Two moments of personal privilege expressed the concern of many that the actions of the 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church ran contrary to John Wesley’s first General Rule, “do no harm.” By failing to acknowledge that the members of the denomination are divided on homosexuality LGBTQ United Methodists and their supporters are expressing the hurt and exclusion they feel.
The first moment of personal privilege, offered by a lay member of the Conference, shared the words of a “Do No Harm” covenant that more that 500 members of the Iowa Conference, both lay and clergy, have signed. The document begins, “When asked which commandment in the law is the greatest, Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself”’(Matthew 22:37-39).”
It continues, “In his sermons “The New Birth” and “The Catholic Spirit,” John Wesley taught that as long as we hold in common the essential elements of our faith, and as long as we unite in love-then our hearts are right and we should walk together hand in hand. Wesley further taught that differences of opinion ought not to tear this union of hearts asunder.
Citing the biblical basis for the response to the General Conference action, the covenant states, “When following the Book of Discipline requires us to do harm by discriminating against, diminishing, or demeaning our sisters and brothers in the family of faith, we are in an impossible situation and will be faithful to the law as interpreted by Jesus rather than comply with the Book of Discipline.”
Both acknowledging sorrow and expressing hope, the statement read in the moment of Personal Privilege concludes, “While we are deeply saddened that non-compliance with church law has become necessary, we live in hope that the day will not be long in coming when our church will remember its roots and once more be guided by grace, committed to justice, and led by love.”
Supporters were invited to stand in silent, prayerful witness. Many persons, in both the voting area as well as the visitors’ section, wore blue tee shirts with the “do no harm” message and crediting John Wesley. Others word blue armbands. It appeared that at least half of the persons in the Conference meeting room stood quietly until invited to sit back down. It was estimated that the number of persons standing exceeded 500
Following the first request of Personal Privilege granted by Bishop Trimble a second request for Personal Privilege was made, this time by a retired clergy member of the Conference. He said that he had never spoken at a conference session prior to those moments. His statement, “ A Covenant of Conscience,” began by noting, “The denial of rights and privileges to LGBTQ persons through provisions in the Book of Discipline shackles pastoral care and ministry, and in their harshly punitive application these provisions of the Discipline are not only a grave injustice; they violate the sacred command to love our neighbors as ourselves. We cannot remain complicit in the Church’s injustice and discrimination any longer and, out of our Christian faith and Wesleyan love, we feel bound to respond and together” to make several declarations.
The first stated, “Pastoral care and the sacraments and rituals of the church are means of grace by which the lives of all Christians are blessed by God. Therefore we, as congregations and as individual laity and clergy, declare our commitment to offer such means of grace to all persons on an equal basis. We refuse to discriminate against any of God’s children and pledge to make marriage equality a lived reality within the Iowa Annual Conference.”
He continued, “We seek to embody the beloved community of hope by openly and joyfully affirming the lives and loves of all United Methodists, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression.”
The call of the “Covenant of Conscience” was directed to clergy, laity, and congregations. Clergy signers of the covenant would, “in accordance with our ordination vows to “seek peace, justice, and freedom for all people,” commit to marrying without bias or discrimination all people who seek the blessing of the church and are prepared to assume the privileges and responsibilities of a loving, committed, covenant relationship.”
Laity would commit, “in accordance with our membership vows to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves,” commit to supporting our clergy in faithfully ministering to all, including through any consequences of their living fully into that duty.”
Congregations, after a period of study and decision, would “refuse to discriminate in the sacraments and rituals provided to our members and pledge the full and equal use of our facilities as we welcome and celebrate equally all couples and the families they may choose to create.”
The statement of Personal Privilege request concluded, “Further, each of us, clergy, laity, and congregations, pledge to one another our spiritual and material support in fulfilling this covenant of conscience.
Clergy and laity who had already signed the “Covenant of Conscience” document, intended to sign, and others who would support them were invited to stand for a moment of silent prayer. As in the response to the “Do No Harm Covenant” moment of privilege a significant number of persons in the plenary and visitors areas, wearing the blue tee shirts, arm bands and others rose, stayed in place, and then retook their seats.