By Jessica Brodie
Annual Conference has approved or referred six resolutions dealing with everything from racism and discrimination against transgender people to education, history and the uninsured poor.
On the final morning of the four-day gathering, clergy and lay members of Annual Conference spent hours debating, amending and then ultimately passing three of the more contentious resolutions. They spent just minutes on the other three, one of which they passed and two of which they referred to other bodies in the conference for review and decision.
Resolution on Changing South Carolina Department of Education Social Study Standards Regarding Native Americans (Passed)
Only one of the six resolutions was submitted early enough to be included in preconference materials: the Resolution on Changing South Carolina Department of Education Social Study Standards Regarding Native Americans.
Dr. Marvin Caldwell, chair of the conference Committee on Resolutions and Appeals, said the committee recommended concurrence with the resolution.
Current education standards require that students are educated about only three Native American tribes: the Catawba, Cherokee and Yemassee. Of these, the Catawba is the only South Carolina tribe that is still extant and has federal recognition (the Cherokee are located in North Carolina and the Yemassee are no longer an organized tribe). The Native American Committee, which submitted the resolution, would like education standards to also include the nine state recognized tribes, as well as the fact that the Catawba were terminated by the federal government and they had to work hard to regain their federal recognition. Additionally, the standards teach Indian history from the past, with no mention of modern issues. They also leave out mention of Lady Cofitachequi, an important Native American female leader, as well as the three school systems during South Carolina’s “separate but equal” period—not only black and white but also red—further illuminating what the NAC calls the invisibility of Native people.
“Our rationale is the South Carolina history books are inadequate in (identifying) the tribes in South Carolina,” Caldwell said.
No one spoke against resolution, which passed overwhelmingly.
Responsibilities for Eradication of Racism Resolution (Passed)
Three of the resolutions sparked far more debate, particularly the Responsibilities for Eradication of Racism Resolution. Questions, debate, amendments and amendments to amendments meant the body spent close to an hour hashing out the proper wording on this resolution, which ultimately was amended three times and approved in a close vote.
Among other things, this resolution asks every district and local congregation within the Annual Conference to have a strategy and program that educates and supports systemic and personal changes to end racism and develop interculturally competent leaders.
The Committee on Resolutions and Appeals recommended concurrence on the resolution.
“Our rationale is we are not complete with the work of eradicating racism and need to be more diligent in doing so,” Caldwell said.
Ultimately, the body agreed, but it took much finagling with the terminology to get the resolution right before passage.
Resolution to Oppose Discrimination Against Transgender People (Passed)
The committee also recommended concurrence on this resolution, which asks the conference to vow, as churches and people of faith, to no longer be silent about the value of each and every life; to categorically oppose discrimination against transgender people in all its forms and, in the spirit of advocating for safe sanctuary, to respond to acts of discrimination against transgender people with acts of compassion; and to take a public stand against speeches of hate, exclusion, harassment and acts of intimidation and violence filled with long-held prejudices.
In a vote too close for a raised ballot, Bishop Jonathan Holston called for a second, standing vote. The resolution was approved.
Much discussion centered on some of the background of the resolution, which referenced the nation’s ongoing debate about transgender people and the use of public bathrooms. Several wanted language to be deleted from the resolution that noted South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and major business organizations in the state have publicly opposed laws that required transgender people to use the public bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificates. However, deletion of that language failed.
Lay member Michael Cheatham moved that the body refer this resolution to the Advocacy area of Connectional Ministries, but after a vote that motion failed.
Debate then turned to the resolution as a whole.
John Gibbons of Salem UMC, Irmo, said he felt the resolution was unnecessary because the UMC already opposes discrimination and the resolution is possibly discriminatory itself because it singles out one group over others.
The Rev. Webb Belangia V, pastor of Aldersgate UMC, Sumter, said he didn’t want to see discrimination against anyone, but he wondered whether the resolution might open the door for a “pervert claiming to be transgender going in the bathroom with my daughters.”
“Why don’t we prayerfully just wait and see where society comes down?” Belangia asked the body.
The Rev. Keith Ray spoke in favor of the resolution, noting he has another word he often uses for transgenders: healed.
“We are often afraid of those who are different, and it’s easy to pitch this fearful, ‘they’re going to come after us’ kind of thing, but we don’t have any evidence of transgender persons harming us,” Ray said. “I think it’s important for us to say we care for this community.”
Ray lifted up a letter the sheriff of Richland County wrote this year to state legislators urging them not to pass the so-called bathroom bill.
“‘In the 41 years I’ve been in law enforcement,’ he wrote, ‘I’ve never heard of a transgender person attacking or otherwise bothering a person in a bathroom; this is a non-issue,” Ray said, reading the sheriff’s letter. “You would not know you are using the bathroom with a transgender person. You would not if he came into the room.”
Resolution to Support the Nature of High Quality Public Education South Carolina (Referred)
The Committee on Resolutions and Appeals recommended referral of this resolution to the conference’s Children in Poverty Task Force, and the body overwhelmingly approved the referral with no discussion.
This resolution asks the conference to meet the needs of all children and working families by advocating to ensure that all children have the opportunity to attend great schools; educating congregations and members about the importance of engaging curriculum; mobilizing members to advocate for implementation of fair standards; raising awareness about high-stakes testing and the negative effect it is having; advocating for investment in the teaching profession to ensure that teachers are well-prepared and supported; advocating for a comprehensive, multi-provider system that ensures voluntary access to high-quality, affordable early childhood; mobilizing members to fight for legislation, policies and funding that ensure children have strong public schools; and encouraging all churches to support provisions that enable parents and guardians to participate fully in their children’s education.
Resolution for Uninsured Poor Adults in South Carolina (Referred)
The committee recommended referral on this resolution to Connectional Ministries because, as Caldwell said, “more specific details are needed on how we offer healthcare to adults.” As with the previous resolution, body approved the referral with no discussion.
This resolution asks South Carolina United Methodists to accept responsibility for modeling health in all its dimensions and calls upon entities within the United Methodist connection to take steps toward health and wholeness and encourage the conference to continue their support and provision of direct-health services; a comprehensive health system with equal access to quality health care; the passing of Senate Bill 845, which will enable 123,000 South Carolinians who currently fall into the insurance gap to purchase health insurance; and private market proposals for expanding health insurance coverage.
Resolution for an Assessment and a Plan of Action for the African-American Historical Methodist Flagship Churches of the South Carolina Annual Conference (Passed)
The committee recommended concurrence on this resolution, and the body passed an amended version. The resolution asks the conference to use an assessment method to evaluate the past, present and future worth of the South Carolina 1866 “flagship” churches and each African-American United Methodist Church in the state, plus direct congregational specialists and others to implement an assessment and plan of action for the historical black churches of this conference and further determine if family centers, community centers or historical sites have possibilities.
“The committee sees the need to preserve the historical African-American flagship churches and the need to assess potential for future ministries,” Caldwell said about the concurrence.
Many on the floor had questions about the meaning of flagship, which ultimately was defined as African-American cornerstone churches dating to 1866 that had at least 300 members at the time and that proved themselves to be influential in terms of ministry and in producing future clergy and bishops for the denomination.
“This is a celebration, and what I mean by celebration, from 1866 to 2016 is 150 years of these churches and the contributions they’ve made to United Methodism,” said the Rev. Norman Brown, who wrote the resolution that was also supported by Black Methodists for Church Renewal.
Two people spoke against the resolution, stating they felt celebrating specifically African-American flagship churches would reinforce a division of races during a time when many seek to reconcile and unite.
“I would encourage us to support this conference as one, not two,” said Frances Hill, lay member from the Emmanuel-Mount Zion Charge in Sumter.
Paula Ford, lay member of the 231-year-old Duncan Memorial UMC, Georgetown, the first Methodist church in the state, agreed with Hill.
“I’m against this resolution because it does divide the church,” Ford said.
But others said it’s about honoring history, not creating division.
“A lot of history in our churches is not known, and I believe given the opportunity, the data could be collected and we could identify … the legacy of these churches,” said the Rev. Carleathea Benson, pastor of Fairfield UMC, Piedmont.
The Rev. Willie Dicks, pastor of the East Camden Charge, Camden, asked how anyone could look at this as separating the church.
“This has nothing to do with us being separated,” Dicks said. “This is dealing with history, the historical value and the present-day and future value of these churches, which speaks for itself.”
The resolution passed.
After the votes, Caldwell thanked all who served on the committee for their hard work at a job that can be tedious.
Committee member the Rev. Rett Haselden said the morning’s lengthy debate underscored the importance of planning early so their resolutions get in preconference materials and can be reviewed by the body well in advance.
“The Committee on Resolutions and Appeals wants to remind the Annual Conference that in order to avoid lengthy and last-minute discussion and amendments …, it is vital that (resolutions) be turned in before the March 15 deadline,” he said to much applause.