"The lines we draw are invitations to cross over and that crossing over, as any nomadic subject knows, constitutes who we are." (Judith Butler)

Silenced Voices

After yesterday’s joint orientation and women’s briefing, at least one delegate raised her voice to answer a question that had been asked throughout the morning: whose stories are not being told? In review of the presentations and conversations, this woman expressed that as a lesbian she felt invisible.

And this is a problem. Current policies that call homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” (Book of Discipline ¶ 161.F) and prohibit any groups that “promote the acceptance of homosexuality” from receiving United Methodist funds (BoD ¶ 806.9) have created a culture of fear and both intentional and unintended exclusion within the institutional church. Yet, the UMC also says, “We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons” (BoD ¶ 162.F).

These tensions produce an environment in which conversations on intersectionality might freely include discussion of gender, race, ethnicity, class, and other markers of identity, but adding sexual orientation immediately raises suspicion and confrontation. Is it “promoting acceptance of homosexuality” to acknowledge the very real pain that church policies and politics have caused? But how can we commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons without creating an inviting, open, and safe space that does not begin in condemnation but with faithful listening?

Last night, as delegates began to vote on the rules of order that will govern this General Conference, an amendment was proposed that would prohibit presiding officers from calling for a recess for the purpose of allowing any kind of demonstration or protest. This comes in response to an authorized witness in 2008 by advocates for the full and equal inclusion of LGBTQ persons (parts of which can be seen here and here). (The amendment will be voted on after a recommendation from the rules committee.)

I’m sure such moments of witness are uncomfortable for delegates who vote to maintain the current policies. For many, their votes are based on faithfully held convictions. But exclusion is more than uncomfortable, and that hurt likewise arises out of the conflict of knowing God’s love in a way that is rejected by the church.

A proposal to bar all demonstrations is a refusal to hear particular voices. It is a refusal to recognize the deep distress brought by church actions.

It is one thing to disagree in good faith. It is another to silence those who make us uncomfortable.

After all, the Bible itself holds contradictions in creative tension. Scriptural Christianity, then, is not characterized by unanimity but by diverse opinions and experiences of God.

Whose voices are heard? Whose are not? And how might we listen for and hold one another’s stories in loving care?

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