We have been waiting for this special called General Conference for what seems like decades. At the first event I attended, Conversations at the Crossroads (conversations with a panel of LGBTQ delegates), the moderator began with part of a poem, saying, “You are here.”
Everything became real, very quickly.
We walk into the conference center and there are rainbows all around. People singing songs of inclusion and justice. Prayer stations all around the walkways. Worship songs and prayers spoken from the stage; the mood is lively and upbeat. I am excited to reunite with friends from New York, Texas, Chicago, Tennessee; to see colleagues from my home conference.
We walk out of the the conference center to a megaphone of protesters yelling hateful condemning words. And security guards and passersby shaking their heads, muttering, “no one deserves that kind of hatred and condemnation.” The sounds of the protesters are drowned out by prolonged car horns seeking to silence them.
There are security guards that check our bags and metal detectors like you’re going through TSA. There is only one escalator up and one down for non-delegates. Someone said it would be easier to get on an NBA game court than on the floor of this General Conference if you aren’t a delegate. Even beyond the entrance there are security guards and conference center staff within a stones throw of everything.
There are demonstrations happening around the clock; people singing, carrying rainbows, demanding that people see them and name them…because no one is acknowledging why we are here.
People asked me what I thought would happen at this General Conference session. The message that the media is conveying is that the UMC is deciding whether to ordain or marry LGBTQ persons; that this General Conference session is deciding whether the global UMC will name LGBTQ persons as having sacred worth in the eyes of God and remove restrictive language from our Discipline (or not).
This afternoon my answers/thoughts were confirmed with the Prioritization Vote: this conference is not about LGBTQ persons and the aforementioned decisions/conversation. It’s about money and property.
Money and property.
Delegates were instructed to vote “low priority” or “high priority” on all of the plans/petitions before them to decide which ones to tackle first. The top five were: Pension Plans, the Traditional Plan, two exit plans (dealing with money/property), and the One Church Plan. Three of the top five were strictly about property/money. All of the conversations about sexuality, inclusion, marriage…low priority.
They haven’t even decided anything yet, and people are already one-two feet out the door, just trying to figure out what they will be able to take with them *when they leave.
I thank God for those who have acknowledged that this isn’t about an issue, this is about people. People who are present in this space, who deserve to be seen and heard. People who are beloved children of God, of sacred worth; people who are my family, friends, colleagues, mentors, neighbors.
This is my first General Conference as an observer. I do not know what to expect; no one really knows what the outcome will be. But I hope and pray that at some point we will stop talking about money and property.