Response to Report of Amy DeLong Promotion

John Lomparis is the United Methodist Director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). His "report" of the April 2014 Connectional Table meeting is found on their official blog.

Additional side-by-side presentations can be found on the Kairos CoMotion website.

 

 Accusation
 

Affirmation

Amy DeLong Promoted to Chair of United Methodist Connectional Table by John Lomperis, United Methodist Director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy  
I confess: the headline is a slight exaggeration about the Connectional Table’s recently concluded April 28-29 meeting (this last Monday and Tuesday) in Chicago. But it did decide to respond to the demands of DeLong by formally committing itself to aligning with her single-minded agenda to sexually liberalize the United Methodist Church. So you can read the details below and decide for yourself how slight my exaggeration is.  

It is through such excuses as "slight exaggeration" that John and the IRD are able to shape an event to meet their purposes. They are then free to basically lie about such things as "demands of DeLong". The Connectional Table has its own Disciplinary authority and has always acted in accord with its mandate. The view of causation implied here is based on a conspiracy theory that fails to account for the work of Spirit working on many levels.

First, some background is in order.

The Connectional Table (CT) is composed of representatives from every major UMC leadership body - the Council of Bishops, the general agencies, the jurisdictions, the central conferences, and the General Board of Discipleship’s Division on Ministries with Young People. Furthermore, slots are not allotted to representatives of any ethnic ministry program of any official church body but rather to five unofficial caucuses which claim to represent African-American, Hispanic American, Native American, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander United Methodists.

 

The Connectional Table is to "coordinate the mission, ministries, and resources of The United Methodist Church" (par. 901 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church). The official membership of the Connectional Table, is listed in par. 906. We note the dismissive language of "which claim to be", and find it arrogant and bordering on racism.

We cannot determine what "any ethnic ministry program of an official church body" might refer to. If it is to the various ethnic plans, they are all related to the General Board of Global Ministries, which is on the Connectional Table.

I have noted earlier how drastically unrepresentative this elite table is of the denomination. While Sub-Saharan Africa is home to some 40 percent of United Methodists, only three of the 47 voting members (six percent), and none of the additional members with voice but not vote, are African. Meanwhile, the radicalized U.S. Western Jurisdiction accounts for less than three percent of church membership but has been allotted 17 percent of the CT’s voting membership.  

Representation is always in the eye of the beholder. Love Prevails notes the official position of The United Methodist Church to have no representation at the clergy level by LGBTQ United Methodists and to exclude any positive conversation about them in our official publications.

The General Conference struggles with this issue of representation every General Conference and continually changes the formula. We are where we are, but not in a place of perfection regarding representation. This asks us to continue working on our trust level of one another.

The CT’s executive committee consists of ten Americans plus one European, several of whom are very outspokenly progressive but none of whom are similarly outspokenly orthodox.

 

Ahh, the final word of division -- orthodoxy. The Christian tradition is far wider than many recognize. To limit the presence of Spirit here is the equivalent of greedily desiring the representation just mentioned to be slanted toward me and my understanding of our non-doctrinal traditions.

For its two slots, the Division on Ministries with Young People named a gay activist youth, Kevin Sauceda, and a young pastor, Eduardo Carrillo, who wore a pin at the last CT meeting touting his support for the far-left agenda of “Love Prevails” on sexual morality and abortion and its any-means-necessary, anti-Golden-Rule tactics.

 

The author sees their conspiracy theory widen. Now the entire Division on Ministries with Young People is in league with some perceived "far-left" agenda. Note the piling on of descriptions intended to inflame emotions -- "sexual", "abortion", "any means necessary", "anti-Golden-Rule". The youth are expected to have the author's mind as well as General Conference.

Love Prevails is a self-described “radical sexual liberationist” group consisting of Amy DeLong and a few friends, and has been nicknamed “Love Bullies.” (The nickname “Love Bullies” is copyright 2014 Rev. Evan Rohrs-Dodge.) DeLong’s full-time job appears to be stridently demanding that the United Methodist Church bless her active lesbianism.

  Here is one of the great ironies. The phrase "radical sexual liberationist" on a Love Prevails t-shirt came from language used by the author in characterizing Love Prevails. Notice how the author both uses and distances them self from the other attributed "Love Bullies". "Stridently demanding" is yet another pejorative description.
Like a classic case of an abusive relationship, there has been an accelerating pattern of DeLong and company taking outrageously bullying actions against the United Methodist Church (tactics which no one in IRD or the UMC renewal group would ever do, or would ever hear the end of if we did), bishops and other denominational leaders falling over themselves to appease her, DeLong becoming encouraged to push even further, and the cycle repeating.   Bullying is a popular category these days and is easy to throw around. It is a term to describe the inappropriate use of power. As long as The United Methodist Church legislates LGBTQ people out of its full life, it is the one with the power to bully. Turning the meaning of phrases around is a popular IRD technique. To compare the power of Love Prevails vis-a-vis the IRD is to compare the Civil Rights movement to the FBI. Their powers are differently grounded (prophetic ethics and priestly commandments).
After the 2012 General Conference failed to adopt a petition replacing the denomination’s biblical stance on sexual morality with a standard that largely amounted to “anything goes” (besides exploitation), outside protesters illegally took over the floor to prevent business from continuing. Some led by DeLong refused to leave until our bishops submitted to her demands. She demanded that the legislative agenda of the conference by re-ordered and a prayer be offered to open the next General Conference session, all according to her specific dictates. She celebrated getting her ultimatum met and putting our bishops "on notice." This emboldened her to then vow to use physical force again to prevent the General Conference even considering a petition to end the denomination’s affiliation with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). A key chapter of the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) cheered this commitment to defending abortion violence by silencing fellow church members.  

The petition at General Conference in question was not about "anything goes", it was a motion by Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter to recognize that The United Methodist Church is not of one mind about discriminating against LGBTQ on the basis of their orientation, not their gifts.

The demonstration was initiated and choreographed by the Love Your Neighbor (LYN) coalition that did not include Love Prevails. You can read a more accurate description of this event in the Love Prevails summary.

The demonstration was over when Rev. DeLong who was willing to "stay in peace" past the LYN benediction to "go in peace". A new dynamic began at that point that was led by no previous plan. One might say that the Spirit was speaking from beyond a legal/illegal model of connexionalism.

Since then, I have not seen one bishop have the courage to publicly say such tactics are not appropriate for decision-making within the body of Christ.  

The presiding bishop at General Conference made exactly this point in asking the LYN demonstration cease and calling a recess to business until it was cleared from the floor.

So DeLong became further encouraged.  

Along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. DeLong has long been encouraged by knowing the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice and that we are called to aid that bending.

The Love Bullies loudly interrupted last November’s CT meeting to protest the UMC’s affirmation of biblical standards for sexual self-control. In response, the CT decided to shelve much of the church’s business to submit to being harangued by DeLong. The CT also decided to form a human sexuality task force led by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of North Carolina.  

It is too bad that the author was not present in November. They might have agreed with Bishop James Dorff of Southwest Texas that when he entered he thought it was a Pentecost moment designed by the worship team.

The Connectional Table voted to change their agenda for a particular time and purpose. This is far from a "shelving" and the Connectional Table has enough strength to not be "harangued". This manner of using language is demeaning to both the author and the reader.

The CT further decided to dramatically re-order its agenda for the next several meetings to hold dialogue sessions on sexual morality. Lest there be any doubt, on Monday Bishop Bruce Ough of the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area, the CT chair and next Council of Bishops President, made a point of crediting Love Prevails with pressuring the CT into arranging these dialogues.  

If the Connectional Table feels it needs more information on any issue it is able to organize itself to gather such without prior authorization by the General Conference; remember it is to "coordinate the mission, ministries, and resources of The United Methodist Church". Coordination can surface areas previously overlooked.

While it is true that Bishop Bruce Ough did thank Love Prevails for raising an issue the Connectional Table had not been able to do on its own, the Connectional Table was fully capable of refusing to adjust its agenda. This means it was not "pressured", but saw the wisdom of thinking together about LGBTQ ministry in the midst of an admittedly busy schedule.

He admitted that in many ways, these dialogues were “nothing new,” but said that they were breaking new ground by live-streaming the dialogue and inviting online submissions of questions.   These dialogues are nothing new. There was a quadrennium of study with many regional listening posts coming from the 1988 General Conference. Livestreaming adds a new technology, but does not change the dynamic of having studies show a need to change our current legislation only to have that voted down through the deft political operations of Good News and friends.
During breaks, DeLong and other Love Prevails protesters held signs with messages like “DIVEST FROM THIS ABUSIVE #UMC.” I overheard one rudely confronting a church agency staffer for walking by while paying insufficient attention.  

Love Prevails does have three goals:
   Disclose(t) allies from their silence;
   Divest resources from discriminatory practice; and
   Disrupt status quo decision-making.
and does make signs to highlight them.

There is not enough information given to know whether this vignette of supposed rudeness was mis-overheard by an author with a very clear agenda. It is easy to slip these sorts of non-information into a report.

For some context, for years I have attended UMC agency meetings as an observer. If I have something to say, I do not hijack the meeting but rather speak privately and respectfully with people during breaks or between meetings. While I appreciate being heard, I understand that the denomination has not entrusted me with an official role in these structures.   Proclaiming self-innocence is a wonderfully useful tool. When one is privileged the rules of politeness work well for their purposes. Love Prevails understands that every member has a responsibility to engage decision-making processes. Spirit can work through even one person to shift us toward a more common good with deeper compassion and wider mercy.
In sharp contrast, Love Prevails was repeatedly allowed to interrupt to inject its agenda. (During one portion of the meeting involving voting, Bishop Ough finally restricted the discussion to actual CT members.) Once they interrupted, in an apparently coordinated way with Bishop Sally Dyck of Chicago, to highlight the pro-homosexuality stance of the congregation whose band was selected to provide morning worship music. At another point, DeLong demanded to know what the new CEO of the UMC’s Washington lobby office would do about homeless gay teenagers. Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe agreed to make sure the issue was raised at her next board meeting. DeLong also announced her interest in attending the CT’s next meeting, to be held in Liberia, and demanded to know what the CT would “do to ensure safety of LBGT people who go there.” Even as we received communion on Tuesday morning, Love Prevails activist Sue Laurie (a former staffer of the Reconciling Ministries Network) was allowed to stand next to the servers offering a blessing to recipients while prominently wearing an enormous gay pride ribbon.  

If by "interrupt" it is meant the raising of a hand and waiting, however long it takes to be recognized, then, yes, mere presence is an interruption. It is as if, when a boss-man doesn't get his way, every delay in returning to power is an interruption is what is their right.

It must be difficult to see everything through the defensive eyes of conspiracy about an "apparently coordinated way". Being so invested in what currently is seems to block any consideration of an even better way to be together.

There is an awkward parenthetical statement that makes it sound as if Love Prevails "interrupted" when an actual motion was under discussion by the Connectional Table. They did not ask any question during that time and awaited the process and decision of the Connectional Table.

When it comes to authorizing Communion Police we are entering a dangerous level of distrust. Forgotten in this report was the mostly non-verbal Words of Institution in the closing communion that did not follow the book and yet was quite meaningful.

CT members themselves were also eager to inject sexual liberalism into other areas of concern. In a discussion of our need to recruit young clergy, Tracy Merrick of Pennsylvania claimed “[w]e have highly vital LGTBQ Christians who could be serving in ministry, but we aren’t letting.” (He did not elaborate on how that is working out for the UCC.) In discussion of ecumenical relations, not only did CT members generally exhibit their usual myopic focus on the narrow world of oldline American Protestantism, but were rather explicit in urging the UMC into follow these dying denomination’s lead in sexual liberalism.  

It is not "sexual liberalism" to raise the important scriptural vision of Spirit gifts given for various purposes, including ordination.

Comparing differing traditions and their arc is notoriously difficult. This is particularly true when it comes to questions such as, "What does it mean to be faithful today". To rely on membership is to fall prey to a country-club mentality where we never broach difficult matters because someone will leave. Followers even left Jesus.

There are just too many loaded words in this paragraph to attend to in this small space. How do you read them?

Interestingly, at least three outspoken sexual liberalizers, Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, Rev. Rachel Birkhahn-Rommelfanger, and Bishop Arichea basically admitted their giving up on winning over the hearts and minds of less liberal United Methodists, noting that people have made up their minds and agreement was unlikely, though they still expressed vague hopes for getting along.   Again we hear about "sexual liberalizers". This preoccupation needs looking at through the eyes of our United Methodist proclamation that sexuality is a good gift of God. Sexuality can be healthy or unhealthy, no matter one's basic orientation. After more than 30 years without human sexuality curriculum because of funding bans that something might be seen as promoting "homosexuality" we no longer have the language to intelligently or competently talk about the sexual part of our lives and faith. This code language of liberalizers just adds to our inability to engage a good gift.
The bulk of Tuesday morning was devoted to a panel discussion of homosexuality. While the UMC Discipline requires that the church’s teaching be “fairly and equally represented” at such apportionment-funded dialogue events, the panel consisted of two strong opponents of the church’s teaching and one token supporter.  

It would be interesting to hear how the three United Methodist bishop and professors would self-describe.

In an unfair system an appeal for fair or representative dialogue is automatically weighted toward the status quo. That is the context in which any conversation takes place. Fairness requires an unbalanced number.

Afterwards, the CT scheduled an extra-long lunch break to encourage further sexuality dialogue.   The invitation was to continue the conversation begun over the scheduled lunch break, not taken to "further" any particular result.
So how appreciative were DeLong and company of the CT allowing them to forcibly take over the last meeting, repeatedly inject their agenda into this meeting (even the communion service), publicly praising them, and shoving aside half a day’s worth of work to discuss their concerns?   This is quite the rhetorical question to set up additional opportunities for the author to choose language to put down those not in agreement with him.
Apparently, the CT did not pander enough.   The Connectional Table does not "pander". It works diligently at the intersection of mission, ministry, and resources.
During the panel’s question-and-answer session, Sue Laurie took to the microphone to declare that “[t]here has been violence done to GLBT people today,” apparently by allowing one person who openly disagreed with Love Prevails to speak. DeLong declared that “unity” is one of “a whole list of churchy words” that she has “come to hate” because of how it has been cited in arguments against her agenda.  

With or without another church conversation about LGBTQ persons, violence to LGBTQ people is being done and the official position of The United Methodist Church gives support and cover for such violence.

"Unity" is often a code word for "loyalty oath" to remove moral agency from people and to put it on a legal system that works according to majorities, which can be very wrong.

After lunch, Bishop Ough invited further feedback about the morning’s dialogue. This led to over an hour of further discussion, overriding time set aside for other important church matters.   Feedback here is presented as another part of conspiracy. Apparently anything not in service to an already-decided point-of-view is seen as another "interruption".
DeLong and her follower Julie Todd took to the microphones to declare that the dialogue was “not legitimate” since LGBTQ activists were insufficiently involved. Ms. Todd, who is ordained in the New England Conference, emotionally lamented the CT’s lack of leadership and complained that she did not hear any CT member clearly denounce the sexual-morality teachings of the UMC Book of Discipline.  

Love Prevails is not a leader-follower organization. It deliberately fosters a leader-leader approach. When a Task Force has no recognized LGBTQ people on it while intending to address life situations facing LGBTQ people, it needs to change (see Acts 6 for a similar situation with Hellenist widows within the church.

This sounds as if the Connectional Table is prone to "emotional" appeals. These seasoned leaders know how to evaluate people and lobbying.

In response, Bishop Ough dutifully invited members to respond to her invitation.   This is unremembered. There was silence during and after Julie Todd's comments looking for action beyond silence.
Immediately, Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the California Pacific Conference made a motion for the CT to petition the 2016 General Conference to remove all language from the Book of Discipline disapproving of homosexual practice.   Out of that silence a still, small voice was raised to develop legislation that would exclude the current discriminatory language of "incompatibility". Of note was that immediately upon the motion there was a flurry of loud "second"s.
The two top staffers of the UMC’s main pro-homosexuality caucus, RMN, were then in the room, suggesting that they knew this was planned all along.   Pure speculation. RMN is headquartered in Chicago. The Connectional Table dialogue and conversation is a natural attraction for them. Even Bishop Carcaño said it was a surprise to her that she made the motion she did. Love Prevails was as surprised as anyone. This conspiracy theory has no basis in fact, only in fantasy.
Several CT members at different points indicated that they saw dialogue as largely valuable for the goal of leading non-liberal United Methodists to change their minds. Many speeches urged adopting the liberalization motion. Bishop Dyck delivered an especially impassioned one, making a point of speaking dismissively of the panel’s token conservative, who serves within her annual conference.  

It is interesting to note how the IRD here labels themselves as non-liberal. It is as if there is a need to get the word "liberal" into every article as many times as possible. It is the IRD, Good News, Confessing Movement equivalent of the biblical, "Raca".

If dialogue does not have a goal of changing every mind involved, it is monologue. Learning beyond what was too difficult for us before is Spirit work (John 16:7-15) and a valuable gift when it can occur.

Several CT members argued against rushing this motion through. Revs. Ole Birch of Denmark and Harald Rückert of Germany both expressed strong support for the substance of the motion but argued that this was not the right way to do things. No one directly defended the church’s position, though Bishop James Swanson of Mississippi noted that his position was no secret, and shared that his friendship with Pamela Lightsey was possible because they avoided win-lose actions like this motion. He told fellow CT members, “If you want to be in a hurry to win at all costs, then you go ahead.”  

There is wisdom in attending to process. There is wisdom in knowing when more than 40 years of process needs to end.

One question is why there was no defending of the current legislation that keeps people from sharing their gifts for ordination only because of their sexual orientation? This is an embarrassing position for anyone associated with a Living God, a Jesus who weeps for mercy for all, and a Spirit that is continually teaching additional wisdom through next insights, "But I say to you....."

And they went ahead. Two motions to delay the rush to establish a liberal position, and to leave time to hear from more voices, were shot down.   In a parliamentary process, it is only possible to say motions were "shot down" if you are highly invested in their passage and they failed. Given 40+ years of wrestling toward deeper understanding and a 2016 General Conference on the near horizon (given 2 meetings a year) time does come to an end.
The final motion was a substitute version offered by Bishop Ward, who openly presumed a sexually liberal consensus on the CT. Her version would have the CT “affirm parallel paths through dialogue and e-mendment of the Discipline to fully include LGBTQ persons in the life and ministry of the church.” In other words, the CT would commit itself to the LGBTQ affirmation agenda, and would both prepare relevant General Conference legislation and would make explicit that this was the point of its ongoing dialogues.   To have a sea change in perspective is nothing new. Saul/Paul had one on the road to Damascus. Peter had one on a roof top. General Conference had one over the removal of the Black Central Conference in the United States. When such a time comes, there comes a new awareness that this change is possible. Love Prevails was advised on the day of this decision by an active participant in this change, that a motion would be counter-productive as it would fail. And yet they came to see it could happen and supported it. That it happened at this meeting is surprising; that it happened at all, is not.
Immediately before the vote, Bishop Ough rather dishonestly claimed that this somehow would not decide the central question.   Hmm, calling a bishop "dishonest" in their leadership must indicate a great investment in keeping LGBTQ away from using all their God-given gifts.
The motion passed overwhelmingly. I recall observing only four nay votes (one European, one African, and two Southeasterns), though there were many abstentions.   Let's see, "overwhelming" passage with "many" abstentions (that were not asked for or indicated). Given the tenor of these opinions, three could be "many".
Immediately afterwards, Bishop Dyck rushed across the room to rather rudely yell at me without even a greeting. I had accurately live-tweeted that Carcaño and Ward had introduced motions which pandered to Love Prevails, and in my 140-character-limit shorthand had referenced the “Love Prevails motion.” Apparently, the top pastoral leader of United Methodists where I live, whose yelling at me was loud enough to be heard in the hallway, was upset that my reporting the facts may have made her and others look like puppets. I will continue to report the facts accurately and let readers draw their conclusions. It is worth recalling that Bishop Dyck was one of the bishops involved in the negotiations with Ms. DeLong at the last General Conference, and also that after some Reconciling Ministries Network activists demanded that Bishop Dyck issue a public dissent from the Council of Bishops rebuke of Bishop Melvin Talbert, she obediently did so a mere three days later.  

There is not a way for the integrity of the Connectional Table to be honored by calling its work as "pandering". This is language that begs for response and then can feel hurt when it comes. This is handy to be able to explain disorientation. Someone cheated. It is typical business as usual to accuse and when caught to whine and after a moment go back to accusing.

This cannot be explained away by the exigencies of a Twitter post. There was simply no need to introduce such extravagant language if reporting was the main thing. This is simply additional evidence that what we have here is punditry.

Do you think that this paragraph could have ended with, "I will continue to report the facts"? If so one might have more confidence, but immediately following it with what to our ear are additional false accusations can only lead to dismissing this opinion peace as a negative example of propaganda.

After her performance with me, Bishop Dyck was thanked by a watching Love Prevails activist, with whom she walked off triumphantly.   More whining. Poor me. Bishop Dyck was thanked and nobody defended me. If the bishop triumphed, I am devastated. Unfair.
Right before closing worship, DeLong interrupted one last time to announce a “prayer vigil for gay and lesbian people, who were largely left out of today’s conversation.”   Here is that word "interrupted" again to remind us how polite the author is, only asking questions afterward, and how impolite his opponents are.
Thus the CT ended up powerfully demonstrating the truth of some comments made on Monday morning by its Executive Secretary, Amy Valdez Barker, who challenged claims that the church was dysfunctional by arguing that “[t]here is no such thing as a dysfunctional organization,” since “every organization is perfectly aligned to achieve the results it currently gets.”  

Rev. Amy had presented one of the clearer and more succinct reviews of how systems work on the first day of meetings.

We have been aligned to add one more group of people to a long line of leaders to be shunned. We are shifting to prepare yet another time of repentance for past behavior. We are not there yet, but we have discerned a better way forward and are aligning to move on.

The earlier parts of the two-day meeting were peppered with talk about unity and strengthening the denomination’s internal connection, and even had some talk about the church reaching new people. In contrast, one of the protesters declared with her sign that “MY #1 AGENDA” was removing the language from the Book of Discipline affirming biblical standards for sexual self-control. For Love Prevails, absolutely nothing, even making disciples of Jesus Christ, is more important than setting aside everything else for this.  

The sign actually said: "My #1 Agenda item: Remove Language of Exclusion from BOD". Even here the facts have to be massaged to some official IRD message.

The author has conveniently forgotten that Jesus' disciples tried to exclude others and were reminded by Jesus that such was not his way. There is nothing more important or attractive than seeing that people are not grasping for entitlement (Luke 9:26-50) but using their gifts to heal.

By the end of the meeting, the same prioritization had become the official policy of the Connectional Table.   Anyone who thinks this matter is settled because of one decision by the Connectional Table, doesn't know United Methodists. This was an important marker, but not a conversion to be celebrated. Work continues as do the 3Ds of Love Prevails: #Disclose; #Divest; #Disrupt.
   

 

[Additional side-by-side responses are available here.]

 

Comments welcome