Rachel Maddow got a surprise last Sunday when she appeared on Meet The Press. During a debate about the pay gap between men and women in America, she found out that Republicans just don’t believe that the pay gap exists. They think it’s explained by men working more hours, women having more part-time jobs, and other factors. She spent a good portion of her show Monday night talking about her surprise and showing with real data that the disparity isn’t explained by those factors, and made the point that perhaps the disagreement on the facts has been a problem in the discussion of policy. After all, if Republicans think it isn’t a problem, they aren’t going to work to fix the problem. It’s a good point, one that can be brought into other areas. To wit:
For the last seven days, and through this Friday, the United Methodist Church (UMC) has been holding its big quadrennial General Conference in Tampa, Florida to talk about new legislation in the Church, decide what problems we need to focus on, and what basic tenets need to be updated, introduced, or deleted from the Book Of Discipline (BOD), the Church’s Constitution. (More information on the structure of the UMC and function of General Conference here.)
There was a bit of an uproar on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 over several items. The biggest of them, at least rhetorically, was the addition of what should be a wholly uncontroversial phrase to the BOD. Here’s the newly amended preamble, with the addition in bold:
â€œWe affirm our unity in Jesus Christ while acknowledging differences in applying our faith in different cultural contexts as we live out the Gospel. We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s love is available to all, that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
After some contentious debate, the legislation passed, but not by much. In the end, only 53 percent of delegates agreed to add this very basic, very obvious, very scriptural, very Wesleyan affirmation of God’s love. Think of that. Nearly half of United Methodist delegates refused to affirm God’s unconditional love for everybody.
For the first time in a while, anti-gay and conservative United Methodists had to discard their usual “Gays Go Away” rhetoric and expose their true meaning: “People Who Don’t Believe Exactly What We Believe Go Away.” During the debate and the vote, the General Conference Twitter feed was filled with good people who were stunned by conservative United Methodists’ admission, stunned that in 2012 something so foundational to Methodism was even up for debate. More than one person said something to the effect of “This isn’t the UMC I know.”
Here’s the thing. This vote didn’t surprise me. At all. I figured it would pass, but it was fairly predictable to me that it was close. To be honest, I was as stunned by straight allies’ reactions to this admittedly horrifying vote as they were by the horrifying vote. This vote is the Church I’ve always known, the Church as it’s always presented itself to me.
In 1972, at the first General Conference after the 1968 merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, anti-gay language was added to Â¶ 161G, saying “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” *
Ever since, for longer than I’ve been alive, progressive United Methodists have been trying to remove the anti-gay language and ever since, for longer than I’ve been alive, conservative United Methodists have been beating them back. Every now and then something gets through that almost affirms the existence and value of gay United Methodists, but it’s always accompanied by some other statement that pastors are free to discriminate against gay people, or a reaffirmation that gay people are “incompatible” with the UMC.
But the vote Tuesday morning was different. The added language was so basic that those opposing it laid bare the unvarnished rejection that anti-gay United Methodists have been lobbing at gays for 40 years. The argument against was something along the lines of “you can be separated from God by things that you do,” by which they usually mean to say “you can be separated from God by the genitals of a person you have sex with or want to have sex with or even are just attracted to.” But because the wording was so broad, it became clear that their position was unscriptural from a Methodist point of view. “You can be separated from God by things that you do” means that much of what people do all the time separates them from God’s love, and that’s just not what United Methodists believe. At least we don’t unless you’re gay, in which case we’ve believed that since 1972.
Bishop Melvin Talbert said at the 2008 General Conference that when African Americans were separated into their own segregated conference from 1939 to 1968, at least they were still connected. At least the relationships and the dialogue could continue. But the UMC has chosen for 40 years to shut the church’s door on lesbians, gays, and bisexuals **, something that hasn’t been done to any other group. That’s a special kind of attack, one that you can’t know very easily from the outside.
I’m not saying that my straight ally friends and compatriots have done something wrong. On the contrary, there are wonderful allies working very hard to make a place for gays and lesbians in the UMC. I have a feeling that before this vote, many straight allies in the UMC had honestly never had the vitriol leveled against them as it is leveled against gay people in the UMC every day. They hadn’t been on the receiving end of this kind of attack, and they were shocked to learn, just as Maddow was on Sunday, that the reality of this argument we’re having is different than they thought.
And I wept with them after the vote on Tuesday morning. No, I didn’t weep; I sobbed. I sobbed because for the first time, people working on my behalf received what gays and lesbians have been receiving from the Church for 40 years, and it hurt them. Pain, disbelief, and despair permeated the messages coming from Tampa, and the punch in the gut that I read in their messages was all too familiar. I don’t want them to feel this; it hurts to know that they do.
It sucked. It was a bad morning, one that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and it sucked.
But my hope is that this horrible experience gave straight allies a Rachel Maddow Revelation, that it helped those fighting alongside us to understand a little better the reality LGBT Methodists live in, and that that better understanding will help them fight the battle in ways that none of us have considered before.
* The timing of this addition was not an accident. In September of that same year, the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders. Conservatives in the UMC apparently got wind of this and wanted to affirm their disdain for gays, a statement that was previously unnecessary because we were officially considered mentally ill.
** The UMC is accidentally more accepting of transgender women and men than the rest of the LGBT community. Gender identity wasn’t a part of the original “incompatibility” clause, and being trans isn’t an official barrier to marriage rites or ordination, for example.