By Peter L. DeGroote
(The following has been written with input from several long-term companions on the reconciling journey. I am thankful for their help but they are not responsible for errors of fact or judgment.)
Marriage equality was legally established in New York because Governor Cuomo required that the various, and sometimes competing, LGBT groups get on the same page. His support required their unity, which he saw necessary for success.
This lesson of “the same page” runs through my mind as I think about the various LGBT related resolutions heading to General Conference, which is often as convoluted and nefarious as any state legislature. Chief among them are those that would provide the following:
- Elimination from the Discipline of the declaration that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings.” (¶161.F)
- Elimination of the Disciplinary prohibition of the ordination of LGBT candidates. (¶304.3)
- Allow the celebration by our clergy and in our churches, at the discretion of the pastor, in those civil jurisdictions that have approved civil unions or marriage equality laws. (¶341.6)
- Complete removal of all restrictions and prohibitions on the celebration of marriage or civil unions by our clergy and in our churches. (¶341.6)
- Acceptance of the fact that the church suffers from institutional discrimination toward LGBT people and that all negative provisions concerning them should be removed from the Discipline.
Some argue the first priority should be elimination of the declaration that the practice of “homosexuality” is incompatible with Christian teaching. First adopted into the Social Principles in 1972, it served as the foundation for the exclusion from ordination, the ban on celebrating marriage/unions, and even the Judicial Council’s finding that local pastor can deny membership to LGBT people. Those supporting this priority claim that removal of the cornerstone would result in all else eventually falling.
Supporters of resolutions allowing for ordination of LGBT folks point to the many instances of highly qualified people being denied ordination, giving up their calling, or leaving the UMC for another denomination. Further momentum arises from those conferences that do not do not consider sexual identity a relevant factor in determining the qualifications of their candidates, the result being the routine ordination of otherwise qualified LGBT candidates. Further, the recent declaration of support for LGBT ordination by 33 retired bishops brings this into focus for many, their rationale being a clear statement of the many issues. (Note: the retired bishops proposal would eliminate only one of the two versions of the incompatibility language. The foundation declaration at ¶161.F would remain.)
The marriage equality resolutions differ in scope. The first allows for the celebration of marriages in those civil jurisdictions having adopted civil unions or a marriage equality law. It arises out of the many challenges faced by local churches and pastors in those jurisdictions: How do we respond to the pastoral needs of our LGBT members and community expectations?
Those who support the broader marriage equality resolutions take note of the quiet celebration of marriages and civil unions in our churches for quite some time, even where there is no civil legislation to provide a legal context. For many a church marriage remains a marriage in the minds and spirit of the couple, the pastor, and the congregation. To them, restricting the celebration of LGBT marriage to those civil jurisdictions that have passed the necessary legislation not only seems prejudicial but an abandonment of the Church’s prophetic role, turning the church into an agency serving the state.
Back to the all on “the same page” lesson: The above alternatives, and others, are related but energized by different experiences and values. Could they all pass? Could a single omnibus resolution including them all pass? Can we figure out a strategy that allows us to find agreement on priorities and prevent our working against each other?
General Conference procedures further complicate the matter. As in most civil legislatures, resolutions first go to a legislative committee that can endorse, recommend against, combine, or let them die. Further, all LGBT resolutions will not go to the same committee. While the committee assignment of resolutions is not yet entirely clear, our ability to relate to the work of several different legislative committees is a critical factor. It is possible that some of us will go our own way without regard to an overall strategy, thereby diluting our ability to influence the outcomes.
One of the major advantages we have is that many of the people necessary to help us figure out a strategy will be at Sing a New Song in Port Huron, Ohio at the end of August. I do hope we are able to find a way that we can all sing from the same page.
Peter is a second career pastor who has served in several churches in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. Prior to his ordination, he was a secondary-school teacher, a university lecturer in Government, an Associate in a government related professional association, CEO of a national financial institution. Peter was involved in Mid-Atlantic Affirmation, served on the National Council of Affirmation, and sat on the Board of the Reconciling Congregations Program, the predecessor name for RMN and has worked with BWARM (Baltimore-Washington Reconciling United Methodists).