The day began with a 7:00 am strategy session for delegates from the Western Jurisdiction, in which we heard reports of all those who were elected to lead the various legislative committees. We reminded one another again of the importance of developing relationships with persons from other jurisdictions – especially from the southeast and south central areas of the US, and with delegates from the Central Conferences in Africa, Europe and the Philippines. For the first time in our church’s history 40% of all delegates come from outside the United States.
While this enriches our community and inspires our faith, it does make for some difficulties trying to agree upon the structures, governance, and even theological standards for the church. The challenge is perhaps most evident in our denomination’s struggle over the full inclusion for laity and clergy who are gay, lesbian, trans-gendered, bi-sexual or queer.
In many parts of Africa, for instance, civil laws criminalize homosexuality, and the culture of the church supports those laws. And there still exists a social conservatism in our own southern states, at least amongst church folk.
This us why we need to work so diligently to develop relationships which will provide opportunities to encourage change, to truly live into what I believe is God’s vision – a church which is open and inclusive, which orders its life with the understanding that a church for all people means for ALL people.
While the road to change still feels like a long one, there are hopeful signs. I see significantly more delegates under 40 years of age here than I saw in Dallas at the 2008 General Conference. Many of them have been elected from annual conferences in the Southeast and South Central jurisdictions. Some of these new delegates have even told us they are with us when it comes to issues of diversity and inclusivity. Many retired bishops, and a few active ones, have openly advocated for change. And there is no shortage of volunteers providing hospitality, engaging in conversation, and witnessing to their passion for justice.
So, the legislative process goes on…stay tuned for more! (Check out the General Conference website, gc2012.UMC.org for up-to-the-minute news)