Love Prevails and MIND disrupt Council of Bishops on November 1

benz-disruptingHere is the statement shared by Dr. Dorothee Benz this morning as the Council of Bishops meeting was again disrupted by members of Love Prevails and MIND. To watch the video, click here.

We feel it is impt to report back on the conversation we had last night with Bishop Ough, members of the commission as currently constituted, and a few others whom we invited to join us:

We began and ended by reiterating the demand, the urgent need for the COB to act with grace and admit its grievous mistake in how it has constituted this commission and to re-constitute it to include 50% LGBTQI people, whereby those people must represent the full, diverse spectrum of our communities, specifically, including people of color and women.

We asked for a response to this demand by 8am. We did not even receive the courtesy of a “no.”

That is why we are here, again, now.

The commission you have formed was mandated by the General Conference – and here I am quoting directly from this council’s statement that was adopted by the GC — “to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.”

Yet you have excluded LGBTQI people from having a meaningful voice on this commission that will examine the raft of discriminatory rules against us. There are two identified LGBTQI people, out of 32, on the commission, both white cisgender men.

For 44 years, this church has legislated about us, issued judicial rulings curtailing our rights, put us on trial, and studied us nearly to death in three prior commissions, always talking about us, never talking to us, with us.

And now this.

We are told this is not the time or the way to protest.

Well, when is?

Every institutional channel of change in the United Methodist Church is closed to us. At General Conference, there’s an airtight majority that refuses to recognize our humanity. Our Judicial Council rules steadfastly to enforce the rules of discrimination. Our trial courts forbid any defense based on the Gospel call of radical hospitality. Our annual conferences are forbidden to pass resolutions barring discrimination, and are overturned if they do.

This commission was the last chance for LGBTQI people to finally sit at the table and negotiate with those in power about our lives.

And now you have refused that as well.

You talk about doing no harm, yet refuse to use the power you have to stop the harm that is done on a daily basis to LGBTQI people by the system of codified discrimination in the UMC.

You talk about the need for unity, as though authentic unity could ever be built on a foundation denying the rights of queer people, sacrificing us for the goal of institutional preservation, and refusing to even name us in discussions about our very lives because somehow saying queer people exist in the UMC is controversial.

Unity without justice is a false god, and we will not have our lives sacrificed on that altar.

You want to know why the United Methodist Church is in crisis? Look in the mirror.

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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.

Julie Todd Discloses Dismay to Her Bishop

Rev. Dr. Julie Todd wrote the following letter to her Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar. Upon receiving the letter, Bishop Devadhar invited Julie into conversation. They met recently to discuss the following matters and had a painful, meaningful, authentic dialogue. As Love Prevails and the Reconciling Ministries Network has encouraged United Methodists to do, please write to your bishop to express your desire to see justice for LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church. Love Prevails will make a disruptive witness to the Council of Bishops’ meeting in Lake Junaluska, November 10-15.

November 4, 2013
Dear Bishop Devadhar,

Greetings in Christ’s name. Unfortunately I write this letter to you prior to having a chance to speak with you in person, which had been my hope.

Now I write in response to the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops’ statement condemning Bishop Talbert’s officiating at the wedding of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince. When I read such things, I attempt to dismiss them as the familiar and useless institutional nonsense that they are.  Yet I seem never to be able to escape how deeply these letters grieve me. I cannot dismiss the ways in which such communications perpetuate the exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in the church. I am dismayed at the all-too-familiar way in which the Council of Bishops finds it acceptable to perpetuate injustice and call it spiritual leadership. I find it unconscionable that the Executive Committee writes what I consider to be a statement of spiritual violence while attempting to affirm that all of you believe in the sacred worth of all people. I feel like you are saying to queer people: “Really, we still love you. We just hate you in practice. Now let us pray.”

My outrage is particularly directed to bishops like you. It appalls me that you agree to lend your own name to such statements. You have portrayed yourself as a bishop who is an ally of the movement for LGBTQ equality in the denomination. I recognize that you have attempted to be kind and welcoming in various ways. I assume you recognize that such kindnesses do not constitute acts of justice. When you purposefully add your name to statements such as the Executive Committee’s recent statement against Bishop Talbert, your previous acts of welcome die their deaths in a void of personal and institutional hypocrisy. Bishop, signing your name to such statements is not being an ally, it constitutes consciously engaging in acts of oppression. The bishops’ language reinforces the culture in which GLBTQ persons continue to be marginalized and violated on a daily basis. I imagine that you do not see it this way. You believe you are upholding your responsibility to faithfully administer the Book of Discipline. Do you not see that Christian tradition at large is the primary factor for creating the atmosphere of hatred for gay people in this country and all over the world? By reiterating traditional anti-gay Christian views through your affirmation of statements like these, you, Bishop Devadhar, personally participate in perpetuating this culture of hatred, exclusion and violence. This kind of purposeful perpetuation of oppression towards queer people undermines my respect for your authority as my bishop.

There is always an overarching theme in such episcopal statements that the most important value in these discussions is the unity of the church. In my mind, these appeals to unity are little more than a cover for preserving the institutional status quo. You bishops reconcile yourselves to injustice and sacrificing the lives and callings of human beings within our church so that the order of the church is maintained. Then you call this affirming sacred worth. Please, I am begging you, stop saying that the unity of the church is more important than the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. Just stop.

Some days I am so incredibly grieved by the lack of radical, risk-taking leadership within the UMC, I can barely stand it. On such days I believe that the church has completely lost the critical and transformational power of the gospel. I think about leaving this denomination all the time, but so far I cannot bear the thought of abandoning my friends in this struggle. Everyone in this denomination knows that there are plenty of bishops, perhaps even a majority, who approve of removing the anti-gay language and practices from the Book of Discipline. If only those of you who so believe would have the courage of one such as Bishop Talbert. If you all acted and spoke together for justice, I believe there is nothing the church could do to you. I also believe the reason that you and others do not make such stands is because you fear your own personal, professional and institutional losses. I for, one, do not fear such losses. I am free in Jesus Christ to pursue radical justice in the church and in the world. In light of my understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I have and I will continue to violate the Book of Discipline in marrying same-gender couples. I feel sorry for you that you do not feel so free, or free to openly dissent from the official position of the UMC on homosexuality. At this point in history, it is unconscionable for you to fail to do so.

As you know, I teach courses in justice and peace. One of the main topics that students deal with personally is how to gain the courage to commit themselves to social justice efforts, which they know will demand losses and sacrifice. One reason they find it difficult to conceive of doing so is because they lack role models. That they lack contemporary role models in the church of Jesus Christ is a sad testament to the lukewarm nature of our witness for justice. I have been blessed with many such role models. I remain in this denomination because of the courageous witness of so many leaders like Bishop Talbert. I wish you and your other colleague bishops would stand so courageously for what you know is right. I will continue to fault you until you do so.

I would like you to know that I will be present with Love Prevails at the Council of Bishops meeting in Lake Junaluska this month. I will see you there. Having voiced my outrage to you, I remain, nonetheless,

Yours In Christ, Julie

Julie Todd is an ordained elder in the New England Conference of the United Methodist and Affiliate Faculty for Justice and Peace Studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. She teaches online and lives in Lawrence, MA.

Join Love Prevails in a Day of Dismay

amy

Join Rev. Amy DeLong and the Love Prevails team as we gather at the United Methodist Council of Bishops’ meeting to express our dismay at the Bishops’ abdication of their role as prophetic leaders and their recent admonition of Bishop Melvin Talbert who courageously performed the wedding ceremony of two faithful gay men.

The Love Prevails team will create signs at 10 am for a witness during the 10:45 am session that is open to the public.

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