On Why I Do This

On Why I Do This
By Rev. Julie Todd

Someone recently asked me why I continue to do the work of struggling for LGBTQ justice and inclusion in the United Methodist Church. I wrote the following.

The church made me who I am. The core of the Methodist tradition as it was shared with me is that there is no personal holiness in Christ without social holiness. There is no individual salvation until all of creation is loved, free, and liberated from oppression. So my desire for my own redemption and liberation is inextricably linked to actively working for an end to oppression of all kinds. This active liberation is also collective. We are in community as we struggle to be free. And that’s the hard part.

I went to my first General Conference in 1996, two months before I was ordained in the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church. I went to support the witness for full inclusion of LGBTQ persons. There I was exposed for the first time to public hate speech direct towards lesbian and gay folk on the plenary floor of the conference. When, as a part of our witness, we held open the doors of the convention center as a symbolic gesture of openness and welcome to the delegates and visitors to the General Conference, many people refused to walk through the doors.

I was horrified by the level of deep-seated hatred, fear and ignorance at the heart of our denomination. I was horrified by how naive I had been about the depth of heterosexism and homophobia, racism and sexism at the heart of our Christian tradition. They are all at the core of much of the white, U.S.-centric institutional practice of Christian faith. This was one of the hardest things to reckon with that I learned at my first General Conference. There’s just no getting away from it: that the violence and oppression at the heart of the church are really that bad. Radically confronting the system shows you this. And in my experience, when we can hold onto the presence of God in the midst of that kind of terrible reality, we are made more holy by our honesty about and fidelity to what is real (I get this language from Jon Sobrino’s Spirituality of Liberation: Towards Political Holiness, Orbis Press).

In the twenty years that I have been actively working with others to change the discriminatory policies towards queer folks in the church, I have seen it get worse. These last four years working with the direct action group Love Prevails has proven to me over and over again how power in institutions corrupts people. The denial is brutal. There is little more heart-breaking than to watch people you love and respect sell out in order to maintain the peace of the institution and the comfort of their status over against the lives of gay people. And call it good.

To this kind of hard truth I often get the response, “well that’s not what REAL Christianity is.” I have no idea what this statement is about except for wishful thinking. There is no free floating orb out there called “real Christianity” or anything so sublime as the heart of the gospel. There is no existential essence of the Christian tradition floating up there with the sky-God apart from its actual practice in the real world.

And social justice practice in the real world, and no less so in the church, it really sucks sometimes. I am still trying to learn to love the liberals who refuse to take up their moral courage and act, as much as I am trying to love the people who hold hateful views towards gay people, as much as I am trying to love the people who understand their bigotry as some sick form of Christian love.

However contradictory this many sound, I do not have to accept that everyone has a right to hold a view which does violence to God’s children. This is a very difficult path to walk, this loving people yet refusing to accept their fear, their complacency and their hatred, particularly when it is couched in the coded language of individual entitlements and rights, which are entirely non-biblical.

I have had to learn to love the people with whom I have been working for change. These people are a complete pain in my ass. Despite wanting the same simple goal of removing all of the anti-LGBTQ language from the United Methodist Book of Discipline, we simply cannot always agree on how best to achieve this. I am tired of the same old-same-old twenty-year-old tactics, love-them-into-life, legislative, reform-oriented, you-tell-me-your-story-I’ll-tell-you-mine, it-will-all-get-better-in-time-once-the-old-people-die, and we-do-this-because-we-love-the-church-so-much. I am so tired of Christian liberals, I seriously could scream. But to this point, I remain committed to making change. And when you work for change, you can only work with whom and what you’ve got. I know I can be as difficult sometimes as the next person. Knowing that and trying to stay humble seems to have to do with the process of holiness.

I would like to smash the system, but honestly, most people are just unwilling to take the risks of giving up their power and privilege to make that kind of difference. In general, people are afraid of confrontation. White supremacy and capitalism have taught us this very well. Don’t rock the boat. The system is fundamentally good. It’s another thing that is really hard to reckon with in reality. That whole taking up the cross thing. Losing our lives in order to save them. Nonetheless, some of the drive-me-out-of-my-mind liberals in the pro-LGBTQ movement are some of the most fun, creative, hard-working and lovely people I have ever known. For better or worse, the Reconciling movement has been the body of Christ to me and I would not still be United Methodist today if it were not for the struggle we have mounted over the years.

For a straight-identified person, I am more queer than most of the outright lesbians I know. And here’s the thing about being in twenty years of struggle with people who identify their gender and sexual orientation in all kinds of ways. You find out the whole gender-normative, heterosexual pair-bonding way of primarily thinking about being in relationships, is well, pretty limited and, when you come right down to it, fairly uninteresting. There are so many more ways to configure friendships and relationships and love and states of being gendered or not gendered, sexual or asexual. It’s just gorgeous to be freed for personal and social holiness in imagining a much broader and more just and more fun way of how to be in this world together. Struggling along with these crazy, drive-me-freaking-crazy lesbigay people in this movement gave me this. It has made me, in that sense, more holy, because I am closer to God in really understanding all of the beauty that is God and in all that God created. I’m really grateful for that.

Reckoning in community with achieving social holiness and social justice is really hard, but it transforms you when you are really open to the Spirit of God in it all. How imperfect the struggle is helps me to understand how imperfect I am, and we all are. It’s really horrible and wonderful all at once like that. The more willing I am to take risks, the more free I am and the more I realize there is very little in this life to lose. And this understanding leads to real personal holiness.

 

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The “F” Word

THE “F” WORD
by Julie Todd – written for United Methodist General Conference 2008

Face Facts
i am Furious sometimes
Fed up
with
Factions
Fence-sitters
Fair weather Friends
legislative Firing squads
False Frames
& Fallacies
like
Fags are Freaks
Fidelity in marriage
Frozen in singleness
Fatalism
exercises in Futility
Fever-pitch Fear
Fictions so Far from truth
Fed up, Foremost
with the status quo
where we end up Flogged and Forlorn
Feeling like Failures
let’s Flush this Feces down the toilet
start Fresh
Flirt with the Future

what iF
we fantasize
about Fort worth
Framed ourselves
outside this Foolishness
Flagrant in Flouting their Fictions
we are, in Fact,
Free within ourselves
to Fashion our Future
we are Fertile territory
for the Favor of god

what iF
we decided to be Fearless
Forget what’s Feasible
i Foresee:
all the Fairies Flooding the conference Floor
‘Far-Flung Family members’
a Fabulous reunion
queer as Folk
Face-to-Face with Friend and Foe
oFFering a Feast of Fancy
Forging a Faith community
that appears as more than a Facelift
we are a Fountain of renewal
Fools for christ
who Finally Forego legislative Formalities
Fighting power
Fomenting change
wouldn’t that be Fascinating
not to mention, Far more Fun?

Sue Laurie is Being Ordained in Portland!

Sue Laurie sent the following letter to friends and colleagues around the country, inviting them to her ordination at the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon coming up in May. If you are not able to stand with Sue physically in Portland, but would like to participate in Sue’s ordination, please read through the entire invitation to the end. There are directions for writing and sending good wishes and affirmations of Sue’s ministry among us.

March 28, 2016
Dear Friends,
As we have known each other for many years, you know my sense of commitment to my calling as a pastor. You may be surprised to realize that I graduated from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary with my Master of Divinity degree over twenty years ago. Wow.

You have been significant in my journey as I continue to pursue this vocation. Over the years I have officiated at baptisms and communion tables. It has been my privilege to preside at weddings and holy unions for lesbian, gay and “straight” couples. I have spoken at funerals. I have begun small “house churches” for LGBT people who often cannot find welcoming church family. “BYKOTA” gathered folks together in NW Pennsylvania, “Rainbow Circle” gathered people in the NW suburbs of Chicago. In ordinary and significant ways, we have been church for one another.

These times spent with you have helped me to claim my identity as a pastor within community. I am writing to let you know that I regard our shared times as sacred. I am humbled by your trust and appreciation. I am grateful for each one. These moments defy the reality that people like me are not “ordainable” by United Methodist law. I feel that I have been ordained over and over.

In twenty five years of ministry, I have spoken in many places about God’s love for all people. I have stressed the inclusion of LGBT people within the full life of the church in my travels for Reconciling Ministries Network. I have been present in wonderful moments of hope and love. I have also felt the great tension within the church against LGBT people. I have been the target of mean-spirited dismissal. With time for reflection you may have heard me say, “I have had a lot of adventures.” 🙂

I was not called by God for the institution of the United Methodist Church. I was called for people. I have felt the Holy Spirit in my adventures… they have been worth my life. Through your invitation to participate in church family life, I have felt encouraged. So much so, that I have realized that it is time for me to publicly claim the ministry you all have granted to me.

At the United Methodist General Conference in Portland this May, with those who wish to affirm me, I will claim and celebrate my ordination… I will let go of the institutional rejection and celebrate the authority that so many have offered, a grassroots ordination as Rev. Susan Laurie. I will “come out” as ordained and take up the responsibilities of one who has been called and affirmed for ministry. My adventures are my credentials.

Today, I am inviting you to participate. If you would like, please send me your memory or thought;

“One memory I want to share as evidence of the Spirit in celebration
of Susan Laurie’s ordination is…”

These are treasures of heart and soul that have been the fuel of my resiliency for all these years.

May God continue to bless our hope and love,

Sue Laurie, MDiv

  1. There are two versions of this invitation, keep reading…

I am celebrating my ordination at General Conference!

Love Prevails will help me with the ceremony. And you are invited to participate. I would like the first ring of people who can be present in Portland to be openly LGBT folk and from there everyone is welcome. We may be a small crowd that day, but that will be enough. Jesus did say, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20.

Yet, we are not a small in number – we are part of a larger cloud of witnesses, United Methodists even, who have continually offered an understanding of God’s inclusive love for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Of course, most people cannot get to Portland to stand with us physically, but you can be part of this moment… this time when our public witness of an open communion reveals that LGBT people are already on both sides of table; clergy and laity, pastors and people.

How to participate: Send in your good wishes or an affirmation of my ministry:

Sue, I have seen the Holy Spirit at work when you _____________________________________.
or

I remember when _______________________________________________________________.
or simply,

Yes, count me as one of the ordaining cloud of witnesses! I send my prayers for continued ministry. _______________________________________________________________________________..

If you send your name and address, I will send a note after General Conference.

Name              _____________________________ email ___________________
Street address _____________________________
City, State       _________________________ ZIP code ________

_______         I remain anonymous. You know, it can be dangerous out here.

You are a treasure to me. I am so grateful for the foundation of Christian teaching that I received as a child and the gracious, committed witness of love and grace that has constantly been part of my life as an adult. So many venues, so many friends and teachers. Thank you.

Please send your thoughts to:
Sue Laurie                                          or         suelaurie432@gmail.com
PO Box 480244
Niles, IL 60714                                            

   “Friend” the Love Prevails Facebook page for updates

Finally, I offer a favorite: John 14: 25-27   and another: 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 26    

Going Mad

GOING MAD
by Julie Todd (Written for General Conference 2008)

I recently finished reading
a christian ethicist
Who
after a long and depressing
Analysis
of the state of the world
& oppression of the masses,
further unbelieving in
the capacity of institutions
to change w/out coercion
Writes in the last paragraph of this work
“…justice cannot be approximated
if the hope of its perfect realization
does not generate A SUBLIME MADNESS
in the soul.
NOTHING BUT SUCH MADNESS
Will do battle
With malignant power
and‘spiritual wickedness in high places.”

So.
I’ve decided
to GO MAD,
SUBLIMELY MAD
Yes, I’m going MAD
to General Conference

I will stand in line behind
so many women
who people thought were MAD
Witches
Suffragists
Preachers
WILD women
so moved by their communities
so resistant to the powers that be
so knowledgeable of their own power
so present in their bodies
so fundamentally themselves
that people considered them a threat
& called them
MAD, CRAZY, HYSTERICAL, INSANE

I mean
How mad is it?
to senselessly hope for change?
to be carried away by my foolish belief in the gospel?
to be totally infatuated with a desire for justice?
to be moved by a vision a insane egalitarianism?
marked by a wild abandon and gaiety in the face of hate?
Madness, some say,
is a form of ecstasy
& so I am ecstatic
w/ the thought of resistance
that they haven’t robbed me of my spirit
or my joy
in all these years
& they will not
b/c I’m MAD.
How crazy is all that?
“…justice cannot be approximated
if the hope of its perfect realization
does not generate A SUBLIME MADNESS
in the soul.
NOTHING BUT SUCH MADNESS
Will do battle…”

There is crazy MAD &
There is angry MAD
& I have no fear of either.
I am also going to General Conference MAD,
& by this I mean angry.
MAD about so many things, I mean
I don’t think I have to make a list for you
Everyone, I’m sure, has their own list of what makes us MAD
But here’s an example:
I’m MAD about the bishops’ letter “What God Expects of Us” –
In this, holy conferencing means:
Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, love, peace
“be patient, be respectful, be careful”
In other words, don’t get MAD.
It’s bad for unity.
Don’t get me wrong,
I’m all for love and kindness and so on,
but not as a cloak for the status quo remaining the status quo,
not at the cost of human lives,
not at the cost of justice.
nobody better tell me not to get MAD
w/ some crap about good Christians not getting angry
or laying some ‘fruits of the spirit’ business on me
as if my MADNESS were not somehow warranted
or even holy.

There is nothing wrong with being MAD.
“…justice cannot be approximated
if the hope of its perfect realization
does not generate A SUBLIME MADNESS
in the soul.
NOTHING BUT SUCH MADNESS
Will do battle…”

Meditate On That

MEDITATE ON THAT
Written by Julie Todd
for General Conference 2008 in Forth Worth, Texas

Sit here, wait
to see what comes
What comes when I meditate on General Conference
meditate          on                    general                         conference
I decide
“meditate” & “General Conference”
do not belong in the same sentence

What comes
is a slightly queasy feeling
excitement-anxiety-anger
that if I stayed with long enough
Might actually make me puke

What comes?

from the past
Blank stares, that’s what comes.
Parades of delegates
walk by our demonstrations
they look without looking
while we
open doors
block driveways
stand silently
kneel on pavement
offer water
pray
hold signs
sing
cry
Blank stares
from disembodied loyal middle mediocrity
no com/passion in what comes

Occasionally other
Offer words and gestures
Come
sympathetic nods
thumbs-ups
contempt
thank yous
questions
what have you
which mostly leave me as cold as the blank stares

I am not there for them
I am not there to convince them of anything, anymore
I am there for us
I am there to be us
To come
As
Queer
Creative
Outraged
Out-rage-us
Hilarious
Demanding
Delightful
Resistant
Serious
Crazy

Having more fun
Laughing more raucously
Shedding more tears
Grieving deeply
Singing more loudly
And beautifully
Holding gratefully
Communing with
Pursuing passionately
the God of Life who comes
Regardless.

I will meditate on that.

On Soulforce

 

Soulforce-Logo-for-Web

On Soulforce

Reflections by Julie Todd

Soulforce has been an intimate part of the United Methodist movement for LGBTQ inclusion and justice in the United Methodist Church, particularly during our General Conferences. As Soulforce will work closely with Love Prevails during the 2016 General Conference in Portland, I wanted to share some of my experience with Soulforce over the years. It is important to understand how this organization has shaped the moment of potential change that we are in as Methodists seeking justice for LGBTQ people.

I heard the name Soulforce while preparing for GC2000 in Cleveland. Soulforce had been recently founded and led by Rev. Mel White, a former speech writer for televangelist Jerry Falwell. He became well-known after publishing Stranger at the Gate, about coming out as a gay man in that conservative evangelical Christian context.

Soulforce is an LGBTQ-determined organization comprised of Christians, people of other faiths and people of no faith. They are not faith-based, they offer a Soulful critique of Christianity as a structure. In 2000, their focus was traveling around the U.S., (non)violently disrupting big denominational meetings. For the General Conference in Cleveland, Rev. White organized well-known leaders – Greg Dell, Jimmy Creech, Joe Sprague, Phil and Jim Lawson, Arun Gandhi – to be arrested on the streets outside of the Convention Center in order to bring light to the matter of LGBTQ injustice and exclusion in the part of Christ’s body called the United Methodist Church.

Soulforce invited United Methodists to join their members in this act of civil disobedience outside of the convention center. If you wanted to participate in this act, you were required to receive a training from Soulforce. Some 190 folks were arrested that day. Most of us were not Methodist. Soulforce communicated with the police and guided us in the process, from booking to jail holdings to court hearings.

We faced the inevitable questions: was it worth it? Did it make a difference? Did the arrests impact what went on inside the building that day? The impact was huge. Soulforce made a clear statement to the General Conference. They were organized. They were prepared. They were not messing around. They were intent on facing down LGBTQ discrimination within the Christian community. It was front page news in Cleveland the next day.

This Soulforce action outside of the Convention Center inspired and laid the groundwork for and inspired an action that led to 14 more people being arrested on the plenary floor inside of the General Conference on the next day. All of those arrested the second time were United Methodist. All of the arrests outside and inside the plenary shamed the denomination.

That same foundation impacted General Conference 2004 in Pittsburgh. Many movement veterans remember an incredibly moving, mass witness that year that we called The River Of Life. Hundreds of queer folks and their allies filled the plenary floor and took the stage in a huge river of rainbows. United Methodists were at the head of the human river that flowed into the hall, but the reason we made it in there at all was Soulforce. Because of demonstrating their commitment to taking serious and well-prepared disruptive action in 2000, the bishops agreed to enter into negotiations with Soulforce leadership in 2004 in order to avoid another series of humiliating public arrests. Soulforce had the experience. Soulforce had the direct action credibility. They helped us negotiate the peaceful River of Life. While in 2004 some members of our movement spent countless wasted hours negotiating yet another “agree to disagree” petition in Pittsburgh, Soulforce then spread out on the streets around the Convention Center to make a witness to the world.

During these two General Conferences, the movement’s attitude to Soulforce was tepid, if respectful. They made our Methodist movement feel nervous and look weak. They were blamed for being outside agitators, not respecting the long work of Methodist progressives in between conferences.

Despite forty years of resistance in our denomination, the situation for queer people and their allies has only gotten worse. Soulforce pushed at the calls for the incrementalist, legislative approaches of our movement that clearly had been and were going to be ineffective. Soulforce understood that basic Gandhian claim that, once dialogue and efforts to compromise continue to fail, disruptive direct action is what will bring people in power to the table to talk real change.

At the General Conference in Fort Worth in 2008, Soulforce did not plan a large-scale disruptive witness. By then, two long-time Affirmation members, Steven Webster and Jim Dietrich, who were well-trained Soulforcers, represented Soulforce to our movement. Steven Webster, myself and Troy Plummer constituted a negotiation team with the United Methodist bishops about any disruptive actions that might emerge. Steven and I were chosen for the negotiating team because of our experience with nonviolent disruptive action, the tools for which Soulforce had given us. Once again, Soulforce’s history of determined training and action lent us the credibility to be at tables of power, and to take up the mantle of collective action.

In Fort Worth, Soulforce had the foresight to secure a public permit for occupying a park across the street from the Convention Center for the entire length of GC. Some of the most powerful moments of GC2008 took place there. Soulforce gathered long-time LGBTQ justice allies Jimmy Creech, James Lawson and Gil Caldwell for a conversation after a public showing of For The Bible Tells Me So. They organized a panel on justice for transgender people in the park. Sue Laurie and Julie Bruno held their wedding there. They also brought the sound system. In strategic nonviolence, all of these details create impact.

In the tradition of Soulforce, at General Conference 2012, Love Prevails emerged as a nonviolent disruptive force in Tampa. Our occupation of the floor after the inevitable fail of yet another “agree to disagree” compromise legislation prevented any other punitive legislation related to LGBTQ concerns from coming to the floor for the rest of the Conference. (Read more about that action and some of Love Prevails’ history here)

Without Soulforce, our movement would not be where it is today. In all of our United Methodist efforts for change over the years, there has often been a fear of messages and actions coming from people that seem too radical or disruptive of the status quo. Since our formal inception as Love Prevails, Soulforce has walked beside our group with their trainings, counsel, presence and moral support as Love Prevails has emerged within our denomination to work for a more radical and disruptive witness that has been Soulforce’s hallmark. In my estimation, Love Prevails now stands within our movement as an inheritor of the disruptive tradition that Soulforce has brought to our movement over the years.

People in our movement don’t necessarily like Love Prevails for the same reasons they didn’t like Soulforce. We make them nervous. We ruin their plans. Though a number of our team are long-term insiders of the movement, we are considered outsiders by many mainstream LGBTQ Methodists and allies. We thank Soulforce for standing with us in the last four years to inspire, cajole and train us.

Some of the best moments we may claim as a movement at this General Conferences will be a result of Soulforce’s outside agitation, experience, preparedness, creativity and willingness to take risks. We continue to need Soulforce’s experience in strategy and nonviolent resistance. We need alliances and collaboration to broaden our vision for what is possible and to give us strength.

I hope that you will support our efforts to forge resistance together. If you are going to be in Portland for General Conference, please come to the training with Soulforce on nonviolent direct action on Wednesday, May 11.

Register for the training here.