Conference Bites 6 - Mixed Feelings, Mixed Economy

When we heard that the Marriage and Relatioships Task Group had not completed their task and so wouldn’t be bringing concrete proposals to this Conference, all of us were deeply disappointed and frustrated.In light of the delay, some of our members decided to bring Notices of Motion to the floor of Conference that would enable the Church to move to the Mixed Economy faster. A huge thanks to Mark Rowland and Delyth Liddell who worked for many hours behind the scenes to make sure it got onto the Order Paper. In their Notice of Motion, the Conference were presented with some options for change. The debate which followed was measured, compassionate and deeply moving. The atmosphere in the hall was one of deep listening.

The Conference received a report on sexuality and relationships in 1979. There is a growing feeling that forty years is long enough to wait for justice and equality. Those who resisted the Notice of Motion mainly did so on the grounds of lack of consultation. After nearly forty years, and 25 years since the Derby Conference, we find it perplexing that this is still being used as a reason for delay. Might we have to conclude that those who have not been part of a conversation have either chosen not to engage, or have been badly served by their leaders who were charged with helping consultation to happen? I still hear of Superintendents who refuse to allow the subject to be discussed at Circuit Meetings or in Churches and then claim a lack of consultation. I know of at least one District which refused to send folk to be trained to facilitate connexionally-mandated conversations.

I get that people are fearful, but most of that fear is in our leadership who don't want to have to hold difficult conversations. Too often I have heard ordinary Methodists maligned because they are old or live in rural areas. Too often people are talked about and assumptions made without any consultation. I have worked in two different rural areas, as well as inner cities, and meet LGBTQ+ people and their parents literally crying out for change. The idea that small congregations or older members or members from different cultural backgrounds are somehow automatically homophobic is an insult and needs to be challenged.

We did make progress this year and that should be noted. Conference agreed to properly resource work on trans and intersex issues, and to set a direction of travel for the work of the Marriage and Relationships Task Group. We will have proposals for same-sex marriage at the Conference in Birmingham 2019. New conversations were opened up with friends from the evangelical tradition and new commitments to work together made. From home, people watched the debate and realised that change needs their involvement so have signed up to Dignity and Worth.

Most of us left Conference very tired and disappointed. There is a growing sense of frustration and anger that we face another delay and that LGBTQ+ folk and allies are being told to play nice or we won't get what we want. Martin Luther King, Jr faced the same challenge from white clergy and penned his response to their criticisms sitting in Birmingham jail:

'Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth ....

Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."'

Those who call on us to wait for full inclusion have either never faced the pain of exclusion or have been convinced by those in charge that acting up will scupper the process. Martin Luther King and his movement show that this is never the case. He goes on, in his letter, to challenge those who wrote it:

'... I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.'

For me, anger and frustration is an energy that, harnessed in non-violent action, fuels change. Only when we get angered by injustice and exclusion will we have the energy we need to fight it.