Bullying and humanity at General Conference

First off, I’m aware that I didn’t witness what happened tonight in person. Mark Miller, one of the UMC General Conference worship leaders who is gay, stood up and gave an emotional speech about a climate of bullying that he saw taking place in the legislative sub-committee conversations about homosexuality. He was ruled out of order when he asked other delegates to stand with him by a bishop who then prayed for the situation. Not being privy to what did or didn’t take place, I can only say that I hope humanity wins over ideology at General Conference. I’m not even talking about the decisions are ultimately made, but the dignity with which the delegates treat one another as fellow members of the body of Christ, rather than ideological adversaries in the only politically and theologically diverse denomination left in our country.

Let me confess that I got ruined on the issue of homosexuality a long time ago when my best friend in high school came out to me. I was even more ruined when I went to my first Methodist church in Toledo, Ohio, and most of the people worshiping there were gay. My convictions were eroded by the seriousness and passion with which they pursued spiritual growth and holiness. Perhaps some would consider it oxymoronic for me to say this, but I remember thinking that my gay Christian friends were actually quite conservative. Or at least they were way more disciplined about their spiritual walks than I was. And they were some of the most gentle, attentively compassionate people I’ve ever met. I was in a very dark place in my own life, and they nurtured me. So I have to admit when I read Romans 1, Leviticus 18, 1 Corinthians 6, etc, I’m probably too quick to explain these tough passages based on their historical context so that they don’t condemn people who really were Christ to me regardless of whether their sexuality is sinful or not.

Having said this, I’ve also been in environments in the radical activist culture I used to be a part of where the form of bullying that I experienced was to be labeled a bully for the identity I was born with as a Christian white straight middle-upper class male (which makes me 5 for 5 as an oppressor). I embraced my demonization for a while because it was compatible with the self-hate I learned from fundamentalist Christianity. And truly I learned a lot of healthy, useful things about my privilege, but I got tired of the world of identity politics where people ranted all day about how terrible Christian white straight middle-upper class males like me were and offering deterministic sociological explanations for everything I might decide to do as a 5-star oppressor (see the movie “Blue Like Jazz” for a good illustration of my story). In any case, I don’t think it would be entirely outrageous for some General Conference delegates to feel bullied for being accused of bullying because of their moral convictions about homosexuality which may not have caused them to treat anyone without grace and dignity (even if this is completely not what Mark Miller intended to convey). Isn’t it also bullying for people to be publicly shamed into abandoning their convictions?

It hurts to be called an abomination. It also hurts to feel like you can’t believe someone else is doing something wrong without being called a bully. Satan wins if the ideological argument becomes all-consuming, i.e. if everything the “other side” does is interpreted ideologically as the “gay” or “anti-gay agenda.” I doubt that Mark Miller was trying to be manipulative, though I imagine it seems that way to any delegates who felt like he unfairly judged and falsely accused them by “playing the bullying card.” Whichever way the voting goes, our General Conference will have failed Jesus if neither side is willing to embrace the humanity of the other.

I honestly think that the underlying purpose of all Christian morality is to live with such holiness that we can see and honor each other’s humanity, which is to say on the deepest level that we become icons that reflect the image of God back and forth to one another. I take absolutely seriously everything that is written in the Bible because I long to learn the holiness and obedience to God’s will that will allow me to be perfectly hospitable to my neighbor. The more that I study, the less confidence I have in my own convictions and the more speechless awe I feel before the beauty of God.

I’ve got my own views about what’s going on with Leviticus 17, Romans 1, and 1 Corinthians 6. I pray often for God to reveal to me why I’m wrong about this issue if I’m wrong. In the meantime, I submit to the Discipline as a United Methodist pastor and hope to treat all people gay and straight with perfect hospitality and dignity as fellow icons of God’s image.

6 thoughts on “Bullying and humanity at General Conference

  1. I’m with Dave – being disagreed with does not mean you are being bullied. And I have NO problem in the world with Christians or anyone else expressing their viewpoint and convictions. It is the fervor, assumptions, and call to action/judgement that bothers me. For example, the statements 1) I am uncomfortable supporting gay rights through legislation as my religious beliefs teach me that the act of homosexual sex is a sin. is VERY different from 2) The gays are coming to take all of our rights and Jesus teaches us to hate those sinners! Usually the dialogue trends toward the latter. As for Dave’s statement about the call to repentance, I have heard that story many times over. And who stops rude people in the stores, telling them to repent for not loving their neighbors? Who stops someone in a lie and tells them to repent? Where is the public uproar about adulterers and their need to repent or burn? They are all over the place! I have never heard any of those public admonishments, as they might well be talking to their self, or brother, or best friend. Always easier to pawn it off on “other.”

  2. I’ve never met Mark Miller, but I’m going to assume he was railing against true bullying. And, as people who are supposed to bear the image of their Savior, bullying in the Church is unacceptable and is harmful to those who are on the outside of the family of God who might be, at the prompting of the Spirit, looking to know Christ.

    Having said that, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I’ve known some people who think they’re being bullied the moment someone disagrees with them. I’ve not had any of that directed at me, given that I’m attracted to men myself. But some of my heterosexual friends who’ve dared to suggest that the Bible calls all kinds of sinners to repentance have not been met with very nice responses.

    There is, of course, a reason for that…multiple reasons. Sometimes it’s because that person is just full of hate…and rejects any sort of authority whatsoever. Sometimes it’s because they’ve truly been wounded and not been told the truth in love, which means they’ve been gravely sinned against. And if you’ve been reprimanded for things you can’t seem to change by people who are acting like hypocrites, you AREN’T going to listen or be very receptive.

    I’m praying for you and for your denomination, not being a Methodist myself. I appreciate your heart to see others addressed with the dignity afforded to them in their creation and in the Gospel itself.

  3. Pingback: Bullying and humanity at #gc2012 » The Methoblog

  4. Morgan, I agree with Gavoweb — you’re awesome. Barring your objection, this post is going up on UM Insight for its weekend issue. Thank you for reminding us, myself included, that bullying of any kind is not the behavior that Christ wants of us.

  5. You’re awesome Morgan. Thanks for sharing this. Just to clarify in GC. Mark while he was speaking had his NJ delegation standing with him and others started to join which the Bishop said then was out of order to have a demonstration. Thus you saw the tweet hashtags of #StandWithMark. The Bishop did acknowledge that not all the committees did not got so well & prayed for the conference, I believe at Marks request.

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