Me & Bishop Dorff

Below are reflections on disrupting Bishop Dorff at Gather at the River by Rev. Dr. Julie Todd


Bishop Dorff and I know each other. We don’t have a close relationship, but we have a special one.  He serves on the UMC Connectional Table (CT). At the first CT meeting Love Prevails attended (see http://umcconnections.org/2013/11/19/disruption-prompts-church-leaders-address-sexuality-issues/ ), I disrupted the meeting by singing a list of the names of leaders the UMC has lost as a result of our denomination’s anti-LGBTQ policies. In a time of public conversation after the disruption, Bishop Dorff shared his experience of my disruptive singing. I invite you to listen all the way to the end. Here’s what he said:

At that time, Bishop Dorff was about to make an official episcopal ruling on the matter of the candidacy of queer-identified M Barclay (formerly known as Mary Ann Barclay) for ordained ministry. He had previously refused to rule when the Rio Texas Conference Board of Ordained Ministry denied the District Committee on Ministry’s decision to recommend M to move forward with their candidacy for ministry, but had been ordered by the Judicial Council to reconsider his own decision. So after Bishop Dorff’s comments at the break, I spoke with him about his words and his coming decision. He told me that I had been an agent of the Spirit to him that morning and he asked me to pray for him, which I agreed to do.

Ever since that time, at every CT and Council of Bishops meeting that Love Prevails has disrupted over the past two years, I have made a point of greeting Bishop Dorff and reminding him of our connection. He is always exceedingly warm and gracious, and he gives me big, Southern hugs, which I actually do not mind. I don’t mistake our connection for anything like real knowledge of one another, but we do have a connection.

When I heard that Bishop Dorff was coming to bring greetings to Gather at the River 2015, held in San Antonio at Travis Park UMC on August 6-9, I wasn’t surprised. It is customary to invite the bishop of the resident area where these progressive UMC conferences are held. It is common knowledge that Bishop Dorff has not been a supporter of LGBTQ people, but is a supporter of the Disciplinary status quo that inflicts harm on queer folk. Some of those present at Gather at the River thought it particularly good of Bishop Dorff to come, even brave, considering his known stance. I thought it was presumptuous.

In the past two years of deeply disturbing contact with the highest levels of our denomination through the work of Love Prevails, I have seen the very ugly sides of the episcopal imaginings of their benevolent power. And their stated lack of power to make change. The leaders of our denomination do not see themselves as perpetuators of injustice against LGBTQ people in the midst of their maintenance of the institution, and yet they very much are. So I imagined that Bishop Dorff thought it would be really good and welcoming of himself to say something kind to queer people, something that would not be considered controversial by anyone else.

I didn’t want to let that happen without a marking of protest.

Some might think that the protest that developed during Bishop Dorff’s remarks was highly coordinated. On the contrary. The night before, I understood that some Love Prevails members and a few other people would hold signs within the sanctuary while he spoke. Nothing major, just a few pointed messages. I wanted to position myself somewhere where Bishop Dorff could really see me, because of our connection. I wasn’t sure how it would play out, but I knew I wanted to look him in the eyes and speak to him, because we have history. When I walked into the sanctuary late that Saturday morning, it seemed a few more people had become interested in the witness, and now there was talk of kneeling at the altar, preparing material to create gags, and hanging signs and messages to the bishop from the balcony.

I quickly made two signs that read, “FRIENDS LAY DOWN THEIR LIVES FOR THEIR FRIENDS” and “BISHOP DORFF IS NOT A FRIEND TO LGBTQ PEOPLE.” I didn’t hang my signs from the balcony. I took them with me. And when it was time, I knelt at the altar rail.

Conference leaders began to introduce the bishop. The next thing I knew, he passed by me and headed up the stairs. I didn’t think about it. I followed him up there with my signs. He saw me. I said, “Hi, Bishop,” and motioned for him to read my signs. He said, “Oh, thanks.”

While our leaders continued to explain the creative and important tension of the moment, I spoke to the bishop. I said things like:

“We’ve shared a Holy Spirit moment in the past, Bishop, haven’t we? I wonder if this is going to be one of those moments again.”

“I’m going to be really interested to hear what you are going to say to gay people here today. You know there are a lot of gay people here today, right?”

“There are a lot of people who have suffered an awful lot out there today. I wonder if you are going to say something meaningful to them.”

“I wonder if this is going to be a Holy Spirit moment. I wonder if the Spirit is going to use you right now.”

Except for acknowledging that we had shared a Pentecost moment in the past, he mostly nodded and smiled. I don’t think he was shaking me off; I think he was quite nervous and unprepared for what was transpiring.

Here is a video of his remarks:

For those of you interested in seeing the full length of the events that unfolded, here is the video:

Once it was Bishop’s Dorff’s time to speak, there was some shouting at the bishop on occasion. There was anger in the room and weeping at the altar rail. He finished his remarks, walked off stage, and returned to his seat. I followed him and sat down right next to him. He didn’t notice me right away. When he did, I said, “Hey.”

He smiled, shook his head at me and said, “You know I love you, Julie.” Which was a little gross, but I honestly didn’t take his words as insincere.

Then he hugged me, a hug that I somewhat returned while squirming and saying, “Don’t try to make this better.”

I continued, “I’m sure this wasn’t pleasant for you, but I could not let you come here today,  deliver your episcopal pleasantries, and then walk away with credit for being the good guy for coming. You have caused a lot of pain to a lot of queer people and you need to know that. I’m not sure it was right for you to come today, but the Spirit is using the moment again. Do you see that?”

To which he said, “Yes, I see that. The Spirit is working within me, too, Julie, right now.”

My response was, “The problem with you bishops is even when you have these Holy Spirit moments, when you go back into your powerful church world, the spirit of the institution overcomes the work of the Spirit within you. That’s what happens to you bishops.”

He took some umbrage with that and said, “You don’t know what my experience is.”

I conceded that point, saying, “You’re right. I don’t know what your experience is. I take it back. But that is my experience of you guys. Seriously. But I take it back.”

During all of this there was ongoing kneeling, praying, weeping, singing and speaking by others in attendance.

Clearly the Holy Spirit was moving in the moment and even Bishop Dorff knew it. He said so.

Though this witness took place as a result of far more than the actions of Love Prevails members alone, what resulted felt like a classic Love Prevails experience. We #Showup prepared to seize prophetic moments of Spirit guidance. We #Disrupt. We are often perceived and described, as in this case, as disrespectful and bullies. We stand firm in the knowledge of ourselves as utterly authentic in responding to the Spirit as She reveals injustice and violence towards LGBTQ persons in the United Methodist Church. We understand that the expressed embodiment of our truths is difficult and uncomfortable for some people. As the saying goes, the truth hurts.

protest2We are often accused of “hurting our cause.” This is a clear reversal of who and what the problem is.

When Bishop Dorff saw me later again in the hallway, before we both left the building,  he again hugged me and said, “I love you, Julie.”

My reply was, “I know. I am yours in Christ whether we like it or not.”

To which he answered, “Amen.”

I did not disrespect Bishop Dorff, and neither did the witness disrespect him. He himself admitted to the working of the Spirit in the moments of protest and afterwards. Ask him yourself. Nonetheless, injustice does not deserve our respect.  All United Methodist bishops must be held accountable to whom and how they are agents of injustice in the ongoing perpetration of discrimination and oppression against gay folks in our church. Not one of them, including Bishop Dorff, can presume that their role or status as a bishop gives them the right to say a few words about inclusivity to gloss over the pain that they the bishops have caused by direct action or inaction, to a multitude of our LGBTQ family in Christ.

We need our bishops to stop throwing us breadcrumbs in the form of welcoming-sounding words, expecting us to keep waiting and praying for an end to discrimination within our church, when the power to end the pain and the hurt lies in their hands.  Bishop Dorff said he believes that the UMC should be fully inclusive, so let’s see him bring full inclusion to the Rio Texas Annual Conference and work toward full inclusion in the connection.  My sign said that Bishop Dorff is not a friend to LGBT people, because friends lay down their lives for their friends. Friends don’t let their friends get hurt when they can stop the harm.

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Coalition Interview: Native American International Caucus, Ms. Cynthia Kent

This is the second 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.


Ms. Cynthia Kent hopes that the Native American International Caucus (NAIC) brings a voice to the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC) that otherwise would not be represented. The presence of the NAIC at the Coalition table influences its members to consider when the native voice is not present elsewhere. She said, “The numbers of Native Americans are so low in so many venues – clergy, bishops, superintendents, churches – we have to become conscious, to ask, ‘How can we consider the voices who are not here?’” LYNC is one way Native Americans bring voice and awareness to United Methodist tables.

The Native American perspective “is very different from the way most of the church values people and processes.” The perspective includes respect for and centering the presence of elders, a focus on a relationship with the natural environment, and a communal orientation. Kent reports that many of the ethnic caucus members of the denomination – Asian, Pacific Islanders, Latinos, and African Americans – share similar commitments to elders and a communitarian ethic. Yet among the ethnic caucuses, she noted, “there are many things we also do very differently in terms of our different cultures. Just because we are all people of color doesn’t mean we know anything about one another. Places like the Coalition are learning modes for us as well.”

According to Kent, in order for groups like the Coalition to work better, “The listening component is most important.” For all people learning to work across differences, “everybody has to learn how to listen. Don’t be ready to jump in too fast. People don’t want anyone to solve their problems, but they want to be heard.” As a Native American, she said, “I don’t want you to take care of me, but to hear why something is an issue for me. What can be done about it so that it doesn’t happen again? And people will say, ‘But we don’t want history, we want to go to now.’ People don’t understand, we need to know our history. We need to listen to elders and how historically we have been able get things done.”

Besides the listening component, understanding and respect are necessary to working across real differences of opinion and practice. We have to find out, Kent said, “where we are together and where we are not together. We may not be together on some things. We may not be able to work on certain things together. That’s okay. At least we can speak that and know that. We spend too much time trying to be together on everything.” Respect means respecting that there may be real differences among us. This includes the matter of how to work towards the inclusion of LGBTQ folks.

Kent talked about the challenges of getting the church to move to full acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ people. She noted that just like population at large, Native American people hold a multiple viewpoints on gender and same-gender sexual orientation. The intersections of what it means to be native, gendered and queer depends on the tribe and particular community. In some indigenous cultures, “where folks understood the wholeness of male and female in their full selves, they were the counselors. In other tribes, women were warriors and the men took care of women.” There may be other tribes where such differences and practices are shunned, she said, “But again, every tribe is different, so I can’t speak on every tribe’s views. Plus, tribal members would also have their own views.” For herself, she explained that she has relatives and friends who are gay and lesbian. “It has been in my community since I was born. I came up with it. We did not judge at all. We were taught that these are our relations. The personality of a person is a gift of the Creator. Differences are gifts of the Creator.”

She described her own experience and theology. “The church told me I could be Native and Christian at the same time. I can live as a whole person. Christ says, ‘I call you, the whole person, you, into the church.’ There is nothing we leave at the door. It hurts me. People just don’t realize that this is not our church, it is God’s church. I don’t want to be there on judgment day hearing, ‘You judged people.’ I cannot tolerate when people judge people. That’s my sadness to see the church as God’s church and people taking it as their own.”

Specific to General Conference 2016, the NAIC is preparing one comprehensive resolution of critical Native American matters that distills seventeen resolutions previously passed by the General Conference. This one resolution focuses on history, contemporary issues and the future of Native Americans within and outside of the church. There will be a one-page list of recommendations that accompany the overarching resolution. Coalition members can be informed of the content of this resolution when it is ready, and work to ensure its passage.

Cynthia Kent is the chairperson of the Native American International Caucus (NAIC), one of the United Methodist Church’s five ethnic caucuses. All of the five ethnic caucuses have representatives to the LYNC. Kent retired from the General Board of Global Ministries after over 20 years as the Executive Secretary for Native American and Indigenous Ministries. She continues to hold many other leadership positions throughout her annual conference (Greater New Jersey), the Northeast Jurisdiction and General Church (including the Connectional Table). Her tribal heritage is Southern Ute. While Ms. Kent represents the NAIC to LYNC, the opinions expressed in this interview report are entirely her own.

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Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC) Interview with Rev. Steve Clunn, Coordinator

In preparation for General Conference 2016 in Portland, Oregon, Rev. Dr. Julie Todd of Love Prevails is conducting a series of interviews with representatives of every member group of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC). In a series of reports, we share what each group brings to the Coalition, their particular emphases and concerns for General Conference 2016, and the challenges and benefits of working across various kinds of differences related to identity, opinion and action.


The Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC) is made of eleven partnered caucus groups within the United Methodist Church that have experienced oppression and marginalization both inside and outside of the church. The coalition partners exercise their gifts and skills to build persuasive power within an institution by calling out their intersecting experiences of harm, injustice, and lack of Christian compassion.

2016 will be the second General Conference that the Rev. Steve Clunn has been the coordinator of LYNC. Steve reflects on the Coalition’s evolving work.

Five coalition partners reflect the realities of ethnic minorities:

  • Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR)
  • Metodistas Asociados Representando la Causa de los Hispano-Americanos (MARCHA)
  • National Federation of Asian American United Methodists (NFAAUM)
  • Native American International Caucus (NAIC)
  • Pacific Islander National Caucus of United Methodists (PINCUM).

Three partners focus on human sexuality as lived by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trangender, and Queer (LGBTQ) United Methodists:

  • Affirmation
  • Love Prevails
  • Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN).

Two partners engage multiple progressive issues:

  • Western Methodist Justice Movement (WMJM)
  • Methodist Federation for Social Justice (MFSA).

The current final partner is:

  • United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities.

As might be expected, the very experience of being discriminated against in one way or another or engaging an institution from the grassroots makes it difficult to trust that others care for the harm you have experienced. The greatest difficulty
Steve has noticed is exactly where smaller differences within a larger agreement raise their heads. He says, “We are challenged with how to communicate in the heat of difficult moments. There is a lot of heat generated when people pour their passion into General Conference. However, it divides and conquers when we let it get the best of us collectively.” It was with sadness that Steve reflected on LYNC partners and non-partners at GC2012 giving into to the temptation of “my issue first.” “After all,” he said, “We have the same goals and vision for a just and loving, grace-filled denomination.” Steve sees each General Conference as strengthening the Coalition as it develops “greater communication leading to more trust and ultimately back to better and more open communication.”

Steve sees the possibility for there to be eleven strong member organizations, each with its own unique capacity to offer new life to General Conference 2016. He would like no one group to be usurped by another’s size or agenda. He desires the groups to be more grateful for and towards each other. “None of us is as good as all of us.” He noted the early support of LYNC’s recently published collective statement (A Vision for the UMC) as a sign of growing strength. Our “momentum keeps growing, as it has throughout the history of our movement.”

Steve described building a Coalition as both incredibly joyous and incredibly exhausting.  “When diverse marginalized people come together for the common purpose of standing up for each other’s full inclusion in the church, its ministries and decision making processes, it changes and challenges everyone.” Coalition members have to wrestle with our own preconceived notions about others, as “others” become “us.” Steve said we really experience church in the Coalition, “When deep friendships and commitments to each other’s wellbeing and just treatment become visible.”

Steve described eight areas of focus for the Coalition at General Conference.

  • Throughout the two weeks of General Conference, Chaplains nurture fellowship, as well as care for the needs that arise out of the stresses of being immersed in very difficult circumstances.
  • Historically the Coalition hosts a worship experience on the Sunday between the two weeks of General Conference.
  • The Coalition works on communication, presenting a theme and a message to the general public and church. For 2016 the LYNC mission is to assure that The United Methodist Church is fully open to the presence, love and grace of God offered to all the world.
  • The LYNC Legislative Team works to follow, analyze and change decisions made by the church regarding actual lives of the members of the Coalition partners through legislative petitions to the General Conference.
  • LYNC designs witnesses during General Conference to clarify the consequences of harmful legislation and to affirm that which does all the good we can do together and heal. Demonstrations of affirmation and protest are readied ahead with every hope that an expected protest on behalf of marginalized United Methodists can be turned into a celebration of United Methodists joined arm in arm to better reveal God’s love in church and society.
  • The LYNC Hospitality Team welcomes and coordinates volunteers to General Conference. Steve explained that “between 350-500 volunteers pay their own way to be at General Conference. They show up because they care about changing their church toward a more expansive welcome to all.”
  • The Coalition provides housing (in Portland, some 150 rooms) and hospitality for volunteers and delegates in the form of a space to gather and low cost meals.
  • This a massive effort to Coordinate Volunteers who come for a few days or the whole two weeks, providing logistics and communicating how to inform and plug people into Witness and Legislative service opportunities.

While GC2012 was painful for many members of the Coalition, Steve encouraged progressives to recognize that the Coalition had a lot of victories. “There was a lot of heinous legislation that the Coalition stopped. We defended as well as we could have.” Steve thinks the Coalition will be even stronger and more impactful in 2016, as LYNC has “had four more years of partnerships to build upon.” The Coalition still struggles with funding. GC2012 cost $432,000, all of which was raised through grants and donations. Steve explained that “if every progressive United Methodist would give only $100 to the Coalition, we would be able to sustain the Coalition to, through, and beyond GC2016.” The coalition, like the church, would be stronger if less time were spent on fundraising.

Steve encourages progressive United Methodists, no matter what their particular passion is, to volunteer for part or all of General Conference 2016 in Portland Conference (May 10–20, 2016). Progressives find space there to engage together openly and honestly about who they are and what they need to be church under difficult circumstances. “Come and be a part of church as it ought to be. The Coalition is more Church than the General Conference is.”

But he also cautioned that, “General Conference can be really hard on those that come.” As a result, Steve said that in the time left before General Conference, the Coalition and its member groups need to prepare their volunteers better for the harm that comes with volunteering, particularly for LGBTQ folks. “A lot of volunteers show up believing that this will be the year of change, the moment that we are going to change the church. Though change is possible in every moment, we have to encourage folks to show up both with hope and with knowledge that there will also be moments of harm.”

Given the reality of harm, the witness of the Coalition becomes all the more important, “We are telling the church and the world that God’s love is more than our church currently portrays. If we can help the public and church see that, then we have done our work. Church happens at General Conference, but I don’t think it has much to do with General Conference itself. It has to do with tabernacles and rainbow stoles and volunteers and indomitable hope that never goes away, even when it feels like we’re being invited to leave a General Conference whose theme is ‘Therefore, Go.’”

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On Church Unity

One of the main arguments against removing all of the anti-gay language from The Book of Discipline all at once, or taking a prophetic word-and-deed stand of any kind for full justice and inclusion of LGBTQ folks, is that such actions are alienating and would split the United Methodist Church. Here Love Prevails’ member Rev. Dr. Julie Todd reflects on the way the argument for unity over justice makes her feel.


 

Poem: On Church Unity
By Julie Todd

Sometimes
the word unity
slips off the tongue
like a bad french kiss
from a teenage lover
leaving me feeling
sticky and gross.

Sometimes
the word unity
tastes like
nasty cough medicine
my mother forced me to take
from a stainless steel spoon
its cherry “sweetness”
making me gag.

Sometimes
the word unity
looms like a jackhammer
held by a laborer
in the idle position
next to a crumbling urban sidewalk
the jackhammer mocking:
“hold it together, hold it together.”

Sometimes unity
masquerades
as ekklesia
body parts working harmoniously,
hands and feet needing each other
when injustice like gangrene
untreated and festering
implies an impending amputation.

Sometimes unity
masquerades
as ideology
holding fast to theological abstractions
the comfort of inaction
for those who refuse
to make a clear-cut choice
for justice.

Sometimes unity
masquerades
as Christ himself
caught between
no more stone-throwing
& cursing a courageous woman
comparing her to a dog
who begs for scraps
she does not deserve.

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Response to Bishop Kiesey’s Supreme Court message

You can read the response to the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage made by Michigan Area Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey here.


The following is a response to Bishop Kiesey’s message by retired UMC pastor Rev. John Ellinger:

Dear Bishop Kiesey,

I was hoping you would send a letter to Michigan Area clergy regarding the decision of the Supreme Court regarding same-gender marriage since it has been such a divisive issue in our church. However, with all due respect I must say I was very disappointed in the letter when it arrived. I think I understand, at least in part, the “no win” situation bishops of the church face right now in regard to same-gender marriage and how clergy can honor their calling to minster to all people and still “remain in compliance with The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church”.

What is troubling to me is how it seems, in our most complicated and uncertain situations, we in the church, reach back in an attempt to hold on to more “rules” in the belief that if we can just find the right list of “dos and don’ts” we will be saved from our fears. I found it interesting that your purpose in writing was to help us clergy be enabled to “remain in compliance with The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church”.  I had expected we might receive some guidance on how to remain in compliance with biblical teaching on justice, equality, and the power of amazing grace, in spite of our denominational rule book.

One of my favorite passages in the bible is from the Gospel of Mark where a troubled Pharisee comes to Jesus wanting to know the answer to one “simple” question: What is the greatest commandment? He wanted to have the answer so he could presumably go home and tell people which one of all the rules was the most important. Jesus simply says there are two great commandments: Love God, and Love Your Neighbor. It would have been easy for him to say you can’t sum up the whole law in one or two commandments so here is a fine tuned list of “Do This and Don’t Do That”. He simply offered the Pharisee the opportunity to struggle with how best to live faithfully within the context of love for God and love for neighbor.

For me, the do’s and don’ts you suggest put a spotlight on what is wrong with a denomination that values its Discipline and denominational infrastructure more than the lives of the people we are asked to serve.

For me, to participate in preaching, praying, and reading scripture in celebration of the love of two same-gendered people and then “stand aside” so someone else can lead them in naming their love for each other, would be unthinkable and an embarrassment of the highest order. How can I be expected to be in compliance with The Book of Discipline at those times when the requirement is to “step aside” from celebrating that couple’s deep love for each other and the church?

For me, I would rather accept the challenge of Jesus and attempt to live faithfully by loving God and neighbor even if that requires me to be in non-compliance with parts of The Book of Discipline.

May we all continue to strive for deeper understanding in this and all matters.

Grace and Peace,

Rev. John Ellinger

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Response to Adam Hamilton – May 8, 2015

Love Prevails member Wesley White has written a paragraph-by-paragraph response to Adam Hamilton’s most recent blog post addressing “A Way Forward.” Please read below. Hamilton is regular font, White is italicized.


A year ago, with input from others, I wrote a blog post called, A Way Forward for a United Methodism?.  In it we offered suggestions for how the United Methodist Church might move forward as it relates to the divide over homosexuality.  It was written in response to some who were discussing dividing the denomination.  It was written in consultation with evangelicals, moderates and progressives across the country.  Over 2,000 pastors and hundreds of laity signed the document that you can read here.
It is of note that “A Way Forward for a United Methodism” is described as having been vetted by three theological categories, but not by those over whom some theoretical divide continues to harm. No number of “evangelicals, moderates, and progressives” can have an equivalent voice to that of LGBTQ persons and their family/community. No number of pastors can speak for those being harmed. Look again at the story of Greek widows being harmed in Acts 6.

In the year since, there have been a host of other proposals that have surfaced as a way of moving our denomination beyond the impasse over same-gender relationships.  I’ve been in dozens of conversations with various groups listening and looking for what might be a better way forward.  I’ve yet to see a proposal that would seem to have a reasonable chance of passing at General Conference.
There has not been a host of other proposals that move us forward. They all fall under the same difficulty—they are not in the voice of the LGBTQ community. The voice there is universal in simply ridding the church of the single, named people who, claimed by some, stand outside the gifts and call of God and Christ to life and ministry within the church. Again wisdom from Acts is pertinent here (see chapter 10).

My assumptions about any proposed changes at General Conference include the following:

  1. The more complicated the change, the less likely it will pass.
  2. The more places in the Discipline that must be changed, the less likely it will pass.
  3. The more radical the change, the less likely that it will pass.

Thank you for naming your assumptions. However, they are simply that and not particularly helpful:

  1. It is a dangerous beginning spot, to think that United Methodists cannot handle complications in life or thought.
  2. This is simply a particular application of 1).
  3. This continues a limited view of the heart of United Methodists.

It also seems to me that conservatives are underestimating the number of evangelicals, including many pastors of our largest churches, who have come to see this issue differently in the last few years.  Their changing understanding does not reflect a departure from theological orthodoxy or evangelical passion, nor does it reflect a reduced view of biblical authority.  Instead these persons recognize the complexity of scripture and see the Bible’s teaching on same-gender relationships as similar to the Bible’s teaching on slavery, violence in the name of God, the role of women in the church and a host of other things found in the Bible but which we no longer believe reflect God’s will for us today.
It is not particularly comforting to think how long it has taken some number of “evangelicals” to see what continued discrimination is doing to our ability to evangelize. Like it or not, theological orthodoxy, evangelical passion, and biblical authority are, historically, the last roadblocks to the expansion of expressions of God’s ability to be a Living God and Jesus to welcome the most outcast, live among them,  and witness God’s love through these acts. The Bible is no more or less complex than it was before. The slowness to see “God’s will for us today” is not helped with a continued slowness to wait for the last prejudiced person comes “to see this differently”. If you have come to see LGBTQ people differently, act on it.

It also seems to me that many of our progressives are underestimating the number of people in our denomination, and in most of our local churches, who are not ready to ordain persons in same-sex relationships, nor host same-sex marriages in their churches.  In most United Methodist churches there are a significant number of people who lean conservative on this issue. For conservatives the question of same-sex relationships is not about justice, but about faithfulness to Scripture, as they understand it.  To completely reverse the denomination’s position, even if progressives and moderates had the votes, would mean a significant loss of membership and vitality in many local churches, and across the denomination.
It seems to this liberal/radical that you may be underestimating the number of people in our denomination who ARE ready to ordain LGBTQ people gifted and called to ordained ministry and to see the marriage of their sons and daughters and nieces and nephews and friends duly celebrated in the church. As long as we leave this in the realm of “seems”, fears will always come to the fore. “Seems” always brings the worst speculation to the fore before we can look at the movement of Spirit through history and in our own time. We are a people who have added the gift of “Experience” to the previous trinity of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason to be an antidote to “seems” and present fears. When we separate “faithfulness” from “justice” we wound ourselves and the world around us.

Finding a way forward means we must see this issue through the eyes of the other.  Progressives must see the issue through the eyes of earnest, thoughtful conservatives.  Conservatives must see the issue through the eyes of earnest, thoughtful centrists and progressives.   Even the terms we use to describe our own position might need to change.  It is possible to be conservative on this issue, and still love justice and inclusivity.  It is also possible to be progressive on this issue and still be theologically orthodox and passionately evangelical.
Yes, let us look through the eyes of the other. Note, however, that the “other” needed here is not a Conservative/Progressive difference where we somehow catch enough of a glimpse of our self in that “other” and budge ever so slightly. The “other” needed here is for everyone who is not LGBTQ in orientation, to look through the eyes of those who are discriminated against, castigated, described as “incompatible”, shunned, and even beaten and killed. Both Progressives and Conservatives have been complicit in delaying a transformation of the church, much less the world.

I continue to believe that the best way forward is to allow United Methodist pastors to determine who they will and will not marry, while allowing local churches to determine their own wedding policies as it relates to the usage of their building.  This is currently how things are done for heterosexual marriages.  Pastors meet with couples and determine whether they will or will not officiate, and local churches develop wedding policies for the use of their buildings.
The issue of local control is but another delaying tactic that allows theological orthodoxy, evangelical passion, and biblical authority to keep us from experiencing again how unsurprising it is for God to call for renewal from the most unlikely of places and people. Patchwork discrimination keeps the battle between “progressives” and “conservatives” boiling and even heightens it as it moves into local settings.

Under this scenario the current language of the Discipline regarding homosexuality and same-sex weddings would become the “historic position” of the United Methodist Church and the default policy of each local church regarding same-sex marriage. The Discipline would allow local churches to adopt a more permissive policy towards same-sex marriage.  Only churches that felt compelled to change the default position would take a vote.  Conservative churches would continue as they are.  Moderates might spend several years in conversation before deciding whether to make a change to the default position. Progressives would vote right away to adopt a different policy.    Likewise, while a pastor would be bound by the local church’s policies for weddings within the walls of the church, each pastor would determine who they would and would not marry outside of the walls of their local church.
This imagined move to “historic position” does not become an historic position until there is a change in The Book of Discipline. Until that time it divides our Method of engaging the “Nature of our Theological Task” laid out in The Book of Discipline—2012 (¶105, pp. 79–80). There is a naïve assumption here that there are conservative congregations, progressive congregations, and moderate congregations. This model forgets how we need each other and further divides us. We are in the business of revealing a Jesus Way together or we are not. More could be said to demonstrate how flawed this approach is, but folks either get it or don’t.

I believe we can trust local churches to make this decision. Some have suggested that allowing local churches to make this decision will be the end of connectionalism and will signal that we have adopted a congregational polity.   But it is not our position on homosexuality that makes us a connectional church; rather, it is our shared ministry, our shared doctrinal standards, our appointive process, our episcopacy, and our trust clause that are the hallmarks of our connectionalism.
The trust clause is an indication of our lack of trust or it wouldn’t be there. The lack of leadership by the episcopacy in favor of some uniformity of response that reduces us to good-thoughts and prayers-at-a-distance has unconnected us from those we harm whether that be a recent statement about racism or lack thereof regarding orientationism. Doctrinal standards and ordination restrictions that are based on false witness are not places of connecting with one another.

If the General Conference (or under some proposals the Annual Conference) continues to adopt a one-size-fits-all policy forced upon local churches and pastors we can anticipate that this issue will continue to be our focus for the next twenty years, with continuing conflict year after year.
One size does fit all if we are talking about love and grace. No amount of tinkering with one or another proposal from strengthening the current sin of casting our family out and dividing ourselves, one from another, to more modest forms of the same will honorably heal us. The fault is in ourselves.

Regarding ordination, decisions are largely made at the Annual Conference level.  Let’s let annual conferences make decisions regarding the ordination of married homosexual* candidates for ministry.  Conservative conferences will not ordain married homosexuals.  Progressive conferences will ordain such persons.  Moderate conferences may come up with creative new solutions.  These solutions are more likely to be developed at an annual conference than during the two weeks of General Conference meeting once every four years.   Again, it seems that trying to create a one-size-fits-all policy for the entire denomination does not take into account the vast differences in different regions across the denomination.
Ordination decisions are to be made in the Annual Conference, except for those removed from them by The Book of Discipline. Playing the “married” card is but a variation of “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness” game-playing that its authors have confessed to being code language for “keep the gays out”. It sets the bar at the wrong place—appearance rather than the call and gift of Spirit. How many of these appearance games have we already come through—dancing, smoking, divorce, etc.—and how many more are we going to have to go through before we are willing to submit our denomination to the Covenant Service we currently limit to individuals. John Wesley was right that reform of the nation begins in the church.

We are a denomination divided over how we interpret the scriptures regarding same-sex relationships; most of our congregations are also divided. Any possible solution must allow room for differences of opinion.  What seems clear to me is that a viable long-term strategy cannot be found in a one-sized-fits-all policy imposed upon every church in every region and nation by the 800 delegates to the next General Conference.
Yes, our congregations are made up of many opinions. This is evidence that the conservative, progressive, moderate congregation argument above really doesn’t hold water. Intentionally harming LGBTQ people with our current legislation is a one-size for all and is imposed with many different rationales. Whether those rationales are conservative or progressive, they pale in the face of a Living God.

*I mention married homosexuals as opposed to “practicing” homosexuals as the Discipline calls for celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage.
*There is no cute, linguistic way out of the corner into which we have painted ourselves. We are ever reforming or we end up on the dust heap of history.


You can download a PDF of this response in a side-by-side printout here: Hamilton Response.

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Methodist LGBTQ leaders respond to General Conference Commission meeting

The Commission on The General Conference of The United Methodist Church, a body of leaders planning the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon, made a special invitation to representatives of Good News, MFSA, Love Prevails, Reconciling Ministries Network, and The Confessing Movement to their April 20TH meeting.

Representatives were invited to this listening session to share concerns, insights, and hopes for moving forward productively at GC 2016 with a particular interest in moving from debate to building consensus.

The meeting had no direct affect on legislation.

At the closing of the day, representatives of MFSA, MIND, Love Prevails, and Reconciling Ministries Network issued the following joint statement:

For immediate release
April 21, 2015
Contact:               Chett Pritchett, chett@mfsaweb.org
                                Amy DeLong, loveprevailsumc@gmail.com
                                M Barclay, m@rmnetwork.org

Methodist LGBTQ leaders respond to General Conference Commission meeting

 

April 21, 2105, Portland, OR – The General Commission on the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, the body organizing the church’s 2016 quadrennial governing meeting, General Conference, invited leaders from LGBTQ rights groups within the UMC to meet with it in closed session on April 20.

Following the meeting, the LGBTQ representatives – Dorothee Benz, Matt Berryman, Bridget Cabrera, Amy DeLong and Chett Pritchett – issued the following statement:

The issue of whether the United Methodist Church will continue to discriminate against LGBTQ people is of paramount importance to the future and viability of the church, not to mention the well-being of queer people in and beyond the UMC. We are grateful for the commission’s invitation and the opportunity to be in ongoing conversation with them. We ask the commission to take concrete, affirmative steps to prevent the harm suffered by LGBTQ people at past General Conferences from recurring in 2016. Whatever the church’s theological differences, there can be no place for spiritual violence in the church of Jesus Christ.

We also request that the commission schedule the consideration of LGBTQ-related legislation at the very beginning of the plenary week in order for this discussion to receive adequate time.

Further, we insist that any attempt at “dialogue” or “holy conferencing” must begin with the explicit acknowledgement that in the context of discrimination and oppression true dialogue can never occur. Genuine dialogue requires equality, and in the UMC that equality does not exist. One party comes to these dialogues defined as less than the other party, and no amount of vocal wishing for us all to act as “brothers and sisters together” changes that.

We remain open to all discussions that contribute to the process of ending the oppression of queer people by the United Methodist Church, and we will continue to work tirelessly to bring about that day. We are committed to calling the UMC to its highest and best self.

Dr. Dorothee Benz is the national representative for Methodists in New Directions; Matthew Berryman is the executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network; Bridget Cabrera is the deputy director of Reconciling Ministries Network; Rev. Amy DeLong is the founder of Love Prevails; and Chett Pritchett is the executive director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. 

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