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.”

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