Rev. Dr. Julie Todd, the John Wesley Senior Adjunct Lecturer in Justice and Peace Studies at the Iliff School of Theology and a Love Prevails member, was invited to write a paper for a colloquy on Missio Dei and The United States: Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness. This colloquy on mission was related to the Commission on The Way Forward and its work regarding human sexuality and unity of the church. More than 30 papers from seminary professors and bishops were presented and discussed.
Julie presented her paper, Nothing About Us Without Us: LGBTQ Liberation and The United Methodist Church, in Group 2 that also included four other professors and Bishops Scott Jones and Hope Morgan Ward. When the time came for the groups to report to the whole colloquy, Julie’s paper was highlighted (see Group 2 Summary below).
Five additional members of Love Prevails were present as observers and had their own impact.
Julie Todd’s paper, and the pain associated with it, served as a catalyst for a deeper authentic, and honest conversation.
Do our conversations regarding the transformative restructuring of this denomination, or the forces that are seeking to diminish our community of social justice, lead to an increased feeling of despair or death? So, is this denomination fundamentally afraid of death? If so, do we no longer believe in resurrection or new life? In our struggle for life, who are we willing to sacrifice? What are the signs of life in our midst and what does being alive look like?
How do we keep the value of the “connection” without a hierarchical structure.
What is the nature of the table? Who is present at the table? Who gets to determine who is at the table? Why have the voices of the LGBTQ community not been included in the framing of this colloquy, the work of the Commission, and the larger UMC community? Breaking the rules of the colloquy led to the kind of conversation that emerged in this group, an in-breaking of the kindom.
We have to recognize that the process of the colloquy and the Commission is a system of intentional disempowerment of the LGBTQ community and the conversation itself. How can we talk about or act upon about a UMC Missio Dei without first acting upon this unjust reality in our system?
A malformed theology leads us to exclusion, but a well-formed generous theology of abundant love can lead us to a just welcome.
We have not articulated what the transformation of the world really means, what does it look like? How do we distinguish between colonial, violent, exclusionary forms of transformation from life-giving, loving, grace and Spirit-filled transformation?
Love Prevails’ members are attending the Colloquy sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education & Ministry and the Association of United Methodist Theological Schools in Boston, MA. The theme of the Colloquy is Missio Dei and The United States: Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness. In this Colloquy, faculty from United Methodist theological schools and United Methodist bishops are invited to present papers in a small-group discussion format with plenary report-backs. Love Prevails’ member and Iliff School of Theology faculty Rev. Dr. Julie Todd was invited to present a paper. Here are the key points from the paper she presented today.
Paper: “Nothing About Us Without Us: LGBTQ Liberation and the United Methodist Church”
Organized as a part of the The Commission on a Way Forward’s (CWF) work, the present Colloquy participates in perpetuating and participating in the illegitimacy of the CWF’s effort to determine the lives and futures of LGBTQ persons in the denomination, whose voices continue to be marginalized and silenced in this very process by cisgender, heterosexual persons.
These gatherings and processes embody the discriminatory status quo and the ongoing failure of our church leadership to name the real and active harm being done to LGBTQI United Methodists and other queer people by our current policies and practices.
LGBTQ persons are not the only people for whom the Methodist movement has mounted decades-long attempts sublimate histories and practices of violence under the halo of theological discussion, and to silence their voices and destroy their communities in the name of mission.
Under the requested topic of Missio Dei, the present Colloquy falls prey to the same temptation as the institutional church in general to theological discussion that sublimates an entire history of oppression in the United States’ context in which genocide and slavery were justified and propelled precisely by Christian people as the mission of God in the “new world”. The paper rejects the concept of Missio Dei as a theological grounding for the Colloquy.
Using a liberationist methodology that emphasizes the experience, action and reflection of those most impacted by violence, in this particular case the violence experienced by LGBTQ persons themselves as a result of the UMC’s anti-queer institutional policies and practices, as the primary locus for the determination of the means of liberation in any way forward, the paper argues against the prioritizing of the theological abstractions such as unity and missiology over-against the practice and pursuit of equality and justice for all oppressed persons, including LGBTQ persons, as a central “missional” demand.
Only the removal of the discriminatory language in The Book of Discipline will put the denomination on a path towards addressing the underlying systemic injustice and inequities of heterosexism and homophobia more broadly within the church and world. When this path is cleared, there will be more space for deeper commitments to address the scourges of white supremacy, savage capitalism and economic inequality, endless war, migration crises, misogyny, climate change and environmental destruction.