An Open Letter to Bishop Ken Carter

On July 17, 2017 Love Prevails sent the An Invitation to Be Invitational to all members of the Commission on (Not) The Way Forward. Bishop Ken Carter, one of co-chairs of the Commission, responded to our email. Here is our response back to him. (The original email communications from Love Prevails to the Commission members and Bishop Carter’s response to us follows below.)

Dear Bishop Carter,
Thank you for responding to our Invitation to Be Invitational. Clearly you are not interested in doing so. The notion that the work of The Commission is transparent appears to us as delusional. Press releases and formulaic videos are not the same as “transparency.” Apportionment dollars used to pay for armed, local law enforcement to protect you from us does not qualify as Invitational nor Transparent.

If there is a group of persons with more of a stake in The Commission than Love Prevails, we would like for you to tell us who they are. The very existence of this Commission is in response to the pressure applied across the denomination by Love Prevails and other LGBTQ groups and advocacy allies.

In light of your statement that the Commission’s work is, in fact, transparent, we ask you for the following information.

We would appreciate hearing from you about:

1) Your list of the stakeholders in the Commission, the individuals or groups you have identified as having a stake in the outcome of the Commission’s proceedings.

2) Is our being invited to the meetings of the Commission a decision you are authorized to make? The Commission as a whole? The Council of Bishops? Since your response had no mention of our being welcome or who is responsible for excluding us (or others who might attend), please clarify.

3) Descriptions of the general content of each meeting of the Commission before, during and afterwards.

4) When will the Commission be out of its “early stage” and be mature enough to invite others into its life? Was the video a misrepresentation of the trust-building it portrayed?

5) What is your communication plan to bring the rest of the church along before some great reveal in an Advance DCA for 2019?

We will be publishing your email communications with us on social media going forward.

We look forward to your utmost transparency.

Sincerely,

The Members of Love Prevails

 

****

Here is the original email Invitation to Be Invitational that Love Prevails sent to every member of the Commission.

Dear Commission Member,

Greetings as you prepare for your next Commission on A Way Forward. Love Prevails is still awaiting more transparency from the Commission. As a result, we are formally inviting you to invite more to be present with your deliberations now that you have established your trust with one another. We hope to hear your RSVP will allow ourselves and others to come in from both the cold and the heat.

We are aware that you may still be remembering our identity of being disruptive for General Conference 2016 as all other avenues than direct action have been removed from LGBTQ persons actually being at decision-making tables. We are quite capable of honoring an agreement to be non-disruptive witnesses at your meeting in the Chicago area.

We invite you to read our attached invitation and hope to hear from you soon that your self-imposed wall will be dismantled from the inside.

Love Prevails

Bishop Ken Carter responded with the following email response to Love Prevails’ Invitation to Be Invitational, addressed to Rev. Wesley White, who sent the emails on behalf of Love Prevails.

Dear Wesley,

 Thank you for reaching out to us.   We continue to do our work for the sake of finding a way forward and we are at an early stage in this mission.  We are also in continuing communication with United Methodist News Service and are transparently listening and sharing with stakeholders across the church. 

God bless you today.

The Peace of the Lord,

 +Ken Carter, Florida Area
The United Methodist Church

Advertisements

On The Violence of Dialogue

by Rev. Dr. Julie Todd

In an article on Monday, veteran Methodist activist and lesbian Sue Laurie described how in settings like the pre-General Conference briefing, LGBTQ folks take verbal and emotional beat-downs by their Methodist kindred, while being accused of being the ones wielding the weapons.

This is a classic projection of the violence that is deeply embedded within dominant groups in all forms of oppression, wherein the perpetrators of violence are reversed. In the church, queer folks, who are the actual objects of Christian violence, are portrayed as the problem.

Laurie wrote that Queer Methodists are not the threat they are portrayed to be. LGBTQ Methodists come to the church with band-aids, songs and rainbows, asking for a place at the table. What Laurie means by “a place at the table” is ordination and marriage for LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church.

We hear that the demand for equality is what is “hurting the church.” How many times have we heard it? “We are all hurt by this debate.” No, we are not all hurt by this debate. As Laurie points out, while many people may be made to feel uncomfortable by the demand for lesbian and gay equality, the discomfort of having one’s opinion challenged and privileges shaken is not the same as the daily violence experienced by LGBTQ persons. The equation of these harms is yet another form of violence.

What Laurie does not mean primarily by “a place at the table” is having a place on a panel. I’m sure that she was very glad that Dr. Dorothee Benz was invited to the human sexuality panel at the briefing. Because when Laurie went to the briefing four years ago, they had a panel on human sexuality; that is, a panel about gay people, with no gay people on it.

In her opening remarks, Benz was quick to point out that the subject matter of this year’s panel was not, as it was titled, “A Conversation About Topics Related to Human Sexuality.” The subject matter of the panel was “in blunt terms, about whether and how the UMC will continue to discriminate against LGBTQI people.”

Though Benz was invited to this particular table, it was not as an ordained United Methodist minister. The year Benz came out as a lesbian is the same year that United Methodists decided to bar gay men and women from ministry. Benz went on to provide examples of how the pain of her own personal experience “does not begin to capture the pain of UMC policy for LGBTQI people.”

After the pre-conference briefing, when an LGBTQ ally suggested on Twitter that Love Prevails members should go on a mission trip with the IRD to “swing hammers” together, just not at one another, LP member Alison Wisneski responded. She requested well-intentioned allies to think about what it means for a queer woman to even consider the notion of spending time with “groups that so openly hate me for my body and everything inside of it,” and with “those who seek nothing but death for me and my family.”

Liberals tend to think that any form of inclusion is good, as an end in and of itself. Inclusion on a panel is better than exclusion from a panel and therefore it is a good thing, right? Under the same logic, “both sides” dialogue is always an unmitigated good. Methodist holy conferencing is especially good, because it is holy.

In fact, this logic is not good. This kind of thinking is lazy analysis that fails to include the dynamics of power and pain. Such inclusion on panels and in debate does not, in fact, create good, nor does it necessarily even mitigate pain. It may, in fact, cause it.

This most recent panel, and virtually all panels that seek to provide “balanced viewpoints” are full of verbal and theological violence directed at gay people. They are also undergirded with infuriating claims: “how much we all love the church”; how important it is that we share the value of God’s grace; our agreement over the centrality of our mission of making disciples; and, above all, the importance of our unity in Christ. The head-nodding and sighing moans of agreement with these declarations only serves to make the hypocrisy of them all the more sickening. Very few see it or feel it, but it is violence. Not the violence of swords or fists, but violence nonetheless.

Recently another UM blog suggested that the “leading champions” of five “major” legislative proposals on human sexuality coming before the General Conference “owe” United Methodists the favor of conferencing together over their proposals.

The author notes that the makeup of these “leading champions” – five straight, white men – “lacks global, racial, gender, and orientation diversity–the lack of which, in-and-of itself may tell us something.” Here the author makes his most truly useful point. The makeup of this group tells us not just something, but everything. There are no gay people in this group of leaders.

Here is a central part of the problem. Whether LGBTQ people are invited to tables or not invited to tables to discuss their very own lives and the life-and-death consequences of our anti-gay policies, the results in the United Methodist Church have remained the same or gotten worse. Violence is perpetrated and injustice remains.

Here is the harsh reality that we who desire and are working for LGBTQ justice in our denomination must face. None of these panels nor proposals to General Conference, not holy conferencing nor the invoking and implementing of a Rule 44 alternative process for General Conference – none of this has anything to do with the true welfare of LGBTQ persons at all. None of this is about “balanced views,” respectful dialogue, shared Christian values, or the gospel of Jesus Christ. All of these efforts are about how to maintain the institutional church at the expense of queer people.

It is especially painful when allies to LGBTQ persons simply do not understand the levels of harm and cost to queer bodies, hearts and minds that are actively and passively perpetuated by such proposals, panels, conversations and conferencing. There are many different versions of the violence that cries “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”

Traveling about the country at the highest levels of the church over the last four years, Love Prevails’ has encountered a deep and insidious kind of violence inherent in dialogue (panels) and so-called holy conferencing, efforts which have resulted in a deadliness that the vast majority of people in our church simply fail to acknowledge that is real.

The only solution to even begin to repair the harm we have done is to take all of the anti-LGBTQ language out of The Book of Discipline, putting LGBTQ folks as equals at the table. It is the only just and right place to begin.

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.

Response to Bishop Kiesey’s Supreme Court message

You can read the response to the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage made by Michigan Area Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey here.


The following is a response to Bishop Kiesey’s message by retired UMC pastor Rev. John Ellinger:

Dear Bishop Kiesey,

I was hoping you would send a letter to Michigan Area clergy regarding the decision of the Supreme Court regarding same-gender marriage since it has been such a divisive issue in our church. However, with all due respect I must say I was very disappointed in the letter when it arrived. I think I understand, at least in part, the “no win” situation bishops of the church face right now in regard to same-gender marriage and how clergy can honor their calling to minster to all people and still “remain in compliance with The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church”.

What is troubling to me is how it seems, in our most complicated and uncertain situations, we in the church, reach back in an attempt to hold on to more “rules” in the belief that if we can just find the right list of “dos and don’ts” we will be saved from our fears. I found it interesting that your purpose in writing was to help us clergy be enabled to “remain in compliance with The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church”.  I had expected we might receive some guidance on how to remain in compliance with biblical teaching on justice, equality, and the power of amazing grace, in spite of our denominational rule book.

One of my favorite passages in the bible is from the Gospel of Mark where a troubled Pharisee comes to Jesus wanting to know the answer to one “simple” question: What is the greatest commandment? He wanted to have the answer so he could presumably go home and tell people which one of all the rules was the most important. Jesus simply says there are two great commandments: Love God, and Love Your Neighbor. It would have been easy for him to say you can’t sum up the whole law in one or two commandments so here is a fine tuned list of “Do This and Don’t Do That”. He simply offered the Pharisee the opportunity to struggle with how best to live faithfully within the context of love for God and love for neighbor.

For me, the do’s and don’ts you suggest put a spotlight on what is wrong with a denomination that values its Discipline and denominational infrastructure more than the lives of the people we are asked to serve.

For me, to participate in preaching, praying, and reading scripture in celebration of the love of two same-gendered people and then “stand aside” so someone else can lead them in naming their love for each other, would be unthinkable and an embarrassment of the highest order. How can I be expected to be in compliance with The Book of Discipline at those times when the requirement is to “step aside” from celebrating that couple’s deep love for each other and the church?

For me, I would rather accept the challenge of Jesus and attempt to live faithfully by loving God and neighbor even if that requires me to be in non-compliance with parts of The Book of Discipline.

May we all continue to strive for deeper understanding in this and all matters.

Grace and Peace,

Rev. John Ellinger

Love peace, promote justice: A request for support

Note: The following is a letter from Rev. Jim Todd, Rev. Dr. Julie Todd’s father. The letter has been used to raise funds for Love Prevails in New England, but the LP team believes it is powerful enough to be shared across all forms of media. Enjoy this beautiful expression of inclusion, and if you are financially able to end your year with a gift to Love Prevails, please do so here.
Thank you, Jim.

December 2014

Dear pastors and members of reconciling congregations:
My daughter, Julie, has committed many years of her life making sure the doors of the United Methodist Church are open to LGBTQ people.  I do not understand, in this day and age, the United Methodist Bishops, pastors and lay people who refuse to fully open the doors and welcome “ALL” into the community of faith, including pastoral appointments.  The UMC, as we know it, is becoming increasingly irrelevant as a backward, punitive and judgmental organization.

For the last couple of years Julie has worked closely with Amy DeLong (both UM clergy) to right the wrongs and fully open the doors of our denomination.  During these years, they have “showed up” when the Bishops and the Connectional Table meet to promote their agenda of truly “open doors” Their organization, “Love Prevails” – www.loveprevailsumc.com  – and their Facebook page tell the story.

At a recent gathering of the Bishops and Connectional Table in Oklahoma City, Love Prevails members were constantly harassed by United Methodist staff.  They were seen as troublemakers and locked out of meetings.  Police and hotel security were called by church leadership for no good reasons.

I am embarrassed and angry that our denomination has treated Love Prevails members the way they have.  The Bishops do little or nothing to open the doors because they claim they “need to keep unity and serve the whole church.”  Is this the same reasoning our denomination used when people of color and women were denied full rights?

Mary and I regularly provide financial support for Love Prevails and their efforts to open the doors of the UMC for full inclusion (including ordination) of LGTBQ people.  For 40 years they have been left out of full participation. How can we, as Christians, accept this United Methodist policy and foot-dragging?  This restrictive policy can be changed only every four years.  I strongly believe if Jesus were to attend the 2016 General Conference in Portland, OR, he would support such a change.

So why am I sharing all this with pastors and reconciling congregations?  I am inviting you to financially support Love Prevails and their prophetic stand.  It is not only because of Julie’s involvement, but that is a motivating factor, for sure.  It is because you can help Love Prevails “show up” and make a difference.  You can make a tax deductible donations toward a $9,000 matching grant.  Kairos CoMotion (www.Kairoscomotion.org), is the 501(c)3 financial sponsor of Love Prevails. Mail your contribution  c/o Margaret Talcott, Treasurer, PO Box 45234, Madison, WI 53744, or go to their website and contribute through PayPal.

I hope you will seriously consider joining me with your own financial contribution to help the UMC become a more inclusive church where ALL people are valued.

Love peace.  Promote Justice,
Rev. Jim Todd (jimtodd75@verizon.net)

Marcia and Jeanne #ShowUp and #Disrupt with Love Prevails

Love Prevails recently received a very generous $9,000 donation from two long-time United Methodist LBGTQ justice activists. Listen to the reasons why they gave to Love Prevails so generously. To continue to do our work to Show Up and Disrupt, we are challenging our supporters to collectively match this gift by the end of 2014. We would also gladly accept your donation of frequent flyer miles and hotel points. Please make your financial donation at https://loveprevailsumc.com/donate/ and flyer miles/hotel points through email with loveprevails22@gmail.com.

Mary Lou Taylor Reflects on Cherokee Removal for Love Prevails Native American Study

In the epilogue to The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears, the authors conclude: “The Trail of Tears is their (the Cherokee) story, but it is also an American story. And if it is a story we are not proud of, we should make sure that its lesson is well learned: Racism, greed, and political partisanship can subvert even the noblest American ideals.”

While reading the book, I could not help but make parallels, not just to what is happening in the United States today (where racism, greed and political partisanship seem even worse than ever), but to what has been happening over and over around the world. The American government’s treatment of Native Americans in the United States, especially its policy of removal, was our Holocaust. White Christian Europeans assumed that the native tribes were lesser than fully human, that because their civilization was different, it was uncivilized, and because they worshipped in a different way, they were heathen. While there were no gas chambers and no grand design of extermination, the United States government forced thousands of men, women and children to march over 1,000 miles barefoot, with little clothing, almost no tents, inadequate food and literally none of their belongings. Everything they owned had been taken from them. Many died.

In the last paragraph, I have written “the government,” but in truth I should say “we.” Though we were not alive at the time of the past atrocities against Native Americans, we currently sit in our living rooms and watch as people around the world are suffering a similar fate. Trails of Tears continue.

I pray that understanding what the Cherokee Nation suffered, and what all of the First Nations peoples suffered, will help me get out of my living room and really commit to working for safety and dignity of all people. I look forward to the next six weeks of study, and to going to participating in continuing Acts of Repentance and Healing towards Indigenous People through the United Methodist Church.