Sometimes it is helpful to put two different perspectives alongside one another to think more deeply about both. Below is a Message from a group identified as UMC Africa Initiative, dated 5 August 2016 and published through United Methodist News Service, and a Response by Wesley White (associated with Love Prevails but writing under his own recognizance). Little is known of UMC Africa Initiative other than their own claims. The email contact in their letter does not exist.

The post below is best viewed on a computer for comparison click here for a PDF of the side-by-side comparison.


Over the past weeks we have been following the events and activities of the five jurisdictions of The United Methodist Church with mixed emotions and serious concerns about the future of our beloved church. We have read of actions taken by some in gross disobedience to the Bible and our Book of Discipline, and of others who have written to express their disagreements. We are deeply concerned. However, we are praying for God’s intervention as we discern God’s plans for the future of our church.



It is shockingly amazing that in the communication of “Love Prevails” to the Council of Bishops there was no mention of a specific reference to any passage of the Holy Scripture, our primary authority for doctrine, faith, and Christian living as the Church of Jesus Christ, to support any of its claims, arguments, and demands and justifications for the actions it has taken in recent times. This attitude and behavior has the propensity to embarrass, ridicule, and blur the message of the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ, which alone has the power to save and transform society.

In light of the commitment we (African delegates to the 2016 General Conference) made to the request of the Council of Bishops by our support to have them set up a special Commission to inquire into all human sexuality issues contained in our Book of Discipline, many of us are deeply saddened by the actions of some of our brothers and sisters to attempt to derail the unity of global Methodism. Their actions to grossly disrespect our Bishops and disobey our global decision at the recent 2016 General Conference are incompatible with fostering unity within global Methodism.

Furthermore, their actions seem to confirm the fears of our founding father, John Wesley. About five years before his demise, John Wesley had expressed his fears about the future of our church in regards to its continued commitment and submission to the Scripture and discipline that govern us. He said, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodist should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America [in Africa and the rest of the world]. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both to the doctrine, spirit and discipline with which they first set out”. When we abandon the clear teaching of Scripture in favor of some philosophies and ideologies of contemporary society, we cease to exist within God’s parameter of grace.


We are left to wonder, why are we not identified as Muslims, Buddhist, Hindus, etc., but Christians? It is because every religious faith has a doctrine and a religious code of conduct that distinguishes it from all other religion. In the case of Christianity, it is the Bible, the Holy Word of God, as the Quran is for the Muslims. One’s religious identity is not found in the most appealing cultural or political system of the day, for that is fleeting. Loyalty, obedience, and submission to the teachings of these “divine writings” of the faith to which one belongs defines, distinguishes, and truly identifies adherents. One cannot claim to truly be a member of any of the world’s religions and live in gross disobedience to its teachings. (John 14:15; Psalm 119:9-11,105; 19:7-11). Let the church be the church; and let not the culture of the day define the global Christian community called United Methodist, but the Bible (Joshua 1:8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The Christian Church, bought and birthed with the blood of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:1-13; Matthew 27: 32-61; John 10:10-11; Hebrews 10:1-39) is not and cannot be a social club; it cannot be directed by any form of political activism that contradicts the teachings of Scripture. And it is not a social or political system based on humanism or secular ideologies and philosophies (2 John 2;15-16; Colossians 2: 8-15;1 Samuel 8) that seeks endorsement for a kind of “human rights” to the detriment of human existence as God our Creator has designed it. Instead, the Church of Jesus Christ is a global community redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, who lives in loving relationship with their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They are a people called out from the world and yet sent into the world (John 16:7-11; Acts 1:8; Genesis 6:5-9; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 28; Judges 2:10-13; 17:6) to share the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit in order that persons might come to faith in Christ and become disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We cannot in any way be “bad news” by our decisions, actions, and attitudes, and yet attempt to proclaim the good news.


It is time to return to the faith of our fathers and mothers (the Holy Scriptures) and be the church. In spite all that is going on, there is hope for the continued growth and development of the Church of Jesus Christ because Jesus is still the LORD of His Church. We will remain committed and determined to live in loyalty and obedience to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, and to our Book of Discipline. We will also remain supportive of the unity of the global United Methodist Community as long as the Bible remains our primary authority for faith and Christian living. We shall remain loving of members of the UM Church who have chosen to tread the cultural path of contemporary society that is inimical to the teaching of Scripture, in the hope that we will reconcile our differences and submit to the Lordship of Christ. They are our brothers and sisters for whom Christ also gave his life. However, we shall not compromise our Christian faith on the altar of what seems to the minds of some to be “socially acceptable and politically correct” cultures and practices of contemporary society.

We are confident that God is in sovereign control of His Church. He promises to continually build it until He returns to receive us unto Himself, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18b). We need to only be still, yet vigorously prayerful and discerning in such a time as this, and we will see the deliverance of the Lord.

We must admit that global United Methodist Church is at the crossroads (Jeremiah 6:16). We have choices to make. On one hand, we can choose to obey God and His word, and thereby repent of the sin of gross disobedience and abandon the quest to be like the rest of the world. On the other hand, we can choose to continue in pursuit of what the cultural practices of the day dictate that denies God’s sovereignty over God’s creation and accepts what feels good, what seems politically acceptable to society, etc. The choice is ours.

But as Joshua, at the close of his ministry in Shechem, said to all of the Israelites, and by implication to all United Methodist at the crossroads today, we wish to challenge all born-again believers in Jesus Christ (John 3:3-5), in the words of this great general of God’s people, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness…But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my household (the UM Community in Africa, in particular, and all faithful Christians everywhere who are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the undiluted Word of God for belief and practice), we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:14-15). Together, we shall make it for God’s glory (Joshua 2:17-18; 2 Samuel 10:9-12). God has wonderful plans for the prosperity of His Church on earth (Jeremiah 29:11). Let us be firmed and very courageous in prayer and in discerning God’s will for the future of our church, always abounding in the Word of the Lord; for we know our labor in the Lord is not in vain (Joshua 1:4-6; 1 Corinthians 15:58). May God bless the people called United Methodist.

For His Glory,

Rev. Dr. Jerry P. Kulah, Central Conference Coordinator, UMC Africa Initiative
On behalf of the UMC Africa Initiative

“Concern”, “emotions”, “gross disobedience”, “disagreements”, and “intervention” all point to an argument based on Law, from which there is only one way to be “obedient” to the Bible and the current Book of Discipline. These set a reader into an either/or state. I recommend Amy DeLong’s, Loyal Opposition, and Steve Harper’s blog about Loyal Disobedience for less anxious interpretations of acts of non-conformity.
Even though “God’s intervention” is prayed for, the stronger emphasis is upon our discernment of “God’s plans” which may be as flawed as previous discernments regarding race, gender, smoking, divorce, etc.


While appreciating the boldness of Love Prevails, it is of significance that the communication referenced was about a common decency of calling people by their preferred name. It does not seem appropriate to pull out scripture such as Matthew 5:22 to goad the Bishops into basic human decency of telling the truth about people by using the names they prefer. A relative lack of scripture is also found in John Wesley’s “Thoughts Upon Slavery” where, again, human compassion coming from a life of piety and mercy cannot be improved with scriptural references. Love of Neighbor does not need scriptural warrant.

It was not just African delegates who voted for a process now called, “A Way Forward”. The Bishop’s own comments about the special Commission puts church structure first and only deals with the code language of “human sexuality” as it forces a false unity on the church. Neither the Bishops nor UMC Africa Initiative name LGBTQ people as human beings. Not being able to talk about the real life of real LGBTQ lives means we can’t have real unity. A willingness to dismiss one part of the church or semi-divide the whole church over the lives of gay and lesbian United Methodists is where real disrespect lies.

It is important to do more than rely on the authority of quotable authorities. Major questions can be raised about any form of religion when the animating part of the quote is about power. When attention is paid to church history, even the short history of United Methodism and its predecessors, it is notable that we have had one teaching or doctrine after another. They do not live comfortably with one another. A “spirit” of movement has been replaced by structures of institution (including positions of privilege) and “discipline” is a way of living that can never be bound into a book.
An affirmation and limitation of “the clear teaching of Scripture” is not without its own philosophy and ideology. Always there is a tension between our desires, understandings, society, and grace. The most difficult of these to sustain is grace, which needs to be read back into “doctrine, spirit, and discipline”.

And it must be asked, “Are we Christians in more than name?” We might remember John Wesley’s sermon on “Scriptural Christianity” is not about proving, but showing, “Christianity; not as it implies a set of opinions, a system of doctrines [or “clear teachings”], but as it refers to [people’s] hearts and lives.” John confesses, “…we have never yet seen a Christian country upon earth” because we are yet lacking righteousness or justice and mercy.
Or if we turn to “The Character of a Methodist”, regardless of the culture, there is only United Methodist Connexion or Community. “Let us not always be fighting in the dark. Come, and let us look one another in the face. And perhaps some of you who hate what I am called, may love what I am by the grace of God.”
In these and other ways, John emphasizes his Anglican Arminian roots over the doctrines of Calvinistic Methodists1 in Colonial America and still expressed in this Message.

It is very difficult to stay out of traps of sequence and causality. Christ and Culture are continually clarifying one another. The accusation here is something called “political activism”. In this view, anything that does not agree with either my personal or my 51% or more majority view is automatically out to destroy 100% of my belief. This model only sees political activism as disorderly, not compassionate.
Here remember the activism of “Renewal” groups that set up an alternative mission society, women’s ministry, publishing house, and some would add seminary or African Initiative. This activism is blessed?
It is critical to not overlook the put-down found in the subtle language, “endorsement for a kind of ‘human rights’ to the detriment of human existence.” This is at the heart of the matter. Can love of neighbor be a “kind” of human rights that is detrimental to human existence? Simply substitute “love of neighbor” for “human rights” and it becomes clear that we are in the arena of idolizing the words of the Bible over the living of it. We are close enough to be in danger of throwing “love of neighbor” out of the Bible and of separating vital piety, that includes the Bible, from everyday lived mercy.

Read, again, “Scriptural Christianity” (based on Acts 4:21) to see that the early faith of our mothers and fathers was not the “Holy Scriptures” but relationships one person to another. John emphasizes that within these relationships, the Holy Spirit distributes many gifts to all for a more excellent purpose.
This kind of distributive unity is far different than a false uniformity. The unity of the Spirit is also different than the use of the word “unity” to cover the emptiness of only those with a “clear teaching” being able to define and deny the presence and gifts of others on the basis of one human identity characteristic or another.
An appreciation of gifts in others is not a compromise with what one understands their gifts to be. To mistake an individual for a whole or to claim a blessing for someone else can cancel every blessing I’ve ever had moves dangerously close to what can be described as sociopathic or narcissistic. Let us not mistake enforced unity for the diverse, profligate, distribution of spiritual presence to “all” (Acts 4:21).

Talking about “the deliverance of the Lord” makes it sound like End Times are already with us. This raises the stakes to “ultimate” and it is very difficult to make wise decisions when a whole web of relationships depends on one decision. As one who believes Love Prevails, this is difficult rhetoric to have as part of a creative Way Forward.

It is accurate that The United Methodist Church and each of us have choices to make. Ever has it been so. The choice here seems to be drawing a very small circle of saved individuals to the inside of a castle and leaving the unsaved on the outside. There is not a drawbridge in this picture.
An outsider might be able to convincingly talk the right talk to be lifted over the wall. Those from the inside who are discovered to fall short of a current law and who can no longer be closeted, can always be thrown from the wall. Surely there is a better choice.

In the end, it turns out there is no real choice available through this Message from UMC Africa Initiative. The bottom line is, “Believe the Bible and United Methodist traditions as I have come to believe them.”
To have a vision that takes the way of loving G*D and Neighb*r (* means these cannot be defined in a single way as there is always more to be learned about both) as seriously as our current great mission to disciple and transform would help broaden and temper needed temporal decisions. We are still not deciding once for all — remember the schism we had over slavery, our segregated reunion, and how when our official racial segregation was ended we immediately instituted an “incompatibility” clause against a new group, gays and lesbians. If we split again or have segregated conferences or come up with a third hurtful thing to do to ourself and others, it is helpful to remember that we are not the measure of goodness, faithfulness, or clear teaching.
Let’s presume G*D continues to bless. The question is whether we will bless or curse those deemed, a priori, outside our salvation track.

Mercy and Joy abound
take plenty
and more to pass around

Wesley White

[Additional side-by-side responses to writings from Good News, Confessing Movement, IRD and others are available here.]

Council of Bishops Gets an F

August 9, 2016

To the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops,

IMG_4620We read the document you released on July 25, 2016 “The Commission on a Way Forward.” Every United Methodist understands that the primary work of the Commission is to discern the ways in which the United Methodist Church will or will not continue to discriminate against God’s LGBTQ children. Yet this two-and-a-half page document fails to use the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer even once. In the sixth paragraph, you finally name “matters of human sexuality” as one of two “presenting issues” for the church.

Forty-four years into the codified discrimination against lesbian and gay people in our denomination, it should be commonly understood by religious leaders in the contemporary world that it is inappropriate to speak of our queer and very real, embodied lives as “presenting issues.” Please stop referring to us as issues.

Furthermore, Love Prevails’ July 18 letter to the Council of Bishops made the following specific demand related to your use of language in the Commission:

Be explicit about the work of the Commission. “Human sexuality” is code language for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer. Do not use coded language when speaking about our lives. The Commission is gathering for the sole purpose of determining whether and how the United Methodist Church will continue to discriminate against LGBTQ people in its life and ministries. You will not have meaningful conversation about the full and healthy spectrum of human sexuality and gender identity – for that, justice for LGBTQ people would be mandatory.

We send this letter to reiterate our demand. Perhaps we were not clear enough. Please stop using the words “human sexuality” when you mean to refer to the diversity and plurality of expressions of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The work of the Commission will be much more believable when you use more direct language. For example, in the following paragraph on the Vision of the Commission, we have a much more truthful assessment of the current reality of our church when we replace the code language “human sexuality” with more honest language.

The Commission will design a way for being church that maximizes the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible, that allows for as much contextual differentiation as possible, and that balances an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality how it is possible to discriminate against LGBTQ people with a desire for as much unity as possible.

From now on, Love Prevails will evaluate every communication coming out of the Council of Bishops or the Commission on a Way Forward. We will issue a grade on your use of meaningfully descriptive and just language to describe the diversity of God’s children, as you move forward to debate and discuss whether or not our church intends to value our lives.

On the document dated July 25, 2016. Grade: F.


Love Prevails

See the PDF of the letter sent here.

July 18, 2016 Letter to the Bishops of the UMC

The following letter was sent to the Bishops of the United Methodist Church. See the PDF attached for the exact letter sent.

July 18, 2016

To the Bishops of The United Methodist Church:

We rejoice at the election of seven women (including four African-Americans) to the episcopacy—more than at any other time in our denominational history. This is all the more significant as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the removal of the categorical exclusion of Methodist women called by God to ordained ministry from The Book of Discipline.

In the more than 200 years of Methodism in which this renewal movement has transformed into a settled institution (Mr. Wesley’s worst nightmare), we have run into a number of impasses that took seismic shifts to move us away from discrimination and toward a focus on gifts and graces—not the least of which were centered around women and people of color.

And now similar shifts are occurring again regarding the lives of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Christians. We are experiencing a kairos moment of change within the church. The self-avowing of more than a hundred Queer pastors, conferences committing to non-conformity with exclusionary church polity, and the election of an out, partnered Lesbian to the episcopacy are tremblings in the foundations of institutional violence and discrimination. Deep tectonic shifts are creating new revelations as the plates of law and the plates of grace collide.

Regrettably, The Council of Bishops’ first response to the election of the Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto to episcopal office appeared more interested in advancing a unity built upon the invisibility of LGBTQ people, whose grace-filled lives you never mentioned. Additionally, in a recent “Pastoral Letter”, the Southeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops refused to rightly identify heterosexism as the cause of division in our church, and instead relied on the well-worn tactic of scapegoating the lives of God’s Queer children and the ministry of their allies. In their letter, they wrote, “We view the acts of nonconformity [to The Book of Discipline] as divisive and disruptive.” To this classic reaction of the oppressors to the liberatory activities of the oppressed, we respond with the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”:

Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action [and non-conformity] are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

You seek to bring about change through unity. We understand that this is your burden. However, what is before you is not a balancing act to mollify the politically left or right regarding “human sexuality.”  The healing, reconciliation, and liberation needed will come from a basic return to gifts and graces to build a renewed body that honors the mystery of Spirit, blowing where it will.

We will communicate with you at more length about the Council of Bishops’ “Offering For a Way Forward” once meaningful action has been taken and those decisions and actions have been made transparent to the connection. Prior to your executive committee meetings on Tuesday, we would like to make a few points clear.

  • Be explicit about the work of the Commission. “Human sexuality” is code language for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer. Do not use coded language when speaking about our lives. The Commission is gathering for the sole purpose of determining whether and how the United Methodist Church will continue to discriminate against LGBTQ people in its life and ministries. You will not have meaningful conversation about the full and healthy spectrum of human sexuality and gender identity – for that, justice for LGBTQ people would be mandatory.
  • There can be no discussion of LGBTQ lives without our bodies and voices present at the table. Love Prevails demands that a full majority of the members of the Commission be LGBTQ people. Those chosen must represent the broad spectrum of LGBTQ people, in terms of race, ethnicity, gender identity, gender expression, class, ability, geography, ordination status and tactics of engagement. Tokenizing a small number of Queer people who are moderate and acceptable to your vision of polite conversation and debate does not do justice to our full lives.
  • The only merciful and just outcome of the Commission will be the full removal of all language from The Book of Discipline which categorically discriminates against and punishes LGBTQ people, as well as policies which penalize those who seek to be in ministry with and for LGBTQ people. There is no “just resolution” short of this one goal. Our burden is not church unity, but justice for God’s Queer children.

Remember, there was fear in the air as disciples begged Jesus not to go to Jerusalem. There will be many begging you not to go in the direction of love and justice. But, it will only be as you are willing to join countless others, lay down your lives and be, yourselves, crucified on the current cross of ignominy and incompatibility that resurrection will be possible. Are you able?

Love Prevails

PDF of the letter can be found here

Response to Bishop Coyner

Bishop Michael Coyner preached at the North Central Jurisdictional Conference Consecration ceremony July 16. The following is the body of a letter written by Love Prevails member, Mary Lou Taylor, detailing the harm he has done. (Here is a link to the archive of the livestream from the Consecration Service, viewable on July 18, 2016)

“Bishop Coyner:

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ.

You won’t remember my name, but I am the woman who came up to you after your sermon during the consecration of bishops for the North Central Jurisdiction on Saturday. I am the woman who told you that your words wounded many people in the sanctuary, especially Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer people, and that they were not reflective of the love and hospitality of Jesus Christ. I would like to say a little more about the damage that was done. Forgive me if I do not quote you with 100% accuracy: I believe I have come close.

Your sermon was ostensibly directed to the newly-elected bishops, giving them a little fatherly advice from a seasoned veteran. But in doing so, you took every opportunity to say, in code or in very clear language, that you do not value LGBTQ people and that you favor their exclusion and the harm it does to them in the United Methodist Church. You began by warning them not to try to be “relevant,” not to “change with the culture,” but to “stick to Scripture.” We all know what you meant—everyone in that church knew what you meant. But I’d like to ask you, which Scripture? Why do you put more weight on eight “clobber passages” than you do on the teachings of our Lord? And why is it more important that we maintain positions that were informed by a culture 2000 years old, a time, place and understanding that was dramatically different than the one in which we find ourselves today? What is it about demonizing and excluding LGBTQ people that is so important to you that you had to include it in your sermon?

But that was just a warm-up. Next, you warned the new bishops, “don’t let what the Western Jurisdiction did be your guide.” Again, your position that the Book of Discipline must be upheld even when it contradicts the teachings of Christ is clear. Do not let the Spirit of God to sweep into the life of the church, your words intoned. Follow the rules, even when they are harmful.

But the heart-breaking moment came later, when you were telling the bishops that they will be criticized, and used as an example that after 49 primarily Latino, primarily gay people were horribly slaughtered in Orlando, you and other bishops got letters calling them co-murderers because of the church’s condemnation of same-sex relationships. Was there really no other time you were criticized that you could have used as an example, one that was not so pointedly meant to harm?

Please, Bishop Coyner, think for a moment of the opportunity for compassion and healing that you missed in that sermon. Forty-nine people whom our church condemns as “incompatible with Christian teaching” and excludes from full participation in our denomination were slaughtered and you used that event as an example of how hard it is to be a bishop. Can you understand how hurtful that was? Do you understand why there were people crying in the pews?

There is so much work for the church to do in this world. In just the few days leading up to your sermon, we had police murdering black men, police being murdered, 84 men, women and children literally mowed down in Nice, and a coup in Turkey. And yet none of that—nothing—was lifted up in your sermon. The message you could have given to the new bishops about the need to work ceaselessly for the healing of a broken world went unspoken.

You display a hardened heart, I’m afraid, and your sermon reflected more concern for yourself than for the beloved United Methodist Church or the work of Jesus Christ. I am thankful that the words that we sang during communion were so much more reflective of the Christ whom I follow: “And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace.” May it be so.

May God be with you,

Mary Lou Taylor”

Self-Avowed, Practicing Ambiguity: NEJ Episcopal Interview Reflections

By Rev. Dr. Julie Todd
July 13, 2016

Yesterday, the Love Prevails Team listened to interviews with eleven candidates for the episcopacy in the Northeast Jurisdiction. The group we attended asked the following question of every candidate:

“Please answer this as an either-or question. Recently, three annual conferences decided to stand in non-conformity with the discriminatory language in The Book of Discipline with regards to LGBTQI people. As a bishop, where will you stand? Will you uphold the current language of The Book of Discipline or will you stand in non-conformity?” This group was the only interview group (of eight groups) that asked about the practice of LGBTQ discrimination with such clarity.

Two of the eleven candidates clearly stated that they would stand in non-conformity. One stated clearly that they would uphold the current rules. While speaking with a range of support for LGBTQ people from sympathy to solidarity, the rest of the candidates did not answer the question as an either-or.

After the interviews, Rev. Will Green noted that “not one candidate invoked the incompatibility language or said they agreed with The Book of Discipline’s statements on sexuality. Not one candidate showed up to hate on queer people. Not one person thought it would be wise to align their candidacy with the denomination’s policy.”

The reality Will Green described felt like some disorienting kind of progress toward LGBTQ inclusion.

Yet Love Prevails claims that the baseline for supporting any episcopal candidate is the willingness of that candidate to unequivocally state and practice 100% non-conformity with the anti-LGBTQ policies of the United Methodist Church.

The avoidance or outright resistance of the majority of the candidates to answer this question in the either-or fashion in which it was asked amounted to stating the moderate-to-liberal status quo in the United Methodist Church.

There were only two real and tangible differences in this particular group of episcopal interviews in the Northeast Jurisdiction concerning LGBTQ exclusion. First, TWO candidates said unequivocally that they will not conform with anti-LGBTQ policies in the UMC. This is real change and it should be lifted up and celebrated. Second, eight moderate-to-progressive candidates willingly and publicly articulated what has been the mostly unstated, current practice of the majority of U.S. bishops.

This practice was variously stated and interpreted. No candidate actually said what follows, but here is what I heard, and which seems consistent with what has been the de facto practice of most moderate-to-liberal U.S. bishops. If an openly LGBTQ person comes to a bishop, the bishop would not file charges against them. If a complaint is filed by another United Methodist against a clergy person for a violation of some anti-LGBTQ prohibition, the bishop will try to resolve the process through a “just resolution.” There seems to be a difference among the moderates and liberals how far any given bishop would take a complaint beyond a private conversation with the bishop, or how quickly any individual bishop would deliberate before moving to a “just resolution.” Regardless of how far or quickly the process would proceed, the bishop will do everything to avoid trial and use the “just resolution” process.

Conversation, dialogue, relationship building, being a shepherd for the whole flock, holding disagreements in tension, we must value all perspectives – we have heard the rest of all of these approaches to change before. As platitudes, they are merely ways of side-stepping conflict. Just resolution is not just. It is a way to avoid dealing directly with the Christian oppression of LGBTQ folks, which most episcopal candidates and current bishops alike fail to identify as the heart of the matter.

From the majority of candidates, the reasons given for shifting exclusionary practice away from criminalization and punishment for LGBTQ persons and their allies were not theologically or prophetically oriented towards the gospel demands of love and justice, but towards the avoidance of conflict, costly trials and time-and-resource-wasting litigious procedures.

A number of the candidates answered that if they were appointed to an episcopal area where non-conformity was the ethos of that context, they would support non-conformity. If they were appointed to more conservative areas, they would conform to that context. There is no theological center to candidates who, on the one hand, state that they absolutely believe that the current stance of The Book of Discipline towards LGBTQ persons is wrong, yet who will uphold the processes and procedures that are outlined there, or not, based on context.

“Just resolution” has been fashioned as the current, acceptable compromise with injustice. Self-avowed, practicing ambiguity about the practices of injustice and discrimination towards LGBTQ persons in the UMC has become the new status quo.

Among the majority of candidates’ responses, there was much affirmation of the integrity of non-conformity with LGBTQ discrimination. I suppose this is progress in the Northeast Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church.

But as progress, perhaps it is something also something else. Processing the interviews with Dr. Dorothee Benz at the end of the day, she reached for a saying, something to the effect of, “Hypocrisy is the first concession to virtue.” Concessions and compromises with injustice, while appearing as progress and virtue, nonetheless smack of hypocrisy are, unavoidably, still oppression and injustice.

Rev. Cathy Weigand at Wisconsin Annual Conference

IMG_1018 (1)Cathy Weigand, Elder

Algoma Boulevard United Methodist Church, Oshkosh

Bishop, I’d like to ask for a moment of personal privilege.

I was asked to attend General Conference to witness what happens to people who are marginalized by our church. It was awful.

In 20 years of ministry I have done almost nothing to make a difference for LGBTQ people in our church or in our world. We’ve seen the news. People are being targeted and murdered, 50 dead and 53 in the hospital. And what have I done? I have quietly thought good thoughts. I have carefully said well intended words in safe audiences. But I have not bothered to witness the harm being caused by our church. I have not risked anything.

I am sorry. I have allowed damage be done. I have considered myself an ally, but in truth, I’ve been a complacent bystander. My silence has been betrayal. My calm has caused damage. My theology means nothing without word and action. And so, I ask for forgiveness.

My witness and my apology mean nothing if I continue to speak safely and quietly; if I don’t work to make a difference.

There must be substantive action and risk.

I take this risk today and ask for forgiveness for causing harm. I challenge you to take a risk today and stand with me. Stand with me and sing Jesus Loves Me, that safe, sacred song from our childhood that reminds us of God’s love, a love that has been compromised by our use of the word “incompatible”, a song that many who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer can no longer can hear as truth for themselves because of what we’ve said and done as a church and because of what we haven’t said and haven’t done.

Instead of Jesus Loves Me, can you offer your prayers for the victims in Orlando as well as your apology to the LGBTQ people among us, take a risk, stand up, and sing with me, “Jesus Loves You”.

[Most at Annual Conference stood and sang.]

Cathy Weigand, Pastor

Algoma Boulevard United Methodist Church
1174 Algoma Boulevard
Oshkosh, WI 54901

Rev. Janet Ellinger’s Statement

A complaint was made in 2015 against Rev. Janet Ellinger of the Wisconsin Annual Conference for officiating at two same-gender weddings. The Book of Discipline was followed in response to the complaint. When it appeared an agreement had been reached Bishop Hee Soo Jung concluded the process with a decision communicated to both the complainant, Rev. Gilbert White, and Rev. Ellinger. Rev. White indicated he did not agree with the decision but did not respond to where it fell short for him or how it might better represent his understanding. As a result of Rev. White’s not continuing toward a just resolution, Bishop Jung’s decision stood and Rev. Ellinger spoke at the June 10, 2016 Clergy Session of the Wisconsin Annual Conference.

Photo courtesy of Edwin Varggas

Photo courtesy of Edwin Varggas

Rev. Ellinger’s apology (in the church use of that term, not the cultural sense) for her actions follows:

(This reflection on my thoughts and feelings began after clergy colleague, Gil White, filed a complaint against me with the bishop on May 13, 2015. The substance of the complaint was that, 1) I had officiated at two weddings of same gender couples, and 2) the complaint requested the removal of my clergy credentials. This writing has been an ongoing editing process, looking toward being shared at the June 10, 2016, clergy session at Annual Conference.)

Bishop Jung has communicated to you his ruling on the complaint filed against me by Gil White, now a retired elder, requesting that my clergy credentials be removed because I officiated at two weddings of same gender couples. The bishop’s ruling on this complaint has directed me to speak with you today, offering my admission and an apology if my actions have harmed our clergy covenant. I did officiate at the marriages referenced in the complaint. My apology is in the spirit of Christian apologetics, offering an explanation or defense of my faith that grounded my actions, intending that this statement might be an additional source for respecting and understanding our unique gifts and perspectives as clergy colleagues.

I grew up in the church, experiencing God as a presence of loving kindness, a purposeful energy of both compassion and justice. I have no memory of ever being taught that God was judgmental or punitive.   I have never feared that a lack of faithfulness or repentance on my part could make God’s love conditional.

Though probably unaware in my early years of the impact of this grounding, I experience it now as a consistent spiritual gravity pulling upon the words, deeds and engagements of my life. It is this experienced Divine essence I strive to express in my life and to which I believe I am accountable, and by which I am held responsible when I find myself complicit with violence, injustice, personal harm and systems of oppression.

I remember reading William Sloan Coffin’s words about creed, dogma and church law. He called those the signpost – and then said that love is the hitching post.   I think that captures my relationship to the Book of Discipline.   The Book of Discipline is the signpost. But the unconditional love expressed in the Gospel is our hitching post. The Church’s task is to consistently express this love in how we order our ministry in the world. Our United Methodist orderliness is not an end in itself but a means by which the Gospel is to be set free in our shared life and witness.

All of this is what informed my decision to preside at these weddings. The couples are church people and when one couple decided to have children, they wanted their family to be grounded in a spiritual community and to be married in that same community. Their pastor and United Methodist congregation chose not to be that community.   The scenario was similar for the second couple.

Prior to my learning that the complaint had been filed against me, Gil White had not talked to me about his concern. Later he said he didn’t do that because he was sure he couldn’t change my mind and he wasn’t about to change his. Rather than seeking agreement, I would have welcomed a conversation for understanding, no matter the outcome.

When Gil and I did talk as part of the just resolution process, I learned of his 20 years of service in the Navy. He shared that in the Navy, there was zero tolerance for disobedience. One strike and you were out. So maybe that influences the lens through which he sees discipleship. In baseball you get three strikes before you are out. I have coached basketball where you get five fouls before you “foul out.” I will let you do the math on seven times seventy.   But we aren’t in the Navy and we aren’t playing baseball or basketball.

We are the church. And from where I sit, this incarnational community, flawed yet faithful, is about personal spiritual growth and deepened relationships with God, neighbor and stranger…more than it is about rules based on a majority vote. It is about faithfully navigating our way in the world together, rooted in the Gospel.

The bishop suggested in his ruling that my actions may have had a negative impact on our covenantal relationship as clergy so let me speak to that. Over the past couple years many of us have been exploring our clergy covenant.   In practice, I think “covenant” has come to function among us mostly as a means to hold us obedient to the Book of Discipline.   It is that use of the Book of Discipline I find most harmful to our covenantal relationship. I deeply regret the harm and spiritual violence that pollutes the air we breathe in the United Methodist Church because of our ongoing discrimination that excludes gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people from participating in the full ministry of the Church. Until the Book of Discipline changes to truly welcome the God-given gifts of all people, I feel our Book of Discipline will continue to be a barrier to an authentic clergy covenant.

To me it seems more demanding, and I would say more faithful, when covenant, tethered to the strong love and justice of the Gospel, is understood as a relationship of chosen accountability with no partiality. The resilience and capacity of this experience of covenant is not found in the teeth of a rulebook. Rather, it is found within an ever expanding embrace of compassion and justice – hitched, if you will, to the heart of the Gospel.

I have been United Methodist since my conception, literally. When I made a conscious choice to confirm that identity, a significant part of that decision was because of the quadrilateral – which I understand to be a process of spiritual discernment used in community, not in isolation – to gain understanding, guidance and correction. So when I considered all four – scripture, tradition, reason and experience, for me it was a faithful decision to officiate at the weddings of these couples. It was both my honor and my joy to do so.

In Matthew 5 Jesus is represented as saying repeatedly, “You have heard it said of old”…about murder, divorce, bearing false witness, loving your enemies to name a few…and then the words follow, “but I say to you,” and then Jesus offers a broader faithfulness to the listeners on that hillside, just west of Capernaum.

Jesus’ radical witness still compels us all to wrestle with where we do stand and what we do take to heart so that compassion and justice come to life in and through us as we live our lives every day. May it be so among us.