ST. CHARLES — Proclaiming the Baptismal promise to "resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves," United Methodists in the Northern Illinois Conference (NIC) today made the commitment to "embrace the higher law of 'Biblical obedience'" by signing a pledge of resistance and non-cooperation against the global denomination's discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons and their allies.
In a point of personal privilege on the Annual Conference floor, Rev. Donald Guest (currently serving as Consultant to the Bishop on Urban Ministry at California-Nevada Conference) yesterday said "I hope this Conference will stand against the tide of the vote for discrimination. I hope this Conference will consider that the lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual people we are talking about are human beings — and they are people who belong to Jesus Christ."
Rejoicing in the ministry already happening in the NIC, those who are resisting took to celebration tonight with "Alleluia Anyhow!" — a Cabaret featuring many from in Reconciling Ministry Network (RMN) congregations in the Conference.
RMN is the organization of congregations who are open and affirming with persons who identify as LGBT, and were a partner with the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) in the "Love Your Neighbor" Common Witness Coalition at the General Conference held every four years, where the global denomination voted in May to continue its discriminatory language against LGBT persons.
Current Chairperson of the RMN Board and Lead Pastor of First United Methodist Church in Arlington Heights Rev. Bonnie Beckonchrist says, "in the NIC, we are fortunate to be a Reconciling Conference, but our witness is so critical to those in places where the church's official stance continues to do harm." Beckonchrist says the national number of RMN congregations and communities is 511, 12 of whom have joined since General Conference, and 30 of which are in the NIC.
Rev. Phil Blackwell, Lead Pastor of First UMC (Chicago Temple) and MC for tonight's Cabaret invited clergy and lay colleagues to join the movement of non-cooperation "in order to carry out the ministry to which we are called." On the first day of circulating petitions, over 200 people signed the declaration that reads: "While we are deeply saddened that such a step has become necessary, we live in hope that the day will not be long in coming when our beloved church will remember its roots and once more be guided by love."
The declaration's supporters cite the denomination's own "law book," the Book of Discipline, for its actions: "paragraph 164f recognizes 'the right of individuals to dissent when acting under the constraint of conscience and after having exhausted all legal recourse, to resist or disobey laws that they deem to be unjust or that are discriminately enforced.' We hold as United Methodists that the church cannot impose rules for society that it is unwilling to impose for itself and its members."
According to Rev. Marti Scott, pastor at Euclid Avenue UMC in Oak Park, "we must refuse to obey unjust laws." In Northern Illinois, says Scott, "our congregations are filled with LGBT persons who are in our Bible studies, leadership committees, and every aspect of ministry in the church. Our declaration today affirms the ministry we are already dedicated to and practicing," she says.
Euclid Ave. UMC, where Scott is pastor, bears the outdoor sign "Jesus was radically inclusive" as a witness in its outreach and ministry; those who today claimed the resistance movement choose that radical inclusion to let people know that NIC local churches are available for them as places to experience the love of God and the power of a faithful congregation in ministry with their communities.
"I am concerned about the teenager somewhere out there who hears the 'church' say that God doesn't love LGBT persons," says Rev. Gregory Gross, who serves the UMC in ministry at the Center on Halsted in Chicago, "and I want them to hear loud and clear that the denominational action does not speak for us. Our witness as United Methodist Christians who believe God created us all as beloved can save lives."
For those seeking such inclusive communities, there are 30 RMN-affiliated congregations in Northern Illinois. The list can be found at www.rmnetwork.org/ .