By Rev. Sharon L. Moe
I’ve been attending General and Jurisdictional Conferences since 1996, as a delegate or reserve delegate, with the exception of General Conference 2004, during which I had taken a sabbatical leave, but which I attended as a visitor. I can look back at each conference and remember something notable, something unique that reminds me of its location and events all these years later.
Denver in 1996 was notable for me because of the increasing numbers of Central Conference delegates, which I celebrated. Cleveland in 2000 was the General Conference at which the Reconciling and Justice delegates and visitors joined in alternate worship every noon outside of the Cleveland Convention Center. After a long night of voting on sexual orientation petitions, and feeling deep pain from the hurtful plenary deliberations the previous night, the worship leaders (Revs. Robert Hoshibata, Jan Bolerjack (page) and myself) broke the chalice made for the event, to represent the brokenness of the Church.
The 2000 General Conference was also notable for the demonstrations outside the Convention Center and on the floor of plenary, in which there were several arrests. But the most unshakable in my memory was the desperate move made by an anguished visitor, apparently attempting to throw herself off the balcony railing above us. She was prevented, but the depth of her anguish served to demonstrate the harm that was being done to LGBTQIA+ persons.
Pittsburgh in 2004 continued the harm both by the character of our deliberations and by the unfruitful votes to change the Book of Discipline paragraphs related to homosexuality. Fort Worth in 2008 was more of the same, but the struggle, the demonstrations, and the
Of all the General Conferences over the last six quadrennia, the one constant has been the struggle around sexual orientation. It feels like I’ve been in this struggle for the soul of The United Methodist Church for a long time. Each successive General Conference since 1972 has added language to our Book of Discipline that increases the prohibition against homosexuality in the Church, and any acceptance of it by The United Methodist Church. From the “incompatibility” language to the Chargeable Offenses; from the prohibition of the ordination of homosexuals to the attempts to define in the Book of Discipline the terms “homosexual” and “practicing” homosexual,” to the prohibition on performing same-sex unions or weddings in our churches or by our clergy. Quadrennium after quadrennium the language of our Discipline has narrowed the acceptability of same-sex relationships in The United Methodist Church, even while same-sex marriages have been made legal in every state, and same-sex couples have been afforded legal rights and benefits.
So here we are, at it again. The PNW delegation has worked diligently, led by Marie Kuch-Stanovsky and Rev. Mary Huycke as first elected lay and clergy delegates, to prepare for this special called General Conference. But there is no assured outcome; only possible responses to the results of the voting. Many confess that if one or another plan is adopted they will leave the Church. Others are ready to leave now, believing they cannot live with even the most liberal and progressive plan’s adoption. I know only a few things:
- I have loved The (United) Methodist Church all my life, and even more so since my ordination.
- I have seen the UMC act as a healing agent on behalf of the Gospel in extraordinary and life-giving ways.
- It will break my heart if our Church is fractured or divides and the grace of God is limited still further by our actions.
- I will not voluntarily leave the UMC. It must be ripped from me or I must be rejected from it.
But I also know this:
- I care most about the people inside and outside the Church who are being harmed by its exclusive and unwelcoming social and theological stances.
- As much as my heart will break if our Church divides, it will be even more broken if we cannot find a way to welcome and make common cause with people who are LGBTQIA+. If we cannot find ways to openly embrace and offer healing and life to all people.
- Whatever comes of this GC, I go into it knowing that I will not support any plan that does not offer life and well-being to LGBTQIA+ people, in and out of the Church: the most grace to the greatest number of people.
- Whatever comes, we need to continue the struggle and live in solidarity for the sake of the Gospel and the people—all the people—who are loved by God. If we can’t do that, God weeps.
Blessings to all the delegates and to The United Methodist Church.
Rev. Sharon L. Moe is a reserve clergy delegate to General Conference 2019 from PNW and is currently serving as pastor of First United Methodist Church of Tacoma, Washington. She retired in 2017 from Seattle First UMC.