In a break from a day of debating church policy, about 30 young people made weary delegates a little giddy with an energetic rendition of “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from the musical Hairspray,staged during the late afternoon break for the United Methodist 2012 General Conference.
For five minutes the young people danced and sang and filled a large portion of the second floor of the Tampa Convention Center with joy, laughter and applause.
“Someone said to me, ‘You know, everybody was really happy for five minutes.’ I want to say to General Conference that this is one of the many things my generation – particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer – youth have to offer to the church,” said Jamie Michaels, a master of divinity student at Pacific School of Religion and a candidate for ordination in the California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference.
“I wonder if the church is willing to lose us?” she asked.
Tyler Sit, a first-year master of divinity student at Candler University (and adancing machine), lead the mob. He and other members of
MOSAIC, Methodist Students (Young People) for an All Inclusive Churchhave been planning the event since February. Sit said he even put the dance moves on a YouTube video so people could learn them before they got to General Conference.
“I believe in The United Methodist Church and I believe we can offer a prophetic voice in the 21st century, but that is not going to happen if we I don’t have all voices at the table,” he said. “Any form of oppression is hurting the church. I am passionate about creating a church that reflects the kingdom of God.”
The song, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” aptly illustrated their point, he said.
“In the past, the U.S. and other parts of the world were segregated based on race. My feeling is that today it is segregated based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Anne Lynch, 21, from the Baltimore-Washington conference. “Through the mode of dance we wanted to express God is already with us and we are just waiting for the church to catch up.”
Lynch said she was there today for her brother, who is gay.
“Since we were very young he felt unaccepted by society and the church and he tried to hurt himself many times,” she said. “If I stood by and did nothing — like the church is asking me to do — his blood would be on my hands.”
During the global assembly, the church will be debating more than 70 pieces of legislation related to gay rights.
“At the moment what has happened in legislative committees are not going in our favor,” said Kara Johansen Crawford, 22, serving as a mission intern in Colombia.
She said the language “incompatible with Christian teaching” remains intact despite legislation wanting to strike those words from Para. 161F in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book. Legislation from the Global Young People’s Convocation held in 2010 was also not approved. That language would have said “we don’t agree but we can work together,” she said.
“It is really harmful language and just a grand irony of the church,” she said. “We speak so much about inclusion and welcoming everyone in – open hearts, open minds, open doors, rethink church – yet so many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer folks are just so burned by their experiences of the church and the exclusion they have felt over the years.”
If full inclusion doesn’t happen at this General Conference, Kari Collins, 24, said they would keep trying.
“Young people have something to contribute, we are bringing change with us and you can’t hold us back.”