FUMC Austin submitted twenty-seven petitions for changes to the Book of Discipline. Most of them focused on areas of discrimination against LGBT persons by either removing discriminatory language or by inserting protective language (such as in the area of same-sex adoption). One petition directed the agencies of the Church to complete a report about the risk of suicide for LGBT youth. Another petition opposed immigration policies that separated family members and/or detained families with children.
We had a shining success with our petition opposing these immigration policies. The legislative committee took our language and improved upon it. The improved petition was then adopted by the plenary (761-21). Therefore, the 2016 Book of Discipline will include the statement:
We oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children, and we call on local churches to be in ministry with immigrant families.
In the area of LGBT inclusion, because of the adoption of the Bishop’s statement and the resulting deferment of all human sexuality related petitions, five of our petitions (or similar petitions) received the recommendation of their legislative committee, but were not considered by the plenary. This included:
- Rejecting the Criminalization of Homosexuality
- Churches Shall Not Discriminate (in the hiring of lay staff)
- Church to Be in Ministry to Persons of All Sexual Orientations (renewing a resolution)
- Reducing Harm for LGBT Youth (a new resolution)
- Teen Sexual Identity and Suicide Risk* (requiring a report to be written & distributed)
*On this item, we had significant dialogue with the United Methodist Women and Division on Young People’s Ministries about the content and strategy of our petition. They had submitted a similar petition. Since they had a better plan for how to assign and complete the report, Pastor Michael encouraged them to let it be known that we endorsed passing their plan, since it accomplished the same goal.
Similarly, due to the deferment of all human sexuality related petitions, six of our petitions were not recommended by their legislative committee, but did not see further action by the plenary. Without the deferment they might have seen a vote by the plenary. They were:
- Removing the “incompatibility clause”
- Advocating for the Civil Right for All to Marry
- Removing the barriers to LGBT Ordination
- Removing the barrier preventing clergy from marrying same-sex persons
- Removing the Chargeable Offense of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual”
- Advocating for Military Service Regardless of Sexual Orientation
One of our petitions would have included “sexual orientation” in the constitutional list of persons to whom the church is open. It was not supported because another petition addressing this language was recommended. The other petition did not include “sexual orientation,” but was positive in other, non-LGBT-related ways.
Finally, along with petitions from many other people and organizations, fourteen of our petitions were simply not considered by their assigned legislative committee. This could be for many reasons, including not enough time to address it and/or setting it aside because of decisions made on other petitions with which the committee handled.
While only one of our petitions succeeded in changing the Book of Discipline, it was a good one that speaks grace and justice in these turbulent political times for immigrants. Without our petition this likely would not have happened. Thanks be to God!
While our other petitions did not change the Book of Discipline, they were part of the important conversation that took place at General Conference 2016. This includes conversations that led the Bishops and other leaders to act. While they are deferred indefinitely, they are one of the voices available to the Bishops’ commission that will be addressing human sexuality. Each one is a “snowflake” that builds up to weigh upon the branches of our denomination and the leadership of our bishops.
Thank you to the Petitions Working Group for preparing these petitions for our voice to be heard. This was a work of ministry, to speak for justice, compassion, love, and hope.