Last weekend, I attended the Annual Conference of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church as a voting delegate. Every year around this time, each conference convenes with lay and clergy delegates from every church in the conference to share reports, learn stuff, worship together, and debate and vote on legislation. Below is a summary of the results of that debate (punctuated by my thoughts and opinions on several resolutions), based on my sparse notes, my memory, and the memories of other folks I asked. I made this partly as a reference (because these results are not available publicly until they are published in the conference journal, which takes several months) and partly to share some of my own thoughts.
The resolutions are only a part of what was significant and memorable about this conference, so hopefully I will post more later about other aspects.
Note: Resolutions from the Reconciling United Methodists of Eastern Pennsylvania are titled in purple. Other resolutions that my church was involved in presenting are titled in blue.
Also note: The full text of the resolutions is here.
Resolution #2016 – 01
Resolution For a Rule Change Relating to Episcopal Candidate Endorsement Presented by the EPC 2016 Jurisdictional Conference Delegation
This set forth a potential process for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference to endorse one or more nominees for episcopal candidate, as we have not had an established process. It was referred back to the Jurisdictional Conference Delegation for more work around concerns that the high 2/3 requirement and the inability to nominate people from the floor from the beginning could disenfranchise nominees of color. Of the two nominees (both men of color) who had come forward beforehand and been interviewed by the members of the Jurisdictional Conference delegation, neither had been endorsed by the delegation. We instead went through a process of taking nominations from the floor and voting “yes” or “no” on each one by paper ballot. None of the three nominees received the required 2/3 to constitute an endorsement. After that result was presented, it was requested that we take nominations and vote again. More people were nominated, but only the same three accepted and were voted upon, and again none of them received the required 2/3.
Resolution #2016 – 02
Resolution #2016 – 03
Relating to Rental/Housing for Retured or Disabled Clergypersons
Resolution #2016 – 04
Pertaining to the Adoption Agreement to the Clergy Retirement Security Program (CRSP) for the year 2016
Resolution #2016 – 13
Equitable Compensation Recommendation for 2017
These four were on the consent calendar, which passed.
Resolution #2016 – 05
Resolution Concerning a Comprehensive Funding Plan for the Benefit Obligations
This was referred somewhere…
Resolution #2016 – 06, 11, 12, 21
Discontinuance of churches. Each church voted that it was time to discontinue. Each one passed.
Resolution #2016 – 07
Resolution Supporting Access to Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Pennsylvanians
A demonstration of support for HB 1450 (currently before the PA House of Representatives), which allows access to driver’s licenses for undocumented Pennsylvanians, making it easier for them to drive to work, school, healthcare appointments, and stores, and thus to care for their families and make a significant contribution to the local economy. This passed with strong support.
Resolution #2016 – 08
Resolution Relating to Endorsing Health Care Coverage for ALL Kids in Pennsylvania
An agreement to be listed as an endorser of the Dream Care Campaign to Cover ALL Kids, which calls for every Pennsylvanian child to qualify for public health insurance. This passed with strong support.
Resolution #2016 – 09
Resolution Relating to Safe Sanctuaries Policy
An updated policy for the protection and well-being of children and youth in the conference that aligns with updated Pennsylvania laws. Discussion revealed that the resolution inadequately addressed the situations of churches that run or host daycare centers or preschools, and we ran out of time to resolve this on the floor, so we voted for the Safe Sanctuaries Committee to reconvene to make the necessary changes.
Resolution #2016 – 10
Computer Network and Internet Access Policy
This laid out policy for the use of church-owned technology and church internet access with the intention of preventing wasteful, illegal, or embarassing activities. It was not addressed— I think we ran out of time. This was well intentioned, but things often get weird when churches try to censor people/material on what they see as moral grounds, and this resolution was no exception. For example, the “material that is… embarrassing, sexually explicit, profane, obscene…” which employees “may not use the computer network to display, store, or send…” includes a whooole bunch of stuff in the Bible. It’s easy to overlook this irony in a Christian culture that thinks of Christianity as primarily safe, clean, nice, and legal.
Resolution #2016 – 14
Full Inclusion of LGBTQ Persons in The United Methodist Church: Marriage Equality
A statement supporting the right of LGBTQ persons to marry a life partner in civil and religious ceremonies, regardless of that partner’s gender. This was tabled pending the results of the General Conference Commission. EPA is a conservative conference with an ugly history of discriminating against LGBTQ people and punishing those who support equality. The debate on this and the other LGBTQ-related resolutions reflected that, with opponents to equality doing all they could to shove conversation and the possibility of change aside through bundling/referring/tabling/committing the resolutions, and whenever that failed, bringing up the homophobic arguments.
Resolution #2016 – 15
Full Inclusion of LGBTQ Persons in The United Methodist Church: Ordination Equality
Statement of support for all candidates who present themselves for consideration for ordination, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This was tabled pending the results of the General Conference Commission.
Resolution #2016 – 16
Resolution Supporting HB1510/SB974 in the Pennsylvania Legislature
Statement supporting bills for freedom from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. This passed! It was stalled for a while by a discussion of whether “public accommodation” includes bathrooms, spurred by delegates who seemed to oppose the right of trans folks to use the bathroom that fits their gender identity.
Resolution #2016 – 17
Resolution on Radical Welcome
A statement encouraging all churches to hold a Coming Out Day event on Sunday, October 9, 2016, and to have a welcoming presence at Philadelphia OutFest 2016. This was presented as a measure that all Methodist churches and individuals who profess to love and welcome LGBTQ people, regardless of their stances on marriage and ordination, could participate in. This passed after some work on the wording, and after opponents were assured that it was an encouragement, not a mandate. I am excited that this passed, but in some ways it feels like a hollow victory. Instead of representing a movement of the EPA Conference toward justice and welcome, it seems like a way for “love the sinner” types to pat themselves on the back. I also fear that encouraging churches to be halfway welcoming but not fully just and inclusive (“You can sit in our pews, listen to our sermons, volunteer, cook, clean, tithe, even sing in the choir — but you are not welcome to preach, teach, marry, advocate, or fully celebrate your God-given sexuality.”) may be dangerous. I fear that it may be safer for queer people to be in no church at all than to be in a church that advertises tolerance to get people in the doors but still lives a harmful theology.
Resolution #2016 – 18
Resolution on Religious Freedom
A statement denouncing legislation that allows discrimination against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious freedom.” A special committee was commissioned to be created to study this and report back in fall of 2017.
Resolution #2016 – 19
Policy Regarding Sexual Misconduct Involving Adults
Defines and denounces sexual misconduct (includes sexual harassment and abuse) and lays out policy for dealing with it in churches. There was much discussion and disagreement about the definition of sexual abuse when it was pointed out that “when a person in a ministerial role of leadership… engages in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with a congregant…” includes married couples in which one partner is a pastor and one is a member of that pastor’s congregation. (This raises the question, which was not discussed on the floor, of whether situations with a pastor/congregant couple, are in fact inappropriate because they pose a conflict of interest, all issues of sexual ethics aside.) There was an attempt to “fix” this by adding to the end of the sentence the caveat “except consensual sexual relations within the bounds of marriage.” This suggested amendment was complicated by the fact that the sentence defining sexual abuse is a quote from the Book of Resolutions, and some were concerned that the amendment would be an attempt to change the Book of Resolutions, even though the presenter of the amendment insisted that adding the amendment after the end quotes and the citation would not be changing or misquoting the BoR. There was also a concern that the original definition could be used to target queer pastor/congregant couples, a possibility that even the proposed amendment would not fully prevent, as queer couples may be less likely to marry because of the policies of the church, and their marriages may not be recognized by the church. In the end, we voted for the amendment by a very narrow margin, but also voted to send the amendment to Judicial Council to rule whether it interacted unconstitutionally with the Book of Resolutions (not sure how those two decisions work together). We also passed the resolution in general.
Resolution #2016 – 20
Resolution Establishing and Ad-Hoc Study Committee to Evaluate Alternative Fair Voting Methods for Electing Members to Committees and Delegations
Proposed a committee to study the use of ranked choice voting or other alternative voting methods for electing nominees. I think this passed.