SEJ passes three resolutions in evening session

By Jessica Brodie

LAKE JUNALUSKA, North Carolina—With episcopal elections finished, delegates to the 2022 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference turned their attention to three resolutions, ultimately passing all of them Thursday night even amid much debate and a peaceful protest on the floor.

The three resolutions—“Leading with Integrity,” “Queer Delegates’ Call to Center Justice and Empowerment for LGBTQIA+ People in the UMC” and “Resolution in Support of a U.S. Regional Conference”—had previously been submitted for consideration by the SEJ’s newly created Agenda Committee. However, that committee recommended on Wednesday that the resolutions not be considered by the body, believing them to violate a jurisdictional rule or process or exceeding authority set forth in the Book of Discipline.

The body disagreed, voting 222-128 to appeal the committee’s decision and allow the resolutions be considered Thursday when episcopal elections were complete.

Under presiding Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, the submitters of each resolution were called forward to explain the details so the body could more thoroughly understand what they were voting upon.

Leading with Integrity

“Leading with Integrity,” submitted by Tennessee lay delegate Jim Allen and newly elected Bishop Robin Dease, South Carolina, passed without amendment.

The resolution urges those who intend to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church to recuse themselves from leadership roles in the UMC in an effort to move forward in fairness and integrity. It also encourages annual conference boards to develop codes of conduct to manage conflicts of interest. 

Speaking for Allen, who was in a meeting of the Committee on Episcopacy, Tennessee-Western Kentucky lay delegate Tom Lee said the church can no longer finance the attack on its own institutions from within.

”If you are leaving, God bless you, go with grace, but we will not let you burn the house down on the way out the door,” Lee said.

He emphasized that the resolution is an aspirational one with nothing mandatory or directive.

The Rev. Fitzgerald Lovett, clergy reserve delegate from the Mississippi Conference, moved to amend the resolution by adding to those who are encouraged to recuse “those who intend to intentionally violate the Book of Discipline.”

The motion to amend failed.

Michael Cheatham, South Carolina lay delegate, was one of those who gave a speech against the resolution. Noting he is a lifelong United Methodist whose great-great-grandfather as a circuit rider, Cheatham said, he supports the current language in the Book of Discipline on sexuality.

“There is no path for me to leave my United Methodist Church other than closing down and losing a million in a half dollars’ worth of property,” he said, adding, that the church has voted but it’s the bishops and annual conferences who have refused to accept the vote. “Paragraph 2553 was written for churches who disagree with the Discipline, not written for people like me.”

After speeches for and against the original resolution, the vote was called and the resolution passed.

Justice and Empowerment for LGBTQIA+ People

“Queer Delegates’ Call to Center Justice and Empowerment for LGBTQIA+ People in the UMC,” submitted by nine queer delegates in the SEJ, passed with one amendment changing a word in the resolution from “commit” to “aspire” in an effort to make the resolution more aspirational for the SEJ and, therefore, legal.

The resolution urges the SEJ to support LGBTQIA+ people, affirm a moratorium on lawsuits and complaints surrounding sexual orientation, not pursue (or resolve in a non-punitive and just manner) complaints against bishops around their sexual orientation or who officiate LGBTQIA+ weddings, and support elections of bishops who uphold this.

Helen Ryde, lay delegate from Western North Carolina Conference who spoke on behalf of the submitters, said queer people have been doing the work many years but were always “hidden away in stained glass closets.”

“We don’t want special treatment. We want to be seen as fully human. Some of you don’t know what it’s like to stand at a microphone and ask for this,” Ryde said, “Will you accept our full humanity, our call, our marriages?”

Holston ruled the resolution out of order because its language seemed to call the SEJ to violate the Discipline.

However, as he prepared to move to the next resolution before the body, a peaceful protest began on the floor. Several submitters and supporters of the resolution stood in solidarity, some standing directly in front of the dais, where the bishop sat. One man asked for a rule of law objecting to Holston’s decision, and some threw their credentials onstage and walked out of Stuart Auditorium. Others gathered en masse up front in protest.

Holston called for a short recess. When the session resumed, Florida lay delegate Matt Daly offered an amendment changing a word in the resolution, asking the SEJ to “commit” to this effort to, instead, asking the SEJ to “aspire” to it.

The amendment passed, and then the question was called.

The amended resolution passed to much applause.

A U.S. Regional Conference

“Resolution in Support of a U.S. Regional Conference,” submitted by the Rev. Lisa Yebuah, North Carolina clergy delegate, and Martha E. Stokes, Virginia lay delegate, also passed, though like the others, with much debate.

The resolution urges the SEJ to support proposals and expedite processes to help create a regional conference and support the Christmas Covenant and the Connectional Table’s proposals in that vein.

Yebuah said the resolution comes after a realization that “we are incredibly western and U.S.-centric in the way we do our work.”

Some spoke against the amendment, including the Rev. Tiwirai Kufarimai, a clergy delegate from the North Alabama Conference originally hailing from Zimbabwe, who said the SEJ doesn’t need to vote for Africans; they can vote for themselves.

“Africans the have power to vote, and we don’t want you to vote on our issues. We want to vote on our issues,” he said.

Odell Horne, lay delegate from the North Georgia Conference, said the resolution would “only further support White supremacy in The United Methodist Church.”

The Rev. Magrey deVega, clergy delegate from the Florida Conference, spoke for the resolution, noting it “offers an exciting and hopeful vision of The United Methodist Church,” affirming our unity across the world and shows us how to be the church amid a changing global landscape.

The hand vote was close, so the question was called by electronic ballot. The resolution passed 203-115.

Task force proposed

Also during the session, a motion was posted onscreen for the body. That motion, proposed by The Rev. Jeremy Troxler, clergy delegate from the WNC Conference, would establish a task force to study the impact of racial bias in the episcopal nomination and election process.

The language states that the task force be created “to study the impact of racial bias in the process of selection of Episcopal Committee potential reforms to the process that might reduce the harmful effects of racial bias in the nomination and selection process for episcopal candidate; furthermore, that such a task force be composed of greater than 50 percent representation from under-represented groups; and that the task force interview recent and past episcopal candidates to hear of their experiences and to solicit their input.”

The Rev. Esther Rodriguez-Perez, clergy delegate for the Florida Conference, amended the motion, recommending that those on the task force be given an honorarium and reimbursed for travel expenses. The amendment was approved and then sent to the Committee on Finance and Administration.

Celebration of Retiring Bishops

Next, Bishop Kenneth Carter took the stage to usher in a special Celebration of Retiring Bishops—the four SEJ bishops who retired in 2021 and Bishop James Swanson, who will retire in December. 

Calling it a “really significant ritual,” Carter asked the bishops and their spouses to stand as they were recognized:

• Swanson, and his wife, Delphine, who was elected in 2004 and will retire in 2022;

• Hope Morgan Ward and her husband, Mike, elected in 2004 and retired in 2021;

• Mary Virginia Taylor and her husband, Rusty, elected in 2004 and retired in 2021;

• Paul Leeland and his wife, Janet, elected in 2008 and retired in 2021; and

• Lawson Bryan and his wife, Sherrill, elected in 2016 and retired in 2021.

A brief personal introduction and video were then shared for each bishop celebrating their service.

Tomorrow’s plan

The evening ended with annual conference celebrations. The conference will end Friday morning, Nov. 4, with a modified scheduled. The body will gather at 9 a.m. in session to handle unfinished business, including hearing from the Committee on Episcopacy on assignments.

The consecration service will be at 10:30 a.m. to close the conference.

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