Conference adopts 'Action of Non-Conformity' resolution

Will Green and John Blackadar bring the resolution to the Annual Conference June 17, 2016.

June 17, 2016

The New England Annual Conference said it would not wait any longer for The United Methodist Church to change its position on homosexuality.

Members voted 445/179 Friday afternoon to support the resolution 16-220 titled “Action of Non-Conformity with the General Conference of The United Methodist Church.” There were 17 abstentions and two blank ballots. (Click the link for the amended resolution).

It states, in part, “The NEAC will not conform or comply with provisions of the Discipline which discriminate against LGBTQIA persons” and “The NEAC and its members will not participate in or conduct judicial procedures related to the Discipline’s prohibitions against LGBTQIA persons.” 

During the morning session, a motion was made to refer the resolution to the Council of Bishops for consideration by the commission being formed in response to General Conference’s request for guidance from the bishops on the church’s stand.

The Rev. John Marshall, pastor of South UMC in Manchester, CT, made the motion to refer.

“I followed the stream of General Conference relatively closely… the denomination was on the brink of schism, and the body asked the Council of Bishops for leadership,” he said, and the council proposed the commission to study human sexuality.
“I think there are many people from a variety of places that really struggled with that,” Rev. Marshall said. “And they’re asking us to give them a lot of trust. What I hear in that is that as a church, as a denomination that was on brink of schism, we decided to give the church one more chance at a creative solution, a compromise. We were asked to live with the current situation for a little while longer.  … My sense is that we could offer this resolution – that was overwhelmingly approved by the Committee on the Whole – to this commission for them to understand the depth of hurt, the depth of woundedness, the depth of feeling disconnected that real people are feeling in real ways throughout New England. … There’s something sacred about trust; there’s something powerful about consensus.”

 He concluded by saying that Jesus called on us to love, and “the most difficult kind of love” requires us to trust each other – even though “we might get hurt one more time.”

The Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, said the conversation made him think of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and said the time for waiting is over.

“Wait has almost always meant never,” said Rev. Ewing-Merrill, pastor at Hope.Gate.Way UMC in Portland, ME. “What this Conference said last night is we’re not going to wait any longer for the general church to make up its mind and maybe someday have justice; we’re going to act.”

The resolution was initially considered in by a Committee on the Whole, a mechanism in Robert’s Rules of Order that in effect allows a voting body to consider matters as if it is a committee. The Rev. John Blackadar, newly elected conference secretary, was chosen to preside over the Committee on the Whole, and he presented the resolution this morning.

Questions were asked Friday as to whether the resolution had any legal implications; Conference Chancellor Bill Hewig said there was nothing the Annual Conference could do that would jeopardize its 501C3 status. He also said the only possible legal consequence would be a challenge that sends the matter to the Judicial Council.

A friendly amendment to add the phrase “anti-oppression” to the language of the resolution was approved. A recommendation was made to the Committee of the Whole to add “anti-sexism,” and a motion this morning, which passed, was made to add “ageism” to the language. The “anti-oppression” language was intended to cover all of the “isms.”

The last paragraph of the resolution was amended Friday afternoon to remove the prohibition against using Conference reserve funds to pay general church apportionments. Language was also added to charge the Connectional Table and the Conference Council on Finance and Administration with the task of developing those programs.

In making the final speech as the maker of the motion Pastor Will Green said:

“Do not let fear stop you from doing the right thing,” and added that taking this action was against the rules, but “not against justice.”

The Rev. Edward Bove, serving People's UMC and Searsmont UMC in Maine, Friday morning described his feelings challenging rules:

Talking of his days at the Boston University School of Theology, and the statue to Dr. King with the plaque that reads: When fight against unjust laws, it is not a disrespect for the law, but the highest regard for the law.”

We are not disregarding the law, he said, but rather: “We are making a statement of love.”
Members stand with Skip Smith,
who said he would leave the Conference.


After the paper ballots were counted, the Rev. Michael Pike of Portsmouth UMC in Rhode Island, requested that Bishop Devadhar make a decision of law on the legality of the resolution.

“I believe this action is clearly and intentionality in opposition to and in conflict with the Book of Discipline,” Pike said.

Devadhar noted that he had 30 days under church law to answer Pike’s request and promised to do so.

Skip Smith, who serves as pastor of the Berwick UMC in Maine, came before the body and said: “Brothers and sisters in Christ from all isms, through much personal reflection and prayer, I respectfully, sadly and through the power of the Holy Spirit leave this New England Annual Conference. May God bless you all.”

Adjourning the session, Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar and Bishop Violet Fisher went to talk and pray with Smith.

Sam Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, contributed to this report.