General Conference 2008: Bishop Palmer says, 'We Stand in Brokenness,' But Holy Conferencing with LGBTs Begins

May 02, 2008

By Bruce Pettit

California-Nevada News Service


FORT WORTH, May 2, 2008 – Gregory Palmer of Iowa, installed here last Saturday as the new president of the Council of Bishops, announced Thursday afternoon that a group of 16 bishops has agreed to join in holy conferencing beyond this General Conference with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. "We stand in brokenness and are experiencing grief and fear," he said on the plenary floor. On Wednesday this General Conference of 2008 adopted several items that maintain the status quo on policy relating to LGBT issues.


Two hours later in a press conference Palmer was joined by the Rev. Troy Plummer, Executive Director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, and two other bishops to comment on that plan. Rev. Plummer said some people had prepared to be arrested for trespassing on the plenary floor, "but the team of relationships built before General Conference enabled us to shift from what we thought was necessary to what we saw today" – a witness of silence, singing, and spoken word by 200 persons granted permission to take the floor.


Bishop Sally Dyck of Minnesota asserted, however, "These relationships can't be dropped every four years," explaining why she will be part of an ongoing relationship.


Bishop Scott Jones of Kansas, who said he views his ministry as one of bridge-building, perceived conversation here these two weeks as having been at a "higher level than previous General Conferences." He said both sides bring points of doctrine to the discussions, and there is creative tension in those teaching moments. The diverse group of bishops joining the ongoing conferencing is a "fruitful beginning," he said, but added, "These conversations will not be an attempt to usurp the authority of General Conference."


Plummer commented on young people taking the lead in the Common Witness here among RMN, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, and Affirmation (which emphasizes transgender issues). "Young adults have spoken their truth [here]," he said, and cited a survey that found 80 percent of young adults in local churches believe the UMC has anti-gay policies, and that 91 percent of young people who are unchurched believe that.


Plummer was disappointed that conferencing seems to be positive in the first week of committees, but that, he said, in the second week when items come to full plenary floor, "things proceed as if those conversations never occurred." (The full plenary reversed a committee action on the major issue of whether to state that the UMC is faithfully divided on LGBT issues.)


Plummer said he hoped the new 8-1 moderate majority on the Judicial Council that takes office at adjournment here on Friday can reverse the 2005 decision about pastors having the right to deny membership to LGBT people. That decision was left intact by this General Conference which failed to mandate, by a margin of a mere 12 votes, that all persons should be faithfully received into membership. Yet, Plummer cautioned, "Some of the same harsh decisions can still come if we don't settle things legislatively."


Local Pastors Endorsed for GC Elections

On Thursday night endorsement was given to a UM constitutional amendment that would allow local pastors, appointed to serve a specific local church but who are not in full connection, to vote in annual conference elections for General Conference. The vote was 618 to 203 (75 to 25 percent) to send the amendment to the annual conferences next year for ratification.


An argument against making the change was that it is "dangerous" for pastors who are not fully ordained to be allowed to vote to be represented by those who are.


But Rosa Washington-Olson, a California-Nevada lay delegate, rose to the plenary floor to argue that many local pastors are making their churches grow faster than many fully ordained pastors are growing theirs. "Don't tell me I can't vote for you," she shouted, to laughter and applause through the arena.


A constitutional amendment to allow flexibility in the timing of General Conference (other than April or May every four years) was defeated. It had a majority (62 to 38 percent) but needed two-thirds (67 percent) to be submitted to the annual conferences.