$20.16 in 2016!

We need your SUPPORT!!! General Conference 2016 begins in three months. Love Prevails has a lot of work to get done between now and this massive ten-day witness! Please consider making a one-time or recurring donation of $20.16 towards our General Conference 2016 efforts.‪#‎2016for2016‬ ‪#‎DisruptGC‬ ‪#‎UMCGC‬

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On The Violence of Dialogue

by Rev. Dr. Julie Todd

In an article on Monday, veteran Methodist activist and lesbian Sue Laurie described how in settings like the pre-General Conference briefing, LGBTQ folks take verbal and emotional beat-downs by their Methodist kindred, while being accused of being the ones wielding the weapons.

This is a classic projection of the violence that is deeply embedded within dominant groups in all forms of oppression, wherein the perpetrators of violence are reversed. In the church, queer folks, who are the actual objects of Christian violence, are portrayed as the problem.

Laurie wrote that Queer Methodists are not the threat they are portrayed to be. LGBTQ Methodists come to the church with band-aids, songs and rainbows, asking for a place at the table. What Laurie means by “a place at the table” is ordination and marriage for LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church.

We hear that the demand for equality is what is “hurting the church.” How many times have we heard it? “We are all hurt by this debate.” No, we are not all hurt by this debate. As Laurie points out, while many people may be made to feel uncomfortable by the demand for lesbian and gay equality, the discomfort of having one’s opinion challenged and privileges shaken is not the same as the daily violence experienced by LGBTQ persons. The equation of these harms is yet another form of violence.

What Laurie does not mean primarily by “a place at the table” is having a place on a panel. I’m sure that she was very glad that Dr. Dorothee Benz was invited to the human sexuality panel at the briefing. Because when Laurie went to the briefing four years ago, they had a panel on human sexuality; that is, a panel about gay people, with no gay people on it.

In her opening remarks, Benz was quick to point out that the subject matter of this year’s panel was not, as it was titled, “A Conversation About Topics Related to Human Sexuality.” The subject matter of the panel was “in blunt terms, about whether and how the UMC will continue to discriminate against LGBTQI people.”

Though Benz was invited to this particular table, it was not as an ordained United Methodist minister. The year Benz came out as a lesbian is the same year that United Methodists decided to bar gay men and women from ministry. Benz went on to provide examples of how the pain of her own personal experience “does not begin to capture the pain of UMC policy for LGBTQI people.”

After the pre-conference briefing, when an LGBTQ ally suggested on Twitter that Love Prevails members should go on a mission trip with the IRD to “swing hammers” together, just not at one another, LP member Alison Wisneski responded. She requested well-intentioned allies to think about what it means for a queer woman to even consider the notion of spending time with “groups that so openly hate me for my body and everything inside of it,” and with “those who seek nothing but death for me and my family.”

Liberals tend to think that any form of inclusion is good, as an end in and of itself. Inclusion on a panel is better than exclusion from a panel and therefore it is a good thing, right? Under the same logic, “both sides” dialogue is always an unmitigated good. Methodist holy conferencing is especially good, because it is holy.

In fact, this logic is not good. This kind of thinking is lazy analysis that fails to include the dynamics of power and pain. Such inclusion on panels and in debate does not, in fact, create good, nor does it necessarily even mitigate pain. It may, in fact, cause it.

This most recent panel, and virtually all panels that seek to provide “balanced viewpoints” are full of verbal and theological violence directed at gay people. They are also undergirded with infuriating claims: “how much we all love the church”; how important it is that we share the value of God’s grace; our agreement over the centrality of our mission of making disciples; and, above all, the importance of our unity in Christ. The head-nodding and sighing moans of agreement with these declarations only serves to make the hypocrisy of them all the more sickening. Very few see it or feel it, but it is violence. Not the violence of swords or fists, but violence nonetheless.

Recently another UM blog suggested that the “leading champions” of five “major” legislative proposals on human sexuality coming before the General Conference “owe” United Methodists the favor of conferencing together over their proposals.

The author notes that the makeup of these “leading champions” – five straight, white men – “lacks global, racial, gender, and orientation diversity–the lack of which, in-and-of itself may tell us something.” Here the author makes his most truly useful point. The makeup of this group tells us not just something, but everything. There are no gay people in this group of leaders.

Here is a central part of the problem. Whether LGBTQ people are invited to tables or not invited to tables to discuss their very own lives and the life-and-death consequences of our anti-gay policies, the results in the United Methodist Church have remained the same or gotten worse. Violence is perpetrated and injustice remains.

Here is the harsh reality that we who desire and are working for LGBTQ justice in our denomination must face. None of these panels nor proposals to General Conference, not holy conferencing nor the invoking and implementing of a Rule 44 alternative process for General Conference – none of this has anything to do with the true welfare of LGBTQ persons at all. None of this is about “balanced views,” respectful dialogue, shared Christian values, or the gospel of Jesus Christ. All of these efforts are about how to maintain the institutional church at the expense of queer people.

It is especially painful when allies to LGBTQ persons simply do not understand the levels of harm and cost to queer bodies, hearts and minds that are actively and passively perpetuated by such proposals, panels, conversations and conferencing. There are many different versions of the violence that cries “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”

Traveling about the country at the highest levels of the church over the last four years, Love Prevails’ has encountered a deep and insidious kind of violence inherent in dialogue (panels) and so-called holy conferencing, efforts which have resulted in a deadliness that the vast majority of people in our church simply fail to acknowledge that is real.

The only solution to even begin to repair the harm we have done is to take all of the anti-LGBTQ language out of The Book of Discipline, putting LGBTQ folks as equals at the table. It is the only just and right place to begin.

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A Request for Your Consideration

The following blog post is written by Love Prevails member, Alison Wisneski, in response to a recent tweet after the pre-General Conference meeting. The tweet referenced below suggested that the UMC boards and staffs of IRD, Good News Magazine, Reconciling Ministries Network, and Love Prevails take a mission trip together.

image1Sometimes I see fellow Tweeters and, through following their hashtags that led me to their page in the first place, find out that we like many of the same things. I get excited and I want to follow them so we can share in things other than agreement that the United Methodist Church’s harm toward LGBTQ+ peoples needs to change or we will watch our church crumble to the ground.

This is not one of those situations.

When I am told by straight white men (which is unfortunately too often) that I need to take a deep breath, pause, and then intentionally put myself in harm’s way for the sake of their and other’s comfortability, I cannot agree with them (even if we both get excited at listening to the same music and love the same Netflix hits). It opens up topic for a conversation that, though I am sick of having, I will have until I am blue in the face. Ask me what I need. Stop telling me.

I am flooded with the words of so many who spoke of oppressors before me. Of Martin Luther King, Jr., who shared in the Letter from Birmingham Jail that direct action is the means to the end of negotiation where an oppressed people are heard. Of bell hooks, who says that domination is successful when an oppressor decides in order to love me, they must make me something else. Of Albert Memmi in The Colonizer and the Colonized, who says that when there is no justification for hatred from an oppressor, the oppressed have no choice but to revolt; to break the condition.

I have been called names by people who work for Good News Magazine and The IRD. I have no interest in spending time on a “mission trip” (which, I apologize, is problematic in its own right – as a justice-seeking space and church, maybe we find new language and ways to travel with our youth that are not focused on going in to help the people we deem need help, no?) with people who do not seek for me to have a life within my beloved church. The hateful words in Good News Magazine, which used to be delivered to my office door for distribution, made me feel like I was choking. Like I was buried under an oppressive Church that did not want me to thrive, it wanted me to suffocate and wither to nothing.

I do not live in a place of safety within the United Methodist Church. Currently, I am bound to a book that says my body is useful for the head count at the door but I had better not stand at that pulpit, the faggot that I am, and preach the words of Wesley and Jesus who may have struggled with my identity but would have no doubt let me have a seat with them at the table because they were a people who spoke of forgiveness – oh, no – my body can be counted but it cannot be recognized for what it is. It is strong, ravished by a bone disease that should have stopped me from walking in my teen years but worked through immense physical pain and suffering to get to a point of safety; it is wise, the first of its family to go to college and graduate school and now teach at the college level, moving its way up from homelessness to home ownership; but by in large it is queer, it so fiercely loves a woman who has coincided in the heart that beats in its chest for so long it feels like it has been in love with her since its formation…this body will not be recognized. Just counted in the pew as it sits silently, waiting for pastors and lay people and fellow good-hearted Christian folks who tell it to wait for the right time, to keep its voice down, to have conversation with those who oppress it.

No.

I will not swing a hammer and share in meals and have silly car-ride singalongs with those who want to stifle who I am for the sake of being a hollow shell to fill the space of a dying church.

I will not do something to make you more comfortable when it comes to my distaste for being called a radical sexual liberationist activist (which was fabulous, by the way, when we chose to co-opt it for our own t-shirts and not allow anyone to claim it but ourselves, a decision we are allowed to make as the holders of the name).

I will not be your hollow body to shove full of your ideas of what is the right thing to do before General Conference.

I will not go inside of your church walls, no matter how reconciled the are, to guest preach about my ideas that mean absolutely nothing in a space that so blatantly disallows me to have power.

I’ll be swinging my own metaphorical hammers beside those who seek immediate change. We seek it with our words, through song, through letters like this, through conversation with those who are actually open to hear my words and not fight with me over Twitter like I’m not a real person. I will hold hands with my fellow queers and those who truly seek to see people like me and those I love have power that we so deserve in the United Methodist Church and not with those who will wash it afterward, hoping to get the gay off.

Let this be a request to all of those who want to include themselves in the LGBTQ-inclusivity conversation within the United Methodist Church, or even involve themselves in communities that are marginalized to which they do not belong: do not make suggestions for me. Ask me what I need next time. And before you respond, listen. Don’t say a word. Hear the words I say, listen to my pleas. Because had you asked me what I needed from groups that so openly hate me for my body and everything inside of it, you would know that I sure as hell don’t need to waste my time with those who seek nothing but death for me and my family.

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We Have Not Drawn Swords

12604653_823899601053471_8656883557888553864_o“We Have Not Drawn Swords”

Sue Laurie on the pre-General Conference briefing in Portland, Oregon

January 24, 2016

As the discussions in Portland ebbed and flowed around the conflict within the UMC – a conflict that is abusive to LGBT people, sometimes it was deemed “uncomfortable.” For me it was far worse than “uncomfortable” to withstand another public beat-down. And please understand, it is not just the ones argue with us, we are also beaten down by all those who avoid real conversations and wish to look away.

One metaphor from the stage was that “both sides come to GC with swords drawn” and the audience tacitly agreed. I caught that guy later and said his image was not true. We do not carry swords – we do not ask for the annihilation of straight pastors and their families – calling for trials against pastors and marriages. While we have felt the harm of those swords of words and trials, my people come with band-aids, song and rainbow promises of a God who will not abandon us.

We have not drawn swords. We ask for our place at the table. (He did apologize, but only to me.)

Yet at that big UM meeting in Portland this week, a small, faithful cloud of witnesses gave body and voice, finances and passion to the cause of inclusion. We believe it is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I was grateful on the first morning that Rev. Steve Lewis and Rev. Fred Day of the Archives and History, both did break the silence and name gay and lesbian inclusiveness as part of their witness. Very helpful, but then they were the only ones.

Listen to me, these people, these gathered Methodist delegates and agency people, they know that homosexuality is not a sin, yet they avoid us and are “tired of talking about it.” Well I am tired too. And I am so thankful for every moment that Love Prevails strove to offer light and grace. We fought the good fight, we tried.

“Uncomfortable” – poor you. (Wow, that just feels bad today. But I will get over it.)

Meanwhile, I am home again. I am with Julie and Bailey and friends from Pennsylvania. Chicken and biscuits, football, cozy house …

Please pray that I do not become complicit with the institutions of Methodists that are doing harm! Just because I’m tired and I don’t enjoy fighting, please pray that I will not sink into my comfortable privilege and say, “I don’t need this.” Pray that I will stay in solidarity with those still being harmed by United Methodists. Pray that I will lean forward into General Conference and be spiritually fit – able to speak, apply band-aids and trust the rainbow of God’s promise for the full two weeks, with style and grace… even as we differ from others.

Lastly, thank you Love Prevails for stirring this pot for the whole quadrennium… by disrupting the usual dormant period, I can feel hope for integrity.
Thank you, Love Prevails.

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Prayer: “Parts”

Prayer: “Parts”
by Rev. Dr. Julie Todd

January 18, 2016

I approached the Council of Bishops’ call to days of prayer for and until the United Methodist General Conference in May with a certain amount of cynicism, as anyone reading these thoughts can probably understand. But the process of putting myself on my knees immediately checks, and occasionally eliminates, some of the negativity that is borne of primarily personal experience, and not borne of the possibilities of God.

When I turn my prayer attention to the task of witnessing to the United Methodist General Conference, I usually start crying. There is so much pain in past witnesses to the general church, and the multitude of other efforts I have been involved with in the local church, seminary, and my annual conference. There is the weight of the hard-heartedness, the grief over how truly horrible the institutional church is, my anger at the cowardice of people to take prophetic moral action, the piercing sadness of so much suffering of folks that I love. Queer folk who have pretty much had it with this business. And not just LGBTQ folks. All kinds of people who have suffered and struggled in this denomination of ours. But who have persevered in various forms and fashions. So many are gone, of their choosing, because they were forced out, and because they died. I feel them all with me at these times.

Today is the day I leave for Portland, Oregon with Love Prevails for some organizing for GC16 and to attend the official denominational pre-GC briefing. Love Prevails will continue its campaign to #Disclose #Divest and #Disrupt until the officially coded, categorically-discriminating, anti-LGBTQ policies and practices of the denomination are removed from our United Methodist Book of Discipline.

Today is also happens to be the day that my conference is on the schedule for this denomination-wide prayer effort. For the sake of it, I took advantage of the resource my conference provided. I got on my knees. I cried. I prayed aloud. With great love, I remembered and spoke aloud the names of the delegates from my annual conference, some of whom are the simply the finest United Methodists and human beings that I know.

Here I reconstruct some of that prayerful sentiment, and offer it to you sincerely as my prayer for today as Love Prevails heads to Portland.

Prayer: “Parts”

Dear God,
may Jesus guide me
to that mystery that is the Incarnation;
Equal Parts divine & human.
How can I approach him,
approach the balance of those parts of him,
in him;
to be fully myself and fully in you
as I come to this day and to this work?

Help me to be like Jesus
equal Parts human & divine;
knowing that even in him
the balance was sometimes found
walking between extremes:
part temple-table-flipper, part one who withdrew to pray;
part passion, part surrender;
part condemner of viper’s brood, part lover of neighbor as self;
part woe & part mercy;
part anguished lament & part peace that passes all understanding.

Help my unbelief.
Help me to believe in the unbelievable parts:
trees that clap their hands;
lions that lie down with lambs;
weapons that become tools of cultivation & freedom;
sons & daughters prophesying;
young & old declaring visions.
May all that which seems impossible come to be at General Conference in May.

Help me to see & believe in something beautiful
that may come of all of this.
Parts & hopes unseen.

Help me not to despair in worship & speech that is false
neither others’ nor my own undeniable Part in hypocrisy.
Let my speaking & acting, protesting & praying
indicate Parts of your spirit and truth.

Help me to be grateful,
for your love from which I have never been aPart;
for this church that has shaped me & failed me
for the movement that has raised me & disappoints me
both of which have been my faithful homes.
Help me to love myself and these my people
in whole, not in Part.

Help me never to give up my Part in the struggle for justice
for those who suffer most in this world. Amen.

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Coalition Interview with Bridget Cabrera of The Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN)

Bridget Cabrera is the Deputy Director of the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). As such, she serves as the representative to the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC).

Cabrera described RMN’s primary goal in attending General Conference: “to shift the culture of our church away from practices that exclude to practices that are inclusive of all people particularly LGBTQ persons.”

One mitigating factor in building strength and relationships within the queer and trans movement is the unrest and exhaustion that people have to still be fighting for equality around LGBTQ issues in the church. She explained, “It is so disappointing that we are still having the same conversations forty years later.” Therefore, a second goal in the midst of seeking to create safe spaces for LGBTQ persons, is the effort to keep the church together at all. She described what she sees in her work as she travels around the country, connecting with local Reconciling United Methodists:

“We are very aware that if there is no movement at this General Conference that there are a lot of folks who are probably going to leave The UMC. So we have this tension and struggle. It’s hard to change the church from within with a mass exodus. And it’s hard to encourage people to stay when they are in pain and being harmed by the church.

In this tension, however, there is power in the reality that no matter what happens in May, each church is already called to decide who they are – not in May, but now. They get to decide who they want to be as a Methodist community, what they will stand for, and how they will posture themselves for welcome and justice, with or without exclusionary policies in the denomination. No one has to wait for that.”

RMN has submitted and will be advancing legislation to the 2016 General Conference, including two petitions; one that protects LGBTQ lay employees and a second that advocates for LGBTQ youth (read details here: https://www.rmnetwork.org/newrmn/reconciling-ministries-network-submits-legislation-for-general-conference-2016/). In addition, RMN will plan their own witnesses and demonstrations at General Conference, and be a part of the LYNC’s public witnesses.

According to Cabrera, there are many benefits to being a part of LYNC:

“We are able to pool our resources together to have a greater impact. We can be supportive of one another across issues that concern all of us. The Coalition helps us determine the main legislative concerns among the myriad of resolutions to come before the General Conference.”

Cabrera furthermore states that the work of the coalition undermines the existing dynamics of power, which often oppress the advancement of marginalized communities.

“Often times folks in power like to pit us against each other. It’s fantastic that we are able to say, ‘Hey wait, we are actually concerned about some of the same things.’ We are able to have a bigger impact when we work together to effect change in the church.”

LYNC faces some challenges. The first is the “good problem” related to growth. Since the last General Conference, LYNC has grown in the number of organizational partners. Cabrera said,

“As we continue to grow and add more organizations, each with their own priorities, to the coalition, the challenge is to find synergy around a common vision.” Another challenge for the Coalition is the perceived role of RMN. Since RMN has been a part of some configuration of this Coalition work at General Conferences for a long time, many people see the Coalition exclusively as RMN and the pro-LGBTQ agenda. Cabrera expressed that “LGBTQ justice is one among many of the concerns the Coalition is working for in the church.”

Cabrera named two primary obstacles to ending the official discrimination against LGBTQ persons in our denomination. The first challenge is a systemic/organizational challenge.

“One of the obvious challenges is that we are blessed in The UMC to be a global church. With that comes challenges to passing LGBTQ inclusive legislation at General Conference.”

The other key challenge is “that our church as a whole reads and interprets the Bible differently” She continued,

“The challenge for the church is then to figure out what connects us. It’s certainly not how we read Scripture, but I think it’s our connectionalism. In a sense, we need to try to be a coalition as a whole denomination.”

Cabrera described how the LYN Coalition could be a model for the global church. “Each place and part of the church can learn to work together to do good and work towards justice around the world even as we hold together our differences.” She said,

“There is no one right way to be in Coalition. It can look and feel like many different things, not only about what holds us together, but for each group. But one key is when there is clarity in understanding how each group shows up in coalition together. Each group has the ability to say, ‘I fully support this, I want to be involved in this one piece.’ Or, ‘I can’t show up for that.’ We need clarity, understanding and freedom to be together and work together; and also to be distinctly ourselves as different organizations”

Cabrera shared a number of keys to working together more effectively: good communication; honest conversation; regular conversation; clarity around our shared values and a clear lens through which we decide to name and claim our differences.

This is the seventh in a series of interview reports that Love Prevails is conducting with representatives of every member group of the LYNC as a part of preparing for General Conference 2016 in Portland, Oregon. We share what each group brings to the Coalition, their particular emphases and concerns for GC2016, and the challenges and benefits of working across various kinds of differences related to identity, opinion and action. While Cabrera officially represents RMN to LYNC, the opinions expressed in this interview report are entirely her own.

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On Advent & Waiting

December 3 2015
Julie Todd

Perhaps this Advent season
can help me.
This interminable waiting.

This undetermined
period of time
in which I am asked
to hold onto belief that
that which has been promised,
will arrive.

I read these Advent texts
And imagine
These followers of Jesus
Waiting, waiting, waiting
To be released
…..
…..
…..

After a while,
some give up
& see the dream of release
as delusion.
& others
continue to see it as vision;
rely on even older visions
as proof,
as motivation.
God delivers.
To compel
hope.

& for some
believing in the promise.
became habit.
Instead of animated desire.
Before long,
the waiting period
became a metaphor
No longer
material.
Disciples,
content to wait
for light to come,
rather than light fires
in the darkness.

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