May 132015
 
Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe

It seems the Commission on the General Conference for the United Methodist Church, meeting last month, decided to hold the first quadrennial General Conferences outside the United States . The original choice had the GC going to Zimbabwe in 2024, and the Philippines in 2028. Fortunately, an ever-present advocate for LGBT people within the Church was there, and raised a few concerns, including the fact that Amnesty International has declared Zimbabwe one of the most dangerous countries for LGBT people. The years were switched.

Needless to say, I’m not happy, and am writing the Commission members to let them know. I can only believe this is an attempt to create such cost and hardship for the many constituent groups that attend the GC, that many won’t attend. There was some discussion this year to try to hold the General Conference behind locked doors, and indeed, a number of committee and commission meetings have been held in this way. Since that didn’t go over so well, I think this move is designed to effect the same result.

My letter is below:

To the Members of the United Methodist Church Commission on the General Conference:

I am, as a life-long Methodist, nothing short of astonished at your decision to hold the 2028 General Conference in Zimbabwe. Any reasonable explanation for this decision escapes me, save one.

First, while I realize the number of African delegates (Central Conferences) is growing, I believe you may still be asking the majority to take on a rather arduous and expensive trip. Zimbabwe is not a first-world  country, and does not provide significant accommodations for those with physical disabilities or challenges. There is no “Americans with Disabilities Act” in Zimbabwe.

The government of Zimbabwe does not even enjoy normal diplomatic relations with the United States.  Just today, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Shannon Smith, visited Harare, and said the United States would not relax travel bans and other sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and his leadership. The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Deputy Assistant Secretary Steven Feldstein said, “From the United States perspective, we have a long-standing human rights violations that include intimidation, harassment, torture and forced disappearances. We are now entering the third month into the disappearances of Itai Dzamara.”

It will place significant hardships on the constituent groups generally represented at the GC, but this is perhaps the very reason for making such a move. There have been recent discussions about holding the GC behind locked doors. Since those fell apart, the only logical explanation for this plan, is to essentially do the same thing by going to such a remote location, that MSFA, Reconciling Ministries and other groups cannot afford to attend, or where they would be in very real mortal danger. Is this the motivation behind this choice? I can think of no other.

Let’s look further at this Country’s record on LGBT rights. Here are just a few of the things the current President, Mugabe has had to say about LGBT brothers and sisters:

In March of 2014, he described homosexuality as “inhuman,” and said, “Gays have no human rights. They have human rights – human rights for doing an inhuman thing.”

In a rally last July during the Presidential election, he said that “Authorities should arrest gays and lesbians who don’t conceive children.” Mugabe during the same event criticized the Anglican Church for blessing same-sex marriage and President Obama over his support of nuptials for gays and lesbians.

He has stated his support on many occasions for Uganda’s law, which has included the death penalty and life in prison for LGBT people.

I can go on, as the list of the ugly things he’s said about LGBT people is pretty much endless, but we’ll leave it with these few for now. I know you may have switched the years with the Philippines in hopes the 91-year-old  Mugabe will be dead by 2028, and most likely he will, but that won’t significantly change the environment for LGBT people in Zimbabwe, where this kind of hatred is institutionalized. The Zimbabwean government has also often targeted members of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), a local LGBT advocacy group.

Police in August 2012 arrested more than 40 members of the organization inside their Harare office. GALZ members said authorities confiscated computers and pamphlets from the same office a few days before the arrests. “We are deeply concerned when security forces become an instrument of political violence used against citizens exercising their democratic rights,” said then-State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland after the incidents. “We call upon the government of Zimbabwe to end this pattern of abuse and to eradicate the culture of impunity that allows members of the security sector to continue to violate the rights of the Zimbabwean people.”

It boggles the mind that the United Methodist Church would want to reward a regime like this with millions of dollars as part of holding a UMC General Conference.

And please don’t try to explain to me how the good Methodists of Zimbabwe will protect LGBT delegates and visitors. As a Methodist living in Tampa, I took the week off of the 2012 GC to serve as a volunteer, and heard the ugly things said both on the floor and outside the Conference Sessions by many from the African delegations, including Zimbabweans.

I would have to believe that at least one commission member was tasked with doing research on the environment in Zimbabwe prior to the Commission considering this vote, I have to, again ask, what can be the motivation for making this choice, other than to scare away the LGBT members of this Church from their Conference? If someone can offer me a better explanation of what motivated you all, I would be glad to hear from you. Feel free to use my contact information to contact me directly.

Whether you all like it or not, there are LGBT people who remain loyal to the United Methodist Church, and it is unconscionable that this Commission would take an action so blatantly designed to exclude a certain group. Even if you don’t believe that’s what you were doing, it is most certainly the result. Absent some explanation, this is one 56 year Methodist, who will become a member of that fast-growing  church of the “nones.”

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