"You must be
the change
you want
to see
in the world."

Mohatma Ghandi
General Conference 2008
Major Issues at GC 2008 -
from UM Communications Media Guide

Overview of General Conference -
from UM Communications Media Guide

Cal-Pac Delegation to General
and Jurisdictional Conferences

- read their message,
along with bios and photos

General Conference 2008
You will find excellent reporting on GC 2008 in the March-June 2008 issue of "Social Questions Bulletin," our national newsletter - download the pdf file of the newsletter.

On following pages, we have more coverage of diverse experiences and events at General Conference, from a variety of sources including: the newsletter issue above, United Methodist News Service (UMNS), and Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN):

 Legislative Results

Actions taken regarding MFSA's areas of priority for General Conference

The Majority Report
This is the new language regarding homosexuality in the Book of Discipline that the majority of Church and Society 2
legislative committee sent to the plenary session. It was not adopted; the delegates supported the minority report, to keep the wording previously in the BOD. That decision led to the next two items on this page:
The Witness on the Plenary Floor and
the demonstration outside: Walking Over the Wounded. 

The Witness on the Plenary Floor
to be added soon
UMNS article and many additional photos not found at UMNS
(courtesy of Reconciling Ministries Network)

Walking Over the Wounded
to be added soon
Demonstration outside the Convention Center, organized by MFSA with partners in the Common Witness coalition

Eyes Wide Open / The Human Cost of War Exhibit
Brought to General Conference by MFSA in partnership with AFSC

Palestine & Israel and Divestment
to be added soon
An in-depth article about this difficult issue, plus excellent background reporting on the region and the historic struggle that engages the world

  We have provided below an editorial from the March-June 2008 issue of Social Questions Bulletin:

An Editorial on GC 2008 by Kathryn Johnson,
Executive Director of MFSA

The quadrennial ritual has become familiar.  I return from General Conference exhausted only to realize that Annual Conferences are upon us and an MFSA newsletter needs to be produced pronto.

I sit down to write a summary of what happened at General Conference and discover, to my surprise, that the list of celebrations is far longer than the list of disappointments.

Among the things to celebrate:
• adoption of a more comprehensive mission statement reading, "to make disciples of Jesus christ for  the transformation of the  world";
• a highly qualified Judicial Council;
• a powerful new Social Creed Litany;
• positive changes to the Constitution will go to the Annual Conferences for ratification;
• stronger  language was adopted in the UM Social Principles related to war and the death penalty;
• reaffirmation of the UMC stance to oppose Israel's occupation of Palestine;
• a strong statement in support of immigrant rights; and
• continued support for the UMC's relationship with the Religious Coalition for Reproducitve Choice.

These are all positive and important outcomes of General Conference.

"So why,"  I find myself asking, "if the cause of justice did so well,  do I feel so bad?

At one level, the answer is simple.  The intense schedule of General Conference with twenty-hour days and four-hour nights, leaves everyone fatigued, nerves frayed.  Disappointments and losses are magnified when one's reserves are spent. At another level, however, I believe the answer has to do with the particular  losses and disappointments progressive United Methodists experienced.  As you will see from the article which begins on this page, three of the major disappointments we experienced have to do with inclusion, membership and justice in Israel/Palestine.

These are not peripheral issues.  They are issues that rest at the very heart of what it means to be the church, the embodiment of the love, justice and mercy of God as known to us in Jesus. The decision of GC delegates to accept the minority report on paragraph 161 G of the Social Principles, without even discussing the majority report which honestly articulated the ways in which the church is deeply divided on the issue of sexual orientation, leaves the prophetic words of Bishop Talbert echoing across the church.  “General Conference, General Conference, this is wrong.” (see Witness on the Plenary Floor). The agony etched on the faces of so many, the sobs and the large numbers of people participating in the different forms of witness in response to the vote underline the tragedy of an opportunity lost, an opportunity to at least tell the truth, if nothing else.

The decision to retain the language in our Book of Discipline, which the UM Judicial Council interpreted to mean that a pastor has authority to deny a person membership, belies the outcry expressed across the church when this decision was first announced two years ago. Twenty-one conferences submitted legislation calling for this decision to be overturned legislatively – and yet it still stands.

The decision by the delegates to readopt resolutions that clearly state that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is wrong is heartening.  Our disappointment comes from the fact that we did not put our words into actions, whether that be through divestment in companies that benefit from the occupation or through some other means.  That these topics were never even mentioned, let alone discussed in plenary, is disheartening to say the least.

These are not minor issues.  These are issues that define who we are as the Body of Christ. Are we a church that embodies God’s grace? Are we a church that welcomes all?  Are we a church that invests our substantial resources in ways that support justice and peace? There is much that is good about General Conference.  But the limits have never been so obvious as they were in Fort Worth.  Parliamentary procedure may bring some order to what could be chaos, but it has never been more clear that it isn’t designed to make room for the movement of the Spirit.

I am in total agreement with others who have written in this newsletter that we need not let the actions of General Conference proscribe our actions of love and justice at the local level. People enter our doors each Sunday to worship, some to eat a meal on Monday or to attend a Bible Study on Wednesday.   If we are lucky, they come to our church asking to be married (even if they never join) or to have their love affirmed in a Holy Union or for a pastor to help them bury a loved one. They come because they hope that within our doors, within our community of people they will find love and acceptance, grace and forgiveness.  We do not need the actions of General Conference or any conference to follow Jesus in extending love and grace to those who enter our doors, to those who surround our churches, to those in the larger community and indeed the world.  We can decide today, personally in our local churches, in our annual conferences, how to invest our resources in peace.

At the same time we must not move forward with blinders on, pretending that the actions of General Conference do not impact the spiritual health of our lives as United Methodists and the vitality of our ministry. What does it do to our sense of integrity to be part of a church that has, and at this point can continue, to deny membership to a person because of their sexual orientation?  As the bumper sticker accurately points out, "If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention!"  Decision 1032 must be overturned.  We must continue to express our dissent and pray that the Judicial Counil revisits and reverses this erroneous deciion sooner rather than later.

What does it mean in terms of our witness in the world that we left Fort Worth with language in our Social Principles that brings hurt rather than healing to LGBT persons?  In essence, we have once again said to LGBT persons that they are somehow less-than-whole. This is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The basic untruth that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching has been codified into church "law" in various places in the UM Book of Discipline.  These laws are unjust and should be challenged at every turn...now...not four years from now when we gather again for General Conference.

What does it say to the world that delegates at General Conference never even discussed the fact that millions of our pension dollars are invested in companies that support the Israeli occupation of Palestine.  Is divestment in these companies (not in Israel as inaccurately reported over and over again) the best nonviolent means of action?  I don't know.
But I do know that it sends a message to the world when the issue doesn't even make it onto the plenary floor for discussion.

Reflecting on the experience of General Conference, the decisions made there, I am convicted once again of the importance of the witness of MFSA and other progressive groups and individuals. In many ways we are able to influence the direction of the church through our participation, writing, speaking, analysis and support.  But maybe even more important is what our witness provides in terms of what it keeps from happening.

I love the story of the A.J. Muste, minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, trade union activist, peacemaker and executive secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliaiotn for many years. He was once asked, "Do you really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night in front of the White House with a candle?" Reportedly he replied softely: "Oh I don't do this to change the country,  I do this so the country won't change me."

Much of what we do through MFSA will hopefully change the church for the better.  And certainly all are changed when they work together for God's kindom. But in those times and places where we believe the church is in error, perhaps the most important witness we can provide is one that provides a place for people to keep the church from changing us.  


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