COB Response to Love Prevails’ November 2, 2018 letter

On November 2, 2018, Love Prevails sent this letter to the Council of Bishops requesting a pastoral letter to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer members of the United Methodist Church in the United States and around the world.

Gaslighting is when people in authority and power try to get you to believe that your own experience of reality is not true by such practices as telling lies about their own behavior, trivializing the harm done to you, denying their actions, withholding positive support, and trying to put a positive spin on things. Here is the Council of Bishops’ response to Love Prevails’ recent letter. This response is gaslighting and we are disgusted by it.

COB Letter to Love Prevails Nov 4

PDF of COB Letter to Love Prevails Nov 4

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Open Letter to the Council of Bishops

November 2, 2018

To the Council of Bishops,

Love Prevails formally requests that the Council of Bishops write a pastoral letter to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer members of the United Methodist Church in the United States and around the world. As the special General Conference approaches, our lives and worth come under ever more vicious and sustained scrutiny. No matter which plan is passed or if no plan is passed in February 2019, the lives and the loves of queer people will be fought over without us having much voice or vote in that process.

Even if the One Church Plan is passed, we fear for the lives of queer people who must endure the pain of witnessing our church fight over our belovedness and belonging. As a majority of you supports this plan, it is necessary for you to both recognize and publicly state that in the option you have selected as the best way forward for the church, LGBTQ+ lives will continue to be actively debated, damaged, and harmed.

For our spiritual, emotional, and physical safety, we request that you speak publicly with care and attention to the wounds of our people. We are not asking you to speak of “respecting both sides,” or of “everyone hurting,” or of “having a right to differing opinions.” We beseech you to speak directly to queer people whose spiritual and physical lives are in danger as we live in the crosshairs of church-sanctioned discrimination and violence.

This request is difficult for us to make because we have experienced your lack of compassion for the hearts and souls of LGBTQ+ people. In the past, when speaking about “human sexuality,” your theological abstraction and emotional detachment has caused more injury than healing.

Given the harm that you, the Council of Bishops, continues to perpetrate against queer people in the name of institutional unity, a pastoral letter directly to LGBTQ+ persons and our families is the very smallest act of care you could offer. As you craft this letter, we ask you to be mindful of the lived experience of queer people in the United Methodist Church.

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.
Jeremiah 6:14

Sincerely,

The Members of Love Prevails,

Rev. Amy E. DeLong
Rev. Will Green
Laura Ralston
Dr. Mary Lou Taylor
Rev. Dr. Julie Todd
Brenda White
Rev. Wesley White

PDF of November 2, 2018 COB Request

Asking New Questions

by Rev. Will Green

This year my Annual Conference featured a panel of five bishops who took questions about The Commission on the Way Forward, the special session of General Conference and the future of our denomination. With no disrespect to the bishops, the whole thing was pointless. For the most part, they just weren’t that well informed about the decades long movement for justice for LGBTQ people, about the process of the last few years leading into the special session, or about what the implications of “unity” will mean going forward. To add to the frustration, because this event was taking place in New England, these were all liberal bishops and the audience applauded every time someone said the word “inclusive”.  It was typical. There was little to distinguish this panel from any of the others just like it that have taken place over the last 25 years.

At about 9:00pm, I got to ask the last question. Instead of just addressing the panel, I said that I had some questions for all of us in the room. I also thought these were good questions to end the evening, because they are the type of questions that we need to think about, to sleep on, to pray about…

Here are the four questions. Now they are for you. I think you’ll see how they build on each other.

How do you know when you have been compromised?

What moral principles, if any, do you value more than church unity?

What personal risks are you afraid to take?

How would you act if you were free?

I’ll admit that the first question about compromise might sting a little. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Honestly, I was trying to shake the bishops on the panel somewhat and shift the tone from questions like “Do you think the One Church model will pass?” to actual self-reflection. Furthermore, if the panel really believed the platitudes about ‘justice’ and ‘inclusion’ they kept repeating, how could they possibly not know that their values and beliefs have been compromised by their commitment to this institution and their role as bishops? This first question presents such a low level threshold of basic self-awareness that I can’t imagine starting anywhere else.

But more important than asking someone else on a panel to answer such questions, is asking myself. What United Methodist hasn’t honestly wondered, “Can I be true to what I believe and be a member of this church?” But when do we ever have time and space to explore our own responses and all that this sort of discernment brings up for us?

The point of this question is not to bash the church or dump on bishops! Neither is the point to get defensive about our commitments nor to jump to anxiety about leaving. (I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve tried to ask questions like this and I instantly get smothered with people saying things like “Are you LEAVING? Will you join the UCC?”) We spend so much time trying to be savvy and strong and win votes and defend our existence that we just don’t know how to go deep with one another or ourselves.

It seems to me, and I could of course be wrong, that there is no reason to believe the special session of General Conference will turn out any differently than any of the other General Conferences in my lifetime. This means we need to ask ourselves what we are doing, how we are living, and why.

These questions, and other new questions we ask ourselves, might show us a new way.

I’ll leave you with these questions one more time. Please take them seriously.

How do you know when you have been compromised?

What moral principles, if any, do you value more than church unity?

What personal risks are you afraid to take?

How would you act if you were free?

Response to Amendment Failure

Amendments to the Constitution of The United Methodist Church intended to affirm and protect women and girls narrowly failed. A variety of explanations have surfaced and voting patterns also raise questions about voting processes.

Pained, yet resolute, responses have come forth from female bishops and organizations such as the Commission on the Role and Status of Women, United Methodist Women, and even United Methodist Men. At question is how the equality of women, given the ever increasing leadership of women, could have been missed yet one more time in 2018. Another question that begs an answer is why the entire Council of Bishops did not issue its own episcopal response to this failure to affirm the equality of people who identify as women.

We received important information about why the amendment failed when the United Methodist News Service interviewed Rev. Randy Burbank, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Alabama (a U.S. conference that defeated the first amendment). “On the surface it seems innocuous, but without a traditional explanation of those terms it would have opened the door to acceptance of people’s sexual orientation as a means of identifying gender.” This was further seen in the UMNS article when Rev. Taylor Walters Denyer, an ordained elder in the North Katanga Conference (a central conference that defeated the motion) agreed, “some no votes came because people feared that they were a legal trick for opening a door to full LGBTQ inclusion.”

Here we see with clarity that the reason why the amendment on the equality of women failed relates to why LGBTQ equality perpetually fails to be affirmed. The reason is patriarchy and the affirmation of the hierarchical superiority of gendered maleness that lies at the heart of Christian tradition. The reason is sexism. The reason is misogyny. The reason is trans/homophobia. The reason is Christian theology where God is male, and where God is the head of man, and man the head of woman, gender-complementarity, and so on. THIS formulation is what is at stake for the right-wing forces of our denomination and why the “women’s equality” amendment failed.

Rev. Dr. Tiffany Steinwert of the New England Conference commented, “It is all indicative of a hegemonic, heteropatriarchy. If God is male, then the male is God. These ideas are connected and dependent one on the other.” She went on to note, “I am disappointed in the responses of many in the church that, after the failure of the amendment, only highlighted equity for women. The reality is that this amendment was defeated because of concerns this would also include queer folks. To highlight equality for women and not name the (not-very-hidden) disdain, disregard, and marginalization of the queer community undermines every call for justice.”

Beyond this latest insult to people who identify as women by General and Annual Conference leaders, there lies a whole web of leadership unable to name harms that are being done and to stand in solidarity with every individual and group of people marginalized by the violence of patriarchy and its attendant sexism, transphobia and heterosexism/homophobia. Those leaders, particularly bishops, who are risk-averse to naming harm have boxed themselves and the whole denomination into a cage of their own constructing that will allow pockets of one discrimination or another to continue infecting the whole body and failing to name the intersections.

Without constitutional affirmation, women and girls will continue to be at risk if they are in a pocket of discrimination within a currently proposed One Church model. The likelihood is that any context that will discriminate against women will also be discriminating against LGBTQ+ persons.

Love Prevails acknowledges the affirmation “She Prevails” as attempting to right the wrongs of sexism. Nonetheless we are committed to the even more fundamental affirmation that gender differences are of no account in the eyes of God. We affirm the gendered body and the a-gendered, non-binary, Queer body and spirit. We call for an expansive and expanding understanding and appreciation of the wideness of an Image of God. While a re-vote may be in order, a first act of necessary affirmation is the very simple removal of “incompatibility” from The United Methodist Book of Discipline with no provisos for a local option to discriminate.

Call and Response

Call
Response

Press releases are by nature an act of propaganda. What follows is a reflection by Wesley White on the press release of the United Methodist Bishops after their decision of what they will send on to General Conference 2019.

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CHICAGO – United Methodist bishops, meeting in Chicago, engaged in a prayerful process to discern a way forward.  At the conclusion of the discernment process, the Council of Bishops strongly approved the following motion and rationale:

While prayer may have been a component of the process intensions of United Methodist bishops, the over-riding issue is the reality of political differences within the Council of Bishops. With this in question it is difficult to assess what weight to give to “strongly approved”.

Having received and considered the extensive work of the Commission on a Way Forward, the Council of Bishops will submit a report to the Special Session of the General Conference in 2019 that includes:

The work of the Commission resulted from the process it followed from insufficient presence of LGBTQ+ persons to too many bishops. It was a creature of the bishops and returned an expected result from its design.

All three plans (The Traditionalist Plan, The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan) for a way forward considered by the Commission and the Council.

Three plans represents a failure of leadership by the bishops who were given permission to lead. This leaves everything in the hands of a General Conference historically unable to deal with such competing choices.

The Council’s recommendation of the One Church Plan.

This will test the claim that the “church” will likely follow the bishop’s recommendation that lets the bishops off the hook and places any blame squarely on Gen. Conf.

An historical narrative of the Council’s discernment process regarding all three plans.

This is one place still available for the bishops to show leadership. Unfortunately their track record through secrecy and stacking the process leaves much to be desired.

Rationale:  In order to invite the church to go deeper into the journey the Council and Commission have been on, the Council will make all the information considered by the Commission and the Council of Bishops available to the delegates of the General Conference and acknowledges there is support for each of the three plans within the Council.  The values of our global church are reflected in all three plans.  The majority of the Council recommends the One Church Plan as the best way forward for The United Methodist Church.

Given the secret nature of the process to this point, there is no telling what information will be left out or selectively left in. Support for all three plans is likely present. At question is what that support looks like and whether it will be noted in the information given. While there is undoubtedly some value in each of the three plans and others not noted, a recommendation by a majority (with no numbers) is not reflected in putting all three forward. The unspoken details that kept this from a single recommendation will be magnified in General Conference political maneuvering.

Guided by the mission, vision and scope document, the bishops agreed to recommend the One Church Plan. This plan provides conferences, churches, and pastors the flexibility to uniquely reach their missional context while retaining the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church.

The “mission, vision, scope” document has numerous assumption difficulties. When faced with the pressures of decision-making by a body that is not already unified in “mission, vision, scope” we will be facing a test between context and connection resulting in the worst of both left standing. 

This plan also encourages a generous unity by giving United Methodists the ability to address different missional contexts in ways that reflect their theological convictions. The One Church Plan removes the restrictive language of the Book of Discipline and adds assurances to pastors and Conferences who due to their theological convictions cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals.

A connectional church requires flexibility in its parameters of unity or it freezes in time and becomes irrelevant. This however only protects those who will continue discriminatory behavior on church members, ordinands, and pastors. It puts at risk both children and adults in those contexts and fails to recognize that children will be born into those settings only to be later kicked out. 

The Council’s discernment process was guided by the over-arching desire to strategically help the General Conference do its work and to honor the General Conference’s request for the Council to help the church find a way forward.

This is false on the face of it. General Conference is never aided by the addition of minority reports that we have historically put in an advantageous position over majority vision. The bishops have failed the test they were given. 

“With convicted humility, bishops want to be pastors and shepherds of the whole church in order to maximize the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible and with as much contextual differentiation as possible,” said newly installed Council of Bishops President Ken Carter.

“Convicted humility” is one of those god-speak phrases pulled out to cover the bishops as they fall back into their old mantra of, “We don’t have any power to affect change.” This is a failure of a vision of an expansive unity that recognizes change has already happened and we are still trying to protect those who do harm. This is our “pedophilia” scandal—not protecting LGBTQ+ children and youth.

The bishops expressed deep appreciation for the diligent work that the 32-member Commission on a Way Forward did in formulating the three plans: the Traditionalist Plan, the One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan.

The Commission on a Way Forward has, as intended, provided cover for the bishops to come up with the worst of all possible recommendations—everything is on the table, particularly the lives of LGBTQ+ persons.

While the bishops recommended the One Church Plan, they affirmed that the Connectional Conference Plan and the Traditionalist Plan held values that are important to the life and work of the church and will be included in the final report to the Special Session of General Conference that the bishops have called for Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

It would be helpful to know what values are seen in the Traditionalist Plan other than a restriction on God’s ability to distribute gifts for ministry wherever God desires, which only keeps pockets of discrimination against LGBTQ+ persons alive and well. In such contexts both present and future harm is being done to individuals and to the church as a connectional body. 

Bishop Carter, who served as one of the moderators of the Commission, said the bishops are adopting a spirit of collaboration with the Commission, and an attitude of respect for the delegations who will take up this work on behalf of the whole church.

It is the interlocking directorate of moderating the Commission and becoming president of the Council that keeps this from a partnership with those persons at risk. Once again LGBTQ+ persons are on the menu, but not at the table. This “respects” current power, not help for the hurting.

“The Council’s prayerful deliberation reflected the diversity of the global denomination on the matter of homosexuality and many other matters.  The Council affirms the strength of this diversity and our commitment to maintain the unity of the church,” Bishop Carter said.

“Prayerful deliberation” is another code word for status quo. If prayer has no noticeable effect on turning harm to good, it is an illusion pretending closed eyes can see the pain of a neighbor. Instead, bowed heads are ready to weep over those killed by their policies, but never stand for justice.

Full details of the plans and accompanying legislative proposals will be released as soon as final editing of the entire report is completed and translated into the official languages of the General Conference.  It is estimated this will be no later than July 8.

This is what makes Press Releases like this so frustrating. Anything can be projected here and never make a difference because the real stuff will come months later. It is no estimate to be finished by July 8 because that is required by the church’s own rules. This sort of false data calls all the other speculation into question.

In a video recorded after the meeting, Bishop Ough explains the Council of Bishops’ decision to recommend the One Church Plan as a way forward for The United Methodist Church. Watch the video here. 

The gist of the video explaining the One Church Plan basically says that we ended up where we began, trying to talk ourselves into being one body with a major single-issue difference. What has been released so far gives no confidence that the heresy of “incompatibility” will be actually be removed nor that a standard of differing gifts will be honored.

 

Council of Bishops Report – April 29, 2018

Members of Love Prevails are present at the Council of Bishops meeting this week in Chicago. Support their work here.

Opening worship at the Council of Bishop’s meeting where the secret of the Way Forward will be finalized, but probably not yet revealed until July, opened with a call for “respect”. The first hymn included the words, “where color, scorn or wealth divide”. Here the biggie is “scorn” covered by the great politeness of privilege.

The text for the service as Mark 10:35-52. James and John, “disciples” both, asked for a shortcut to sit at Jesus’ right and left. Bartimaeus, beggar, asked for mercy even while being told to shush. The over-riding question was never explicitly asked—Who is asking for mercy and who is saying, “Shut up!”? This question would go a long way to clarifying the choice before the bishops, but was left unasked. Presumably good leaders would hear it under the load of all the sermonic words.

Of course that poses a problem as President of the Council, Bruce, was clear that the Council is a “group of leaders” based on their own local electability and tribal experience and that this week’s goal is to develop into “a leadership group” (because he expected that the UMC would follow where they led). This seems like a large leap.

Among the disappointing soundbites was that the work of the week was to not attend to “one issue” but the “one way” (as though the LGBTQ+ “issue” is outside the Jesus way). There was also the expectation that the church and world were watching what the bishops come up with. Things have been so secretive that there is a great question about whether the bishops have become as invisible as the Emperor’s Clothes.

As Love Prevails is present in the hallways and for the 15 minutes of “devotion” during the next week, we would appreciate your support for the expenses we are incurring. You can go to the Donate page at LovePrevailsUMC.com. Thank you.