Interview with Walter Lockhart of Affirmation

This is the fourth in a series of interview reports that Love Prevails is conducting with representatives of every member group of 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.

Walter Lockhart is the Affirmation Council’s representative to the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC) at General Conference (GC). However, Walter is not an official spokesperson for the group because he is not a gay man. He is an ordained elder in the Minnesota Annual Conference, where he is appointed to two churches and serves at Star Lake Wilderness Camp.

Since the mid-1970s, Affirmation has existed “As an independent voice of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer people.” Affirmation is “an activist, all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization that challenges The United Methodist Church to be inclusive, and radically speaks out against injustice for LGBTQ people around the world.” (See Affirmation’s website at

Lockhart explained that it is sometimes unclear what Affirmation’s role and presence is at General Conference (GC), because there not much thought among the group that GC is the place where action to make change will be most effective. Affirmation’s current witness has a different focus than the larger mainstream lesbian and gay movement in the UMC. He said, “Our focus right now is more on people who are being persecuted for who they are than people who are doing gay marriages, people who are being persecuted for being LGBTQ.” Affirmation is interested in generating support for queer folks in places like Uganda.

Affirmation and its predecessor organizations have been present at every General Conference since 1992. Historically, Lockhart said, “Affirmation has always attempted to be the voice for the voiceless. In the trans-queer world we are living in today, one piece of Affirmation’s work is to be on the edge of what inclusive is. As a result of this work, Affirmation has always made people be uncomfortable. That is part of our role at GC.” As a member of Affirmation, Lockhart has also served at previous GCs as one of LYNC’s GC chaplains. “There are a lot of people who are hurt right there at GC.” Part of our work is to ask “How can we be a part of care and concern and reasonable expectations, so that people can be at GC safely?”

Part of the challenge of working across organizations in the Coalition is that “the culture of the member organizations is so different.” The “sheer organization of the two weeks requires so many things,” and all of the organizations only work together on this one multi-faceted event every four years. Additionally, while “MFSA and RMN are staffed, historic organizations that are institutions, the various caucuses are a whole different culture of what an organization is.” The other, smaller all-volunteer groups “have a different set of stories of what it means to live together. The cross-issue legislative work is not culturally a part of what the smaller organizations have historically done.” The larger organizations’ agendas tend to have the biggest voice. “It makes it very hard to get to the point of having enough trust of each other in our different cultures.” Finding ways to be and to act together on equal and mutual footing is the most important element of the work. “We are going to be frustrated, this is part of the work of being human beings. How we work together constructively is the big challenge. No one of our voices is going to be the voice to change the church.”

Lockhart described the benefits of working together across the differences as he has experienced coalitions over the years. “Given that I am a White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, cis-gender, heterosexual person of privilege, if I am not uncomfortable, then I haven’t worked well in Coalition.” He said he personally grew the most when working with people who were the most different than him. “That is also when our movement has grown the most, when we have been in conversation, when we worked with such differences. The more diversity we have the more possibilities we have for bringing justice to our church.” Lockhart believes, for example, that if the Coalition would focus on the #blacklivesmatter and #15now movements, that would “be more of a challenge to the UMC than anything it has going on now.”

Lockhart hopes that the Coalition can be one of the “places we can build to honestly listen to each other.” It is hard to build time and spaces for such conversations because there is so much work to do for change. “But somehow the reality of change is only going to happen if we have built spaces where we can communicate.” There is a tension here for Lockhart, because he is a person who wants to live boldly and believes the Coalition should encourage us to live more boldly into multiple platforms of action and change, including LGBTQ matters and #blacklivesmatter. There’s a need for listening, but he also, said, “I’m ready for less playing nice and more being bold.”

He said that LYNC members will know the Coalition is working when “we are making everybody a little bit uncomfortable.” We will see the fruits of our work when we do things together that make us “all able to stand back and have that wow moment where realize we’ve really done so much more than we could have done alone.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Steven Webster asks you to support #give53

give53 (1)

Steven Webster (pictured in our #give53 photo to the right) shares his thoughts on why he supports Love Prevails and asks you to support the #give53 campaign.

“Friends, I had my own personal confrontation with the “incompatible with Christian teaching” clause in the United Methodist Book of Discipline forty years ago.  I joined others then to organize the United Methodist Gay Caucus, later to become Affirmation.  I worked to make my local church one of the first dozen Reconciling Congregations.  At the 2000 General Conference I joined with Soulforce in seeking to apply the practice of nonviolence in the traditions of Gandhi and King.  At the 2012 General Conference I joined Love Prevails as they took up the methods of nonviolence in much the same tradition.  With them I proclaimed God’s grace even as our General Conference seemed to express doubt in that same grace!  With Love Prevails, I crossed the bar of General Conference to halt the harm that our adversaries intended to do to LGBT persons through General Conference legislation.  I am deeply impressed with the leadership of Love Prevails and the depth of their grounding in the philosophy of nonviolence.  I urge you to join me in supporting Love Prevails with your gifts, your prayers, your presence and your witness as we prepare to confront the General Conference of 2016 in Portland, Oregon!”

Steven Webster, Madison, Wisconsin

Click here to give today!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


give53 (1)

#‎give53‬ Love Prevails invites you to give a recurring or one-time donation of $53. WHY 53? At the 2012 General Conference, delegates voted by a mere 53% to pass the following addition to the introduction to our Social Principles: “We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all—that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

WHY did this statement committed to GRACE PASS BY ONLY 53%?? The debate on the statement made it obvious: to affirm that God’s grace is available to ALL treads dangerously close to affirming LGBTQ people. As we move towards General Conference 2016, Love Prevails invites you to #give53, joining the 53% of United Methodists willing to affirm that God’s grace is available to ALL people.

You have come to count on Love Prevails to do the work to ‪#‎Showup‬ and‪#‎Disrupt‬. We need your support to do so. We seek 25 of our supporters to give us $53 per month for ten months, seeing us to and through General Conference. #give53 for Grace. Please consider a recurring or one-time donation. #give53

Click here to donate today!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Coalition Interview: Methodist Federation for Social Action, Chett Pritchett, Executive Director

This is the third 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.

The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) “mobilizes clergy and laity within The United Methodist Church to take action on issues of peace, poverty and people’s rights within the church, the nation and the world.” (See The MFSA Board has developed a broad list of possible legislative priorities on progressive social issues for General Conference 2016:

  • economic justice
  • power and privilege
  • reproductive choice
  • LGBTQ inclusion
  • Israel/Palestine
  • peace and colonialism
  • immigration/migration
  • building an inclusive church
  • ecological justice
  • global health
  • higher education and ministry, and
  • denominational structure

With such a wide agenda for justice, MFSA prioritizes its programmatic responses to these intersecting issues. Once all petitions to General Conference have been submitted, MFSA will distill its focus and develop “Plumbline” position papers linking General Conference petitions to those issues.

Chett Pritchett affirms, “There are certain core pieces of legislation about which MFSA has always been clear. We stand firm to remove the incompatibility language for LGBTQ folks, and the funding, marriage and ordination bans.” One challenge at the 2016 General Conference will be how to respond to a “Third Way” proposal for LGBTQ matters “while maintaining that anything less than the removal of the incompatibility bans is not justice.”

Being “a catch-all for justice in the UMC,” is MFSA’s greatest strength and, at the same time, greatest challenge.” Chett quoted the words of poet-activist Audre Lorde, saying, “we’re not single issue people because we don’t lead single issue lives.” Chett noted that this is particularly so for the organization’s work at General Conference. MFSA has more than a hundred-year history of “looking at justice from multiple and varying perspectives.” MFSA’s very character is to work in collaboration even as other organizations must strategically focus on a single issue. Once partners in collaboration become accustomed to collaboration it is easier to recognize that “There are certain things that one of us does not have strength for, but our partners do.” The work of coalitions is to ask each other, “How do we help uplift that strength?” In the LYN Coalition (LYNC), we have to ask ourselves, “How do we do that for all forms of justice in the UMC?”

LYNC, Chett said, is still new to this kind of collaboration and new to working together across so many diverse issues. There are bound to be growing pains. “When coalitions work, each organization and each person recognizes when we’re working for the least common denominator and what needs to be done to make that least common denominator happen.” In LYNC, there are so many least common denominators, so many subjects on which to potentially act, “there has to be more give and take. Sometimes a group needs to give more to another issue than they take for their own, or take more assistance than they give to others.” We know that we are working together well, “When we come back at the end of each day and can say, we gave a lot today, who can give more tomorrow? This is not a zero-sum game. Some days, in any relationship, there is this give-and-take. One partner takes the trash out and does the dishes and will ask their partner for what they need from them the next day. Coalition building is an art, not a science. We are glad to be in this together.”

A critical part of the work of coalitions of any kind is simply showing up. In very concrete terms, the most basic things are “that we commit to being on calls, being in touch with one another, being present to one another. Ninety percent of ministry is just showing up, and it’s the same with movements.” The strength of being together is the ability to see work getting done together. Learning to become collaborative also means “we don’t have to take credit for everything, we don’t have to host everything, not everything has to have our stamp on it, so long as we are part of the work getting done.” Chett said, “When it works, there is authenticity. Everyone brings their authentic self and yet is open to transformation.”

Chett described his experience of showing up with MFSA as a part of a religious action working group related to reproductive justice issues. “As a gay male whose experience has not always been in the reproductive rights movement, I learn more just by showing up. When I don’t show up, I don’t learn. Also I can bring my own gay male perspective that others can learn from. My perspective has changed by my showing up. Showing up, listening and participating.”

Chett shared that the Coalition could be stronger if groups that support LGBTQ rights also showed up more consistently for the issues of racial ethnic minority groups. He wonders if the Coalition could do more with the #blacklivesmatter movement and more solidarity work for racial justice of all kinds within the denomination. The strongest move queer folks and allies to the LGBTQ cause could make toward realizing justice for themselves is to see their “work for LGBTQ equality alongside the work for justice in other parts of our church.” LGBTQ folks need to see themselves as part of a movement linked “to other social change movements, and with ecumenical and secular partners.” In relation to LGBTQ folks’ goals for full inclusion, Chett said, “Our work is part of a movement, not just a moment.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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 ), 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.

Posted in Disrupt | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.’”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment