Bridget Cabrera is the Deputy Director of the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). As such, she serves as the representative to the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC).
Cabrera described RMN’s primary goal in attending General Conference: “to shift the culture of our church away from practices that exclude to practices that are inclusive of all people particularly LGBTQ persons.”
One mitigating factor in building strength and relationships within the queer and trans movement is the unrest and exhaustion that people have to still be fighting for equality around LGBTQ issues in the church. She explained, “It is so disappointing that we are still having the same conversations forty years later.” Therefore, a second goal in the midst of seeking to create safe spaces for LGBTQ persons, is the effort to keep the church together at all. She described what she sees in her work as she travels around the country, connecting with local Reconciling United Methodists:
“We are very aware that if there is no movement at this General Conference that there are a lot of folks who are probably going to leave The UMC. So we have this tension and struggle. It’s hard to change the church from within with a mass exodus. And it’s hard to encourage people to stay when they are in pain and being harmed by the church.
In this tension, however, there is power in the reality that no matter what happens in May, each church is already called to decide who they are – not in May, but now. They get to decide who they want to be as a Methodist community, what they will stand for, and how they will posture themselves for welcome and justice, with or without exclusionary policies in the denomination. No one has to wait for that.”
RMN has submitted and will be advancing legislation to the 2016 General Conference, including two petitions; one that protects LGBTQ lay employees and a second that advocates for LGBTQ youth (read details here: https://www.rmnetwork.org/newrmn/reconciling-ministries-network-submits-legislation-for-general-conference-2016/). In addition, RMN will plan their own witnesses and demonstrations at General Conference, and be a part of the LYNC’s public witnesses.
According to Cabrera, there are many benefits to being a part of LYNC:
“We are able to pool our resources together to have a greater impact. We can be supportive of one another across issues that concern all of us. The Coalition helps us determine the main legislative concerns among the myriad of resolutions to come before the General Conference.”
Cabrera furthermore states that the work of the coalition undermines the existing dynamics of power, which often oppress the advancement of marginalized communities.
“Often times folks in power like to pit us against each other. It’s fantastic that we are able to say, ‘Hey wait, we are actually concerned about some of the same things.’ We are able to have a bigger impact when we work together to effect change in the church.”
LYNC faces some challenges. The first is the “good problem” related to growth. Since the last General Conference, LYNC has grown in the number of organizational partners. Cabrera said,
“As we continue to grow and add more organizations, each with their own priorities, to the coalition, the challenge is to find synergy around a common vision.” Another challenge for the Coalition is the perceived role of RMN. Since RMN has been a part of some configuration of this Coalition work at General Conferences for a long time, many people see the Coalition exclusively as RMN and the pro-LGBTQ agenda. Cabrera expressed that “LGBTQ justice is one among many of the concerns the Coalition is working for in the church.”
Cabrera named two primary obstacles to ending the official discrimination against LGBTQ persons in our denomination. The first challenge is a systemic/organizational challenge.
“One of the obvious challenges is that we are blessed in The UMC to be a global church. With that comes challenges to passing LGBTQ inclusive legislation at General Conference.”
The other key challenge is “that our church as a whole reads and interprets the Bible differently” She continued,
“The challenge for the church is then to figure out what connects us. It’s certainly not how we read Scripture, but I think it’s our connectionalism. In a sense, we need to try to be a coalition as a whole denomination.”
Cabrera described how the LYN Coalition could be a model for the global church. “Each place and part of the church can learn to work together to do good and work towards justice around the world even as we hold together our differences.” She said,
“There is no one right way to be in Coalition. It can look and feel like many different things, not only about what holds us together, but for each group. But one key is when there is clarity in understanding how each group shows up in coalition together. Each group has the ability to say, ‘I fully support this, I want to be involved in this one piece.’ Or, ‘I can’t show up for that.’ We need clarity, understanding and freedom to be together and work together; and also to be distinctly ourselves as different organizations”
Cabrera shared a number of keys to working together more effectively: good communication; honest conversation; regular conversation; clarity around our shared values and a clear lens through which we decide to name and claim our differences.
This is the seventh 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. While Cabrera officially represents RMN to LYNC, the opinions expressed in this interview report are entirely her own.