Finding Hope at Lake Junaluska

My wife Marilyn and I attended the national convocation, featuring powerful programming for the gay community and its allies in the United Methodist Church, at Lake Junaluska in western North Carolina over this past Labor Day weekend. I don’t know when I’ve ever attended a more energizing conference!

It was anticipated that about 350 registrants would be present, but 600 folks showed up from across the nation! The convocation is held every other year and is sponsored by the Reconciling Ministries Network (office in Chicago). Workshops, forums, worship services, small group sharing, panels, and bible study were the main features in this profoundly depth-filled three days.

Leading up to the conference, you may have read some newspaper reports that the KKK and some religious right-wing groups were going to protest the conference being held in this religious setting. Proudly, the Lake Junaluska staff and officials didn’t give in to such threats. With aid of wonderful security personnel, these antagonistic groups were kept away from the central meeting and lodging areas.

A highlight of the conference was a panel presentation made by 7 bishops of the United Methodist Church. It can clearly be seen that there is an evolving dissent being made on the part of some courageous bishops to step away from the oppressive doctrine and policies against gays and the ordination of gays. Over 40 other bishops who could not be present sent letters of support and encouragement to the GLBT community and its allies.

A hopeful sign in all of this is that, historically, when some bishops begin to step aside from the consensus or unanimity of the Council of Bishops, things can begin to change. It happened some decades ago when the grip of racial segregation was broken; and it also occurred some several decades ago when the non-ordination of women was stopped. And now there is hope that the issue of homosexuality can take the same route.

This doesn’t imply that it will be easy or that things become transformed at a fast pace. There are ultra-conservative, wealthy funding groups and think tanks across the nation that have been out to undermine mainline denominations (such as the Presbyterians, United Methodist, and Episcopal churches) for several decades. The social justice causes of such denominations have been under assault. One of the leading conservative groups heading this effort is the Institute of Religion and Democracy. In the United Methodist Church, two of the more conservative watchdog groups being influenced by the IRD are the Confessing Movement and Good News. Such groups were very much against the convocation being held at Lake Junaluska.

Just as progressive United Methodists are attempting to dislodge the discrimination against the GLBT community from its doctrinal and policy structures, so too should all progressive persons in South Carolina attempt to keep the horrible 2006 anti-gay Amendment from the light of day in our state’s Constitutional structures.

There are major battles yet ahead, but also there is HOPE!