Women and Girls Can and Do Lead: A Response to the Failure of Amendment One

Last week we became aware of the vote on the five amendments to the Constitution of the United Methodist Church proposed by the 2016 General Conference. Once an amendment is approved by the General Conference it goes to each Annual Conference throughout the world for ratification. The vote in each annual conference is tallied with all the other annual conference votes and the aggregate vote determines if an amendment is ratified. It is the total votes of the individual members of each annual conference and not the overall vote of an annual conference that matters. An amendment needs a 2/3 majority to be ratified.  Three of the five amendments approved by GC2016 failed to be ratified by the annual conferences.  Two of the three which failed had to do directly with recognizing the value of others and committing to securing them full rights and liberties both within the UMC and in society. I share my thoughts on that below.
But first I want us to remember that when we voted on these amendments in our 2017 annual conference session, some folks decided to do a protest vote on Amendment One because they felt it did not go far enough to spell out who is included. In particular, people wanted language for supporting and including LBGTQI persons. I understand their desire to witness to their understanding of the full inclusion of all peoples. But in the aggregate of all the annual conference votes this amendment was decided by only about 200 votes! I firmly believe that those who voted against Amendment One in protest, thinking that it did not go far enough, believed that the amendment would pass; why would they believe otherwise? We also found out this week that an error was made in the presentation of Amendment One and that a re-vote will be necessary on that amendment. So, I plead with everyone who has a vote, to vote in support of Amendment One when you have the opportunity.
Now to my statement in support of women and girls:

One Sentence

The Greater Northwest Cabinet tried to come to grips with the results of the votes by Annual Conferences on the Constitutional Amendments passed by the 2016 General Conference. Three were defeated and two of those are plainly about justice for the least and powerless. To summarize their intent: The first amendment proposed a new paragraph that would have focused on gender justice. The second amendment proposed changes to the wording in “The Book of Discipline.” If it were ratified, the proposed amendment would have added “gender,” “ability,” “age” and “marital status” to the protected membership groups.
We discussed these shocking results and tried to come up with ways to help our episcopal area understand what has happened and reassure our area of our unwavering commitment to fully including women, supporting women, nurturing women, and both valuing and honoring their leadership in all areas of involvement in the local church, district, conference, and area. The Bishop asked each of us to come up with one sentence to share. One sentence, I thought, "How can I say what needs to be said in one sentence?"
I am a white, heterosexual, solidly middle-class male who will turn 60 this fall. I have all the privilege our society can grant an individual. I cannot begin to comprehend how women must feel after hearing these results. I am dismayed and disheartened by the backlash those who look like me are exhibiting toward women, people of color, immigrants and foreigners, faithful members of other religions, and all those who are not white males. What one sentence can I write that would make a difference? I want, no I need, to confess my own complicity in devaluing others. I need to apologize for not paying attention and being unaware of how privileged I am and how that makes me responsible for speaking the truth, advocating for others, and breaking down the barriers that give me that privilege. I need to lament how people like me can be so afraid of losing power that they are willing to subjugate, demean, and dismiss those who are not male, seeing them as less than equal. And most of all I must weep for the fact that people like me cannot hear the words of Jesus, are not willing to recognize that God’s fundamental character is defined by acceptance and unconditional love, and that we who call ourselves followers of Jesus are asked to do the same.
What one sentence can communicate the horror I feel at the realization that all the steps I had thought we as a church and as a society had made toward valuing others and including others were just a veil that is so easily ripped away? What words do I have to say that could bring comfort? What words could I craft that would empower? What words can I utter that will salve the wounds torn open by what our church has done and what our society is doing? Should my words be lament? Should they be confession? Should they be reassurance? Should I say anything at all?
I am asked to speak one sentence. So here it is, "I am sorry, and I want you to know that whatever is within my power to do I will do so that no one – not one single person – will be denied the rights and protections of our church and society and that I will work for justice for women and girls and all disenfranchised persons so that one day everyone can say, 'We are free at last! Thank God almighty! We are free at last!'"
May we who follow the Lord of life and love show our care, love, and support for women and girls and all who feel disenfranchised and alienated, now and forever!


You can see a video with the full Greater Northwest Episcopal Area Cabinet's statements, their one sentence each, here: www.facebook.com/GreaterNW

Tim Overton-Harris
The Rev. Tim Overton-Harris is the Cascadia District Superintendent, supporting 47 congregations and two Hispanic ministries.