The Exhausted Right

IMG_0706 (2)by Rev. Amy E. DeLong

“I’m just so tired of fighting about this issue!”

These are words I hear spoken, not from me or my Queer friends who are rightfully exhausted by the church’s oppressive and intractable demand for hetero- and cis-normativity, but from my conservative brothers and sisters within the United Methodist Church.

It is a statement which frankly confuses me. Since 1972, the conservative faction of the United Methodist Church has enjoyed immense success in their legislative efforts to codify anti-Queer discrimination and prejudice. Here are the General Conference lowlights:

1972 – Labelled all Queer people “incompatible”
1976 – Scared boards and agencies silent with a funding ban
1984 – Categorically barred the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” and took steps to weed out gay candidates for ministry by inserting into the Book of Discipline the seemingly benign phrase “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.”
1996 – Prohibited holy unions from being performed by United Methodist clergy or in United Methodist facilities
2000 – Arrested 29 people (including two bishops) who protested the church’s anti-gay practices and polity
2004 – Criminalized immorality (including, but not limited to not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a   heterosexual marriage), being an ordained “self-avowed practicing homosexual”, performing holy union ceremonies or same-sex marriages

For more than four decades, the LGBTQ community within the United Methodist Church has never experienced what could be regarded as “a win.” The legislation has only gotten more prohibitive, restrictive, and punitive. And yet, it is the religious right who claim exhaustion.

Of course, this begs the question, “Why are they so pooped?” The answer seems simple enough: Because they never thought it would take so much time, money, and focused energy to get rid of us. They must have been so certain that with each cruel and callous piece of legislation we would leave; that their attempts at cultural genocide would have been measurably successful by now; that their profound spiritual brutality and ever-increasing malice would have driven us away, long ago. And yet, here we are.

I am reminded of the Mexican proverb that says, “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

We Queers just keep popping up. And like defiant spring dandelions, we are ever more resistant to the religious right’s spiritual “Roundup.” We are stronger, prouder, more resilient, more rebellious – and most importantly, more certain of God’s acceptance and more confident of God’s call, which, of course, makes us increasingly impervious to their spiritual abuse and bad teachings.

Yeah … the religious right should be tired. But imagine how tuckered out they will be after they break away from the United Methodist Church to start their own church (free of the ambiguous and gritty reality of human sexuality), only to find that there are little Queer kids singing in their Cherub Choirs who, when they grow up, won’t want to be thrown out of their churches either.

From where I stand…

Janet Ellinger, United Methodist clergy, retired

April 30, 2017, was Confirmation Sunday.  I listened to eighth and ninth graders speak their “credo,”…that to which my heart clings.

Recent rulings within The United Methodist Church have moved me to state that to which my heart clings and where it is I stand.

I boldly speak against the injustice and discrimination toward LGBTQ persons, their families and allies that yet remains within, and is supported by, the policies and people of The United Methodist Church.

I announce the harm that is being inflicted over and over again to LGBTQ persons, their families and allies.  This is not “an issue.”  This is about real peoples’ lives, literally.

I call upon allies and families to add their voices, time and resources to protest this devastating attack on LGBTQ people that is an affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I will not make any further financial contribution that supports the institution through apportionments.  I know apportionments support good things, too.  This does not give me pause.  I easily find ways to continue my financial support of the good work in a local church as well as similar efforts for justice and compassion outside of the Church.

I dissent in place and will not leave The United Methodist Church.

I keep my clergy credentials.  The church is a vessel.  God has ordained me.  No one can take that from me.

The April 28, 2017, ruling of the Judicial Council regarding, “can a gay clergyperson serve as a bishop?” (my summary) and the possible judicial or administrative process that may unfold in Bishop Oliveto’s Western Jurisdiction, has made it very clear what The United Methodist Church is all about when it comes to gay clergy and their appropriateness for ministry.  It is this crazy “practicing” language.  “Self-avowed practicing homosexual…”  You can be gay, you just can’t “practice.”  So it all boils down to genital sexual contact.  I sat at a church trial a few years ago and listened to the Counsel for the Church ask the clergy on trial, “Have you had genital contact with your partner?” That is where the United Methodist Church is focused.  Shameful.  Disgraceful.

Bishop Jung, your statement on this recent Judicial Council ruling talks about a “minefield of differing opinions…living in the liminal spaces of uncertainty and disagreement is stressful…our journey is fraught with perils, pressures and problems…And where does that leave us?”

It leaves us with people torn to pieces, literally, by that minefield of “faith-mines.”  It leaves us with people being told they are outside of the love of God by a church that claims to have open hearts, open minds and open doors.  It leaves us with Church leadership whose language and actions are absent of the compassion and justice we are all called to pursue.  It leaves us as participating partners in a time in our national life that is fraught with shame, abuse and disregard for decency.  It leaves us with people who can’t take a step back and catch their breath because every time they do, the church repeatedly knocks the wind out of them.

When will I hear an official episcopal statement, or a bishop, say, “We/I so deeply lament the injustice and harm we continue to inflict on the LGBTQ community”?  And if that has been offered and I missed it, I apologize to the speaker.  I can only assume we are a denomination lead by sleep deprived leaders because I don’t know how one can sleep at night while this goes on – knowing you could do something about it and be somebody who speaks against this institutional harm.

All of this…and more…is that to which my heart clings.  This is where I stand today.

Rev. Janet Ellinger, retired United Methodist clergy.

Invitation for Input to Commission on a Way Forward

Love Prevails received the following invitation and anticipate articulating a response to the request soon. Stay tuned.

Invitation for Input to Commission on a Way Forward

To:     Amy DeLong, Love Prevails
Date:  May 1, 2017

Dear Ms. Delong,

As you know, the Commission on a Way Forward was established after the 2016 General Conference to find a way forward for the United Methodist Church. Our way forward must move us beyond the continuing impasse over the nature, conditions, and extent of the inclusion of LGBTQ people within the Church. We want to emphasize that we are not dealing with an abstract problem, but with people who are loved by God and are members of our Church.
 
The Commission values your voice and would like to receive your input prior to writing and submitting our final report to the Council of Bishops. Because there are so many groups desiring to participate in this discussion, we have developed two ways between which you may choose one.

1. Submit a three-minute video and send it to us.  A video shot on a cell phone is perfectly acceptable.
2. Or submit a two-page written document.

In your video or document, please respond to the following: Describe your constituency’s preferred future for our denomination regarding the nature, conditions and extent of the inclusion of LGBTQ people within the Church.

We understand that there may be others in your group who would like to provide input. While we appreciate the desire, we ask that you make only one submission. If you would like to work collaboratively with your leadership team or board, we think that is wonderful and invite you to do so within the bounds of one of the two options.

Please submit your response to us no later than June 10, 2017.

Thank you so much for your willingness to engage in this work and conversation with us.  We are so grateful for your participation and pray that out of our continuing work and dialogue we will, truly, discern God’s preferred future for the United Methodist Church.

In Christ,
The Commission on a Way Forward

Lost in the Local Option

The following letter was sent to the Council of Bishops and the Commission on a Way Forward in late April 2017. Below the text, a PDF copy of the letter sent is available.


Lost in the Local Option: An Open Letter

In April 2014, due to the efforts of Love Prevails, the Connectional Table began a process to formulate General Conference legislation that would call for the complete removal of all discriminatory language against LGBTQI people in The Book of Discipline. That attempt, however, was internally thwarted and The Connectional Table came to General Conference 2016 with a proposal called the Third Way. Now widely referred to as “The Local Option”, this approach enshrines the geographical discrimination of Queer people in our polity and sets up the highly destructive scenario whereby our very being will be debated and voted on in annual conferences and in our congregations. Such objectification damages the hearts and souls of Queer United Methodists throughout the Connection.

Love Prevails has always opposed The Local Option because it is predicated on the notion that it is morally and theologically defensible to allow continued discrimination within certain geographic locations within our church; thus ecclesially sanctioning the spiritual abuse that accompanies this discrimination.

There are some “progressives” within our denomination who believe that The Local Option is a good and helpful step that with time will eventually and inevitably lead to full inclusion for LGBTQI people. Love Prevails strenuously objects to this kind of thinking. This matter is far too urgent. “More time” translates as more lives lost. We believe that creating pockets of injustice is an intolerable solution which lacks the full force of gospel integrity that will ultimately delay justice for all, rather than hasten it. We see The Local Option as a seductive temptation that will lead to self-satisfaction and complacency.

By now it is quite obvious that the Commission on The Way Forward is the very expensive method by which The Third Way, or The Local Option, will be repackaged. The processes by which The Commission seeks to “listen” to voices across the connection are nothing more than resilience-building sessions for General Conference delegates and annual conferences to desensitize themselves to regionally sanctioned discrimination, the United Methodist’s new normal.

It seems clear that our United Methodist bishops are now moving to more fully support a Local Option because of political, not theological, reasons. Their priority is not justice, but institutional preservation, peddled as “unity.” Their desire to avoid a split and “save the denomination” comes on someone’s back—this time at the expense of Queer United Methodists.

Love Prevails objects to institutional preservation over justice. When we object, it is not only because The Local Option will leave some Queer people dangerously vulnerable; it is not only because there will still be babies rocking in the cradles of anti-queer annual conferences who will grow to discover they are Queer and not want to relocate in order to find a church where they will be welcomed; it is because souls will be lost in The Local Option. Permissive and categorical discrimination kills the souls of LGBTQI people as well as the soul of the church. A church of Jesus Christ cannot survive or thrive with bigotry and intolerance in its heart – and the maintenance of such a church turns the proclamations of Belovedness made at our baptisms into propagandist lies.

Love Prevails is neither for a church split nor against it. We do not advocate for it, but we also do not oppose the possibility. We persistently maintain that the only way forward is to remove all of the discriminatory language from The Book of Discipline. While full inclusion and justice will not happen immediately upon the removal of the language, there is no possibility for imagining real, comprehensive, intersectional justice or any notion of unity without first removing discriminatory language.

Laci Lee Adams
Mary Anne Balmer
Rev. Amy DeLong
Rev. Will Green
Sue Laurie
Laura Ralston
Dr. Mary Lou Taylor
Rev. Dr. Julie Todd
Brenda White
Rev. Wesley White

Lost in the Local Option PDF

Why Is It A Closed Meeting? The Commission On (Not) A Way Forward

img_5258Love Prevails went to Atlanta to observe the first face-to-face meeting of The Commission on (Not) A Way Forward. When we arrived, we were told that the Commission meeting was a closed meeting. In addition, we were informed that we were not allowed to even be in the building. Not even to go to the bathroom.

Hired security prevented any persons not on a pre-approved list of visitors from entering the General Board of Global Ministries Building, where the meeting is being held. Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of the Board of Global Ministries informed members of Love Prevails that in order for leaders of The Commission to approve of holding the meeting at GBGM, GBGM had to promise to put a tight security plan in place to prevent unwanted guests from entering the premises.

United Methodists were denied entrance into a building paid for by United Methodist apportionment dollars.

Pursuant to The United Methodist Book of Discipline, Love Prevails questioned the legality of The Commission being closed. Love Prevails sees this Commission as authorized by General Conference and thus required to be open. We sent a communication to Bishop Ken Carter, one of the co-chairs of The Commission, asking him to clarify the process and justification by which this meeting was closed to public observation.

Bishop Carter sent Love Prevails the following response, which makes reference to a Judicial Council footnote as its justification.

It is dangerous that the Council of Bishops has claimed authority over the entire process of this Commission.

We decry the Council of Bishops for their utter lack of transparency and commitment to maintain the institution over the pursuit of justice and love. The Commission is a farce.

From Bishop Ken Carter:

Dear Leaders of Love Prevails,

Thank you for your inquiry about the January meeting of the Commission on a Way Forward.  Attendance at the meeting was limited to members and staff in the interest of building trust and relationships among the membership.

The Commission on a Way Forward reports to the Council of Bishops, which is governed by the rules of procedure according to paragraph 722.  Judicial Council decision 869, which relates to paragraph 722, draws a distinction between the Council of Bishops and agencies, and between administrative order and the nature of superintendency.

We will be reporting on the work of the Commission to the church. We plan to design future opportunities to hear from constituents across the church, in a variety of ways.  We hope you will participate in one of these opportunities.

The Peace of the Lord,

Moderators:  Bishops David Yemba, Sandra Steiner Ball and Ken Carter

 

Apocalyptic Institutionalism

By PASTOR JONATHAN E. RODRÍGUEZ-CINTRÓN

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-6-53-12-pmI am a United Methodist Candidate for Ministry serving as a pastor of a mostly white congregation. As part of my ministerial work with the church and world, I am involved in other spaces within the church that seek justice for all. I am currently working with the Hispanic National Caucus of the UMC M.A.R.C.H.A. as part of the Executive Committee. I am also a member of Love Prevails, a direct-action group whose goal is to abolish the policies in The Book of Discipline which categorically discriminate against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Christians. Love Prevails has been known in the UMC as a more radical group and is often criticized for our methods and demonstrations, or what we call Disruption.

I am true believer of the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”[1] I seek to expose in the church our tendency to avoid, table or ignore the evident tension our church is confronting and the harm we constantly do against all the minorities that are part of our connection and beyond. No unity is possible within the church while we ignore the injustices going on in our country and within the UMC.

The experience I had at the November Council of Bishops’ meeting convinces me that the tension we are experiencing as the UMC does not comes from our theological differences but from the level of insidious institutionalism and lack of leadership in our church. My mom would say: “Mijo, one cannot be okay with God and the Devil at the same time.”

I chose to be part of Love Prevails instead of other organizations that seek for the full inclusion of the LGBTIQ people in the UMC, because I found myself tired of playing politics and trying to not disturb people in power. Being apologetic about what I believe and who I am is no longer an option for me.

And so, as part of Love Prevails’ work we went to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia to attend the Council of Bishops (COB) meeting. We went to bear witness to the faithfulness not only of LGBTIQ Methodist but also Latinxs, Black and Asian Methodists. We went to negotiate with them about the make-up of The Commission On A Way Forward, which failed to include adequate representation of all of these groups.

As we entered the retreat center where our Bishops were meeting, it was really interesting to see how most of them made “you-again” faces. Some of them were welcoming, repeating like a mantra the pastoral cliché “I am so glad to see you” or “Thank you for coming.” As a pastor I know we don’t always means those words. Others expressed from the beginning their concerns about us being there, saying: “Are you planning on disrupting the meeting?”

During these meetings the Bishops have what they call “Executive Sessions.” This means that only the Bishops can be present during those meetings, so it is closed to the common people. When the Executive Session came where the COB intended to discuss the matter of the Commission, we disrupted it by staying in the room and refusing to leave. Our demands were for the COB to reconsider and reconstitute the queer and people of color representation on the Commission. They offered us a meeting with the eight Bishops that would be part of the Commission. We had the meeting and got nothing out of it, just more political responses or no response at all. We asked the President of the COB, Bruce Ough, to give an answer to our demands by 8:00a.m. the following day. We never got a response; not even the courtesy of a no.

We decided to disrupt their business again, but this time by taking the microphone. The President immediately dismissed the meeting and called everyone to put on their robes and go outside for the official episcopal group-picture. This was clearly a planned response. So while we were literally speaking our truth, the Bishops started to leave the room. Just a few of them decided to stay and listen. It was extremely disappointing to see that even some of our so-called “allies” also walked out on us.

After we expressed our demands and concerns about the Commission and called them to do something more, some of those “allies” expressed to us how damaging doing this kind of demonstration is to our cause. How we should be treating Bishops with some special respect just because they are Bishops. How we should be more patient because things are really changing. Some of them actually told us how they have been working within the Council for some changes in our favor, but this disruption or demonstration was so disrespectful that it will damage the “amazing progress” they achieved in 44 years. Others came to tell me personally: “You are not forgotten, I know your name”.

Still crying because of my anger, frustration and disappointment, watching all of them laughing and smiling while taking their pictures, the only words I could express to describe what I was witnessing was: “The level of hypocrisy and institutionalism is apocalyptic.”

People like me have to work twice as hard as any other seminarian. We have to prove ourselves and prove our call to this church twice as much, and after everything you don’t know if in fact you will get ordained. And if you do, you will always have to work twice as hard to prove you are worthy. However, we are the ones called the “issue” of the church. We are told what we are what is dividing our church. The Bishops are so worried and so focused on the schism of the church, that they have forgotten our identity as Methodists; how for us doing justice is more important that the establishment or the institution. They preach about justice. They preach about letting the Spirit work among us. But it seems that every time the Spirit breaks in, The Book of Discipline is right there to say: “No, no, sorry, Holy Spirit, but you are acting against what is typed in here”.

The level of institutionalism and the politics within the UMC is what is deeply damaging the church, not us (LGBTIQA people). That institutionalism is what moved Methodist and other clergy to write a letter to Martin Luther King in the past, to tell him his demonstrations were damaging his cause and the amazing job they as allies were doing among the white congregations. That level of institutionalism is what Jesus criticizes in the parable of the Persistent Widow, in which a judge forgets his duty as an official to always look out for the widows and the orphans as it is stated in the Law. That institutionalism and hypocrisy is what moved the Protestant Reformation into being. Because of that same institutionalism the people Wesley ministered to couldn’t find a place within the Anglican Church and created the Methodist movement. That institutionalism is a god. We have forgotten who we are as people who are moved by the Spirit.

These events followed by the racist acts against United Methodist Latinx Youth that took place in North Carolina, and the lack of action from our leadership once more has me wondering: How long am I willing to endure this?

I believe God has called me to the ministry of reconciliation and healing, but this church is so soul-sucking. Why should I keep fighting or trying so hard to create spaces in a place where evidently I am not accepted or welcome as a gay person, but also as a Latinx? My body is constantly patronized, tokenized, or demonized, whether by The Book of Discipline or by the silence of those who otherwise come to whisper in my ears: “you are not forgotten, I know your name.”

If I would like to play politics, I would’ve take the path of law school and then gone into the world of politicians not pastors. They are playing politics while our lives and careers are at stake. They hide the bigotry, the hatred, the homophobia, the racism all of these sins against our bodies behind “theological differences,” but we are the ones called incompatible with Christians teaching and sinners. Although I still believe the Spirit will break in through the persistence of the widows, and God will see we get justice and quickly (Luke 18:8); right now I am not convinced I want to be the persistent one, for the sake of my own soul.

[1] Martin Luther King. Letter From Birmingham Jail. https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/documents/Letter_Birmingham_Jail.pdf

Year End Fundraising Appeal

December 2016

Dear Love Prevails supporter,

img_5074Through the disruption of business as usual at the church’s highest levels, during the last four years Love Prevails assisted The United Methodist Church in its gospel task of removing all of the anti-LGBTQ legislation from its Book of Discipline. Although dissatisfied with the outcomes of General Conference 2016, Love Prevails is proud of its work. We see our advocacy and disruption as the prime reasons for the system attempting to make any adjustments at all. The impact of our work is many-fold:

Love Prevails created a critical counter-narrative exposing the illegitimacy of our denomination’s anti-queer policies and the leaders who uphold them. Love Prevails is the only organization in our movement to clearly define that 1) the systemic justice issue is heterosexism and homophobia, and 2) the practical issue is hypocrisy. LGBTQ lives cannot be sacrificed on the altar of church unity. The primary task for church leaders at every level is to name and claim that homophobia is wrong, that The Book of Discipline must change and to act in accordance with these convictions. 

Love Prevails demonstrated that the practice of Disruption is a necessary and effective means of change in our shared struggle for LGBTQ inclusion. After General Conference 2012, the language of Disruption was anathema to our movement. From 2012-2016, Love Prevails’ willingness to show up, disrupt and communicate our counter-narrative and actions with clarity and transparency made the power of Disruption clear.

Love Prevails’ willingness to confront power and shake up business as usual gave people hope, courage and the inspiration to act. By our own unflinching commitment to raise up the dignity and faithfulness of LGBTQ people within the context of the direct oppression and injustice of the church hierarchy, we inspire others to embrace their own sacred worth and ability to act in their own context.

We are buoyed by your responses to our work. You encourage us to keep acting in ways that you may not be able to because of context, circumstance, trauma, repression and internalized oppression. Because you cannot always show up in the ways that we can, we are asking you to support our work in 2017 and beyond as we continue to show up and disrupt business as usual.

Please consider supporting our work by giving an end-of-year donation. If it is possible, we would love for you to help sustain our work for the quadrennium through a regular monthly contribution. Please make your financial donation through PayPal at https://loveprevailsumc.com/donate/ or make a check payable to Kairos CoMotion in care of Mr. Steven Webster, P.O. Box 45234, Madison, WI 53744-5234.

In justice and in love,

On behalf of the Love Prevails Team

PDF of 2016 End of Year Fundraising Letter