Interview with Walter Lockhart of Affirmation

This is the fourth in a series of interview reports that Love Prevails is conducting with representatives of every member group of LYNC as a part of preparing for General Conference 2016 in Portland, Oregon. We share what each group brings to the Coalition, their particular emphases and concerns for GC2016, and the challenges and benefits of working across various kinds of differences related to identity, opinion and action.

Walter Lockhart is the Affirmation Council’s representative to the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC) at General Conference (GC). However, Walter is not an official spokesperson for the group because he is not a gay man. He is an ordained elder in the Minnesota Annual Conference, where he is appointed to two churches and serves at Star Lake Wilderness Camp.

Since the mid-1970s, Affirmation has existed “As an independent voice of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer people.” Affirmation is “an activist, all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization that challenges The United Methodist Church to be inclusive, and radically speaks out against injustice for LGBTQ people around the world.” (See Affirmation’s website at http://www.umaffirm.org/um/about-us/1-about-us)

Lockhart explained that it is sometimes unclear what Affirmation’s role and presence is at General Conference (GC), because there not much thought among the group that GC is the place where action to make change will be most effective. Affirmation’s current witness has a different focus than the larger mainstream lesbian and gay movement in the UMC. He said, “Our focus right now is more on people who are being persecuted for who they are than people who are doing gay marriages, people who are being persecuted for being LGBTQ.” Affirmation is interested in generating support for queer folks in places like Uganda.

Affirmation and its predecessor organizations have been present at every General Conference since 1992. Historically, Lockhart said, “Affirmation has always attempted to be the voice for the voiceless. In the trans-queer world we are living in today, one piece of Affirmation’s work is to be on the edge of what inclusive is. As a result of this work, Affirmation has always made people be uncomfortable. That is part of our role at GC.” As a member of Affirmation, Lockhart has also served at previous GCs as one of LYNC’s GC chaplains. “There are a lot of people who are hurt right there at GC.” Part of our work is to ask “How can we be a part of care and concern and reasonable expectations, so that people can be at GC safely?”

Part of the challenge of working across organizations in the Coalition is that “the culture of the member organizations is so different.” The “sheer organization of the two weeks requires so many things,” and all of the organizations only work together on this one multi-faceted event every four years. Additionally, while “MFSA and RMN are staffed, historic organizations that are institutions, the various caucuses are a whole different culture of what an organization is.” The other, smaller all-volunteer groups “have a different set of stories of what it means to live together. The cross-issue legislative work is not culturally a part of what the smaller organizations have historically done.” The larger organizations’ agendas tend to have the biggest voice. “It makes it very hard to get to the point of having enough trust of each other in our different cultures.” Finding ways to be and to act together on equal and mutual footing is the most important element of the work. “We are going to be frustrated, this is part of the work of being human beings. How we work together constructively is the big challenge. No one of our voices is going to be the voice to change the church.”

Lockhart described the benefits of working together across the differences as he has experienced coalitions over the years. “Given that I am a White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, cis-gender, heterosexual person of privilege, if I am not uncomfortable, then I haven’t worked well in Coalition.” He said he personally grew the most when working with people who were the most different than him. “That is also when our movement has grown the most, when we have been in conversation, when we worked with such differences. The more diversity we have the more possibilities we have for bringing justice to our church.” Lockhart believes, for example, that if the Coalition would focus on the #blacklivesmatter and #15now movements, that would “be more of a challenge to the UMC than anything it has going on now.”

Lockhart hopes that the Coalition can be one of the “places we can build to honestly listen to each other.” It is hard to build time and spaces for such conversations because there is so much work to do for change. “But somehow the reality of change is only going to happen if we have built spaces where we can communicate.” There is a tension here for Lockhart, because he is a person who wants to live boldly and believes the Coalition should encourage us to live more boldly into multiple platforms of action and change, including LGBTQ matters and #blacklivesmatter. There’s a need for listening, but he also, said, “I’m ready for less playing nice and more being bold.”

He said that LYNC members will know the Coalition is working when “we are making everybody a little bit uncomfortable.” We will see the fruits of our work when we do things together that make us “all able to stand back and have that wow moment where realize we’ve really done so much more than we could have done alone.”

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Steven Webster asks you to support #give53

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Steven Webster (pictured in our #give53 photo to the right) shares his thoughts on why he supports Love Prevails and asks you to support the #give53 campaign.

“Friends, I had my own personal confrontation with the “incompatible with Christian teaching” clause in the United Methodist Book of Discipline forty years ago.  I joined others then to organize the United Methodist Gay Caucus, later to become Affirmation.  I worked to make my local church one of the first dozen Reconciling Congregations.  At the 2000 General Conference I joined with Soulforce in seeking to apply the practice of nonviolence in the traditions of Gandhi and King.  At the 2012 General Conference I joined Love Prevails as they took up the methods of nonviolence in much the same tradition.  With them I proclaimed God’s grace even as our General Conference seemed to express doubt in that same grace!  With Love Prevails, I crossed the bar of General Conference to halt the harm that our adversaries intended to do to LGBT persons through General Conference legislation.  I am deeply impressed with the leadership of Love Prevails and the depth of their grounding in the philosophy of nonviolence.  I urge you to join me in supporting Love Prevails with your gifts, your prayers, your presence and your witness as we prepare to confront the General Conference of 2016 in Portland, Oregon!”

Steven Webster, Madison, Wisconsin

Click here to give today!

#give53

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#‎give53‬ Love Prevails invites you to give a recurring or one-time donation of $53. WHY 53? At the 2012 General Conference, delegates voted by a mere 53% to pass the following addition to the introduction to our Social Principles: “We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all—that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

WHY did this statement committed to GRACE PASS BY ONLY 53%?? The debate on the statement made it obvious: to affirm that God’s grace is available to ALL treads dangerously close to affirming LGBTQ people. As we move towards General Conference 2016, Love Prevails invites you to #give53, joining the 53% of United Methodists willing to affirm that God’s grace is available to ALL people.

You have come to count on Love Prevails to do the work to ‪#‎Showup‬ and‪#‎Disrupt‬. We need your support to do so. We seek 25 of our supporters to give us $53 per month for ten months, seeing us to and through General Conference. #give53 for Grace. Please consider a recurring or one-time donation. #give53

Click here to donate today!

Coalition Interview: Methodist Federation for Social Action, Chett Pritchett, Executive Director

This is the third in a series of interview reports that Love Prevails is conducting with representatives of every member group of the LYNC as a part of preparing for General Conference 2016 in Portland, Oregon. We share what each group brings to the Coalition, their particular emphases and concerns for GC2016, and the challenges and benefits of working across various kinds of differences related to identity, opinion and action.

The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) “mobilizes clergy and laity within The United Methodist Church to take action on issues of peace, poverty and people’s rights within the church, the nation and the world.” (See http://mfsaweb.org/). The MFSA Board has developed a broad list of possible legislative priorities on progressive social issues for General Conference 2016:

  • economic justice
  • power and privilege
  • reproductive choice
  • LGBTQ inclusion
  • Israel/Palestine
  • peace and colonialism
  • immigration/migration
  • building an inclusive church
  • ecological justice
  • global health
  • higher education and ministry, and
  • denominational structure

With such a wide agenda for justice, MFSA prioritizes its programmatic responses to these intersecting issues. Once all petitions to General Conference have been submitted, MFSA will distill its focus and develop “Plumbline” position papers linking General Conference petitions to those issues.

Chett Pritchett affirms, “There are certain core pieces of legislation about which MFSA has always been clear. We stand firm to remove the incompatibility language for LGBTQ folks, and the funding, marriage and ordination bans.” One challenge at the 2016 General Conference will be how to respond to a “Third Way” proposal for LGBTQ matters “while maintaining that anything less than the removal of the incompatibility bans is not justice.”

Being “a catch-all for justice in the UMC,” is MFSA’s greatest strength and, at the same time, greatest challenge.” Chett quoted the words of poet-activist Audre Lorde, saying, “we’re not single issue people because we don’t lead single issue lives.” Chett noted that this is particularly so for the organization’s work at General Conference. MFSA has more than a hundred-year history of “looking at justice from multiple and varying perspectives.” MFSA’s very character is to work in collaboration even as other organizations must strategically focus on a single issue. Once partners in collaboration become accustomed to collaboration it is easier to recognize that “There are certain things that one of us does not have strength for, but our partners do.” The work of coalitions is to ask each other, “How do we help uplift that strength?” In the LYN Coalition (LYNC), we have to ask ourselves, “How do we do that for all forms of justice in the UMC?”

LYNC, Chett said, is still new to this kind of collaboration and new to working together across so many diverse issues. There are bound to be growing pains. “When coalitions work, each organization and each person recognizes when we’re working for the least common denominator and what needs to be done to make that least common denominator happen.” In LYNC, there are so many least common denominators, so many subjects on which to potentially act, “there has to be more give and take. Sometimes a group needs to give more to another issue than they take for their own, or take more assistance than they give to others.” We know that we are working together well, “When we come back at the end of each day and can say, we gave a lot today, who can give more tomorrow? This is not a zero-sum game. Some days, in any relationship, there is this give-and-take. One partner takes the trash out and does the dishes and will ask their partner for what they need from them the next day. Coalition building is an art, not a science. We are glad to be in this together.”

A critical part of the work of coalitions of any kind is simply showing up. In very concrete terms, the most basic things are “that we commit to being on calls, being in touch with one another, being present to one another. Ninety percent of ministry is just showing up, and it’s the same with movements.” The strength of being together is the ability to see work getting done together. Learning to become collaborative also means “we don’t have to take credit for everything, we don’t have to host everything, not everything has to have our stamp on it, so long as we are part of the work getting done.” Chett said, “When it works, there is authenticity. Everyone brings their authentic self and yet is open to transformation.”

Chett described his experience of showing up with MFSA as a part of a religious action working group related to reproductive justice issues. “As a gay male whose experience has not always been in the reproductive rights movement, I learn more just by showing up. When I don’t show up, I don’t learn. Also I can bring my own gay male perspective that others can learn from. My perspective has changed by my showing up. Showing up, listening and participating.”

Chett shared that the Coalition could be stronger if groups that support LGBTQ rights also showed up more consistently for the issues of racial ethnic minority groups. He wonders if the Coalition could do more with the #blacklivesmatter movement and more solidarity work for racial justice of all kinds within the denomination. The strongest move queer folks and allies to the LGBTQ cause could make toward realizing justice for themselves is to see their “work for LGBTQ equality alongside the work for justice in other parts of our church.” LGBTQ folks need to see themselves as part of a movement linked “to other social change movements, and with ecumenical and secular partners.” In relation to LGBTQ folks’ goals for full inclusion, Chett said, “Our work is part of a movement, not just a moment.”