Retired Bishop Don Ott carries with him a broken shard from a chalice that was smashed at the 2004 United Methodist General Conference. He is hoping 2012 will be the year he can leave it at the altar of this conference as a symbol that the church has welcomed homosexuals as full members.
Under a large white tent, just a few steps from the Tampa Convention Center, people poured into a noon press conference urging the denomination to remove a ban on gay clergy. The press conference was sponsored by Love Your Neighbor, a coalition that supports full and equal inclusion of all in The United Methodist Church.
The 2012 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, is meeting in Tampa, Fla., to make decisions about church policy. The body will be considering more than 70 pieces of legislation related to gay rights.
Ott said the church is “in denial” about ordaining and including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.
Ott and retired Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader, Cheryl Anderson, a professor at United Methodist Garrett-Evangelical Seminary, and Pamela Lightsey, professor at Boston University School of Theology, spoke at the conference in support of a statement signed by 36 retired bishops in 2011.
The statement asks the church to remove a paragraph in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, that says “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” as well as language that states self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.
Lightsey said often some conservative groups use black people as “poster children” and say black people do not support gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons.
As a black, lesbian woman in The United Methodist Church she said she was standing up as “another face.”
“It was important for me to say, ‘No you are wrong, there are black people in America who do support the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons.
“We are a reality and no longer will we live in silence.”