Demonstrators Call Church's 'Anti-Gay' Policies Sinful
- Online videos of the demonstration at General Conference are
Holy Witness Floor Demonstration Excerpt
The direct link to "General Conference Sights and Sounds," which has
links the audio/video of the demonstration is:
Demonstrators Call Church's 'Anti-Gay' Policies Sinful
May 1, 2008
By Linda Green*
FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS)In an act of witness in front of delegates
to the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, more than 200 people
declared that the denomination's policies and practices against
homosexuality are "sinful" and that "sexuality is a gift from God."
Primarily dressed in black, demonstrators walked onto the legislative
floor at the Fort Worth Convention Center, formed a two-lined cross
around the communion table located in the center aisle and draped it
in a black shroud to witness against the church's stance on
homosexual practice. They entered silently, but once all
demonstrators were in place, they sang, "Were You There When They
Crucified My Lord?"
The black shroud and the black worn by the demonstrators
to "recognize our brokenness" and "to acknowledge that the body is
broken," said Audrey Krumbach, who read a statement during the
The 15-minute demonstration was in reaction to the April 30 decision
to retain the denomination's decades-old proscription in the Social
Principles and other parts of the Discipline describing homosexual
practice as "incompatible with Christian teaching."
Delegates voted 501-417 to keep the stance and also passed a
resolution against homophobia and heterosexism, saying the church
opposes "all forms of violence or discrimination based on gender,
gender identity, sexual practice or sexual orientation."
One witness, speaking on behalf of the protesters, told the General
Conference that when The United Methodist Church refuses to accept
and honor everyone's call to professional ministry, it refuses to
abide by the rules of Methodism's founder John Wesley: do no harm, do
good and stay in love with God.
"We are part of God's living body in today's world, but our United
Methodist Church refuses to accept what God has already done; refuses
to keep covenant with its own words in the baptismal promise
refuses to open its hearts, minds and doors," said Krumbach, formerly
a member of the North Georgia Conference and a student at Garrett
Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Ill.
She said those outside the church have noticed "the church truly
scapegoating" people "on the altar of so-called unity" and "the
closeting (of) the LGBTQ people who faithfully serve the church."
Krumbach declared that the "anti-gay policies of The United Methodist
Church are wrong and sinful in the sight of God" and in the act of
witnessing "we reject the lie that homosexuality is a sin and that by
standing, we affirm that sexuality is a good gift of God."
The demonstration was a compromise between General Conference
officers, the Council of Bishops and leaders of groups advocating the
full inclusion of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in
the church. There had been plans for a large-scale demonstration
reminiscent of those at the 2000 General Conference in Cleveland,
where people participated in acts of civil disobedience and were
arrested. At the 2004 conference in Pittsburgh, a demonstration was
held on the assembly floor.
Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the Council of Bishops, said some
decisions made by General Conference delegates have been "more
wrenching than others to all the members of this body and the whole
church, including your bishops."
He read a statement to the conference to demonstrate that the
bishops, in a time of crisis, remain focused on their leadership
roles and their pastoral duties and to recall the messages of hope
offered throughout the General Conference.
"It was our conviction that being in holy conferencing means
listening deeply and sensitively to voices you might otherwise not
hear" and "identify ways in which the votes and the desire for a
witness was affecting the life of the council," he said.
The "sensitive listening" that the bishops have been involved in led
them to reaffirm their covenant to love, preach, serve, live by
Wesley's three rules and to lead all United Methodists, Palmer said.
During the witness, bishops who have different perspectives around
the issue of sexual identity moved within, around and outside the
demonstrators to live out their pastoral role among the body.
Twelve bishops, paralleling the 12 disciples, met with 12 of the
demonstrators to maintain the covenant of holy conferencing and keep
conversation going toward wholeness. The bishops who are meeting with
the demonstrators are not of one mind but are of one heart in seeking
the wholeness of the body of Christ and the denomination, Palmer said.
While the demonstration occurred, the presidents of the council
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, whose tenure ended during General
Conference; Palmer, the newly installed president; and Bishop Larry
Goodpaster, the president-designate stood behind the altar table
with arms lifted and hands clasped together as they prayed for the
conference and for the activity taking place.
"This was a symbolic act of our praying for the whole body. It was
not intended to be a protest. It was a sign of leading a community in
prayer," Palmer said. "It was to say that these are people, we are
people and we are all trying to be disciples of Christ."
Comparisons to Central Jurisdiction
Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert, a former ecumenical officer of the
Council of Bishops, reminded the conference of the church's 1939
action, when the denomination segregated black Methodists into the
"That action was wrong. That action was a sin against God," and in
making the decision on April 30, the General Conference "has taken an
action that is wrong," he said. The segregated jurisdiction was
dissolved in 1968.
Prior to asking the General Conference to reconsider its April 30
vote, Talbert said that those in the former Central Jurisdiction
lived within a structure and were able to repair broken relationships
with the church. That has not been the case with those with differing
sexual identities, he said.
"We have chosen to leave them out rather than invite them in to work
out our relationships. I can do no other than to say what is on my
heart. General Conference, General Conference, this is wrong. I
invite you to reconsider."
Palmer found Talbert's statements surprising but said he could
understand the content. Comparisons of sexual rights, civil rights
and the Central Jurisdiction are nothing new, he said.
Some delegates stood in solidarity with the witnesses, and others
remained seated because they did not support the witness.
'I make no apology'
North Georgia Bishop Lindsey Davis expressed thanks for the way the
leadership team of the Council of Bishops allowed the witnesses to
voice their concerns and their hurts, but he refuted Talbert's
assertion that The United Methodist Church is wrong in upholding its
stance against homosexuality.
"I think the church is right. I think we are very much in sync with
historic Christianity and very much in sync with 99.9 percent of
Christians in the world," he said. "I make no apology for our
position. It is biblical, and it is in keeping with 2,000 years of
The church's stance is compassionate, he said, but those who
participated in the act of witness may not have that perspective and
use civil rights as an argument for inclusion.
"I definitely disagree with Bishop Talbert on that matter. I do not
think it has anything to do with civil rights," Davis said. He added
that the church takes great strides to protect the civil rights of
"I will go to the mat to protect the civil rights of all of these
persons who protested today, but I don't think you can equate the
two," he said. "If you do, it is doing a disservice to the civil
rights movement of the 1960s and on."
'All children of God'
Eunice Musa Iliya, a delegate from Nigeria and a student at Claremont
(Calif.) School of Theology, stood in support of the witness, despite
being admonished by other members of the Nigerian delegation. "My
delegation remained seated because they believe that it is
incompatible with Christian teaching," she said.
Iliya found being the lone supporter "terrible" because "they are not
happy with what I did." She stood "to support my fellow brothers and
sisters who are a part of this body. . .. They are all children of
God, and we should support them and give them opportunity to be in
the same place where God has called us to be."
The show of support from General Conference delegates made
demonstrator Becca Cramer of Claremont, Calif., cry tears of joy. "To
see allies and all the delegates who were willing to stand with us
despite the reasons others were giving them to sit down, and despite
what may happen to them because of their solidarity, gives me so much
hope that the future of our church will live into Christ's vision and
will stop being the broken church that we are now."
Palmer advised Iliya and other delegates who are being chastised for
their display of solidarity to "hold to God's unchanging hand." He
also advised those who are marginalizing members of their delegations
for supporting the demonstration "to take great care to understand
the complexities of reasons as to why anyone stands."
'We were held captive'
The Rev. Chappell Temple of the Texas Conference said there were
numerous delegates who were "dismayed, saddened and outraged" at the
act of witness. People are questioning whether such action would have
occurred if the General Conference would have changed its stance on
homosexuality, he said.
Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey, the presiding bishop prior to the
action, halted the legislative assembly and recessed the conference.
Chappell said, "He should have said those wishing to leave can do so.
We were held captive. The altar was desecrated; the singing was
presumptuous, self-righteous and accusatory."
While noting the pain resulting from the church's decision and
stance, Temple also said it was wrong to lay guilt on those trying to
follow Christ and listen to Christ. "I understand that the (act of
witness) was a compromise, and what was allowed was simply blackmail,
it was extortion" and was disrespectful to people of different
"For a person to give a long, one-sided speech, and for a bishop to
speak and call for reconsideration, goes against everything that we
hold together and as holy covenant," he said.
During the witness, Krumbach said the voices of gay, lesbian,
bisexual, transgender and queer people have not been heard, but
Chappell disagrees. "They have made witness the entire week," he
said. "No one is happy about where we are, and their demonstration
implied that somehow we've heaped burning coals on them."
Delegates, he said, are trying to hold the church together "not for
artificial unity, but for a unity of heart that strikes at the very
root of Christian conference."
Some delegates and visitors questioned why the event was not streamed
live on the Web along with the General Conference business sessions.
McCleskey told delegates the witness event was not streamed because
it occurred during a recess, and normal procedure during the breaks
is for the streaming video to be replaced by an image of the
assembly's logo. However, he said, the witness event was recorded and
the video would be posted by United Methodist Communications on the
General Conference Web site, www.gc2008.umc.org.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in