, so if anything, their perspective in particular should be sought.

Instead, they are given voting instructions.

This hypocrisy is particularly bitter for LGBTQI people.

LGBTQI United Methodists are sometimes told that we have to live with codified systematic discrimination in our church because we need to be sensitive to the cultural values of the central conferences, many of whose members are strongly opposed to LGBTQI rights or recognition. We have always rejected this argument – it is an excuse that masks deep and vicious anti-queer attitudes by conservative U.S. Methodists. It is the attitudes and agenda of U.S. conservatives that drive the call for more prosecutions and greater punishments of LGBTQI people and those who minister to us. None of that legislation is coming from Africa – check your ADCA, pages 1187-1225.

Video-gate rips that mask off. It shows a shocking lack of respect for central conference voices, giving them voting instructions rather than inviting them into a critical discussion in our church. Meanwhile, as the recent UMNS headline attests, it is U.S. supporters of LGBTQI inclusion who are actually interested in a dialogue with our central conference siblings. “Coalition to Africa bishops: Let’s talk,” it says in reporting on the Love Your Neighbor Coalition’s deep and thoughtful response to the African bishops’ September 2015 letter on global terrorism and sexuality. This is what an invitation to a real discussion looks like.

And note, there are no all-caps instructions anywhere in it.

Dr. Dorothee Benz

Dorothee Benz is a lifelong Methodist. She was a delegate to the 2016 General Conference, and is a delegate to the 2019 GC as well. Benz is a founding member of Methodists in New Directions and serves as its national representative. Follow her on Twitter @DrBenz3.
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