Rev. Dr. Julie Todd pens letter to Bishop Ough

April 17, 2018

Dear Bishop Ough,

It came to my attention that you hadn’t received a copy of my recently published monograph Nothing About Us Without Us: LGBTQ Liberation and The United Methodist Church. I wrote this article upon an invitation to participate in the most recent GBHEM Colloquy on Missio Dei and the future of the United Methodist Church. I have included a copy of the book with a hard copy of this letter.

To prepare for writing this essay, I looked over every communication Love Prevails had with the Connectional Table (CT) and the Council of Bishops (COB) from 2012-2016. I reviewed every event documented by video during that same period. As I mined that documentation for information, I relived a lot of those events. This re-visitation caused me to realize how constant your presence has been in Love Prevails’ journey. Your presence and reactions were an underlying thread linking the progression of Love Prevails’ work as we attempted to disrupt the narrative and practice of LGBTQ exclusion at the heart of our denomination’s life.

I remembered that I wrote a personal, handwritten letter to you after the first time Love Prevails disrupted the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table meetings in November of 2013. I came across a photocopy. In it, I described my experience of singing the names of LGBTQ leaders who had been lost to the denomination over a CT leadership report that was being read. You intervened to get the members of the CT to stand and collectively shout the report over my singing. Which didn’t work. Eventually, Ms. Cythia Kent intervened to stop the meeting, and the group ended up having some fairly substantive conversations that day.

In my handwritten letter to you following that meeting, I shared:

What I really want to say to you is, in the midst of all that disruption and conversation, I really felt like you were trying. You were trying to be open, you were trying to let the Spirit do something, you were trying to give many people voice. I appreciated the way you articulated not to blame Love Prevails for bringing a conversation to the table that, you admitted, was being avoided. I appreciate you were doing your best to listen, to be flexible, respectful. I hope that you feel, like I did, that the Spirit really was present there moving us to something new, deeper.

I do think that Spirit-moment was fairly fleeting, however. It didn’t take long for the group to return to institutional equilibrium and institutional speech. But the moments remained the moments, and perhaps they will have an effect going forward. Perhaps not.

I also liked your sermon. PRAY. RISK. BREATHE. I’m afraid I do not see or experience too much of the second one from church leaders, particularly from bishops. I hope one day, Bishop Ough, on this matter of heterosexism and LGBTQ exclusion in the UMC, that I will see you RISK. I don’t know what that would look like for you, but I hope to know it when it happens.

It is remarkable how accurately that letter portrays the trajectory of my experience as a member of Love Prevails. While our actions are regarded as controversial and we may have acted imperfectly, I testify to the presence of the Spirit in many of our Disruptive moments, which activated the possibility of changing The Book of Discipline into the reality we are currently living as a denomination. Because you have also been there at all of those moments I believe you know that I am telling the truth.

In every case of the spirit sparking change, the return to institutional equilibrium, institutional speech and institutional processes inevitably came. I contend to you the following. You, as the primary leader interacting with us over time, recognized the unpredictability of our actions and the potential of the Spirit, through Love Prevails, to break through and break down the institutionalization of oppression that is anathema to the Spirit’s being. At some point, you and others decided that institutional leadership and processes could no longer tolerate those Disruptions. So you decided to militarize your meetings beginning at the Council of Bishops’ meetings in Oklahoma City in 2014 and going forward. This is now the standard practice for all Commission on the Way Forward (CWF) meetings.

For a while you tolerated us. For a few meetings you actually welcomed us. But that could only last so long because our presence forced the institution to deal with its hatred and homophobia too forcefully and too quickly. Dealing with us was, despite your stated consistency over time in asking others to do take risks, too risky. Institutionally, you became unable to respond with anything other than force and the exclusion of executive sessions. I am truly sorry that you could not consider how to be in relationship with Love Prevails more creatively, despite our many overtures and invitations. I suspect you think that these invitations felt too much like demands for your liking. My own experience of them was more like cries and songs.

Sadly, what I have felt from you since those early days, in relation to Love Prevails, is a hardening and building of walls rather than a loosening of bonds. I feel quite certain that you personally believe that all of the language that discriminates against LGBTQ people should be removed from the Book of Discipline and that exclusion and discrimination should end. Yet you have not led in such a way to state unequivocally and prophetically your belief and lead the church in this direction. You are not alone in this. The simple majority of bishops who also hold the same personal views about LGBTQ inclusion and changing the Discipline are all walking around with some intense moral injury, as you sometimes silently and sometimes actively perpetrate viscous forms of the harm that you hypocritically say you decry. You may respond that I do not know what goes on behind closed doors. Which is the nature of the problem itself, and a failure of transparency that the bishops promised, which fell from your lips, upon the creation of an offering of a way forward.

Currently much of our episcopal leadership bears witness to your episcopal vows to unify the church while it simultaneously bears false witness against the LGBTQ people you know full well to be fully equal children of God. I feel sorry that you are bound to uphold the laws which burden you with the maintenance of a church literally hell-bent on the retaining the vestiges of “homosexuality as sin” when you know the truth to be otherwise. I don’t accuse you alone of this false witness. I collectively accuse you episcopal leaders who refuse to bear up your collective courage to turn this ship towards an unequivocally clear statement of equality for LGBTQ people in this denomination, and to end the categorical discrimination. If you wanted to, you actually could do this together. If this does not happen, it is a collective failure of your moral and political will.

I hear rumors that the bishops’ proposal for unity may unite around the complete removal of the incompatibility language in our Book of Discipline. In the end, if the currently circulating CWF/COB proposals refuse to uphold in practice the theological commitments we make at our membership vows in and the promises we make to every human we baptize to “resist oppression in whatever form it presents itself,” the entire church enterprise shows up as a morally bankrupt witness within its own walls and beyond. Everyone knows this.

This upcoming Council of Bishops meeting to formalize a proposal to General Conference 2019 is historic. This is your opportunity, Bruce Ough, to lead in condemning oppression towards LGBTQ persons in the strongest of terms. Since all of your substantive meetings are behind closed doors, your leadership may never be known to us, but it will be known to you. I hope you will RISK. I hope I will see and know it when it happens. I am nonetheless sadly cynical that you, or most of our episcopal leaders, will lead in ways that lead to the end of formal discrimination towards LGBTQ people in the UMC and towards equality. I sincerely invite you and all other bishops to prove me completely wrong. I truly mean this.

This is a personal letter to you that I will make public. I do not except your response, though I invite it. If you do respond, know that I am likely to make it public.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Dr. Julie Todd

PDF of letter

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Love Prevails Affects Colloquy

Rev. Dr. Julie Todd, the John Wesley Senior Adjunct Lecturer in Justice and Peace Studies at the Iliff School of Theology and a Love Prevails member, was invited to write a paper for a colloquy on Missio Dei and The United States: Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness. This colloquy on mission was related to the Commission on The Way Forward and its work regarding human sexuality and unity of the church. More than 30 papers from seminary professors and bishops were presented and discussed.

Julie presented her paper, Nothing About Us Without Us: LGBTQ Liberation and The United Methodist Church, in Group 2 that also included four other professors and Bishops Scott Jones and Hope Morgan Ward. When the time came for the groups to report to the whole colloquy, Julie’s paper was highlighted (see Group 2 Summary below).

Five additional members of Love Prevails were present as observers and had their own impact.

You can have a signed paperback version of Julie’s paper by donating generously to Love Prevails https://loveprevailsumc.com/donate/ (click “Comment” and add your address) or purchase your own regular copy at https://www.amazon.com/Nothing-About-Without-Liberation-Methodist/dp/0991100557/.


Group 2 – main points or questions:

  1. Julie Todd’s paper, and the pain associated with it, served as a catalyst for a deeper authentic, and honest conversation.
  2. Do our conversations regarding the transformative restructuring of this denomination, or the forces that are seeking to diminish our community of social justice, lead to an increased feeling of despair or death? So, is this denomination fundamentally afraid of death? If so, do we no longer believe in resurrection or new life? In our struggle for life, who are we willing to sacrifice? What are the signs of life in our midst and what does being alive look like?
  3. How do we keep the value of the “connection” without a hierarchical structure.
  4. What is the nature of the table? Who is present at the table? Who gets to determine who is at the table? Why have the voices of the LGBTQ community not been included in the framing of this colloquy, the work of the Commission, and the larger UMC community? Breaking the rules of the colloquy led to the kind of conversation that emerged in this group, an in-breaking of the kindom.
  5. We have to recognize that the process of the colloquy and the Commission is a system of intentional disempowerment of the LGBTQ community and the conversation itself. How can we talk about or act upon about a UMC Missio Dei without first acting upon this unjust reality in our system?
  6. A malformed theology leads us to exclusion, but a well-formed generous theology of abundant love can lead us to a just welcome.
  7. We have not articulated what the transformation of the world really means, what does it look like? How do we distinguish between colonial, violent, exclusionary forms of transformation from life-giving, loving, grace and Spirit-filled transformation?

Love Prevails attends Colloquy

Love Prevails’ members are attending the Colloquy sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education & Ministry and the Association of United Methodist Theological Schools in Boston, MA. The theme of the Colloquy is Missio Dei and The United States: Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness. In this Colloquy, faculty from United Methodist theological schools and United Methodist bishops are invited to present papers in a small-group discussion format with plenary report-backs. Love Prevails’ member and Iliff School of Theology faculty Rev. Dr. Julie Todd was invited to present a paper. Here are the key points from the paper she presented today.

Paper: “Nothing About Us Without Us: LGBTQ Liberation and the United Methodist Church”
Key Points

  • Organized as a part of the The Commission on a Way Forward’s (CWF) work, the present Colloquy participates in perpetuating and participating in the illegitimacy of the CWF’s effort to determine the lives and futures of LGBTQ persons in the denomination, whose voices continue to be marginalized and silenced in this very process by cisgender, heterosexual persons.
  • These gatherings and processes embody the discriminatory status quo and the ongoing failure of our church leadership to name the real and active harm being done to LGBTQI United Methodists and other queer people by our current policies and practices.
  • LGBTQ persons are not the only people for whom the Methodist movement has mounted decades-long attempts sublimate histories and practices of violence under the halo of theological discussion, and to silence their voices and destroy their communities in the name of mission.
  • Under the requested topic of Missio Dei, the present Colloquy falls prey to the same temptation as the institutional church in general to theological discussion that sublimates an entire history of oppression in the United States’ context in which genocide and slavery were justified and propelled precisely by Christian people as the mission of God in the “new world”. The paper rejects the concept of Missio Dei as a theological grounding for the Colloquy.
  • Using a liberationist methodology that emphasizes the experience, action and reflection of those most impacted by violence, in this particular case the violence experienced by LGBTQ persons themselves as a result of the UMC’s anti-queer institutional policies and practices, as the primary locus for the determination of the means of liberation in any way forward, the paper argues against the prioritizing of the theological abstractions such as unity and missiology over-against the practice and pursuit of equality and justice for all oppressed persons, including LGBTQ persons, as a central “missional” demand.
  • Only the removal of the discriminatory language in The Book of Discipline will put the denomination on a path towards addressing the underlying systemic injustice and inequities of heterosexism and homophobia more broadly within the church and world. When this path is cleared, there will be more space for deeper commitments to address the scourges of white supremacy, savage capitalism and economic inequality, endless war, migration crises, misogyny, climate change and environmental destruction.

 

An Open Letter to Bishop Ken Carter

On July 17, 2017 Love Prevails sent the An Invitation to Be Invitational to all members of the Commission on (Not) The Way Forward. Bishop Ken Carter, one of co-chairs of the Commission, responded to our email. Here is our response back to him. (The original email communications from Love Prevails to the Commission members and Bishop Carter’s response to us follows below.)

Dear Bishop Carter,
Thank you for responding to our Invitation to Be Invitational. Clearly you are not interested in doing so. The notion that the work of The Commission is transparent appears to us as delusional. Press releases and formulaic videos are not the same as “transparency.” Apportionment dollars used to pay for armed, local law enforcement to protect you from us does not qualify as Invitational nor Transparent.

If there is a group of persons with more of a stake in The Commission than Love Prevails, we would like for you to tell us who they are. The very existence of this Commission is in response to the pressure applied across the denomination by Love Prevails and other LGBTQ groups and advocacy allies.

In light of your statement that the Commission’s work is, in fact, transparent, we ask you for the following information.

We would appreciate hearing from you about:

1) Your list of the stakeholders in the Commission, the individuals or groups you have identified as having a stake in the outcome of the Commission’s proceedings.

2) Is our being invited to the meetings of the Commission a decision you are authorized to make? The Commission as a whole? The Council of Bishops? Since your response had no mention of our being welcome or who is responsible for excluding us (or others who might attend), please clarify.

3) Descriptions of the general content of each meeting of the Commission before, during and afterwards.

4) When will the Commission be out of its “early stage” and be mature enough to invite others into its life? Was the video a misrepresentation of the trust-building it portrayed?

5) What is your communication plan to bring the rest of the church along before some great reveal in an Advance DCA for 2019?

We will be publishing your email communications with us on social media going forward.

We look forward to your utmost transparency.

Sincerely,

The Members of Love Prevails

 

****

Here is the original email Invitation to Be Invitational that Love Prevails sent to every member of the Commission.

Dear Commission Member,

Greetings as you prepare for your next Commission on A Way Forward. Love Prevails is still awaiting more transparency from the Commission. As a result, we are formally inviting you to invite more to be present with your deliberations now that you have established your trust with one another. We hope to hear your RSVP will allow ourselves and others to come in from both the cold and the heat.

We are aware that you may still be remembering our identity of being disruptive for General Conference 2016 as all other avenues than direct action have been removed from LGBTQ persons actually being at decision-making tables. We are quite capable of honoring an agreement to be non-disruptive witnesses at your meeting in the Chicago area.

We invite you to read our attached invitation and hope to hear from you soon that your self-imposed wall will be dismantled from the inside.

Love Prevails

Bishop Ken Carter responded with the following email response to Love Prevails’ Invitation to Be Invitational, addressed to Rev. Wesley White, who sent the emails on behalf of Love Prevails.

Dear Wesley,

 Thank you for reaching out to us.   We continue to do our work for the sake of finding a way forward and we are at an early stage in this mission.  We are also in continuing communication with United Methodist News Service and are transparently listening and sharing with stakeholders across the church. 

God bless you today.

The Peace of the Lord,

 +Ken Carter, Florida Area
The United Methodist Church

Ally Refuses Participation in Methodist LGBT Book

In mid-June, the United Methodist Publishing house began soliciting contributions for a small group resource to help individuals in United Methodist churches understand and discuss the UMC’s debate over human sexuality. According to an official solicitation for the resource, “The purpose of the resource is intended to facilitate accessible, honest, well-informed conversations about The United Methodist Church’s teaching on same-gender marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ persons, as well as theological tensions with the teaching and about calls for a more inclusive stance.” According to the solicitation from the Publishing House, “the goal of the resource is not to advocate for any ‘side,’ but rather to foster a deeper understanding of what’s at stake in individual lives and in the life of the denomination.”

As a result of her dissertation work on the history and ecclesiology of matters of human sexuality at General Conference from 1972-2008, Rev. Dr. Tiffany Steinwert was asked to provide a chapter for this resource. The deadline for submitting a 3200 word chapter? Two weeks.

Rev. Dr. Steinwert responded with the following questions to the Publishing House:

Who are the other scholars participating in the publication? Have you included queer voices in the resource? As this is a publication regarding their lives and ministry, I would assume the majority of contributors identify as openly queer.

 I am not sure I understand how scholars are asked to frame chapters without “advocating for any ‘sides'”? Isn’t that the very nature of scholarship and the call of Christian discipleship? 

 And, lastly, why is there such a rush on this publication? A two week turn around suggests either no one has agreed to contribute and the publishing house is scrambling for contributions or the publishing house does not consider this an endeavor worth putting in sufficient time, thought, and planning to create. Quite frankly, it appears as though the subject matter and the people’s lives at stake do not really matter to the denomination.

The Publishing House responded that no other contributors had yet agreed to write for the resource as the other prospective authors had also been asked just the previous day. The rushed timeline was due to due to a belatedly felt pressure for the need of such a resource. The representative explained that the need for small group study materials for laypersons has increased over the last couple of months: “It’s an urgent need that must be met quickly.”

To the representative’s knowledge, none of the authors for the resource are openly queer.

Regarding the question of framing the chapters, the representative responded, “while the nature of scholarship is to take a clear stance and make an argument for it, this resource was not intended as a work of scholarship but a study guide for use by small groups. The task of coming to conclusions would be the work of the small group using the resource.”

We envision that most people who use this study will already have a strong opinion on this topic one way or another, and that most small groups who use this study will have multiple opinions represented in them. The goal is to inform and challenge these opinions, with the result that they will be either sharpened, changed, or more nuanced. We hope that whatever “side” one holds, participating in this study will enable that person to have a better understanding and appreciation for where the other “side” is coming from. The chapter writer, therefore, must represent the church’s current teaching and calls for change accurately and faithfully. Another way to think of it is that we’re hoping the writer will make the best possible case for all “sides,” giving the small groups an opportunity to come to conclusions through their own discussion and reflection. And we want people to understand how this conversation is taking shape throughout the UMC, so we’re focusing on writers who can set things in that context.

Here is Rev. Dr. Steinwert’s response in full:

Based on this new understanding of the project, I cannot in good conscience participate. 

Neglecting and excluding the voices of queer scholars and pastors in a study on their lives is unethical at best. It only reinscribes the historic and ongoing marginalization of faithful gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender United Methodists. I cannot allow my scholarship to be in a resource that perpetuates the oppression of queer people in our Church.

While I am mindful as a teacher of the importance of presenting diverse perspectives to provoke critical reflection on one’s own values and beliefs, I also know the importance of presenting clear arguments. Students can weigh each argument on their merits and come to their own conclusion. Again, I cannot allow my scholarship to be presented in a way that by virtue of the support of the status quo reinscribes oppression. 

I am aware the debate which has been occurring over the past 50 years in the UMC regarding the full inclusion of queer people has garnered greater awareness in recent months as the specter of denominational schism looms. The recent Judicial Council rulings, coupled with the sporadic updates from the Commission on the Way Forward, has created a perception that somehow only now is this an urgent need of the denomination. Of course, queer people know this is a lie of the institution. 

 Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1968 when funding for Motive Magazine was pulled after publishing an issue exploring lesbian identity. 

  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1972 when the Church declared they were incompatible with Christian teaching.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1976 when the Church refused to recognize marriage between same-gender couples.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1980 when the Church prohibited funding organizations that “promote the acceptance of homosexulaity” including those that supported people living and dying with HIV/AIDS.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1984 when the Church instituted legislation demanding “celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage” as an intentional way to exclude queer people from ordained ministry and specifically prohibited “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from ordination.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1987 when Rev. Rose Mary Denman was defrocked for loving a woman.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1992 when the Church rejected the results of a quadrennial study to remove the incompatibility clause.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1996 when the restrictions on officiating same-gender marriages were strengthened.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1998 when Rev. Jimmy Creech was defrocked for performing a same-sex wedding and in 1999 when Rev. Greg Dell was suspended for doing the same.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 2000 when faithful LGBTQ activists were arrested on the floor of General Conference.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 2005 when Rev. Beth Stroud was asked about her genital activity in a trial that led to her defrocking and since Judicial Council Ruling 1032 permitted pastors to deny membership to people on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 2011 when the Church tried faithful pastor, Rev. Amy DeLong for her marriage to a woman.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 2016 when the General Conference refused to take action on any legislation regarding the lives of faithful queer UM and instead created a commission that includes less than 10% queer participants. 

I could go on. I have left out many details and many lives.

 This is not a new urgency. 

 It is only now urgent that the fate of the institutional Church seems to be threatened. 

 I applaud the publishing house for finally taking note of the pain and suffering queer United Methodists have had to endure for nearly 50 years. It is about time the Church did something. However, I fear this resource will be just one more in a long line of resources  (remember, The Church Studies Homosexuality?) that does nothing more than reinforce the status quo of oppression and marginalization no matter the intent or even conclusion it may draw.

 Without the participation of queer people, without clear stands on all sides, and without the thoughtful process of crafting a well-planned resource that responds not simply to the urgency of schism, but to the urgency of real people’s lives and the urgency of the Gospel witness now marred beyond recognition in our Church as we exclude God’s Beloved people, I cannot participate.

In Celebration of Rev. Amy DeLong’s Ordination

Fundraiser PosterIn celebration of the 20th anniversary of Rev. Amy DeLong’s ordination, we are launching a $20,000 campaign to fund the ongoing, prophetic work of Love Prevails.

 In one year (from June, 2017 – June, 2018), we hope to meet this ambitious goal, which will enable us to arrive at General Conferences 2019 and 2020 fully-funded and ready to make trouble for the sake of Gospel-inclusion.

 “When I was ordained in 1997, allies said to me, ‘‘Be patient … things will get better soon.’

 Well, I’ve been patient and ‘soon’ has turned into decades. Today, the discrimination against LGBTQ people is harsher than ever in the United Methodist Church. Love Prevails is working urgently to change that.” ~ Rev. Amy E. DeLong

Contributions can be made by PayPal at:
LovePrevailsUMC.org
or by sending a check to:
Love Prevails
PO Box 45234
Madison, WI 53744-5234

Love Prevails is a 501(c)3.
Your gift is tax deductible.

Print Poster for use at churches, conferences, etc.

Response to the Commission on a Way Forward

June 7, 2017

Dear Members of the Commission on a Way Forward,

In May, Love Prevails received an invitation from you claiming that because you “value our voice,” you’d like us to, “Describe your constituency’s preferred future for our denomination regarding the nature, conditions and extent of the inclusion of LGBTQ people within the Church.”

The United Methodist Church’s decades-long attempt to silence our voices and to destroy our community and culture have proven that LGBTQ lives are not valued in the least.

For 45 years, LGBTQ people and our allies have made countless theologically sophisticated and cogent arguments about why church-perpetuated and church-sanctioned injustice against LGBTQ people makes a mockery of God and the Gospel – and we will not rehearse that again in this suffocating and duplicitous context.

We will only say, what we have said ad nauseum:

The only proper and Christian corrective to the unjust and prejudicial treatment our people have received at the hands of the United Methodist Church is the full and complete removal of all language in the Book of Discipline which categorically discriminates against LGBTQ people. When, and only when, that is accomplished will we be able to move forward as equal and valued members of the Body of Christ.

May the Holy Spirit frustrate your attempts to use LGBTQ people as a bargaining chip toward some imaginary level of acceptable discrimination and exclusion.

Love Prevails,

Laci Lee Adams
Rev. Amy E. DeLong
Rev. Will Green
Rev. Sue Laurie
Rev. Tina Lang
Laura Ralston
Brenda Smith White

Dr. Mary Lou Taylor
Rev. Dr. Julie Todd
Rev. Wesley White

PDF of Response to the Commission on a Way Forward