TAMPA, Fla. (UMNS)– At the end of an emotional legislative session focused on the topic of homosexuality, supporters of full inclusion moved from the outskirts of the plenary to the center and stayed there for more than five hours.
Tears flowed as supporters of full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people grieved the vote that would leave the words “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” in The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline.
For more than two hours, delegates to the 2012 United Methodist General Conference debated whether or not they could say they disagree on this subject.
Supporters wearing rainbow stoles lined up around the outside of the plenary floor as soon as the session started and stood silently while the debate was ongoing. As soon as the vote was taken, they moved inside the bar and gathered together.
The protest sprung from a vote earlier in the morning. The Revs. Adam Hamilton of Kansas and Mike Slaughter of Ohio, put forth a resolution, to be included in paragraph 161F of the Book of Discipline, which acknowledges the church’s official stance while clarifying that United Methodists disagree on whether homosexual practice is contrary to the will of God and urging unity and respect among people with differing theologies and viewpoints.
Ralph Williams and Jen Ihlo, lay delegates from the Baltimore-Washington Conference spoke with passion about the pain the church inflicts when it discriminates against LGBT people.
Others, like the Rev. Maxie Dunham of Kentucky, spoke against the statement. “It leaves out good teaching.” There is no reason at all to state we disagree, because we disagree about almost everything, he said. Another delegate from Africa spoke against the statement in much harsher terms – naming homosexuality as sin and intolerable. The majority of the delegates agreed with them.
For the last 40 years, the church has not changed its official stance. Many supporters were hopeful the 2012 gathering would strike the words in Paragraph 161F that state, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”
The conference has more petitions related to human sexuality that have not been addressed yet. If they are not heard by the time the conference adjourns Friday, the statements in the current Book of Discipline will remain church law at least until the 2016 General Conference.
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, Germany Area and president of the Council of Bishops, spoke to the protesters during their vigil and then talked to them from the pulpit of the assembly.
“I feel your pain, we see your pain, and we stand at the side of all of you,” she said. “Look into one another’s eyes and see the face of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Sally Dyck, Minnesota Area, said she and Wenner wanted to offer the demonstrators pastoral support. Dyck has been leading sessions on holy conversations throughout the conference.
“We encouraged them to think about some other ways their witness could be made. We are still working on trying to do no more harm,” she said.
The Rev. Frank Wulf, a reserve delegate from California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference, was asked to pray before the session resumed.
“Those of us who are lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, those of us who are appointed clergy and lay, we pray you will help us find our voice, a voice with the most healing, most hope. Help General Conference to hear the words we speak. Help General Conference know our hearts and our spirits,” he said.
After he spoke, the demonstrators left the plenary area where they had been protesting since the morning session.
Laura Rossbert, a visitor from the Tennessee Annual Conference, was in tears at the end of the demonstration.
“I stand here broken-hearted, knowing the church has done harm to my friends,” she said. “As a straight, married woman, I have privilege but I am also expecting a child in September. I want my church to love my child no matter who they grow up to love. I fear my church will make promises to my child that they then would go back on because it is what they do to a lot of my friends.
“I thought the end result was multiple acts of grace, and I was moved by Bishop Wenner’s comments and acknowledgement of the hurts taking place and the humanity of those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and trangender persons,” said Stephen Drachler, a delegate from the Susquehanna Conference, who was an observer. “It was an important moment. … It was a very critical pastoral gesture to people who are hurting into the deepest depths of their souls. I think the bishops responded quickly and and appropriately, and I think in the end it was a meaningful moment.”