by: Kara Crawford
For the last week of April and the first week of May, I spent my time in Tampa, FL. No, it wasn’t some sort of Girls Gone Wild-esque Spring Break misadventure. Instead, it was a misadventure of much more epic proportions, or so it felt at times. It was the General Conference of The United Methodist Church, or, more simply, a conference of 1,000 United Methodists from across the world coming together to talk about the structure, management, and social stances of The UMC for the next four years.
Among hot-button questions this year were restructuring the church, the “official” proposal of which, in my opinion would move away from our democratic, participatory model to a more streamlined, hierarchical business model, and human sexuality, meaning legislating the sacred worth of queer folks. As if that’s a good idea.
From the get-go, I was uncomfortable with process. In so-called “holy conversations” around sexuality, some delegates expressed a belief that queer folks should be stoned to death, among other like beliefs, and in the restructuring discussion, young people were often forgotten or disregarded, even mocked. Actions were taken that could be extremely harmful to ensuring that the voices of women, people of color, and United Methodists from outside of the US would be heard in The UMC’s leadership.
As a young, progressive, female-identified citizen of Queerville who is passionate about making sure the voices of marginalized communities have a place at the table, I can hardly imagine a situation in which more of my integral identities could be denied, harmed, excluded, and the like so continuously, especially in a space where I should be able to feel relatively safe.
I went emotionally numb about halfway through the conference. This has always been one of my defense mechanisms; when things get too emotionally difficult in a public space, I shut down. I become bitter, jaded, and emotionally cold, though never let it affect my continual work for justice and the like; I simply guard myself against more hurt by distancing myself emotionally.
It was at this point that I helped bring together a group of young adults to plan the revolution. We hoped to bring before the General Conference a list of grievances, listing the ways we felt young people had been harmed by the discourse. One among our number came up with the twitter hashtag #wearenowhereumc with the double meaning of “we are nowhere” and “we are now here” to remind the General Conference that while young people are often forgotten, we are now here, as well.
It was going to be a hashtag young people could use to vocalize their grievances that we would then use for our project. However, something changed; when we launched the hashtag, the young people who began using it framed it in a positive light, expressing hopes and possibilities regarding the role of young people in the church. My jaded and emotionally guarded exterior began to break down.
The tipping point, though, was the day after the hashtag launch. For some time, a group of young adult citizens of Queerville had been planning a flash mob. It would be a huge attention-grabbing dance to “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray, aimed at celebrating the role of young people and queer folks in The UMC, and reminding The UMC that we are now here. The flash mob (seriously, watch it!) went off better than we could have ever planned; the crowd loved it and we grabbed everyone’s attention. For me, though, it had an even deeper importance.
In the midst of my frustration and moments of pessimism, there were times when I wondered seriously for the first time why I stay in The UMC, why I shouldn’t find a church that affirms me just as I am. For me, though, the flash mob and my participation in it served to remind me of why I’m willing to stick it out and continue working for more inclusion, of queer folks, of young people, of women, of people of color, of non-US members.
There may be moments, some of them unbelievably long, when The UMC may act like we are nowhere, either like those voices are not available or that they are not even part of the church, as is often the case with young people, but the truth is, and always will be, that we are now here!
No matter how much certain people want some voices silenced, for queer folks to sit down and take the church’s blows without standing back up and resuming our struggle, or for those crazy, radical young people who keep envisioning something different for the church, though it may require drastic change, to sit down and be silent, but we’re not going anywhere.
Change is coming; they can’t stop the beat. The song’s chorus really resonated with me as I faced my frustration and inner turbulence, because it reminded me “you can’t stop the motion of the ocean, or the rain from above / you can try to stop the paradise we’re dreamin’ of / But you cannot stop the rhythm of two hearts in love to stay / ‘Cause you can’t stop the beat!”
Be it The UMC or the US government, or the state of North Carolina, change is coming. WE know it is right around the corner and inevitable, and those in power can either accept that or lash out in an extremist attempt to further marginalize certain voices and maintain their power, but the truth is, they can’t stop the beat! We are now here, and we’re going nowhere.
Kara Johansen Crawford is a graduate of DePaul University, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Kara has been actively involved in activism and community service for much of her life and is particularly passionate about labor justice, queer issues and engaging faith communities on social issues. Kara is currently serving as a Mission Intern with the United Methodist Church at the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación, based in Bogotá, Colombia. Follow Kara on Twitter @revolUMCionaria and on her blog.