Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC) Interview with Rev. Steve Clunn, Coordinator

In preparation for General Conference 2016 in Portland, Oregon, Rev. Dr. Julie Todd of Love Prevails is conducting a series of interviews with representatives of every member group of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC). In a series of reports, we share what each group brings to the Coalition, their particular emphases and concerns for General Conference 2016, and the challenges and benefits of working across various kinds of differences related to identity, opinion and action.

The Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC) is made of eleven partnered caucus groups within the United Methodist Church that have experienced oppression and marginalization both inside and outside of the church. The coalition partners exercise their gifts and skills to build persuasive power within an institution by calling out their intersecting experiences of harm, injustice, and lack of Christian compassion.

2016 will be the second General Conference that the Rev. Steve Clunn has been the coordinator of LYNC. Steve reflects on the Coalition’s evolving work.

Five coalition partners reflect the realities of ethnic minorities:

  • Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR)
  • Metodistas Asociados Representando la Causa de los Hispano-Americanos (MARCHA)
  • National Federation of Asian American United Methodists (NFAAUM)
  • Native American International Caucus (NAIC)
  • Pacific Islander National Caucus of United Methodists (PINCUM).

Three partners focus on human sexuality as lived by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trangender, and Queer (LGBTQ) United Methodists:

  • Affirmation
  • Love Prevails
  • Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN).

Two partners engage multiple progressive issues:

  • Western Methodist Justice Movement (WMJM)
  • Methodist Federation for Social Justice (MFSA).

The current final partner is:

  • United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities.

As might be expected, the very experience of being discriminated against in one way or another or engaging an institution from the grassroots makes it difficult to trust that others care for the harm you have experienced. The greatest difficulty
Steve has noticed is exactly where smaller differences within a larger agreement raise their heads. He says, “We are challenged with how to communicate in the heat of difficult moments. There is a lot of heat generated when people pour their passion into General Conference. However, it divides and conquers when we let it get the best of us collectively.” It was with sadness that Steve reflected on LYNC partners and non-partners at GC2012 giving into to the temptation of “my issue first.” “After all,” he said, “We have the same goals and vision for a just and loving, grace-filled denomination.” Steve sees each General Conference as strengthening the Coalition as it develops “greater communication leading to more trust and ultimately back to better and more open communication.”

Steve sees the possibility for there to be eleven strong member organizations, each with its own unique capacity to offer new life to General Conference 2016. He would like no one group to be usurped by another’s size or agenda. He desires the groups to be more grateful for and towards each other. “None of us is as good as all of us.” He noted the early support of LYNC’s recently published collective statement (A Vision for the UMC) as a sign of growing strength. Our “momentum keeps growing, as it has throughout the history of our movement.”

Steve described building a Coalition as both incredibly joyous and incredibly exhausting.  “When diverse marginalized people come together for the common purpose of standing up for each other’s full inclusion in the church, its ministries and decision making processes, it changes and challenges everyone.” Coalition members have to wrestle with our own preconceived notions about others, as “others” become “us.” Steve said we really experience church in the Coalition, “When deep friendships and commitments to each other’s wellbeing and just treatment become visible.”

Steve described eight areas of focus for the Coalition at General Conference.

  • Throughout the two weeks of General Conference, Chaplains nurture fellowship, as well as care for the needs that arise out of the stresses of being immersed in very difficult circumstances.
  • Historically the Coalition hosts a worship experience on the Sunday between the two weeks of General Conference.
  • The Coalition works on communication, presenting a theme and a message to the general public and church. For 2016 the LYNC mission is to assure that The United Methodist Church is fully open to the presence, love and grace of God offered to all the world.
  • The LYNC Legislative Team works to follow, analyze and change decisions made by the church regarding actual lives of the members of the Coalition partners through legislative petitions to the General Conference.
  • LYNC designs witnesses during General Conference to clarify the consequences of harmful legislation and to affirm that which does all the good we can do together and heal. Demonstrations of affirmation and protest are readied ahead with every hope that an expected protest on behalf of marginalized United Methodists can be turned into a celebration of United Methodists joined arm in arm to better reveal God’s love in church and society.
  • The LYNC Hospitality Team welcomes and coordinates volunteers to General Conference. Steve explained that “between 350-500 volunteers pay their own way to be at General Conference. They show up because they care about changing their church toward a more expansive welcome to all.”
  • The Coalition provides housing (in Portland, some 150 rooms) and hospitality for volunteers and delegates in the form of a space to gather and low cost meals.
  • This a massive effort to Coordinate Volunteers who come for a few days or the whole two weeks, providing logistics and communicating how to inform and plug people into Witness and Legislative service opportunities.

While GC2012 was painful for many members of the Coalition, Steve encouraged progressives to recognize that the Coalition had a lot of victories. “There was a lot of heinous legislation that the Coalition stopped. We defended as well as we could have.” Steve thinks the Coalition will be even stronger and more impactful in 2016, as LYNC has “had four more years of partnerships to build upon.” The Coalition still struggles with funding. GC2012 cost $432,000, all of which was raised through grants and donations. Steve explained that “if every progressive United Methodist would give only $100 to the Coalition, we would be able to sustain the Coalition to, through, and beyond GC2016.” The coalition, like the church, would be stronger if less time were spent on fundraising.

Steve encourages progressive United Methodists, no matter what their particular passion is, to volunteer for part or all of General Conference 2016 in Portland Conference (May 10–20, 2016). Progressives find space there to engage together openly and honestly about who they are and what they need to be church under difficult circumstances. “Come and be a part of church as it ought to be. The Coalition is more Church than the General Conference is.”

But he also cautioned that, “General Conference can be really hard on those that come.” As a result, Steve said that in the time left before General Conference, the Coalition and its member groups need to prepare their volunteers better for the harm that comes with volunteering, particularly for LGBTQ folks. “A lot of volunteers show up believing that this will be the year of change, the moment that we are going to change the church. Though change is possible in every moment, we have to encourage folks to show up both with hope and with knowledge that there will also be moments of harm.”

Given the reality of harm, the witness of the Coalition becomes all the more important, “We are telling the church and the world that God’s love is more than our church currently portrays. If we can help the public and church see that, then we have done our work. Church happens at General Conference, but I don’t think it has much to do with General Conference itself. It has to do with tabernacles and rainbow stoles and volunteers and indomitable hope that never goes away, even when it feels like we’re being invited to leave a General Conference whose theme is ‘Therefore, Go.’”


On Church Unity

One of the main arguments against removing all of the anti-gay language from The Book of Discipline all at once, or taking a prophetic word-and-deed stand of any kind for full justice and inclusion of LGBTQ folks, is that such actions are alienating and would split the United Methodist Church. Here Love Prevails’ member Rev. Dr. Julie Todd reflects on the way the argument for unity over justice makes her feel.


Poem: On Church Unity
By Julie Todd

the word unity
slips off the tongue
like a bad french kiss
from a teenage lover
leaving me feeling
sticky and gross.

the word unity
tastes like
nasty cough medicine
my mother forced me to take
from a stainless steel spoon
its cherry “sweetness”
making me gag.

the word unity
looms like a jackhammer
held by a laborer
in the idle position
next to a crumbling urban sidewalk
the jackhammer mocking:
“hold it together, hold it together.”

Sometimes unity
as ekklesia
body parts working harmoniously,
hands and feet needing each other
when injustice like gangrene
untreated and festering
implies an impending amputation.

Sometimes unity
as ideology
holding fast to theological abstractions
the comfort of inaction
for those who refuse
to make a clear-cut choice
for justice.

Sometimes unity
as Christ himself
caught between
no more stone-throwing
& cursing a courageous woman
comparing her to a dog
who begs for scraps
she does not deserve.

Response to Bishop Kiesey’s Supreme Court message

You can read the response to the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage made by Michigan Area Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey here.

The following is a response to Bishop Kiesey’s message by retired UMC pastor Rev. John Ellinger:

Dear Bishop Kiesey,

I was hoping you would send a letter to Michigan Area clergy regarding the decision of the Supreme Court regarding same-gender marriage since it has been such a divisive issue in our church. However, with all due respect I must say I was very disappointed in the letter when it arrived. I think I understand, at least in part, the “no win” situation bishops of the church face right now in regard to same-gender marriage and how clergy can honor their calling to minster to all people and still “remain in compliance with The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church”.

What is troubling to me is how it seems, in our most complicated and uncertain situations, we in the church, reach back in an attempt to hold on to more “rules” in the belief that if we can just find the right list of “dos and don’ts” we will be saved from our fears. I found it interesting that your purpose in writing was to help us clergy be enabled to “remain in compliance with The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church”.  I had expected we might receive some guidance on how to remain in compliance with biblical teaching on justice, equality, and the power of amazing grace, in spite of our denominational rule book.

One of my favorite passages in the bible is from the Gospel of Mark where a troubled Pharisee comes to Jesus wanting to know the answer to one “simple” question: What is the greatest commandment? He wanted to have the answer so he could presumably go home and tell people which one of all the rules was the most important. Jesus simply says there are two great commandments: Love God, and Love Your Neighbor. It would have been easy for him to say you can’t sum up the whole law in one or two commandments so here is a fine tuned list of “Do This and Don’t Do That”. He simply offered the Pharisee the opportunity to struggle with how best to live faithfully within the context of love for God and love for neighbor.

For me, the do’s and don’ts you suggest put a spotlight on what is wrong with a denomination that values its Discipline and denominational infrastructure more than the lives of the people we are asked to serve.

For me, to participate in preaching, praying, and reading scripture in celebration of the love of two same-gendered people and then “stand aside” so someone else can lead them in naming their love for each other, would be unthinkable and an embarrassment of the highest order. How can I be expected to be in compliance with The Book of Discipline at those times when the requirement is to “step aside” from celebrating that couple’s deep love for each other and the church?

For me, I would rather accept the challenge of Jesus and attempt to live faithfully by loving God and neighbor even if that requires me to be in non-compliance with parts of The Book of Discipline.

May we all continue to strive for deeper understanding in this and all matters.

Grace and Peace,

Rev. John Ellinger