Letter to Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum at Epworth By The Sea

Ms. Anne Packard, Director
Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum
P.O. Box 20481
100 Arthur J. Moore Drive
St. Simons Island, GA 31522

November 30, 2016

Dear Ms. Packard and Members of the Southeast Jurisdiction College of Bishops:

Every member of Love Prevails is a long-time, if not life-long, student of Methodist history, tradition, and theology. Subsequently, we seek to inform ourselves of our denomination’s rootedness in the various places we visit and to keep our awareness sharp toward various forms of oppression we encounter in the course of our active struggle for LGBTQ justice within our denomination.

Our recent visit to Epworth-By-The-Sea at St. Simons Island, Georgia for the Council of Bishops meeting afforded many of us our first opportunity to visit the site of Charles and John Wesley’s first landing in the British colonies. To assist our learning about the history of Methodism in this geographic area, we were glad to discover the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum and Library on the site of the retreat center.

A meaningful outcome of the last quadrennium of Love Prevails’ disruption of the Council of Bishops’ meetings has been the opportunities to meet indigenous leaders in our denomination and to understand their struggles better. We have been able to both learn about and participate in the Acts of Repentance to Indigenous Peoples that were a hallmark of our church’s collective life over the last four years.

So in traveling to St. Simons Island, we were particularly interested in learning the ways in which the Methodist movement in the South was entangled in the violence and oppression of genocide in the early decades of the Wesleys’ and the Methodist’s presence on this continent.

We were horrified, then, when upon entrance to the Moore Museum, we encountered the following diorama and this small accompanying sign:

Additionally, next to the diorama is this doll and corresponding “information”:

We acknowledge that in a different section of the museum, there are two small signs in a reproduction of Charles Wesley’s camp, which mention the Guale people, the original indigenous inhabitants of St. Simons Island, and their decimation by Spanish and English colonizers.

However, regardless of these other minor references, the central placement of a diorama that depicts natives in a fictitious encounter with John Wesley is culturally offensive and highly inappropriate. The diorama leaves a visual impression (especially to children who may not look far above their eye-level to read the small disclaimer) that Wesley was a much needed and warmly welcomed white savior and that the indigenous people were eager recipients of his brand of religion. Neither could be farther from the truth.

Additionally, the simplified description of Mary Musgrove as an “interpreter for the colonists” reduces her complex and complicated life story to the singular role of assisting her colonizers. Also, there is no such thing as an “Indian Princess” and to impose this monarchical, colonial title erases the possibility for understanding the role of this woman and her leadership within her own indigenous culture and cross-culturally.

Members of Love Prevails were also stunned when they sat down to watch a nine-minute informational video about the history of St. Simons Island through the lens of Methodism. In one section, the film holds on screen an image of a cannon while the narrator says, “The ruins [at Fort Frederica] show us how the founders of the Methodist Church reached out to a new land to provide for the spiritual needs of the people. Through the still air, one can almost hear the sounds of musket shots and the bells and the beat of the drum apprising the settlers of the hour of prayer.”

This whitewashed glorification of domination and violence, especially within the justifying context of meeting spiritual needs, is wholly unacceptable.

The museum shares the site with the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church and houses the archives of the entire Southeast Jurisdiction. During the past four years of Acts of Repentance throughout the entire denomination, has not one United Methodist leader noticed these insults or sought to address them?

These acts of omission and commission require repentance and redress. We call upon the museum, Epworth-By-The-Sea, the College of Bishops of the Southeast Jurisdiction to remove the diorama, to stop playing the informational video until it is properly edited, and to design a plan by which the history of indigenous peoples in relation to Methodism might be truthfully brought to light.

In his message during the Act of Repentance at General Conference 2012, Dr. Tink Tinker said we must deal directly and honestly with our history of oppression against indigenous people. Furthermore, repentance is an action that we must take again and again. On this small but important matter, we await your response and action.

Sincerely,

The Members of Love Prevails,

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

Cc:

Rev. Chebon Kernell, Executive Secretary of Native American and Indigenous Ministries
Mr. Joel Willis, President & CEO, Epworth-By-The-Sea
Rev. Alfred Day, General Secretary, General Commission on Archives & History
Bishop Bruce Ough, President, Council of Bishops
Bishop Lawson Bryan, South Georgia Area
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, Raleigh Area
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, Birmingham Area
Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor, Holston Area
Bishop James Swanson, Mississippi Area
Bishop Bill McAlilly, Nashville Area
Bishop Sharma Louis, Richmond Area
Bishop Paul Leeland, Charlotte Area
Bishop Jonathan Holston, Columbia Area
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, North Georgia Area
Bishop David Graves, Alabama-West Florida Area
Bishop Leonard Fairley, Louisville Area
Bishop Ken Carter, Florida Area

PDF of Epworth By The Sea Letter

On bishops, choices, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit

By Dr. Dorothee Benz

I spent the first part of last week in St. Simons Island, Georgia, crashing the UMC Council of Bishops meeting. I was there as Methodists in New Directions’ national representative at the invitation of Love Prevails along with five members of Love Prevails.

It was a uniquely infuriating experience, a combination of being ignored and erased while being told “you are not forgotten”; listening to pious words about things like “principled Christian leadership” from people who have regularly prosecuted those that actually are principled Christian leaders; and being told that queer people need to “trust the process” – after 44 years in which we’ve been shut out of and betrayed by every process that has decided our fate in the church.

But it is our bishops’ propensity to declare themselves powerless bystanders in a church that they actually govern that most drives me bonkers.

In his president’s address to the Council, Bishop Ough told a story meant to demonstrate that the Holy Spirit makes possible change that our entrenched church bodies and politics seem to make impossible. In the story, a person in the back of a room counters the question “What gives you any hope that we will now or ever change?” with a shouted answer: “THE HOLY SPIRIT!” Bishop Ough concluded his story by saying, “Let us resolve today that this Council of Bishops will be that person in the back of the room of this denomination that rises up in the face of fatalism and despair and pre-determined outcomes and cries out, ‘THE HOLY SPIRIT!’”

I’d be overjoyed if the Council of Bishops ever acted this way, but the evidence that it almost certainly won’t is found in the very imagery of this exhortation: The Council of Bishops is not “in the back of the room of this denomination.” It is the front of the room. Individually, our bishops are the chief executives of the church’s annual conferences, the primary units through which the UMC is organized; collectively, they are the elected leadership body of the church.

If they wanted to, our bishops could change the composition of the euphemistically named  Commission on the Way Forward. They determined its parameters and its members, and they can alter them. Given that the commission’s mandate from the General Conference is (in the bishops’ own words) “to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality” and that they have chosen to appoint only two identified LGBTQI people (out of 32) to the commission, such a change is urgently necessary for the commission to have any legitimacy.

The reconstitution of the commission was the demand Love Prevails and Methodists in New Directions made of the Council of Bishops at the outset and throughout their meeting last week. It was clear from every interaction with them that they weren’t remotely willing to consider that. So be it, but let us be clear that this was a choice, and certainly not one that anyone could characterize as a defiance of “predetermined outcomes.”

Every single bishop in the United Methodist connection has the power to stop further prosecutions of LGBTQI people and those who dare to minister to us. It is the resident bishop, after all, who receives complaints and either dismisses them or refers them to counsel for the church to draw up charges. It will not do to protest that they have “no choice” because of the Book of Discipline. They have moral agency, as do we all, and could announce, “I will dismiss all complaints filed based on requirements to discriminate.”

I can hear the cries of incredulity about how that would divide the church. Perhaps. But let us be clear that the choice to enforce requirements to discriminate abandons LGBTQI Methodists while siding with the majority that condemns us. And if that’s the choice you’re going to make, then don’t talk to us about “ris[ing] up in the face of fatalism and despair” while you deepen the despair of the minority you’re throwing under the bus in the name of church “unity.”

And what are we to make of the Council’s near-pathological habit of never acknowledging LGBQTI people by name or honestly identifying the source of division in our denomination: not “human sexuality” but the codified discrimination against people of one particular sexuality? Erasing queer people from mention, like denying us a meaningful voice in the commission, is a choice.

Our episcopal leaders have enormous powers of legitimation. Were they to name us, were they to state plainly that the church discriminates, were they to declare that such discrimination is contrary to the example of Jesus, were they to urge a cessation of threats and complaints against us, it would offer comfort and hope to the oppressed and moral clarity to all. Note that none of this requires action or consent from any other church body; it is all fully in the control of the Council.

If the Council of Bishops wants to enable the Holy Spirit to help the UMC overcome “fatalism and despair and predetermined outcomes,” this would be an excellent place to start. But only hours after Bishop Ough said “let us resolve” to play that role, he dismissed the Council’s afternoon meeting rather than opening it up to the participation of five queer United Methodists (and one straight ally) who were there to talk about the need for the church, after 44 years of legislating about us, to finally talk with us.

Here’s a different anecdote that’s relevant to the Council’s aspiration to let the Spirit move it. It’s about the woman sitting on her roof as the flood waters all around her are rising. She prayed to God to save her. Pretty soon a row boat came by, but she refused to get in, saying, “God will save me.” Then a helicopter dropped a rope ladder down and urged her to climb up off the roof. Again she refused, saying, “God will save me.” The flood waters continued to rise, and she drowned.

When she arrived at the Pearly Gates, she asked God why God hadn’t saved her. And God said, “Well, I sent the row boat… I sent the helicopter…”

Having sat in that Council meeting, having later met with bishops serving on the commission, and finally having jumped up on a chair with a bullhorn to denounce the Council’s intransigence, all without any discernible effect on their actions, I can only conclude that the Council of Bishops would not recognize the prompting of the Holy Spirit if it bit them in the rear.

I have never more fervently hoped to be wrong.

Dorothee Benz is a lifelong Methodist and was a delegate to the 2016 General Conference. She is a founding member of Methodists in New Directions and serves as its national representative. Follow her on Twitter @DrBenz3.

Love Prevails and MIND disrupt Council of Bishops on November 1

benz-disruptingHere is the statement shared by Dr. Dorothee Benz this morning as the Council of Bishops meeting was again disrupted by members of Love Prevails and MIND. To watch the video, click here.

We feel it is impt to report back on the conversation we had last night with Bishop Ough, members of the commission as currently constituted, and a few others whom we invited to join us:

We began and ended by reiterating the demand, the urgent need for the COB to act with grace and admit its grievous mistake in how it has constituted this commission and to re-constitute it to include 50% LGBTQI people, whereby those people must represent the full, diverse spectrum of our communities, specifically, including people of color and women.

We asked for a response to this demand by 8am. We did not even receive the courtesy of a “no.”

That is why we are here, again, now.

The commission you have formed was mandated by the General Conference – and here I am quoting directly from this council’s statement that was adopted by the GC — “to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.”

Yet you have excluded LGBTQI people from having a meaningful voice on this commission that will examine the raft of discriminatory rules against us. There are two identified LGBTQI people, out of 32, on the commission, both white cisgender men.

For 44 years, this church has legislated about us, issued judicial rulings curtailing our rights, put us on trial, and studied us nearly to death in three prior commissions, always talking about us, never talking to us, with us.

And now this.

We are told this is not the time or the way to protest.

Well, when is?

Every institutional channel of change in the United Methodist Church is closed to us. At General Conference, there’s an airtight majority that refuses to recognize our humanity. Our Judicial Council rules steadfastly to enforce the rules of discrimination. Our trial courts forbid any defense based on the Gospel call of radical hospitality. Our annual conferences are forbidden to pass resolutions barring discrimination, and are overturned if they do.

This commission was the last chance for LGBTQI people to finally sit at the table and negotiate with those in power about our lives.

And now you have refused that as well.

You talk about doing no harm, yet refuse to use the power you have to stop the harm that is done on a daily basis to LGBTQI people by the system of codified discrimination in the UMC.

You talk about the need for unity, as though authentic unity could ever be built on a foundation denying the rights of queer people, sacrificing us for the goal of institutional preservation, and refusing to even name us in discussions about our very lives because somehow saying queer people exist in the UMC is controversial.

Unity without justice is a false god, and we will not have our lives sacrificed on that altar.

You want to know why the United Methodist Church is in crisis? Look in the mirror.

LGBTQI Groups Condemn Composition of Commission that Excludes Queer Voices

 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 31, 2016
Contact: Dorothee Benz 718-314-4432

LGBTQI Groups Condemn Composition of
Commission that Excludes Queer Voices

Call on Bishops to Start Over, Call on Straight People to Resign,
Make Room for LGBTQI People

Last week the United Methodist Church Council of Bishops announced the members of its Commission on the Way Forward, following a mandate from the church’s General Conference in May to create a body to discuss the UMC’s policies of discrimination against LGBQTI people. Of 32 members, only two are identified LGBTQI people – 6% – and both are white cisgender men. The commission is majority white.

As the Council of Bishops prepares to discuss the Commission as part of its biannual meeting currently being held in St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, Love Prevails and Methodists in New Directions issued the following statement:

The Commission as appointed by the Council of Bishops represents a continuation of the systemic exclusion of LGBTQI United Methodists and perpetuates the fallacies that cisgender heterosexual persons are both unbiased and able to fully articulate the concerns of LGBTQI United Methodists. The only thing this Commission is representative of is the current dysfunction in the United Methodist Church. It embodies the discriminatory status quo and the continuing failure of our episcopal leaders to name the harm being done to LGBTQI United Methodists by our current policies and practices.

For 44 years LGBTQI people have been demonized and condemned by the church, discriminated against and categorically excluded, prosecuted and persecuted, legislated about and lectured to – but never once negotiated with. The formation of the Commission was an opportunity to finally rectify this fundamental injustice.

When the proposal for this Commission was presented to the General Conference in May, LGBTQI people did not stand in the way of its adoption, despite the failure of three previous similar church bodies to remedy our exclusion. In numerous forums since then, we let our bishops know that the Commission needed to include a broad spectrum of LGBTQI United Methodists who constituted at least half the body. Then we let the Council-led process unfold.

It is now clear, however, that our leaders have failed us yet again and that our deep concerns remain ignored. This Commission continues the UMC’s shameful history of treating LGBTQI people as a problem to be solved, rather than faithful partners in ministry.

The Commission has no legitimacy if it omits from the conversation those whose rights, whose safety, whose very lives are at stake.

Therefore, we call on the Council of Bishops to repent of its grievous error and change the composition of the Commission to include the full spectrum of LGBTQI people as well as the full spectrum of people of color in the United Methodist Church. To have validity, half of the members of the Commission must be LGBTQI-identified.

Additionally, we call on heterosexual cisgender members to resign their positions in order to make room for LGBTQI voices on the Commission, and especially LGBTQI people of color and women.

PDF of October 31,2016 Press Release

Response to A MESSAGE TO GLOBAL UMC FROM UMC AFRICA INITIATIVE

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.

A MESSAGE

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

A RESPONSE
“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.

Sincerely,

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