Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The United Methodist Church's General Conference and the Question of Welcoming and Including LGBTQ People: A Reflection and Prediction (UMC Will Not Move to Welcome LGBTQ People)

* UMC offer of "all" does not include LGBTQ people.

The videotaped theological conversation between Ivone Gebara and me that I've just posted here mentions several times the prophetic witness of Rev. Gilbert Caldwell, a longtime civil rights activist who marched with Dr. King — it mentions Gil Caldwell's prophetic witness within the United Methodist Church, as he stands with fellow Methodists calling on their church to welcome and include LGBTQ human beings. As I've noted several times in discussing Gil Caldwell's civil rights activism, he and other United Methodists who protest the exclusive and condemnatory policy of the UMC towards LGBT people have been arrested at General Conference for doing so.

Emily McFarlan Miller wrote a piece several days ago at Religion News Service pointing out six things for which we will want to watch as the UMC General Conference takes place. At the top of her list is the question of how the UMC will choose to handle the question of LGBT inclusion. Here's a reflection I shared with my Facebook friends after I read Miller's article:

The United Methodist Church is not going to move to become welcoming to LGBTQ people at this General Conference. If it does so, I'll be shocked. I spent some 10 years of my academic career as an administrator in UMC institutions, and found homophobia deeply entrenched in them — more malicious and harder to combat, in fact, than in the Catholic institutions in which I had previously worked, because it is always accompanied with a smile and a handshake and self-serving slogans about open hearts, open minds, open doors.

I sat in board meeting after board meeting dominated by UMC ministers and clergy, who would not dream of opening their mouths to challenge homophobia — though some of them were themselves closeted gay men. When they witnessed the administrators of their UMC colleges treating LGBTQ employees barbarically and unjustly, they sat in silence (and, in some of these cases, the UMC bishop was directly involved in the abuse).

The woman running both UMC institutions at which I worked as an administrator was a sociopath who attacked one employee after the other, and did not hesitate for a moment to use homophobic slurs and ugly anti-gay lies to justify her behavior, though she has a gay son and pretends to be welcoming to and supportive of LGBTQ people. She has strong support in the higher echelons of the UMC, and was placed in power by powerful white male UMC leaders, including the former head of a UMC seminary in Ohio.

The media like to blame the UMC's opposition to LGBTQ people and LGBTQ rights on African Methodists, but the reality is that homophobia is very deeply entrenched among Southern Methodists who form a large part of the UMC. Take a map of U.S. states and mark on it the Methodist conferences that split the church over slavery and which then bitterly resisted integration in the 1950s and 1960s, and place over that map a map showing the state conferences now resisting welcome of LGBTQ people, and you'll see that it's virtually the same map — the same Southern Methodists who resisted the rights of people of color in the name of fidelity to the bible, now resisting the rights of LGBTQ people in the name of fidelity to the bible.

In fact, through the Good News movement and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, those very same white Southern Methodists actually fan the flames of homophobia among African Methodists. At the last General Conference, IRD provided free cell phones to African delegates and texted those delegates throughout the conference with instructions on how they should vote on this and that resolution.

Abuse of LGBTQ people in UMC institutions is deeply, deeply entrenched, and abuse of LGBTQ employees of some of these institutions is taken for granted and built right into the way the institution operates. UMC leaders are, I've found, totally unwilling to face their responsibility for such abuse — and I will be very surprised if the UMC makes any overtures to welcome LGBTQ people at this General Conference.

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