Part 3: Protest Making Legislative Change
By John Lomperis
The window of opportunity for delegates to do their work was further narrowed by the antics of activists of the Common Witness Coalition (MFSA, RMN, etc.) and allied groups.
Dozens of shrill protesters against biblical standards for sexual self-control, most of whom were not delegates and not all of whom were even necessarily Methodist, invaded the delegates-only seating area on Wednesday, May 2, for an illegal demonstration, loudly drowning out the presiding bishop while he attempted to close the session in prayer.
The next day, following the conference’s decisive re-affirmation of the UMC’s biblical statement on sexual morality (by a significantly larger majority than the previous General Conference), the same activists again stormed the delegates-only section to take it over for yet another fundamentally self-righteous protest. Their refusal to leave, despite repeated, gracious pleas from the presiding bishop, forced the conference to shut down. This second protest cost the conference two hours of valuable plenary time (when it was at the point of really needing to make every minute count) and an estimated $180,000. It is worth noting that RMN has received heavy funding from secular pro-homosexuality groups seeking to take over the UMC (so they could surely afford to reimburse the UMC if they had the integrity to offer), and that the secular gay-rights group, GLAAD, “was on the ground at the United Methodist General Conference, supporting efforts to change the denominational policy.”
Our bishops reportedly considered taking decisive actions, including seeking police help, to end the forceful occupation of the conference floor and/or prevent further such invasions, but ultimately did not do so. Instead, several liberal bishops went to negotiate with the protesters, now led by Amy DeLong, as they held the General Conference hostage. (DeLong is the openly partnered lesbian minister who a church trial in the liberal Wisconsin Annual Conference notoriously refused to discipline for “being a self-avowed, practicing homosexual” – which is absolutely forbidden for UMC clergy – and who currently leads her own self-serving protest group.)
The occupiers refused to allow business to continue until our bishops submitted to their ultimatums:
- Bishop Wenner, President of the Council of Bishops, would open the next session expressing agreement with liberals’ argument that affirmation of biblical morality harms GLBT people (and WITHOUT acknowledging others’ pain in such controversies).
- This would be followed by a prayer offered by a United Methodist minister meeting DeLong’s criteria of (1) being openly gay, (2) currently serving in a particular kind of appointment, and (3) speaking in a prominent location specified by DeLong.
- Delegates would be forbidden from even considering any other “sexuality-related” petition that afternoon.
- A special meeting of the Agenda Committee would be held that afternoon, called by DeLong and including representatives of the Renewal and Reform Coalition, to “negotiate” the manipulation of the rest of the General Conference agenda.
Conference leaders submitted to all of the above. Claiming to speak/pray “on behalf of” all bishops, Bishop Wenner dutifully opened the next session with the assertion that gay and lesbian people had “been hurt by actions of the General Conference and by the polity of The United Methodist Church,” avoided acknowledging anyone else’s pain, and in line with the protestors’ theology, directly contradicted clear New Testament teaching about the meaning of phrase “child of God.” With such ready compliance, it is no wonder that DeLong felt emboldened to subsequently boast that “[t]he bishops [were] on notice….”
This afternoon meeting—which included legislative committee chairs, the Agenda Committee, and representatives of the General Conference Commission, the bishops’ Unity Task Force, liberal caucuses, the Renewal and Reform Coalition, and JustPeace—agreed to transfer all “sexuality-related” petitions to the end of the agenda list, ensuring that there would be no time for them. The protesters had already eaten up the time scheduled for such petitions, and much other pressing business remained for the final day.
This decision basically tabled three categories of petitions. Several would have revoked current denominational policies aligning requirements for clergy conduct and the use of apportioned denominational funds with biblical standards on sexual morality. Since sexual liberalism manifestly lacked majority support, voting on these petitions would have accomplished little. Other proposals would have strengthened enforcement mechanisms for such standards. Theologically orthodox United Methodists were eager for such badly needed reforms. Also tabled were four other liberal sexuality-related petitions, which would have mandated pension benefits for homosexual partners of church employees, broadly endorsed various GLBT-friendly public policies, and imposed a radical system of unaccountable membership-on-demand.
DeLong and company also demanded that petitions to end our denomination’s scandalous affiliation with the strident Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (a move the relevant committee had supported in a decisive, historic vote) be labeled “sexuality-related” and moved to the back of the agenda with the other tabled petitions. Despite the strong objections of renewal leaders and even some relatively fair-minded liberal denominational officials, the Agenda Committee agreed to classify RCRC as “a sexuality issue.” The committee had also decided to overrule the anti-RCRC petitions’ original “global” classification in order to treat them as “U.S.-only” issues, even though: they dealt with a global denominational agency, UMC leaders from Africa, Europe, and the Philippines were outspokenly eager for the General Conference to pass them, and they involved a resolution that explicitly mentions “international” issues, the United Nations, and South Africa. Under the new rules, classifying RCRC as a “U.S.-only” issue provided a useful pretext for demoting these petitions’ priority. Moreover, the relevant legislative committee chair, Rev. Molly Vetter, used her position to have the anti-RCRC petitions deemed low priorities. Throughout the final day, DeLong and her allies sought to intimidate delegates and conference leaders by being very visibly primed and ready to fulfill their threat to forcibly shut the General Conference down in a THIRD illegal protest so that delegates would be unable to even discuss RCRC. But the anti-RCRC petitions were far enough down on the agenda list (albeit not at the very end as DeLong had demanded) that the Agenda Committee expected that there would not be time to get to them, EVEN IF it had not been for the eleventh-hour chaos caused by the Judicial Council’s striking down the compromise restructuring plan. And indeed, time ran out for plenary consideration of RCRC, which gave the bullying protesters what they wanted.
Furthermore, an important petition, supported overwhelmingly in committee, would have helpfully amended the UMC Discipline’s statement on “Our Theological Task” (¶104) with thoughtful, nuanced, and very Wesleyan affirmation of “Scripture as the primary source and criterion for doctrine” while dispelling popular misunderstandings about Albert Outler’s “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” But on the final morning, the Agenda Committee decided to kill this liberal-opposed petition by grouping it with the tabled “sexuality-related” petitions (despite that petition making no mention of sexuality).
In subsequent newsletters and online postings, the liberal caucuses shamelessly celebrated the any-means-necessary way in which they had “won” in defeating key petitions, not by substantive dialogue or honest persuasion, but rather by resorting to threats and raw physical force to prevent delegates from voting on them. One RMN affiliate praised the “courageous act of direct action taken by LGBT activists on the conference floor on the penultimate day” who “occupied the floor and forced the conference to adjourn,” “let business resume only after conference leaders promised that they would not allow” sexuality-related petitions, including the RCRC ones, “to be debated and voted on,” and “enforced that agreement by letting conference leaders know that if any of these proposals did come up, they would immediately reoccupy the floor and prevent further business.” DeLong similarly boasted of how her protest efforts “held at bay” petitions she did not like. One of the protest leaders, an MFSA member and clergy delegate from a liberal annual conference blogged: “Hey! Protest making legislative change! Awesome.”
Meanwhile, dozens of faithful, grassroots United Methodists had taken extensive time off from their jobs and homes, day after day, to respectfully urge delegates to have compassion for unborn children, and their mothers, threatened by the very real physical harm of abortion, an issue on which our UMC’s witness is improving but still very painfully flawed. In contrast to DeLong and the Common Witness Coalition, the pro-lifers studiously respected the rules that were supposed to apply to everybody. Unlike the liberal protesters, these United Methodists treated everyone respectfully and had no interest in such tactics as threats, intimidation, ultimatums, invading others’ space, disrupting business time, or drowning out bishops’ prayers. They simply wore “Do No Harm” T-shirts, offered literature in the designated areas, quietly sat in the visitors’ seats, and prayed.
We saw our bishops and General Conference leaders seemingly falling over backwards to promote sympathy and accommodation for the feelings of the destructive activists promoting the largely selfish cause of sex outside of marriage. Yet these same leaders then largely avoided similarly extending compassion towards the manipulatively, harshly disregarded pro-life United Methodists who form the praying, worship-attending, sacrificial giving, serving, and witnessing backbone of their congregations (let alone compassion towards their inherently selfless cause of defending the most vulnerable).