After prayer, gay rights protest ends -- for now


By Sam Hodges
A gay rights protest on the General Conference floor Thursday ended after bishops agreed to let an openly gay pastor offer a prayer.
The Rev. Frank Wulf, a delegate from the California/Pacific Conference, was invited to the podium.
“Oh God rest upon this General Conference, give us wisdom to understand, to interpret, to know each other,” he said. “But most of all God, give us hope for the future, hope that the good news of your gospel may break forth upon us.”
Demostrators filed out of the hall, singing, after his prayer.
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the Council of Bishops, spoke just before Mr. Wulf.
“Dear sisters and brothers who are gay and lesbian, transgender and bisexual people, you have been hurt by actions of the General Conference, and by the polity of the United Methodist Church,” she said. “I feel your pain. We see your pain.”
The Rev. Amy DeLong, a leader of the protesters, met with a number of bishops just before the session and insisted on a prayer by Mr. Wulf from the podium, as opposed to the floor, before the demonstration would leave the hall.
Earlier in General Conference, petitions to change the church’s positions on homosexuality, including that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching, failed in committee.
And this morning, two versions of a compromise statement, both essentially saying the church is divided and agrees to disagree on homosexuality, also were voted down.
That led to a late morning protest, with a group taking to the center of the plenary floor to sing as Bishop Mike Coyner tried to call the body to order. He ruled that lunch would be early, and that in the afternoon session the hall would be closed to all but delegates.
But other bishops quickly decided the meeting must remain open, and announced that in a statement.
Ms. DeLong  met with Bishop Wenner and a number of other bishops just before the afternoon session, and they reached agreement on the prayer by Mr. Wulf.
Praise for the bishops’ handing of the situation came from the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, an unofficial conservative caucus within the UMC.
“They did everything they could so that something that could blow up, and give the United Methodist church a great deal of negative press, didn’t happen,” he said.
The potential for additional disruptive actions continues.
Ms. DeLong said bishops had honored her requests so far, but added that she’s pressing that other petitions related to sexuality, including one seeking to end the UMC’s participation in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, be moved to the back of the agenda so that they “will not be dealt with at this General Conference.”
“What we’re hoping for is that no more harm get done,” she said.