Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An agenda of hospitality

I was late to the morning training session about cross cultural relationships. I needed to catch up on sleep. A lot of the resistance African delegates have over inclusion of gays is because the way missionaries treated Africans in the 1950s. A big issue of the time was polygamy, a common practice in Africa. To become Christian a man had to choose a wife and divorce the rest. Families were ripped apart. The discarded wives and kids had no means of financial support and, because she was divorced, could not join the church. They haven't forgotten that. They believe we still don't properly respect them – not enough translators, not enough help getting into hotel rooms, not help to get food.

Many African delegates were told not to associate with the “bad” people in the Tabernacle. But it was the bad people who were the ones who were hospitable. The bad people made an emergency run to the airport at midnight and found four vanloads of stranded delegates. It was the bad people who fed them because they couldn't eat on the American flight to Tampa – onboard snacks require a credit card and Africans don't have those. It was the bad people who helped them to check into their hotels and teach then how to unlock their room doors.

We were taught about respect, and to watch for power imbalances. Hospitality might be just asking about their families. The biggest thing we can do be be hospitable.

A student from Sierra Leone spoke in favor of gay issues. He was told not to go home. We are helping him seek asylum. A delegate named Andy from Nigeria was considered to have been too greatly influenced by the West. His house was bombed and his uncle and several other people died. Fortunately, his wife and infant son are safe. Threats are real, so we must be careful not to put them in danger. Though I hear the rumor of threat posted yesterday may have been a plant by conservative American groups.

Today's agenda is hospitality.

The late morning plenary session was about the preamble to the social principles. We affirmed that nothing stands between us and God's love by only 57%. Some African delegates claimed God doesn't love those who don't believe in him. When those for this language quoted scripture a delegate said that we aren't talking about scripture, we're talking about the Book of Discipline. Someone got their priorities mixed up.

The lunch discussion was about the role of women.

Garlinda Burton, who is the head of COSROW, spoke on the the treatment of women. Some have claimed that things are done to women because it is a cultural issue. So was slavery in the United States. Culture isn't a reason to discriminate. Culture is fluid.

General Conference won't necessarily follow God (as they have shown concerning gays in the last 40 years). Her prayer is that God will roll right over that obstruction.

Through out the world there are so many men deciding women's issues. It is time women had a say.

Then came two speakers from the Philippines, both clergy.

80%-90% of church attendance in the Philippines are women and children. They are able to discuss lots of issues on gender. There are lots of women in leadership positions and 1/3 of clergy are women. They now include in pre-marital training discussions that women are equal partners in a marriage. Power is not power until it is used to empower others.

Since the first speaker ended with a reference to Exodus, the second started by saying we need an exodus from thinking that gender only refers to straight men and women. We must include LGBT. People will know you are my disciples not because of your doctrine, not because of who you are, but that you love others as Christ has loved you. It was so good to hear such rousing support from someone from the Philippines.

As part of the day of hospitality I served as a greeter at lunch. I simply said hello to everyone on their way to the food line in the Tabernacle. During the afternoon break in the plenary session I went over to the convention center and said hello to the delegates (and everyone else) on their way to the snack tables. African delegates were the ones most likely to stop for a moment to talk. One delegate said something about pictures so I offered to take his picture. He declined, saying he didn't have enough money. Huh? I asked our cross cultural trainer who said many Africans at tourists places make their money by charging to take pictures of people. Today I've been careful not to wear my backpack on my back because I have on my “Love Thy Neighbor” shirt that has a long list of people we should love on the back.

A poem posted behind the serving line in the Tabernacle:

All the colors of the rainbow
All the voices of the wind
Every dream that reaches out
Reaches out to find where love begins.
Every word of every story,
Every star in every sky
Every corner of creation
Lives to testify.

From the mountains to the valley
From the river to the sea
Every hand that reaches out
Reaches out to offer peace.
Every simple act of mercy
Ever step to Kingdom come
All the hope in every heart will
Speak what love has done!

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