Power and Persuasion

POWER & PERSUASIONIMG_3945
Written by Julie Todd
For General Conference 2008

I have been giving
a lot of thought
lately
To the notion of
Moral Persuasion –
the idea that we have
We, in this case
Being
primarily
Well-meaning
Privileged
White People
the idea that we have
& organize ourselves around
That people can be persuaded

We think
People will be morally persuaded
When
Our cause is righteous enough
Our logic is rational enough
Our argument is strong enough
Our actions consistent enough
Our tone kind enough
Our appeal passionate enough
& so on

We fundamentally believe
People will be morally persuaded
To agree with us
And act in accordance
(these are two different steps
& even if we persuade people to agree,
this does not equal
their willingness to act in accord)

From what I can tell
this “persuasive” strategy
Has rarely persuaded people
at least
not on slavery;
not on women’s suffrage;
not on war;
not on nuclear arms;
not on the environment;
not on civil rights;
not, so far, on gay rights;
I mean, in 2004
We could not even morally persuade
General Conference
to state that we disagree

When people ultimately decide to change their positions on such matters
It is rarely because they have been morally persuaded
But for other reasons
primarily Economic
Sometimes to save face
“evidence” that convinces
or for other political purposes
especially when to make compromise
means to avoid meeting more radical demands

Please, persuade me
Give me an example
To persuade me that I am wrong
& I am not talking about individual instances
where someone changed their mind about something
when institutions have changed
under the influence of moral persuasion

Moral persuasion.
Why do we keep trying this tactic?
I believe the reason mostly relates to
Our being
mostly Well-Meaning White People

Well-Meaning People believe
that hearts change through moral suasion
Well-Meaning People do not want
to examine the power that holds oppression in place
the material and emotional advantages
that moral suasion does not sway

Examining power means
we are going to have to talk
about what kind of Action,
Not Talk,
Action,
dislodges power
& that’s too scary
Too risky
for most Well-Meaning Christians
Challenges our assumptions
about what works
& What doesn’t work
Like righteousness,
rationality,
strength,
consistency,
kindness,
passion
The conservative right gets this
What do they do to persuade?
Power, money, threats.
For good reason
We don’t want to play that game
But what game are we playing?

One of the reasons
we think these things work
gets at being
primarily
White People (the well-meaning kind)
whose privilege in other arenas
when our whiteness, Christianity, social class
And not queerness
gets to define how these things work
we often do secure the changes or successes we seek
& we think we get these things
Because
We are
righteous,
rational,
strong,
consistent,
kind,
passionate.
When in fact
Our success depends on
The power we have
Because we are
White
Christian
Upper-classed
But we attribute our success to these other attributes
& not to privilege & power

But you say,
“I have seen hearts and minds change.”
And, thank God
So have I
But that is not the same thing.
That is individualism
That I can convince you that I am morally right
Has very little to do
with changing the system to reflect that position
White people don’t get things
that they want
because they are morally right
White people get what they want because they have
power
& privilege
& do what it takes to protect & keep it

Persuasion &
Power
As a movement
We gotta think about these things some more.

A Response to the Report of the Task Force on Human Sexuality, Gender and Race in a Worldwide Perspective

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February 12, 2016

Dear Council of Bishops,

From the first paragraph to the last, the Bishops of The United Methodist Church miss the mark in your Report of the Task Force on Human Sexuality, Gender and Race in a Worldwide Perspective.

In recent collective statements on matters of social concern, bishops always remind us of the tasks of the episcopal office: “to guard the faith, to seek the unity and to exercise the discipline of the whole church.” However, a passion for the unity of the Church without a care for the individual parts has the functional consequence of rewarding those with voting power while sacrificing the needs and concerns of LGBTQI people, women and non-white people.

This report falls back into institutional jargon and a refusal to become unstuck from the intentional harm legislated into the Book of Discipline. Rather than a prophetic, Gospel-oriented insistence on eliminating discrimination, you have once again settled for serial harm to Women (gender), Blacks/Natives (race), and LGBTQI persons (sexuality). Thus making your call to repentance hollow sanctimony. Repentance is meaningless unless it is accompanied with changed behavior.

This Task Force of bishops has written a section on repentance, confession, and honesty in a document on sexuality, gender, and race and done so without ever addressing the underlying sins of heterosexism and homophobia, sexism, and racism. This report offers no analysis of oppression or of power and privilege.

This is quite evident in references to your tepid Pastoral Letter on Racism that has no condemnation of white supremacy, police violence, or unjust criminal justice systems in the economic stronghold of United Methodism in The United States of America. There are no references to the formal Acts of Repentance towards Indigenous People, people who are victims of some of the greatest historical and contemporary racist acts. And the report never once mentions heterosexism or explores the harm done to LGBTQI people by the United Methodist Church’s polity and practice.

With no mention of pain, suffering, and violence against women, people of color, queer people, how can you speak of other pains of the earth, children, poverty, or spirit? To have a document that never names the real conditions and situations of injustice toward those it claims to be concerned about is egregious and demonstrates a stunning lack of both comprehension and leadership. We are sick to death of bishops and other church “leaders” using the real lives of LGBTQI people, women and people of color as cannon fodder for dead-end, high-minded theological discussions.

We criticize you for your abstractions, but we rebuke you for one bold lie. In Point 1: God’s Grace for All you write, “Therefore we actively oppose all forms of discrimination.” Categorical discrimination against lesbian and gay people in ordination and marriage is codified in the Book of Discipline. The overwhelming majority of you do not actively oppose this form of discrimination. You are, in fact, active enforcers of this discrimination. To claim anything else as a Council is a falsehood that Love Prevails condemns in the harshest of terms.

This Task Force Report has no basic integrity and is sadly reflective of the Council of Bishop’s unwillingness to substantively address some of the most critical matters of oppression and injustice in our collective life together. Trying to cover up the harm being done under a rubric of Episcopal vows and a self-imposed uniformity leads to a lack of any credibility in your authority and weakens a common witness to the Nature and Name of God—Love.

Love Prevails

PDF of Letter Sent to Council of Bishops on February 12, 2016

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