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By Rev. Dan Hurlbert

The theme/word of the day on Friday, May 13, at General Conference was Mercy. Like all the worship services here in Portland, Bishop Sally Dyck preached a fine and moving sermon. We all used American Sign Language to sign mercy. The Bishop’s stole said mercy on it. Mercy was everywhere, almost.

Jesus says, “I want mercy, not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13)

My small group had just been through a difficult and long discussion (not a debate) around removing the prohibition baring clergy from celebrating same-sex marriage from the Book of Discipline. [Petition 61040 found on page 1089 of the ADCA, or online legislation tracker. Petition 60183 found on page 1162 of the ADCA , or online legislation tracker, was used to filibuster via amendment and to be forwarded to the whole body as amended.] Everyone in the group spoke, including me. Some people spoke multiple times. Some people needed a language interpreter to speak and to listen. We sat quietly and patiently. People spoke passionately and the environment was loving. At the end of the discussion I was soaked in sweat from the intensity. The group voted to strike the prohibition 9 for, 3 against.

It went to the whole body and was presented by our chair person. The first person who got up to speak against started by saying,

“It isn’t that I am not merciful . . . but.”

The inevitable speeches followed on both sides. We have all heard them. I have been hearing them since I first attended Annual Conference at the age of 14. In 37 years they have not changed. Some of the speakers, including this man, are still the same. The vote was taken. The petition went down by the margin of a single vote. I gritted my teeth in anger and wiped my eyes from sadness.

This is what I learned. I don’t get to decide if I am merciful. I may act in a way that I believe to be merciful. I may do my level best to always choose mercy. Ultimately, the people with whom I am in relationship will determine if I am merciful.

Many of my most cherished personality characteristics live in the minds of others. As the Board of Ordained Ministry Chair, I’ve tried to treat each candidate fairly. To the extent that it is in my power, I want to make each one’s process exactly the same. It is only others who can honestly tell you if I am fair. I have tried to shed the racist culture in which I was raised but only others can tell you if I am a racist. I have tried to treat my clergy colleagues the same, male and female, only they can tell you if I have done so. I have told you that these are my values and my intentions—you will form an opinion. Many of my most cherished personality characteristics live in the mind of others.

I don’t believe any of us has the right to claim, I am merciful. At best, we can claim that we have tried to be. I am certain that if I said, I am merciful but, the next thing I said would mean, I am not merciful. If I have to tell people I am merciful. . . The point is that it isn’t for me to say. And I am not sure that it is for you to say. For I may have been merciful to you but not to another. In the end, I suppose, all we really can do is our best to be merciful and trust in the One who truly is.

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