Remember Me: Queer Communion

remember meRev. Sue Laurie, an out lesbian, was ordained by a grassroots group of LGBTQ United Methodists this morning. Sue earned her Master of Divinity from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in 1995. Though barred from entering the candidacy process because of her sexual orientation, Sue has dedicated the past 21 years to ministry in the United Methodist Church. Today’s ceremony was a public affirmation of Sue’s gifts and graces and of God’s ordination of her long ago.

After her ordination, the sacrament of Holy Communion was celebrated. As an act of radical hospitality, we offer to the General Conference the bread and cup consecrated at that service.

The United Methodist Church proclaims that anyone who calls upon the name of Christ is welcome at the table. However, too often, openly LGBTQ persons feel excluded; and, in particular, are banned from presiding over the sacrament. Love Prevails works for the day when all people are welcomed as equals on both sides of the communion table.

During opening worship at General Conference, Love Prevails will provide stations where you can receive communion from openly LGBTQ United Methodists. We recognize that the call of Jesus is never “safe,” so we create this space as an oasis for queer and straight folks alike, where the welcome is explicitly wide.

The banners at the stations will read, “Remember Me”.

We remember the people who have been lost to our denomination as a result of the church’s categorical discrimination against queer people. We remember all who have been marginalized and violated by the church’s many acts of oppression. We also commit to Re-Membering the Body of Christ – to making whole that which has been broken and torn apart.

We encourage you to take communion at the “Remember Me” stations as an act of resistance to our church’s ongoing discrimination of God’s LGBTQ people and to work for the day when Love Prevails.

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    

On Soulforce

 

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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.

Power and Persuasion

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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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A Request for Your Consideration

The following blog post is written by Love Prevails member, Alison Wisneski, in response to a recent tweet after the pre-General Conference meeting. The tweet referenced below suggested that the UMC boards and staffs of IRD, Good News Magazine, Reconciling Ministries Network, and Love Prevails take a mission trip together.

image1Sometimes I see fellow Tweeters and, through following their hashtags that led me to their page in the first place, find out that we like many of the same things. I get excited and I want to follow them so we can share in things other than agreement that the United Methodist Church’s harm toward LGBTQ+ peoples needs to change or we will watch our church crumble to the ground.

This is not one of those situations.

When I am told by straight white men (which is unfortunately too often) that I need to take a deep breath, pause, and then intentionally put myself in harm’s way for the sake of their and other’s comfortability, I cannot agree with them (even if we both get excited at listening to the same music and love the same Netflix hits). It opens up topic for a conversation that, though I am sick of having, I will have until I am blue in the face. Ask me what I need. Stop telling me.

I am flooded with the words of so many who spoke of oppressors before me. Of Martin Luther King, Jr., who shared in the Letter from Birmingham Jail that direct action is the means to the end of negotiation where an oppressed people are heard. Of bell hooks, who says that domination is successful when an oppressor decides in order to love me, they must make me something else. Of Albert Memmi in The Colonizer and the Colonized, who says that when there is no justification for hatred from an oppressor, the oppressed have no choice but to revolt; to break the condition.

I have been called names by people who work for Good News Magazine and The IRD. I have no interest in spending time on a “mission trip” (which, I apologize, is problematic in its own right – as a justice-seeking space and church, maybe we find new language and ways to travel with our youth that are not focused on going in to help the people we deem need help, no?) with people who do not seek for me to have a life within my beloved church. The hateful words in Good News Magazine, which used to be delivered to my office door for distribution, made me feel like I was choking. Like I was buried under an oppressive Church that did not want me to thrive, it wanted me to suffocate and wither to nothing.

I do not live in a place of safety within the United Methodist Church. Currently, I am bound to a book that says my body is useful for the head count at the door but I had better not stand at that pulpit, the faggot that I am, and preach the words of Wesley and Jesus who may have struggled with my identity but would have no doubt let me have a seat with them at the table because they were a people who spoke of forgiveness – oh, no – my body can be counted but it cannot be recognized for what it is. It is strong, ravished by a bone disease that should have stopped me from walking in my teen years but worked through immense physical pain and suffering to get to a point of safety; it is wise, the first of its family to go to college and graduate school and now teach at the college level, moving its way up from homelessness to home ownership; but by in large it is queer, it so fiercely loves a woman who has coincided in the heart that beats in its chest for so long it feels like it has been in love with her since its formation…this body will not be recognized. Just counted in the pew as it sits silently, waiting for pastors and lay people and fellow good-hearted Christian folks who tell it to wait for the right time, to keep its voice down, to have conversation with those who oppress it.

No.

I will not swing a hammer and share in meals and have silly car-ride singalongs with those who want to stifle who I am for the sake of being a hollow shell to fill the space of a dying church.

I will not do something to make you more comfortable when it comes to my distaste for being called a radical sexual liberationist activist (which was fabulous, by the way, when we chose to co-opt it for our own t-shirts and not allow anyone to claim it but ourselves, a decision we are allowed to make as the holders of the name).

I will not be your hollow body to shove full of your ideas of what is the right thing to do before General Conference.

I will not go inside of your church walls, no matter how reconciled the are, to guest preach about my ideas that mean absolutely nothing in a space that so blatantly disallows me to have power.

I’ll be swinging my own metaphorical hammers beside those who seek immediate change. We seek it with our words, through song, through letters like this, through conversation with those who are actually open to hear my words and not fight with me over Twitter like I’m not a real person. I will hold hands with my fellow queers and those who truly seek to see people like me and those I love have power that we so deserve in the United Methodist Church and not with those who will wash it afterward, hoping to get the gay off.

Let this be a request to all of those who want to include themselves in the LGBTQ-inclusivity conversation within the United Methodist Church, or even involve themselves in communities that are marginalized to which they do not belong: do not make suggestions for me. Ask me what I need next time. And before you respond, listen. Don’t say a word. Hear the words I say, listen to my pleas. Because had you asked me what I needed from groups that so openly hate me for my body and everything inside of it, you would know that I sure as hell don’t need to waste my time with those who seek nothing but death for me and my family.

We Have Not Drawn Swords

12604653_823899601053471_8656883557888553864_o“We Have Not Drawn Swords”

Sue Laurie on the pre-General Conference briefing in Portland, Oregon

January 24, 2016

As the discussions in Portland ebbed and flowed around the conflict within the UMC – a conflict that is abusive to LGBT people, sometimes it was deemed “uncomfortable.” For me it was far worse than “uncomfortable” to withstand another public beat-down. And please understand, it is not just the ones argue with us, we are also beaten down by all those who avoid real conversations and wish to look away.

One metaphor from the stage was that “both sides come to GC with swords drawn” and the audience tacitly agreed. I caught that guy later and said his image was not true. We do not carry swords – we do not ask for the annihilation of straight pastors and their families – calling for trials against pastors and marriages. While we have felt the harm of those swords of words and trials, my people come with band-aids, song and rainbow promises of a God who will not abandon us.

We have not drawn swords. We ask for our place at the table. (He did apologize, but only to me.)

Yet at that big UM meeting in Portland this week, a small, faithful cloud of witnesses gave body and voice, finances and passion to the cause of inclusion. We believe it is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I was grateful on the first morning that Rev. Steve Lewis and Rev. Fred Day of the Archives and History, both did break the silence and name gay and lesbian inclusiveness as part of their witness. Very helpful, but then they were the only ones.

Listen to me, these people, these gathered Methodist delegates and agency people, they know that homosexuality is not a sin, yet they avoid us and are “tired of talking about it.” Well I am tired too. And I am so thankful for every moment that Love Prevails strove to offer light and grace. We fought the good fight, we tried.

“Uncomfortable” – poor you. (Wow, that just feels bad today. But I will get over it.)

Meanwhile, I am home again. I am with Julie and Bailey and friends from Pennsylvania. Chicken and biscuits, football, cozy house …

Please pray that I do not become complicit with the institutions of Methodists that are doing harm! Just because I’m tired and I don’t enjoy fighting, please pray that I will not sink into my comfortable privilege and say, “I don’t need this.” Pray that I will stay in solidarity with those still being harmed by United Methodists. Pray that I will lean forward into General Conference and be spiritually fit – able to speak, apply band-aids and trust the rainbow of God’s promise for the full two weeks, with style and grace… even as we differ from others.

Lastly, thank you Love Prevails for stirring this pot for the whole quadrennium… by disrupting the usual dormant period, I can feel hope for integrity.
Thank you, Love Prevails.

Coalition Interview with Evy McDonald of the United Methodist Association of Disabled Ministers (UMAMD)

Rev. Evy McDonald is the recent past co-chair of The United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities (UMAMD). She has been a member of UMAMD for about 10 years, and is the group’s official representative to the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC). She is also an elder in the New York Annual Conference.

According the UMAMD’s website (http://www.umdisabledministers.org/210.html), the organization has a three-pronged focus:

  1. Advocating: raising awareness regarding persons with disabilities and how ministries might be enhanced by the challenges that ministers work with in everyday life;
  2. Educating: helping others to understand disabilities and the way in which such is a means of being “otherly gifted” for serving God in ministry;
  3. Supporting: being together in an association to support one another and provide community wherein we join together to address the needs and opportunities that are presented by disabilities.

For General Conference (GC) 2016 in Portland, Oregon, UMAMD and multiple annual conferences together wrote and will offer five pieces of legislation. This legislation includes a number of topics.

  • Removing discrimination toward ordination candidates with disabilities; confirming that the ordination process ensures non-discrimination;
  • Dealing with discriminatory actions that occurred in the 2012 GC in regards to mental-emotional disabilities;
  • Securing non-discriminatory insurance coverage in relationship in to long-term disability policies and disability compensation, as well as non-discrimination in the UMC’s denominational employee disability benefits;
  • Ensuring accessibility at all annual conference meetings. Current legislation in The Book of Discipline only guarantees accessibility to general agency meetings.

The Association’s primary goal for GC 2016 is to get this legislation passed, and participation in LYNC assists in this potential passage. McDonald also said that UMAMD’s participation in LYNC broadens every member’s “overall sense of how much discrimination is out there” and how “discrimination comes guised in many different forms.”

McDonald described that the particular aspect of discrimination that people with disabilities face is silent. “It’s the largest unspoken discrimination in our country. Discrimination happens every day, so many times in our lives. People don’t want to admit it and they don’t want to talk about it.” Many times people with disabilities feel they are invisible.

She described the some of the deep-seated, unconscious ways people in the church think about people with disabilities. Church-goers may think about ending discrimination against people with disabilities by doing things that make it possible for people with disabilities able to sing in the choir and read from the pulpit, making the bathrooms as accessible as possible but, far too often, they believe that such changes will cost a lot of money that they will not get back.  In talking with people in churches there is an unconscious belief that most people with disabilities are poor and uneducated. McDonald explained that as a group, one of the largest percentage of people who live below the poverty line are people with various disabilities. The stereotype, however, is that “we are not talking about people who can’t be employed, but rather people who can work but aren’t working, for whatever reason.”

Then the discrimination moves into “What about the safety of our children? There’s an unconscious, media-driven fear that people who deal with intellectual disabilities are dangerous people and people who have emotional-mental illness are all going to be mass murderers. People still pull their children away from disabled people in the grocery store without recognizing what they are saying non-verbally and the discrimination they are perpetuating.”

The primary challenge of working in Coalition is “learning to trust one another. As that trust has grown we have discovered that all of us are desirous of finding ways to support one another that will enhance the whole.” McDonald expressed that at the last two General Conferences the LYN Coalition felt less viable. It was not truly working together across issues. Increasingly the Coalition feels like it is coalescing around a larger agenda. She said, “The way we’ve be talking about working together is that as each of the many issues come to the General Conference floor [for voting], the Coalition will be ready to support or do whatever is necessary at that time.” She further commented, “I see this coming into reality. When we work together, we are stronger. And it’s biblical. When one group is honored instead of ignored, it strengthens other groups, because it opens GC’s eyes about discrimination. We are creating a unified effort that will startle the GC participants.”

The challenge of trust comes in “when we show up to support someone else, and then it’s our turn to be supported, there is a fear that others will not be there for whatever reason.” Individual and group members of the Coalition have all dealt with different kinds of pain and discrimination. That experience can help all parties to remember “that each of us will say and do something wrong. Together we can all learn.” When something difficult happens among group members our first tendency may be “to write them off and decide we’re not going to trust them anymore.” The harder task is “to learn how to heal and grow together. It doesn’t mean we won’t also unintentionally inflict pain on one another but we can model intentional healing for the whole denomination.”

Therefore, the other primary challenge is communication. “We need to communicate, communicate, communicate and not make assumptions; ask for clarification.” When there is conflict among parties working together across differences, all parties have to “see where our own prejudice and blocks are, and be willing to move through them, or at least put them down temporarily.”

McDonald thinks that the greatest challenge of ending discrimination against LGBTQ people in the UMC is dealing with delegates from other continents. She remembers hearing in 2012 from one of the African delegates, who explained, “You people came over and told us that we were wrong to have multiple wives. You told us it was one man, one woman. And now you want us to believe something different?” U.S. Christians created this problem. In McDonald’s opinion, if a portion of the delegates outside of the U.S. could be brought into a new way of understanding, there would be no problem with ending the discrimination. McDonald believes that we need to move all people “to fully realize that discrimination is discrimination is discrimination.”

Clearly, the matter of the exclusion of LGBTQ persons is a central concern of the Coalition. “The language in The Book of Discipline, particularly for an LGBTQ person who wants to be ordained, is atrocious and a black smudge on United Methodism. But if you don’t think there’s any chance in hell of that being removed this time, where in the heck do we put our efforts in order to have an impact? I don’t have an answer to that question.”

Everyone will know the Coalition works when it stands behinds whatever needs to be stood behind in that moment. McDonald described an example of this kind of Coalition work that happened early in this quadrennium. It was originally decided that the Coalition-based Convocation gathering would be held in Atlanta. The Native American member of the Coalition, said the Native American caucus wouldn’t participate because of the offensive native mascot used by a major sports team in Atlanta. So the Coalition decided not to have the meeting there. “And that’s how it works. Instead of saying “well, that’s just one part of the Coalition, the rest of us don’t have that issue. It’s really hearing someone’s issue at a point in time when it is critical to hear it. And then putting force behind doing what’s right.” When a coalition doesn’t work it looks “like we’re all just scattered behind our own issues and just gotten behind walls and hunkered down in our own little forts.”

This is the fifth 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 Rev. McDonald represents the UMAMD to LYNC, the opinions expressed in this interview report are entirely her own.

Me & Bishop Dorff

Below are reflections on disrupting Bishop Dorff at Gather at the River by Rev. Dr. Julie Todd


Bishop Dorff and I know each other. We don’t have a close relationship, but we have a special one.  He serves on the UMC Connectional Table (CT). At the first CT meeting Love Prevails attended (see http://umcconnections.org/2013/11/19/disruption-prompts-church-leaders-address-sexuality-issues/ ), I disrupted the meeting by singing a list of the names of leaders the UMC has lost as a result of our denomination’s anti-LGBTQ policies. In a time of public conversation after the disruption, Bishop Dorff shared his experience of my disruptive singing. I invite you to listen all the way to the end. Here’s what he said:

At that time, Bishop Dorff was about to make an official episcopal ruling on the matter of the candidacy of queer-identified M Barclay (formerly known as Mary Ann Barclay) for ordained ministry. He had previously refused to rule when the Rio Texas Conference Board of Ordained Ministry denied the District Committee on Ministry’s decision to recommend M to move forward with their candidacy for ministry, but had been ordered by the Judicial Council to reconsider his own decision. So after Bishop Dorff’s comments at the break, I spoke with him about his words and his coming decision. He told me that I had been an agent of the Spirit to him that morning and he asked me to pray for him, which I agreed to do.

Ever since that time, at every CT and Council of Bishops meeting that Love Prevails has disrupted over the past two years, I have made a point of greeting Bishop Dorff and reminding him of our connection. He is always exceedingly warm and gracious, and he gives me big, Southern hugs, which I actually do not mind. I don’t mistake our connection for anything like real knowledge of one another, but we do have a connection.

When I heard that Bishop Dorff was coming to bring greetings to Gather at the River 2015, held in San Antonio at Travis Park UMC on August 6-9, I wasn’t surprised. It is customary to invite the bishop of the resident area where these progressive UMC conferences are held. It is common knowledge that Bishop Dorff has not been a supporter of LGBTQ people, but is a supporter of the Disciplinary status quo that inflicts harm on queer folk. Some of those present at Gather at the River thought it particularly good of Bishop Dorff to come, even brave, considering his known stance. I thought it was presumptuous.

In the past two years of deeply disturbing contact with the highest levels of our denomination through the work of Love Prevails, I have seen the very ugly sides of the episcopal imaginings of their benevolent power. And their stated lack of power to make change. The leaders of our denomination do not see themselves as perpetuators of injustice against LGBTQ people in the midst of their maintenance of the institution, and yet they very much are. So I imagined that Bishop Dorff thought it would be really good and welcoming of himself to say something kind to queer people, something that would not be considered controversial by anyone else.

I didn’t want to let that happen without a marking of protest.

Some might think that the protest that developed during Bishop Dorff’s remarks was highly coordinated. On the contrary. The night before, I understood that some Love Prevails members and a few other people would hold signs within the sanctuary while he spoke. Nothing major, just a few pointed messages. I wanted to position myself somewhere where Bishop Dorff could really see me, because of our connection. I wasn’t sure how it would play out, but I knew I wanted to look him in the eyes and speak to him, because we have history. When I walked into the sanctuary late that Saturday morning, it seemed a few more people had become interested in the witness, and now there was talk of kneeling at the altar, preparing material to create gags, and hanging signs and messages to the bishop from the balcony.

I quickly made two signs that read, “FRIENDS LAY DOWN THEIR LIVES FOR THEIR FRIENDS” and “BISHOP DORFF IS NOT A FRIEND TO LGBTQ PEOPLE.” I didn’t hang my signs from the balcony. I took them with me. And when it was time, I knelt at the altar rail.

Conference leaders began to introduce the bishop. The next thing I knew, he passed by me and headed up the stairs. I didn’t think about it. I followed him up there with my signs. He saw me. I said, “Hi, Bishop,” and motioned for him to read my signs. He said, “Oh, thanks.”

While our leaders continued to explain the creative and important tension of the moment, I spoke to the bishop. I said things like:

“We’ve shared a Holy Spirit moment in the past, Bishop, haven’t we? I wonder if this is going to be one of those moments again.”

“I’m going to be really interested to hear what you are going to say to gay people here today. You know there are a lot of gay people here today, right?”

“There are a lot of people who have suffered an awful lot out there today. I wonder if you are going to say something meaningful to them.”

“I wonder if this is going to be a Holy Spirit moment. I wonder if the Spirit is going to use you right now.”

Except for acknowledging that we had shared a Pentecost moment in the past, he mostly nodded and smiled. I don’t think he was shaking me off; I think he was quite nervous and unprepared for what was transpiring.

Here is a video of his remarks:

For those of you interested in seeing the full length of the events that unfolded, here is the video:

Once it was Bishop’s Dorff’s time to speak, there was some shouting at the bishop on occasion. There was anger in the room and weeping at the altar rail. He finished his remarks, walked off stage, and returned to his seat. I followed him and sat down right next to him. He didn’t notice me right away. When he did, I said, “Hey.”

He smiled, shook his head at me and said, “You know I love you, Julie.” Which was a little gross, but I honestly didn’t take his words as insincere.

Then he hugged me, a hug that I somewhat returned while squirming and saying, “Don’t try to make this better.”

I continued, “I’m sure this wasn’t pleasant for you, but I could not let you come here today,  deliver your episcopal pleasantries, and then walk away with credit for being the good guy for coming. You have caused a lot of pain to a lot of queer people and you need to know that. I’m not sure it was right for you to come today, but the Spirit is using the moment again. Do you see that?”

To which he said, “Yes, I see that. The Spirit is working within me, too, Julie, right now.”

My response was, “The problem with you bishops is even when you have these Holy Spirit moments, when you go back into your powerful church world, the spirit of the institution overcomes the work of the Spirit within you. That’s what happens to you bishops.”

He took some umbrage with that and said, “You don’t know what my experience is.”

I conceded that point, saying, “You’re right. I don’t know what your experience is. I take it back. But that is my experience of you guys. Seriously. But I take it back.”

During all of this there was ongoing kneeling, praying, weeping, singing and speaking by others in attendance.

Clearly the Holy Spirit was moving in the moment and even Bishop Dorff knew it. He said so.

Though this witness took place as a result of far more than the actions of Love Prevails members alone, what resulted felt like a classic Love Prevails experience. We #Showup prepared to seize prophetic moments of Spirit guidance. We #Disrupt. We are often perceived and described, as in this case, as disrespectful and bullies. We stand firm in the knowledge of ourselves as utterly authentic in responding to the Spirit as She reveals injustice and violence towards LGBTQ persons in the United Methodist Church. We understand that the expressed embodiment of our truths is difficult and uncomfortable for some people. As the saying goes, the truth hurts.

protest2We are often accused of “hurting our cause.” This is a clear reversal of who and what the problem is.

When Bishop Dorff saw me later again in the hallway, before we both left the building,  he again hugged me and said, “I love you, Julie.”

My reply was, “I know. I am yours in Christ whether we like it or not.”

To which he answered, “Amen.”

I did not disrespect Bishop Dorff, and neither did the witness disrespect him. He himself admitted to the working of the Spirit in the moments of protest and afterwards. Ask him yourself. Nonetheless, injustice does not deserve our respect.  All United Methodist bishops must be held accountable to whom and how they are agents of injustice in the ongoing perpetration of discrimination and oppression against gay folks in our church. Not one of them, including Bishop Dorff, can presume that their role or status as a bishop gives them the right to say a few words about inclusivity to gloss over the pain that they the bishops have caused by direct action or inaction, to a multitude of our LGBTQ family in Christ.

We need our bishops to stop throwing us breadcrumbs in the form of welcoming-sounding words, expecting us to keep waiting and praying for an end to discrimination within our church, when the power to end the pain and the hurt lies in their hands.  Bishop Dorff said he believes that the UMC should be fully inclusive, so let’s see him bring full inclusion to the Rio Texas Annual Conference and work toward full inclusion in the connection.  My sign said that Bishop Dorff is not a friend to LGBT people, because friends lay down their lives for their friends. Friends don’t let their friends get hurt when they can stop the harm.