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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