On Thursday, May 6, a massive group led by Soulforce – a pro-gay group – disrupted the proceedings of the United Methodist Church’s quadrennial General Conference by marching around the convention center for some 35 minutes.
Even before the Assembly was held, Soulforce expressed that they will rally for what they want – full ordination rights for sexually active gays and lesbians.
The protestors, wearing colorful stoles as a symbol of their support for gays and lesbians, held signs saying, “selective biblical liberalism is bigotry,” and “my son is of sacred worth.”
Oddly, the current UMC Book of Discipline explicitly states that homosexuals are indeed people of sacred worth. However, time and time again, the denomination voted overwhelmingly that open and practicing homosexuals are not fit to lead a church.
The delegates to the Pittsburgh conference also voted to uphold that standard, and added that a violation of that standard is a chargeable offense.
In a press conference held immediately after the demonstration, Jim Perry, chairperson of the Committee on General Conference, said he thought it was “a peaceful, worshipful moment.”
“It has been our goal over the past four years in planning this conference that we engage in peaceful, respectful conversation,” he said. “It is my hope that this helped people feel closer, whether they are in agreement over the issue or not.”
However, on May 7, Norman H. Coleman, clergy delegate of West Ohio, expressed what was in the hearts of many biblical Methodists: The “peaceful” rally was not performed with the consent of the house, and in fact alienated those who did not share the same pro-gay view.
“I am ashamed, sad, and embarrassed by what happened on the floor of the General Conference yesterday morning. Liturgy and sacraments were exploited to make a political point. Spiritual manipulation was used to shame and intimidate all of us. The permission given by our episcopal leaders may have been well intentioned, but was without the consent of the house and left many of us feeling betrayed.”
Subsequently, on the same day of the rally, two of the leading renewal leaders called for an amicable separation of the denomination. The leaders expressed sorrow over the undeniable fact that despite decades of “peaceful dialogues,” the two poles were not able to come to an agreement. Since the issue on maintaining the purity of the church a critical part of the congregational body, the renewal pastors recommended a friendly separation, that would lessen the pain of both parties.
While the proposal has not been officially considered, and has been scorned by liberals as a call for “schism,” others understood that it may be a necessary step to protect both parties in the denomination.
“We are so focused on political strategies and procedural motions and getting our own way. But we must admit what is before our eyes: We are broken. No political strategy can fix that. No vote can bring us the healing of the Holy Spirit. We are at a decision point. For the Lord requires us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8),” said Coleman.
“I don’t know what the church is going to do. But choose we must. So I must say, in response to all efforts to make a show of unity, that our unity can only come from the unity given us in Christ: “One Lord, One faith, One baptism, one God and Father of us all.” Living in that unity is a choice each of us must make. As for me and my house, I want you to know where we stand: As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.”