Using a moment of personal privilege, Greater New Jersey delegate and prominent musician Mark Miller brought the issue of human sexuality to floor of the 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church on Thursday evening, April 26, when he rose to address the gathering at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla.
Miller asked others who felt the pain and those who were harmed to stand with gay, lesbian and transgendered members. Several delegates and supporters in the visitors’ gallery stood in support.
Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. of the Oklahoma Area, who was presiding, ruled Miller out of order, but agreed to address the concerns raised. In response to Miller's request, Bishop Hayes also agreed to offer a prayer.
More than a dozen U.S. annual conferences are petitioning General Conference on the church’s stance and statements on homosexuality.
More than half urge delegates either to remove discriminatory language from or add inclusive language to the Social Principles. Others propose removing bans on clergy performing same-gender marriage or civil unions or holding those ceremonies at United Methodist churches. Some would remove prohibitions against practicing homosexuals being certified as clergy candidates, ordained or appointed in the Church.
At least one annual conference seeks to uphold the current language regarding homosexuality.
Since 1972, the subject of homosexuality has been debated and discussed at every General Conference. Delegates have consistently voted to keep the Discipline’s stance against the practice of homosexuality and the candidacy, ordination and appointment of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.
The General Conference is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church, and meets once every four years to consider revisions to church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for church-wide programs for the next four years. The 2012 meeting is taking place until May 4 at the Tampa Convention Center.
The 2008 General Conference rejected language acknowledging the Church’s disagreement on homosexuality and retained language describing homosexual practice as incompatible with Christian teaching. Delegates in 2008 also adopted wording stating “all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God” and calling United Methodists to “seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us.”
After his sermon, Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata of the Portland Episcopal Area, who lead the evening worship, invited fellow bishops to offer prayers to delegates and others in need of prayers of healing.
*Maidstone Mulenga is the director of communications for the Upper New York Annual Conference. Photo by Heather Williams.