Rev. Dr. Julie Todd pens letter to Bishop Ough

April 17, 2018

Dear Bishop Ough,

It came to my attention that you hadn’t received a copy of my recently published monograph Nothing About Us Without Us: LGBTQ Liberation and The United Methodist Church. I wrote this article upon an invitation to participate in the most recent GBHEM Colloquy on Missio Dei and the future of the United Methodist Church. I have included a copy of the book with a hard copy of this letter.

To prepare for writing this essay, I looked over every communication Love Prevails had with the Connectional Table (CT) and the Council of Bishops (COB) from 2012-2016. I reviewed every event documented by video during that same period. As I mined that documentation for information, I relived a lot of those events. This re-visitation caused me to realize how constant your presence has been in Love Prevails’ journey. Your presence and reactions were an underlying thread linking the progression of Love Prevails’ work as we attempted to disrupt the narrative and practice of LGBTQ exclusion at the heart of our denomination’s life.

I remembered that I wrote a personal, handwritten letter to you after the first time Love Prevails disrupted the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table meetings in November of 2013. I came across a photocopy. In it, I described my experience of singing the names of LGBTQ leaders who had been lost to the denomination over a CT leadership report that was being read. You intervened to get the members of the CT to stand and collectively shout the report over my singing. Which didn’t work. Eventually, Ms. Cythia Kent intervened to stop the meeting, and the group ended up having some fairly substantive conversations that day.

In my handwritten letter to you following that meeting, I shared:

What I really want to say to you is, in the midst of all that disruption and conversation, I really felt like you were trying. You were trying to be open, you were trying to let the Spirit do something, you were trying to give many people voice. I appreciated the way you articulated not to blame Love Prevails for bringing a conversation to the table that, you admitted, was being avoided. I appreciate you were doing your best to listen, to be flexible, respectful. I hope that you feel, like I did, that the Spirit really was present there moving us to something new, deeper.

I do think that Spirit-moment was fairly fleeting, however. It didn’t take long for the group to return to institutional equilibrium and institutional speech. But the moments remained the moments, and perhaps they will have an effect going forward. Perhaps not.

I also liked your sermon. PRAY. RISK. BREATHE. I’m afraid I do not see or experience too much of the second one from church leaders, particularly from bishops. I hope one day, Bishop Ough, on this matter of heterosexism and LGBTQ exclusion in the UMC, that I will see you RISK. I don’t know what that would look like for you, but I hope to know it when it happens.

It is remarkable how accurately that letter portrays the trajectory of my experience as a member of Love Prevails. While our actions are regarded as controversial and we may have acted imperfectly, I testify to the presence of the Spirit in many of our Disruptive moments, which activated the possibility of changing The Book of Discipline into the reality we are currently living as a denomination. Because you have also been there at all of those moments I believe you know that I am telling the truth.

In every case of the spirit sparking change, the return to institutional equilibrium, institutional speech and institutional processes inevitably came. I contend to you the following. You, as the primary leader interacting with us over time, recognized the unpredictability of our actions and the potential of the Spirit, through Love Prevails, to break through and break down the institutionalization of oppression that is anathema to the Spirit’s being. At some point, you and others decided that institutional leadership and processes could no longer tolerate those Disruptions. So you decided to militarize your meetings beginning at the Council of Bishops’ meetings in Oklahoma City in 2014 and going forward. This is now the standard practice for all Commission on the Way Forward (CWF) meetings.

For a while you tolerated us. For a few meetings you actually welcomed us. But that could only last so long because our presence forced the institution to deal with its hatred and homophobia too forcefully and too quickly. Dealing with us was, despite your stated consistency over time in asking others to do take risks, too risky. Institutionally, you became unable to respond with anything other than force and the exclusion of executive sessions. I am truly sorry that you could not consider how to be in relationship with Love Prevails more creatively, despite our many overtures and invitations. I suspect you think that these invitations felt too much like demands for your liking. My own experience of them was more like cries and songs.

Sadly, what I have felt from you since those early days, in relation to Love Prevails, is a hardening and building of walls rather than a loosening of bonds. I feel quite certain that you personally believe that all of the language that discriminates against LGBTQ people should be removed from the Book of Discipline and that exclusion and discrimination should end. Yet you have not led in such a way to state unequivocally and prophetically your belief and lead the church in this direction. You are not alone in this. The simple majority of bishops who also hold the same personal views about LGBTQ inclusion and changing the Discipline are all walking around with some intense moral injury, as you sometimes silently and sometimes actively perpetrate viscous forms of the harm that you hypocritically say you decry. You may respond that I do not know what goes on behind closed doors. Which is the nature of the problem itself, and a failure of transparency that the bishops promised, which fell from your lips, upon the creation of an offering of a way forward.

Currently much of our episcopal leadership bears witness to your episcopal vows to unify the church while it simultaneously bears false witness against the LGBTQ people you know full well to be fully equal children of God. I feel sorry that you are bound to uphold the laws which burden you with the maintenance of a church literally hell-bent on the retaining the vestiges of “homosexuality as sin” when you know the truth to be otherwise. I don’t accuse you alone of this false witness. I collectively accuse you episcopal leaders who refuse to bear up your collective courage to turn this ship towards an unequivocally clear statement of equality for LGBTQ people in this denomination, and to end the categorical discrimination. If you wanted to, you actually could do this together. If this does not happen, it is a collective failure of your moral and political will.

I hear rumors that the bishops’ proposal for unity may unite around the complete removal of the incompatibility language in our Book of Discipline. In the end, if the currently circulating CWF/COB proposals refuse to uphold in practice the theological commitments we make at our membership vows in and the promises we make to every human we baptize to “resist oppression in whatever form it presents itself,” the entire church enterprise shows up as a morally bankrupt witness within its own walls and beyond. Everyone knows this.

This upcoming Council of Bishops meeting to formalize a proposal to General Conference 2019 is historic. This is your opportunity, Bruce Ough, to lead in condemning oppression towards LGBTQ persons in the strongest of terms. Since all of your substantive meetings are behind closed doors, your leadership may never be known to us, but it will be known to you. I hope you will RISK. I hope I will see and know it when it happens. I am nonetheless sadly cynical that you, or most of our episcopal leaders, will lead in ways that lead to the end of formal discrimination towards LGBTQ people in the UMC and towards equality. I sincerely invite you and all other bishops to prove me completely wrong. I truly mean this.

This is a personal letter to you that I will make public. I do not except your response, though I invite it. If you do respond, know that I am likely to make it public.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Dr. Julie Todd

PDF of letter

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Love Prevails Affects Colloquy

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.

You can have a signed paperback version of Julie’s paper by donating generously to Love Prevails https://loveprevailsumc.com/donate/ (click “Comment” and add your address) or purchase your own regular copy at https://www.amazon.com/Nothing-About-Without-Liberation-Methodist/dp/0991100557/.


Group 2 – main points or questions:

  1. Julie Todd’s paper, and the pain associated with it, served as a catalyst for a deeper authentic, and honest conversation.
  2. 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?
  3. How do we keep the value of the “connection” without a hierarchical structure.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. A malformed theology leads us to exclusion, but a well-formed generous theology of abundant love can lead us to a just welcome.
  7. 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?

Ally Refuses Participation in Methodist LGBT Book

In mid-June, the United Methodist Publishing house began soliciting contributions for a small group resource to help individuals in United Methodist churches understand and discuss the UMC’s debate over human sexuality. According to an official solicitation for the resource, “The purpose of the resource is intended to facilitate accessible, honest, well-informed conversations about The United Methodist Church’s teaching on same-gender marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ persons, as well as theological tensions with the teaching and about calls for a more inclusive stance.” According to the solicitation from the Publishing House, “the goal of the resource is not to advocate for any ‘side,’ but rather to foster a deeper understanding of what’s at stake in individual lives and in the life of the denomination.”

As a result of her dissertation work on the history and ecclesiology of matters of human sexuality at General Conference from 1972-2008, Rev. Dr. Tiffany Steinwert was asked to provide a chapter for this resource. The deadline for submitting a 3200 word chapter? Two weeks.

Rev. Dr. Steinwert responded with the following questions to the Publishing House:

Who are the other scholars participating in the publication? Have you included queer voices in the resource? As this is a publication regarding their lives and ministry, I would assume the majority of contributors identify as openly queer.

 I am not sure I understand how scholars are asked to frame chapters without “advocating for any ‘sides'”? Isn’t that the very nature of scholarship and the call of Christian discipleship? 

 And, lastly, why is there such a rush on this publication? A two week turn around suggests either no one has agreed to contribute and the publishing house is scrambling for contributions or the publishing house does not consider this an endeavor worth putting in sufficient time, thought, and planning to create. Quite frankly, it appears as though the subject matter and the people’s lives at stake do not really matter to the denomination.

The Publishing House responded that no other contributors had yet agreed to write for the resource as the other prospective authors had also been asked just the previous day. The rushed timeline was due to due to a belatedly felt pressure for the need of such a resource. The representative explained that the need for small group study materials for laypersons has increased over the last couple of months: “It’s an urgent need that must be met quickly.”

To the representative’s knowledge, none of the authors for the resource are openly queer.

Regarding the question of framing the chapters, the representative responded, “while the nature of scholarship is to take a clear stance and make an argument for it, this resource was not intended as a work of scholarship but a study guide for use by small groups. The task of coming to conclusions would be the work of the small group using the resource.”

We envision that most people who use this study will already have a strong opinion on this topic one way or another, and that most small groups who use this study will have multiple opinions represented in them. The goal is to inform and challenge these opinions, with the result that they will be either sharpened, changed, or more nuanced. We hope that whatever “side” one holds, participating in this study will enable that person to have a better understanding and appreciation for where the other “side” is coming from. The chapter writer, therefore, must represent the church’s current teaching and calls for change accurately and faithfully. Another way to think of it is that we’re hoping the writer will make the best possible case for all “sides,” giving the small groups an opportunity to come to conclusions through their own discussion and reflection. And we want people to understand how this conversation is taking shape throughout the UMC, so we’re focusing on writers who can set things in that context.

Here is Rev. Dr. Steinwert’s response in full:

Based on this new understanding of the project, I cannot in good conscience participate. 

Neglecting and excluding the voices of queer scholars and pastors in a study on their lives is unethical at best. It only reinscribes the historic and ongoing marginalization of faithful gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender United Methodists. I cannot allow my scholarship to be in a resource that perpetuates the oppression of queer people in our Church.

While I am mindful as a teacher of the importance of presenting diverse perspectives to provoke critical reflection on one’s own values and beliefs, I also know the importance of presenting clear arguments. Students can weigh each argument on their merits and come to their own conclusion. Again, I cannot allow my scholarship to be presented in a way that by virtue of the support of the status quo reinscribes oppression. 

I am aware the debate which has been occurring over the past 50 years in the UMC regarding the full inclusion of queer people has garnered greater awareness in recent months as the specter of denominational schism looms. The recent Judicial Council rulings, coupled with the sporadic updates from the Commission on the Way Forward, has created a perception that somehow only now is this an urgent need of the denomination. Of course, queer people know this is a lie of the institution. 

 Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1968 when funding for Motive Magazine was pulled after publishing an issue exploring lesbian identity. 

  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1972 when the Church declared they were incompatible with Christian teaching.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1976 when the Church refused to recognize marriage between same-gender couples.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1980 when the Church prohibited funding organizations that “promote the acceptance of homosexulaity” including those that supported people living and dying with HIV/AIDS.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1984 when the Church instituted legislation demanding “celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage” as an intentional way to exclude queer people from ordained ministry and specifically prohibited “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from ordination.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1987 when Rev. Rose Mary Denman was defrocked for loving a woman.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1992 when the Church rejected the results of a quadrennial study to remove the incompatibility clause.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1996 when the restrictions on officiating same-gender marriages were strengthened.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1998 when Rev. Jimmy Creech was defrocked for performing a same-sex wedding and in 1999 when Rev. Greg Dell was suspended for doing the same.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 2000 when faithful LGBTQ activists were arrested on the floor of General Conference.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 2005 when Rev. Beth Stroud was asked about her genital activity in a trial that led to her defrocking and since Judicial Council Ruling 1032 permitted pastors to deny membership to people on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 2011 when the Church tried faithful pastor, Rev. Amy DeLong for her marriage to a woman.
  • Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 2016 when the General Conference refused to take action on any legislation regarding the lives of faithful queer UM and instead created a commission that includes less than 10% queer participants. 

I could go on. I have left out many details and many lives.

 This is not a new urgency. 

 It is only now urgent that the fate of the institutional Church seems to be threatened. 

 I applaud the publishing house for finally taking note of the pain and suffering queer United Methodists have had to endure for nearly 50 years. It is about time the Church did something. However, I fear this resource will be just one more in a long line of resources  (remember, The Church Studies Homosexuality?) that does nothing more than reinforce the status quo of oppression and marginalization no matter the intent or even conclusion it may draw.

 Without the participation of queer people, without clear stands on all sides, and without the thoughtful process of crafting a well-planned resource that responds not simply to the urgency of schism, but to the urgency of real people’s lives and the urgency of the Gospel witness now marred beyond recognition in our Church as we exclude God’s Beloved people, I cannot participate.

In Celebration of Rev. Amy DeLong’s Ordination

Fundraiser PosterIn celebration of the 20th anniversary of Rev. Amy DeLong’s ordination, we are launching a $20,000 campaign to fund the ongoing, prophetic work of Love Prevails.

 In one year (from June, 2017 – June, 2018), we hope to meet this ambitious goal, which will enable us to arrive at General Conferences 2019 and 2020 fully-funded and ready to make trouble for the sake of Gospel-inclusion.

 “When I was ordained in 1997, allies said to me, ‘‘Be patient … things will get better soon.’

 Well, I’ve been patient and ‘soon’ has turned into decades. Today, the discrimination against LGBTQ people is harsher than ever in the United Methodist Church. Love Prevails is working urgently to change that.” ~ Rev. Amy E. DeLong

Contributions can be made by PayPal at:
LovePrevailsUMC.org
or by sending a check to:
Love Prevails
PO Box 45234
Madison, WI 53744-5234

Love Prevails is a 501(c)3.
Your gift is tax deductible.

Print Poster for use at churches, conferences, etc.

Response to the Commission on a Way Forward

June 7, 2017

Dear Members of the Commission on a Way Forward,

In May, Love Prevails received an invitation from you claiming that because you “value our voice,” you’d like us to, “Describe your constituency’s preferred future for our denomination regarding the nature, conditions and extent of the inclusion of LGBTQ people within the Church.”

The United Methodist Church’s decades-long attempt to silence our voices and to destroy our community and culture have proven that LGBTQ lives are not valued in the least.

For 45 years, LGBTQ people and our allies have made countless theologically sophisticated and cogent arguments about why church-perpetuated and church-sanctioned injustice against LGBTQ people makes a mockery of God and the Gospel – and we will not rehearse that again in this suffocating and duplicitous context.

We will only say, what we have said ad nauseum:

The only proper and Christian corrective to the unjust and prejudicial treatment our people have received at the hands of the United Methodist Church is the full and complete removal of all language in the Book of Discipline which categorically discriminates against LGBTQ people. When, and only when, that is accomplished will we be able to move forward as equal and valued members of the Body of Christ.

May the Holy Spirit frustrate your attempts to use LGBTQ people as a bargaining chip toward some imaginary level of acceptable discrimination and exclusion.

Love Prevails,

Laci Lee Adams
Rev. Amy E. DeLong
Rev. Will Green
Rev. Sue Laurie
Rev. Tina Lang
Laura Ralston
Brenda Smith White

Dr. Mary Lou Taylor
Rev. Dr. Julie Todd
Rev. Wesley White

PDF of Response to the Commission on a Way Forward

Study Guide Response from Love Prevails

Love Prevails has reviewed the study guide, “Unity of the Church and Human Sexuality: Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness”, and found it wanting in the usual institutional ways.

The guide describes itself as a resource that “addresses how the church can be a witness and provide for a diversified human community.” We know from years of experience that such common code language as, “diversified human community” and “human sexuality” refers to LGBTQ lives. Trying to find a middle ground where LGBTQ persons and those who would discriminate against them can live in unity is not helped by using coded language – and is predicated on the false notion that categorical discrimination can be part of a “faithful witness” and that such inequity has an accepted home within the Body of Christ.

This assumption becomes clear from page 1 when the authors admit that they have chosen not to honor the LGBTQ community by using their preferred, self-identifying language, but have instead chosen to use the language of the oppressor. “…the issues at hand involve inclusion of particular groups of people. Even naming some of these groups, however, is fraught with difficulty; for the sake of this guide, we shall refer to these people in the same manner as does our Book of Discipline” [emphasis added].

The Book of Discipline is based on language, concepts, and stereotypes of the 1970’s which continues to keep LGBTQ people from sharing the fullness of their lives, loves, experience of God’s grace, and gifts for all forms of ministry.

While the study guide seems generally sympathetic to changing the current incompatibility language, it does so by looking for a way for parts of The United Methodist Church to remain at odds with Jesus’ overarching message of boundary-less inclusion, with Peter’s insight that those gifted by God for ministry must not be called unclean (incompatible), or Paul’s pronouncement that there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, (gay or straight); for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. The incompatibility of discrimination within a diverse body needs to be recognized before proceeding with premature calls for a brokered unity through some form of local option or, as the guide suggests, “community of communities.”

The guide does nothing to clarify the reality of people’s LGBTQ lives and the political power to discriminate against those lives in our denomination. The audience for this study seems to be some theoretical moderate middle still able to “think intellectually” about an emotional and unthinking corporate prejudice.

The guide at least admits that it will not be read by those who have already made up their minds about the way forward. Yet, while recognizing that there are those who will not deal with LGBTQ people and their real lives, the guide still maintains the fallacy of neutrality by claiming an unbiased position while simultaneously engaging in an unbalanced conversation that privileges the oppressors’ language and misleading justifications (The Book of Discipline) against LGBTQ people who have not been invited to participate openly in the discussion. There is nothing here to assist General Conference to repent its almost 50 years of false claim that LTBTQ people are incompatible with Christ’s Way.

In the end, any of the guide’s pro-LGBTQ implications are easy to avoid because the style of the book is so passive. Like the Commission itself and the Colloquy upon which this study is predicated, this guide makes no contribution to a way forward. It simply offers a desensitization and normalization process to provide institutional legitimacy for those who desire to continue oppressing LGBTQ United Methodists.

It would have been better not to waste people’s time and the earth’s resources on something that contributes nothing but a tired attempt to bring something new by using the same old categorization of vibrant and amazing people of faith. To expect the same starting point to provide a different outcome is hostile: The United Methodist hate machine rolls on, projecting harm toward LGBTQ people.

From where I stand…

Janet Ellinger, United Methodist clergy, retired

April 30, 2017, was Confirmation Sunday.  I listened to eighth and ninth graders speak their “credo,”…that to which my heart clings.

Recent rulings within The United Methodist Church have moved me to state that to which my heart clings and where it is I stand.

I boldly speak against the injustice and discrimination toward LGBTQ persons, their families and allies that yet remains within, and is supported by, the policies and people of The United Methodist Church.

I announce the harm that is being inflicted over and over again to LGBTQ persons, their families and allies.  This is not “an issue.”  This is about real peoples’ lives, literally.

I call upon allies and families to add their voices, time and resources to protest this devastating attack on LGBTQ people that is an affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I will not make any further financial contribution that supports the institution through apportionments.  I know apportionments support good things, too.  This does not give me pause.  I easily find ways to continue my financial support of the good work in a local church as well as similar efforts for justice and compassion outside of the Church.

I dissent in place and will not leave The United Methodist Church.

I keep my clergy credentials.  The church is a vessel.  God has ordained me.  No one can take that from me.

The April 28, 2017, ruling of the Judicial Council regarding, “can a gay clergyperson serve as a bishop?” (my summary) and the possible judicial or administrative process that may unfold in Bishop Oliveto’s Western Jurisdiction, has made it very clear what The United Methodist Church is all about when it comes to gay clergy and their appropriateness for ministry.  It is this crazy “practicing” language.  “Self-avowed practicing homosexual…”  You can be gay, you just can’t “practice.”  So it all boils down to genital sexual contact.  I sat at a church trial a few years ago and listened to the Counsel for the Church ask the clergy on trial, “Have you had genital contact with your partner?” That is where the United Methodist Church is focused.  Shameful.  Disgraceful.

Bishop Jung, your statement on this recent Judicial Council ruling talks about a “minefield of differing opinions…living in the liminal spaces of uncertainty and disagreement is stressful…our journey is fraught with perils, pressures and problems…And where does that leave us?”

It leaves us with people torn to pieces, literally, by that minefield of “faith-mines.”  It leaves us with people being told they are outside of the love of God by a church that claims to have open hearts, open minds and open doors.  It leaves us with Church leadership whose language and actions are absent of the compassion and justice we are all called to pursue.  It leaves us as participating partners in a time in our national life that is fraught with shame, abuse and disregard for decency.  It leaves us with people who can’t take a step back and catch their breath because every time they do, the church repeatedly knocks the wind out of them.

When will I hear an official episcopal statement, or a bishop, say, “We/I so deeply lament the injustice and harm we continue to inflict on the LGBTQ community”?  And if that has been offered and I missed it, I apologize to the speaker.  I can only assume we are a denomination lead by sleep deprived leaders because I don’t know how one can sleep at night while this goes on – knowing you could do something about it and be somebody who speaks against this institutional harm.

All of this…and more…is that to which my heart clings.  This is where I stand today.

Rev. Janet Ellinger, retired United Methodist clergy.