Six resolutions pass at Annual Conference, from supporting at-risk LGBTQ youth to opposing a Muslim ban

One resolution, on Dakota pipeline, fails

By Jessica Brodie

GREENVILLE— Annual Conference has passed six of its seven resolutions for 2017, many rooted in solidarity or in healing.

On the final morning of the four-day gathering, clergy and lay members of Annual Conference spent hours debating and amending the resolutions. Every resolution brought heated debate and some had amendments, but every resolution ultimately passed with the exception of the Resolution Against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Solidarity with Standing Rock.

Annual Conference resolved this year to oppose human trafficking and help end suicide and homelessness among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth; to heal from the legacy of lynching; to stand against a Muslim ban; to support, recognize and honor the services of law enforcement officers; to commend a formal apology from Trinity UMC to Centenary UMC over past racism; and to welcome the migrant.

One resolution, Resolution for the Realignment of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church and Its Disaffiliation from the Structures of The United Methodist Church, was not brought before the body for a vote because Bishop Jonathan Holston said it was asking him to do something he believes is not in unity with the Book of Discipline; therefore it was out of order and not properly before the body. Holston said only General Conference, not annual conferences, can allow such an action, and for him to be asked to appoint such a task force violates the vows he took to uphold the church and the Discipline. (See full story here.)

The others are as follows:

1) Resolution to Oppose Human Trafficking and Help End Suicide and Homelessness among LGBTQ Youth (Passed)

In spite of lengthy debate, including two failed amendments that themselves prompted lengthy debate, Annual Conference passed this resolution, which calls upon people to support vulnerable and at-risk LGBTQ youth.

The resolution urges churches and people to bear witness to the value of all life by not remaining silent when the value of these youth is questioned or dehumanized; to oppose the practices of human trafficking and slavery; to respond to acts of prejudice, harassment, bullying, abuse and violence with acts of compassion, justice and liberation; and to intentionally support and minister to all at-risk youth regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

It also calls upon clergy to provide counseling and emotional and spiritual assistance to the families of LGBTQ youth. It was signed by United Methodist clergy and laity across the state.

The Committee on Resolutions was in support of the resolution, said the Rev. Steve Simoneaux, committee chair. Simoneaux said the committee carefully considered the resolution and believes all persons are of sacred worth and that the UMC Social Principles affirm that certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons regardless of their sexual orientation.

“The resolution is not discussing the current divisive stance on (LGBTQ) marriage or ordination but … to provide support and care for these youth, which is something this committee supports,” Simoneaux said.

Speaking against the resolution, Charles Ard, of St. Stephen Charge, Charleston District, said all agree no one should discriminate.

“However, I don’t believe we need to put anything about LGBTQ in a resolution,” Ard said. “I think we all want to protect the youth, but I think it’s totally unnecessary to add to that.”

The Rev. Gary Compton, serving the McBee Charge in the Hartsville District, said the resolution furthers division.

“Discrimination is against our beliefs, but we don’t need this in writing like this,” Compton said. “We already have a lesbian bishop and other lesbian pastors, which is against our principles, and I think we don’t need this resolution.”

But others spoke just as passionately for the resolution. The Rev. John Culp, retired clergy, said the resolution is a way we can all do something about ways we—personally or as a society—have failed LGBTQ people.

“As ministers of Jesus Christ, we took a vow to love and protect children of God and see justice is given,” Culp said. “This resolution is one of love and protection.”

Kathy Coffman, Dials-Shiloh Charge, Greenville District, shared her personal experience on the verge of attempting suicide when she was a young teen.

“I was a straight A student. I was from a middle-class family. I had everything going for me. Every person who saw me saw me smiling or laughing. No one knew I had been fighting a demon,” Coffman told the body.

A knock at the door while she had her father’s .38 to her temple—and the unconditional love she encountered on the other side of that door—saved her life, and she said she knows firsthand how important it is to have a safety net for desperate, hurting youth in need regardless of their sexual orientation. She implored the conference to pass the resolution.

The Rev. Drew Martin, on the pastoral staff at Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington, proposed an amendment to the resolution in an effort to help resolve contention; the amendment would insert “in accordance with the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church” to line 58 after LGBTQ youth.

But after three speeches for and three against the amendment, the amendment failed.

Don Plemons, Advent UMC, then proposed another amendment, striking “LGBTQ” from line 58 and adding “all” before “youth.” That amendment also failed.

“It is not a resolution that focuses on one single group … it focuses on human trafficking, it focuses on bullying,” the Rev. Keith Ray said, pointing out that data shows LGBTQ youth are more likely to commit suicide. “Sometimes you do have to highlight a particular group of people when they are struggling.”

The vote was called for the full resolution; it was approved.

2) Healing from the Legacy of Lynching (Passed)

Annual Conference also passed this resolution, which encourages every UMC in the state to have a ritual of forgiveness and reconciliation at the site of any lynchings in their community and place a memorial at this site.

The Committee on Resolutions and Appeals said it supports this resolution, as well, though it, too, prompted much debate.

Submitted by the Advocacy area of Conference Connectional Ministries, the resolution notes that the genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and social terror and the legally supported abuse of social minorities existed in the United States, and research on mass violence, trauma and transitional justice underscores the urgent need to engage in public conversation about social history that begins a process of truth and reconciliation in this country.

Lyall Waasser, of Fairview UMC, Easley, spoke against the resolution, noting that Nelson Mandela once said if he didn’t leave bitterness behind, he would still be in prison.

“Will these memorials placed out there contribute to leaving the bitterness and hatred behind or contribute to keeping us in prison?” he said. “Do you really want something to keep reminding you of this, or would you rather put it behind you as Nelson Mandela did?”

Dr. Jack Myer, of the Gordon Memorial-Greenbrier Charge, agreed, noting he felt the resolution would be digging up old wounds.

However, Jane Robelot De Carvalho, member of Advent UMC in the Greenville District, spoke in favor of the resolution.

“If there’s a sore or boil under your skin, before it can heal sometimes it must be opened and examined in an open setting, a safe setting,” Robelot De Carvalho said. “As Christians we need to create a safe environment in our churches to (discuss these issues).”

The Rev. Brandon Lazarus, associate pastor at First UMC, Clover, said the answer is not to stop talking about painful, difficult issues.

“In 2013, we as an Annual Conference wanted to address hunger; we didn’t say we should cease talking about hunger. Instead we … gathered together and put together hundreds of thousands of meals,” Lazarus said. “In 2014 when we wanted to address education in this state … we addressed it by seeking to raise one million books.”

Lazarus said the UMCSC needs to address lynching in order to heal.

The vote was called, and the resolution passed.

3) Resolution Against a Muslim Ban (Passed)

Annual Conference also passed this resolution, which was submitted by the Advocacy area and calls on the conference to condemn profiling, stereotyping, persecution and/or banning of any person based on their race, ethnicity, religion or country of origin, plus convey to the president of the United States, Congress, the governor and the General Assembly the church’s desire that no person be denied citizenship, access to federal or state resources or be detained or incarcerated based on their race, ethnicity, religion or country of origin.

Simoneaux said the committee was in support of this resolution given language in the UMC’s Social Principles.

Several spoke against the resolution. Ard again took to the microphone, noting it is not a true ban of Muslims but rather a temporary hold on people coming from countries that are known to support and export terror. And Ken Lee, of Trinity UMC, Anderson, said the resolution is one of “common sense in today’s troubled times.”

“We do know people are coming from other countries who have sworn a jihad against Christians,” Lee said. “Every day, Christians are being beheaded. Churches are being blown up. It only makes common sense to slow down the people coming into this country from other areas.”

Rod Belsky, of Stallsville UMC in the Charleston District, said the ban is only against those countries that do not have a vetting system.

“There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world; the greater majority are welcome to come in with no ban,” Belsky said. “My biggest fear is we do not have continual occurrences like we have seen in Paris and London.”

But others spoke just as strongly for the resolution.

“I’m for it simply because the president of the United States calls it a Muslim ban,” said the Rev. Kim Strong, pastor of Mount Holly UMC, Rock Hill.

Ron King, of First UMC, Bennettsville, also said it is clearly a ban of a religion coming to the United States, which the UMC is called to oppose.

“That’s why we all came here,” King said. “I oppose any ban that particularly bans any religious affiliation.”

The resolution passed.

4) Resolution Against the Dakota Access Pipeline, in Solidarity with Standing Rock (Failed)

This was the only resolution Annual Conference did not pass. The resolution would have called on the conference to reject the Dakota Access Pipeline as it is proposed and to call upon other conferences of the UMC to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation against the pipeline. The resolution, submitted by the Advocacy area, cited the Social Principles as justification; these principles state, “All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it.”

The Committee on Resolutions was in support of the resolution.

Ruth McAllister, of Aldersgate UMC, Greenville, agreed with the committee on behalf of the Dakota Sioux.

“Every time you participate in the Lord’s Supper we say in the prayer of confession that we have ignored the cries of the poor, we have turned away from those in need,” McAllister said. “Well, the Dakota Sioux are the crying poor, and they are in need. Will we turn a blind eye knowing this is against the will of God?”

But others argued that the resolution has become moot.

“The events have advanced beyond the need for this resolution,” said Donald McCleod, of St. John’s UMC, Lugoff. “The Dakota Access Pipeline does not cross the boundary of the Dakota reserve at any point.”

The vote was called, and the resolution failed.

5) Resolution Supporting, Recognizing and Honoring the Services of Law Enforcement Officers (Passed)

This triple-amended resolution passed after much debate, as well. The resolution calls on the bishop and conference to declare support for and solidarity with law enforcement officers, particularly those in South Carolina. Submitted by the Rev. Bob Huggins, pastor of Mount Pleasant UMC, Pomaria, the resolution notes that the men and women and their families who serve or have served as law enforcement officers deserve “our highest respect and deepest gratitude, which must be recognized and honored for their selfless and heroic service and invaluable contribution to upholding justice, enforcing the rule of law and protecting the innocent of South Carolina and the nation.”

Simoneaux said the Committee on Resolutions supports the resolution, acknowledging, “This topic can be a sensitive one, especially given highly publicized officer-involved beatings and shootings, but the vast majority of law enforcement do their duty in a way commended, honored and met with gratitude.”

Some spoke against the resolution. The Rev. Drew Martin noted the “violent minority” of police officers and said the way the resolution is written makes it sound like the UMCSC supports any and all police officers and every decision they make.

“Do we declare our support and solidarity with Michael Slager, who gunned down Walter Scott?” Martin said. “It could be taken as a blanket endorsement.”

A series of amendments were then proposed. The Rev. James Lewis made a motion to amend the resolution changing it from honoring law enforcement to honoring all public servants; the amendment failed.

The Rev. Roger Gramling then proposed a technical amendment to the resolution to delete “the bishop” from the last paragraph (as the bishop is not technically a member of the Annual Conference, therefore the body can’t resolve the bishop). The amendment was adopted by common consent.

In an effort to address some of the concerns expressed about respect, integrity and sensitivity, the Rev. Rosetta Ross proposed a new paragraph before the last paragraph: “Whereas, we wish to promote respectful relations between law enforcement and all communities.” And the Rev. Miriam Mick, of the Pine Grove-Salem Charge in Timmonsville, proposed an amendment to add a phrase about integrity so the resolution now reads “who served with integrity as law enforcement officers.”

The amendments passed.

The modified resolution was then put to vote; it passed.

6) Resolution: A Formal Apology from Trinity UMC to Centenary UMC (Passed)

The Committee on Resolutions did not recommend this resolution, but the body passed an amended version of this resolution that the committee’s chair ultimately agreed upon.

The resolution acknowledges past racial discrimination by Trinity members toward Centenary members, including forcing black members to worship in the galleries and not on the sanctuary floor, and seeks to apologize and make amends for the past.

“We express regret for the sins of our predecessors, mourn their acts of divisiveness and ask to show our love for one another by sharing in joint events, worship, congregation development and mission programs,” the resolution states. “The harsh lesson to learn from our history is this; we stand stronger united rather than divided.”

In introducing the resolution, Simoneaux said that while the committee supports the church’s actions, they’re not sure it’s appropriate for an entire body to support an apology between two churches.

Several spoke for and against the resolution—and for and against the committee’s recommendation. The Rev. Larry McCutcheon, pastor of Camden First UMC, Camden, said he disagrees with the committee.

“The two churches are United Methodist churches, part of the South Carolina Annual Conference, and I think it celebrates their differences in coming together, so I would encourage this body to support this amendment because they are two of our churches doing remarkable things to build a bridge in their community,” McCutcheon said.

But Myer, Gordon Memorial-Greenbrier Charge, said he agreed with the committee, citing the resolution as “a purely local matter and really has no business being before this annual conference.”

The Rev. David Anderson, pastor of Greene Street UMC, Columbia, proposed an amendment that he said he hoped addresses the concerns of the committee by requiring an action of the annual conference. The amendment adds a final paragraph that states, “Therefore be it further resolved that the South Carolina Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church commend these two churches for their actions.”

The amendment was approved; after the call for a vote, the amended resolution passed.

7) Welcoming the Migrant in our Midst (Passed)

Despite much debate, Annual Conference passed this resolution in original form, which calls upon the conference to work toward eliminating racism and violence directed toward newly arriving migrants from all parts of the world; oppose any immigration policy that excludes refugees solely on the basis of their religion or national origin; celebrate the re-creation of a Hispanic Latino Ministry Task Force and immigration task force; educate and equip members to provide hospitality and welcome to migrants; advocate for just policies; and urge political leaders and policy makers to assure laws affirm the worth, dignity, inherent values and rights of immigrants.

The committee said it supports this resolution.

Many took exception to the fact that the resolution did not made a distinction between legal and illegal immigrants. Charles Ard spoke against it, as did Jennifer Hudgens of Grace Community UMC, Fort Mill.

“I have no opposition to provide for clothing, shelter, food or protection, but I am concerned about what is being referred to as ‘rights of immigrants,’ as to whether they’re the same rights as citizens of our conference,” Hudgens said.

But the Rev. Richard Reams, pastor of St. Luke UMC, Walhalla, said no person is illegal.

“When Jesus spoke in Matthew 25, he said nothing about the documentation of a stranger coming in and whether or not we should check their papers before we should offer them something to eat.”

Robelot De Carvalho stood to suggest an amendment that the UMC commit itself to “legally documented” newly arriving migrants. But several stood in opposition to the amendment, including the Rev. Keith Ray, who said we live in a nation and state that actually has an economic system that depends on undocumented people coming into the country and a system that doesn’t allow for them to come here safely and legally.

“It is interesting to me how we blame the migrants and call them illegals but we don’t blame ourselves that much—the system we have created that depends upon their labor, depends upon their sweat, depends upon their presence,” Ray said. “The people who get caught in the middle are people who come here to survive.”

The amendment failed.

A vote on the original resolution was put before the body, and it passed.

The deadline for resolutions for Annual Conference 2018 is March 15.

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