This is my post mortem for General Conference 2012. I had to take a week to let everything settle in my soul. Kind of like a mourning period, I guess. There are many thoughts swirling in my head and heart. I may write several blog entries. But for now, here’s my thinking:
Some have asked me about my decision to leave the stage where the bishops were sitting on Friday, May 4, to walk among those who were gathered on the floor of General Conference. In the midst of heated debate about human sexuality, specifically about language in the Discipline about homosexuality, a question was raised from the floor asking for a delineation of the “bar.” Those within the curtained area were to be voting delegates only. Those outside the curtains were non-voting. People without vote who were passionately concerned about the discussion and vote were gathering outside the curtained area. I could not remain seated in the section on the stage reserved for bishops. I felt God tugging at me to leave the stage and join the many non-voting persons who were demonstrating silently their distress at the continual efforts to disenfranchise the GLBT community. I decided that since I was not a voting member of General Conference, and because I needed to witness to what I believe, I belonged with those persons.
During the debate, I felt a need to simply walk among those who were outside the bar. I wanted to be a silent witness to the fact that God loves all persons. That is what my United Methodist heritage taught me to believe. I wanted to demonstrate that there are bishops of our United Methodist Church who support the efforts of the Church to include ALL persons, EVERYONE, and that those who consistently legislate the exclusion of the LGBT community from church participation, church membership, church leadership, church blessings of committed relationships and marriage, are causing harm and that we must change our “official” statements to reflect our insistence on grace over judgment; love over fear; Jesus over Leviticus.
So I walked back and forth around the floor of General Conference. I walked outside the bar. I nodded to some who looked at me. I wanted to silently convey: You are not alone; God loves you, even if the Church does not, God loves you; you are not alone! Some people smiled, others just looked at me. Some nodded acknowledgment of my presence; while I felt the stares of many who were in the stands. I wonder what went through their minds!
I am saddened by the way we who call ourselves United Methodist Christian are not Christian in the way we relate to each other when we have disagreements. I was disheartened by the way our conversations devolved into statements that pitted one interpretation of Scripture against another. It was disturbing to hear words describing another human in degrading terms. I appreciated the sensitivity of the interpreter who offered words of apology before publicly interpreting the crude, unkind words of an African delegate. Somehow, we need to break through the huge chasm of ignorance and mistrust that separates the cultures and the people of the global community. General Conference is not the venue for meaningful conversations that need to take place between people of the US church and the African church in order to get to that place where we can truly be engaged in holy conferencing.
From the first attempts to have conversations about sexual orientation in “small” groups to the legislative committee conversations, and certainly in our plenary time, the effort to achieve unity in a body as diverse and as politically motivated was doomed to failure.
Once again, the conservatives who control the votes of the General Conference were enabled in their efforts to block any kind of conversation and fair voting that might possibly create a “crack” in the wall of homophobia that grips our denomination. Political maneuvering that was clearly unethical was observed by others and (hopefully) reported. Those who were “sent to hold the line” in their resolve to declare homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” demonstrated their inability to incorporate the value of “reason” in their thinking and voting. How else can you possibly explain the General Conference’s stubborn insistence to reject all wording that declares that we are unable to reach consensus on the issue of homosexuality! In the US church, this stubborn insistence is based on fear of change, fear of reality, fear of reason.
It is obvious: we are clearly NOT in consensus. I believe The United Methodist Church will continue to experience decline in numbers of young persons because we cannot admit our differences and thus we are unable to focus on a vision for ourselves that is in mission to the persons who need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are stuck on debate and indecision about homosexuality while people around us are hungry, homeless, unemployed, in economic distress, and battered and bruised. What a sorry excuse for a church we are!
So I take comfort in returning to Oregon-Idaho and the Western Jurisdiction. Although I know well that even in our corner of the denomination we are not of one mind, I rejoice that in our Annual Conference at least, we are for the most part tolerant of others, kind and respectful in our disagreements, and willing to focus on mission and ministry instead of being embroiled aimlessly entangled in questions of human sexuality and trying to decide for God who is or is not surrounded by God’s grace. God has already decided that, and unless I am missing something, God is calling us to love all persons, EVERYONE! I sense that our congregations and pastors are more willing to preach about God’s call to ministry to the hungry and homeless and to care for the spiritual needs of all persons.
The debate in the general church will rage on. My thoughts are shared with you because I want to let you know where my heart and soul lie. I am open to your thoughts and reactions to these words, or to General Conference or to our United Methodist Church’s struggle to be a place for all God’s children, EVERYONE! Amen!
Robert Hoshibata is Bishop of the Phoenix Area of The United Methodist Church and presides over the Desert Southwest Annual Conference. Hoshibata presided over the Oregon-Idaho Conference from 2004-2012 and his blog postings are here for reference.
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