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)

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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.

Catherine Bailey

My husband and I have made the difficult decision to leave Northwest Hills UMC in Austin, TX, and The United Methodist Church in search of a faith community that is inclusive of all people. We have been active members and leaders at NWHills for 25 years, but cannot continue to support the UMC policies of exclusion, oppression, and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

The UMC stance that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” flies in the face of medical, scientific, psychological, and other professional disciplines who agree that same-sex attraction is a perfectly normal expression of human sexuality.   Bigotry is all that stands in the way of fully embracing gay and lesbian clergy and weddings, just as bigotry was overcome to denounce slavery and to welcome women into the clergy.

Our children and youth in the UMC are taught to follow the example of Christ and to oppose racial, ethnic, and sectarian prejudice. Simultaneously, the church sends a conflicting message of subtle oppression and outright exclusion. Locally, Mary Ann Kaiser has been deprived of completing the path to ordination at University UMC. Nationally, the continuing condemnation of Bishop Melvin Talbert, Pastor Frank Schaefer and others leaves us disillusioned by our church that claims to have “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.”

Consider the LGBT kids, youth and adults worshiping in fear and secrecy within the church, and those outside the church who feel rejected and condemned. Between 30 and 40% of LGBT youth continue to attempt suicide. Ninety percent of LGBT students were harassed in the last year, and 40% of homeless youth are LGBT having been physically or emotionally forced from their own homes.

We do not take this decision lightly. My family’s affiliation with Methodism goes back for generations, including Methodist circuit riding preachers when Texas was the wild frontier. I was raised, baptized, and confirmed in the Methodist Church. My 80 year old mother is an active, dedicated member at NWHills.

I pray that someday very soon the radical, courageous leadership and unconditional love of Jesus Christ will overflow from within the UMC for all people.  I pray that anti-gay language and practices will be eliminated from the Book of Discipline. I pray that children and young people in the UMC will learn from modern-day, courageous role models within the church to strive for social justice and equality.

On that day, I will invite my younger brother and his life partner to come back to the church with the assurance that all of God’s children are welcome, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Mary Lou Taylor

Mary Lou Taylor is a member of the Love Prevails team. As someone I consider to not only be a role model, but a friend, I take this divestment both as a serious commitment to the cause as well as a beacon by which we as LGBTQ members of the church and allies can follow. I am honored to know Mary Lou and proud to call her a friend – Alison Wisneski, social media coordinator, Love Prevails

After a lifetime as a Methodist and 28 years in the same church, where I served at one time as chair of the Church Council, Missions Committee, Environmental Committee and LGBT Advocacy Ministry, taught Sunday School and Adult Bible Study, organized mission trips and sang in the choir, I left my church this week. It wasn’t easy, but it felt right. I had to divest.

The homophobic, discriminatory language and rules against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender United Methodists must change. But power structures only change when it is too painful to stay the way they are. And as long as I stayed and gave my tithes and talents, there was no pain. It didn’t matter how much I did within my own church to make it a welcoming congregation—children who grow up in my church and discover they are not heterosexual still cannot answer God’s call to serve as a pastor; they cannot walk down the aisle of the church of their birth to marry the person they love; and they cannot be united by the pastor who nurtured them throughout their lives. To me, staying felt like belonging to a country club that lets blacks and Jews be members, as long as they don’t use the golf course or the locker rooms. It’s just not right.

Until all Methodists who believe that God welcomes us all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, speak out with their voices, their tithes and their actions, or until enough pastors and congregations and bishops decide to follow Christ’s teachings over the flawed Book of Discipline, nothing will change. So I have withdrawn my presence, gifts and service from the United Methodist Church. I will continue my witness, by working with Kairos Co-Motion and Love Prevails. And I will continue my prayers, praying that the United Methodist Church will stop discrimination in all forms and become truly welcoming. I pray that one day I will be able to come back to the denomination of my birth without being complicit in harming others.

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.