An Open Letter to Members and Leaders of the United Methodist Church

For nearly fifty years, The United Methodist Church (UMC) has officially discriminated against LGBTQIA+ persons in doctrine, policy, and practice. In these five decades, the UMC has denied God’s calling of Queer people to ordained ministry, revoked Queer clergypersons’ orders, refused to bless Queer relationships in ceremonies of Christian marriage, and spoken vile lies about Queer lives from the floor of General Conference. The UMC’s intention that “all persons are individuals of sacred worth” has been rendered hollow by its sinister anti-gay teachings and its inflammatory silence in the presence of physical violence and spiritual harm. The Church has been and remains complicit in the suicides, beatings, and murders of Queer persons.

For nearly half a century, many faithful saints attempted to change this denomination’s damning policies, but to no avail. Nearly ten years ago, Love Prevails was formed because the usual approaches of legislation-writing, storytelling, holy conferencing, and relationship-building had failed to halt the steady advance of intolerance. Following the Spirit’s leading “to do a new thing,” we engaged in a three-dimensional strategy to challenge and abolish the UMC’s policies and practices of discrimination against Queer lives. Our goal was to Disclose, Divest, and Disrupt until the log of “incompatibility” was removed from the eye of the UMC.

During this decade, Love Prevails consistently showed up and challenged the powerbrokers of this denomination (see a list of activities below). We believed in the possibility that this time (or at least, over time) direct-action witness would stir institutional change. We were mistaken.

Despite our best efforts to engage the Council of Bishops, the Connectional Table, the Commission on a Way Forward, General Conference delegates, and numerous Boards and Agencies to act with justice, we, like our faithful predecessors, failed to effect positive change. Instead, we were consistently dismissed as an unwelcome distraction.

The behavior and attitudes of those openly opposed to us were no more hurtful than the quiet words of encouragement whispered in empty hallways by progressive leaders – a fearful lot, content with closets and unholy concessions, whose words were never coupled with public, liberative action.

While these leaders tinkered with plans that allowed just the right amount of discrimination to still be palatable to average United Methodists, the hard right successfully passed more crushingly oppressive legislation and the church’s collective heart hardened against us. It has become clear: the UMC is satisfied to sacrifice some of its most vulnerable members in the most hostile places – in the United States and around the world. Nothing more visibly illuminates the moral bankruptcy of this denomination.

Love Prevails has come to the painful conclusion that the UMC’s leadership and methods are so corrupt that we must replace “Disclose, Divest, and Disrupt” with one final word … “Depart.” Many of us in Love Prevails have spent most of our ministries trying to provide opportunities for education, change, and prophetic courage – but no longer will we invest our treasure, talent, time, or energy in trying to reform a denomination which has neither the desire nor the capacity for such transformation.

We once thought the church’s proclamations of grace were simply ironic, but now we understand them to be wicked hypocrisy. We wrongly assumed that the UMC would eventually change its policies and welcome Queer people, if only out of institutional preservation. We failed to realize that the church would rather destroy itself than become fully inclusive. And now, because we hold no hope that the UMC will live out its highest stated values, we cannot counsel anyone of good conscience to remain in this denomination.

While we are thankful for the many who have supported our work of consciousness-raising and direct-action, we repent that our presence and persistence sent a damaging message to Queer folx and our allies that hate and spiritual harm should be endured. We deeply apologize for the ways we encouraged others to stay in the battle longer than was healthy for them.

It is time to shake the dust from our sandals and find new ways to partner with God’s good news. With this open letter, Love Prevails releases itself from the UMC denomination which, for its entire existence, has proved to be an adversary of grace and justice for God’s Queer people. As we move ahead, our grief has ebbed and our capacity for creative ministry and new life is being refreshed. We offer deep gratitude to those who have gone before us and illuminated our path out!

Sincerely,

Laci Lee Adams [white/cis/queer, she/her – Laci fell in love with the UMC as a teenager, received a B.A. in Religious Studies with a certification in Church Careers at Centenary College of Louisiana, graduated with a M.A.S.M in Spiritual Direction and Religious Leadership at Iliff School of Theology.  She attended the past 5 General Conferences, co-facilitated FLAME (Iliff’s queer caucus group) and served on the MoSAIC and Affirmation boards. Seminary educated, but unordained as an out queer person, Laci has served as a Unitarian Universalist religious professional since 2017 after being radically welcomed and affirmed by First Parish in Brookline, MA (UUA).] 

David E. Braden [white/cis/gay, he/him – Born, baptized, raised and confirmed United Methodist, Lay Leader, Northern Illinois Annual Conference Lay Delegate, Northern Illinois GBHEM committee member and campus ministry liaison, North Central Jurisdictional Conference Delegate, GBHEM Board Member and Chair of the Committee on Racial and Ethnic Concerns, former Reconciling Ministries Network staff member—all before age 30—and now unchurched.]

Dr. Deborah Buffton [white/cishet, she/her  – Daughter of a United Methodist pastor, actively involved in local UMCs for many years. Served on COSROW in the Wisconsin Conference, and a member of Kairos CoMotion for many years. Left the UMC in 2003; currently participates in a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.]

Joy L. Butler: [white/cishet, she/her – Fourth generation Methodist (North GA & Rio TX), 11 years working on LGBTQIA+ inclusion in church and society, RMN “Voices in the Wilderness” laity award (2015). Invited out of the UMC in 2020, currently an active LMX collaborator] 

Rev. Amy E. DeLong [white/cis/lesbian, she/her – Born and raised UCC, Amy gave her heart to the the United Methodist Church while in college. Believing it was possible for the UMC to live into its noblest proclamations of love and grace, she offered the best years of her life and all the years of her ministry advocating for LGBTQIA+ justice. An ordained Elder in the Wisconsin Annual Conference, she attended five General Conferences and is a former conference co-chair of COSROW, Jurisdictional Conference Delegate, MFSA National Board Member, author of “The Loyal Opposition,” Co-founder of Kairos CoMotion, Love on Trial, and Love Prevails, survivor of a church trial, and recipient of several UM awards. Left ministry in the UMC in 2021.

Rev. Will Green [white/cis/gay, he/him – Left the United Methodist Church at the end of 2020. He was at the last 5 General Conferences, served on the RMN and GBHEM boards, and was very active in the New England Annual Conference. Will is the pastor of New Brackett Church on Peaks Island in Maine, which disaffiliated from the denomination as well. In 2021, the congregation and pastor are entering into a relationship with both the UCC and the UUA.] 

Rev. Sue Laurie [white/cis/lesbian, she/her – 2020-21 Garrett-ETS Distinguished Alum Award (class of 1995), 2016 General Conference, affirmation and ordination by grassroots authority, 2001 – 2009 National Outreach Coordinator for Reconciling Ministries Network, 2000 as a spokesperson for the AMAR coalition, arrested at the Cleveland General Conference. Inspired by those who live and contribute in harsh, anti-queer geographies.]

Laura Ralston [white/cis/lesbian, she/her – Illinois Great Rivers Conference (IGRC) lay delegate (~1997-2006), IGRC CCYM District President (2000-2001), Wesley Foundation at the University of Illinois Peer Minister (2001-2005), President of the IGRC United Methodist Student Movement (2004-2005), US-2 Missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries (2005-2007), Middle School Camp Dean for the New Mexico Conference UMC (2009-2011), Board Member & Treasurer of the Wesley Foundation of the University of New Mexico (2009-2011), District Youth Coordinator of the New Mexico Conference UMC (2009-2011), New Mexico Conference lay delegate (~2009-2011), Iliff Student Senate Co-Chair (2012-2013), Love Prevails (2013-present). Seminary-educated and not ordained. Currently unchurched.] 

Dr. Mary Lou Taylor [white/cishet, she/her – Fourth generation Methodist, board member of Kairos Co-Motion, active member of Love On Trial and Love Prevails. Former chair of Missions Committee, Chancel Choir, LGBT Advocacy Group, Environmental Concerns Committee and Church Council president at Whitefish Bay UMC. Currently churched by nature.]

Dr. Julie Todd [white/cishet, she/her – Born and raised united methodist, third generation methodist clergy, educated at all um-related higher ed institutions, methodist missionary in hiroshima, japan, ordained in new england conference 1996, did all kinds of institutional things in resistance to white racism and queer oppression, finally divested elders orders in 2019, currently living my best life in grassroots spiritual community in lawrence, massachusetts.] 

Brenda Smith White [white/cishet, she/her – Formerly served as Chair of Wisconsin Conference Council on Ministries, Co-Chair of Conference COSROW, Chair of NW District Committee on District Superintendency, Vice-President of Conference UMW and in several roles in district UMW organization. Advocate for LGBTQIA+ justice and full inclusion in UMC, Founding Member of Kairos CoMotion and Love Prevails.  Currently attending UU Fellowship.]

Rev. Wesley White [white/cishet, he/him – Ordained Elder, Student-body President of Garrett Theological Seminary, Wisconsin Delegate to multiple General and Jurisdictional Conferences, WUMFSA Perry Saito and Wisconsin Status and Role of Women awards for inclusion, Certified Intentional Interim Minister. Still carrying the identity of UM as an albatross to remind me of structural harm.]

A Sampling of our Actions:

  • Shut down General Conference until anti-Queer, anti-Trans legislation was removed from the agenda. (Tampa, 2012)
  • Moved the Connectional Table to break their agenda and open a discussion about human sexuality. (Nashville, 2013)
  • Witness at the trial of Rev. Frank Schaefer in East Pennsylvania Annual Conference. (2013)
  • Raised the question that led the Connectional Table to pass a motion to remove the “incompatibility” language from the Book of Discipline (though the motion passed overwhelmingly, the Connectional Table never acted on it). (Chicago, 2014)
  • Invited by representatives of the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table to meet for conversation with traditionalist representatives. Members of Love Prevails, RMN, and MFSA arrived to learn that the conservatives had backed out of the meeting at the last minute. (Chicago, 2014)
  • Excluded from being present for the panel on sexuality. (Oklahoma City, 2014)
  • Invited into conversation with Discipleship Ministries and received a confession that the “funding ban” had caused them to self-censor their publications relating to human sexuality and spiritual growth. (Nashville, 2015)
  • Asked a key question at a Commission on General Conference that prevented General Conference from being held in a country where it was unsafe for Queer people to attend. (Portland, 2015)
  • Discussed issues of inclusiveness in communications with UMComm staff at their invitation. (Chicago, 2016)
  • Participated in pre-General Conference panel and witness. (Portland, OR, 2016)
  • Provided non-violent, direct-action training at General Conference (Portland, 2016)
  • Met with two recent presidents of the Council of Bishops and with all Bishops who were to become members of the Commission on a Way Forward prior to its first gathering. Advocated clearly for 50% queer representation on that Commission. Our demands were ignored and queer representation was not increased. (St. Simon’s Island, 2016)
  • While present at the Council of Bishops at their annual meeting, requested the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum and Library to more accurately portray John Wesley’s encounter with Native Americans and the United Methodist Church’s historic relationship with enslaved people. (St. Simons Island, GA, 2016)
  • First meeting of the Commission on a Way Forward, continued to demand more and diverse LGBTQ+ voices. Told by a bishop that we had been locked out of the building so the Commission could “create sacred space.” (Atlanta, 2017)
  • Endured being shut out of United Methodist buildings and bathroom facilities and being policed (sometimes by armed guards and sometimes by JustPeace) while meetings were being held about the presence of Queer people in the UMC. (Oklahoma City 2014, Atlanta 2017, Glenview, IL 2017, St. Louis, 2019)
  • Helped defeat the segregationist One Church Plan at special session of General Conference. (St. Louis, 2019)  
  • Participated in a General Board of Higher Education and Ministry colloquy on missio dei and published Nothing About Us Without Us: LGBTQ Liberation and The United Methodist Church. (2017, Boston)
  • Submitted proposals imploring the UMC to allow a significant representation of Queer persons in meetings and commissions where the future of Queer people in the church was being discussed. Each of these attempts failed.      
  • Wrote numerous position pieces and letters – still available on our website (loveprevailsumc.com) and Facebook page (facebook.com/loveprevailsumc).

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.

Getting Played for the Okey-Doke

Rev. Dr. Julie Todd

13064667_10153997621681005_1496842297994785205_oI learned this phrase yesterday from our Soulforce comrade and nonviolence trainer Haven Herrin, which they learned from their colleague DJ Hudson. The way I understand this, “getting played for the okey-doke” means that when you are on the brink of real possibility for resistance and transformation, institutional power will respond by poking a hole in the fully drawn sail that is catching the winds of change and building momentum. The wind comes out of the sail and the momentum for change is lost. That is what happened to us yesterday. We got played for the okey-doke.

The passage of the bishops’ not-unanimous proposal, “An Offering For a Way Forward” (also known as the Howard Motion), surprised our movement for LGBTQ justice and inclusion. It poked a hole in the sail. Because we never win any votes. I know it disoriented me. I didn’t know how to feel.

Some claimed it as a victory, a step in the right direction. I don’t see it that way. To me, in that moment, we lost some of our collective outrage at the pain of so many years of exclusion and struggle. We ate the crumbs thrown on the floor for us at the General Conference.

This is not to say that what happened was not important. Certainly our pressure before and during GC has prevented worse legislation for LGBTQ United Methodists and their allies from coming before the General Conference for a vote. Votes we would have lost. The collective resistance of our entire movement brought us to this moment. It is good to celebrate that we are a force to be reckoned with. But we need to be clear that we have not won. It is important that we not claim victory.

The status quo of categorical discrimination against LGBTQ persons remains in The Book of Discipline. Nothing has changed. The last paragraph of the bishops’ Offering read, “We will continue to explore options to help the church live in grace with one another – including ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm while we uphold the Discipline.

Our movement seems to be focusing on the first part of this sentence and ignoring the second part. The original draft of this statement from the bishops did not include these last words. Early in the morning, these words entered this document as an official part of this statement. Nothing has changed. Those bishops who choose to pursue complaints and charges against LGBTQ folks and their allies will continue to do so. Those bishops who choose to avoid charges and complaints instead of taking a risk to challenge the status quo, will continue to do so. Nothing has changed.

We have been played for the okey-doke. Our belief in the system, that those entrusted with power have integrity and will act for good over against the maintenance of the institution, poked a hole in the sails of change. Our progressive movement is delusional if we believe that either this Commission or our Bishops will function to serve the well-being of LGBTQ, much less serve that which makes for justice.

13233099_890710957705668_4985865991270562402_nMany progressives will hear this as pessimism and cynicism. That may be true, but it is born of experience and knowledge of our movement’s history.

Recall that in 1988, the General Conference created the Committee to Study Homosexuality, which made very strong suggestions for LGBTQ justice and inclusion to the 1992 General Conference. Here is a description of what was proposed in 1992 (the entirety of this history can be found at http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_umc6.htm):

The * committee was able to reach a consensus on four items:

·      The 7 references to homosexuality in the Bible represent ancient culture and not the will of God. They cannot be taken as definitive.
·      Homosexuality is a normal human sexual variant, which can be healthy and whole.
·      Covenantal, committed, and monogamous homosexual relationships should be affirmed.
·      These conclusions are supported by God’s grace, which is visible in the life of lesbian and gay Christians.

A majority report recommended:

“The present state of knowledge and insight in the biblical, theological, ethical, biological, psychological, and sociological fields does not provide a satisfactory basis upon which the church can responsibly maintain the condemnation of all homosexual practice.”

The committee recommended that Paragraph 72 of the Social Principles be augmented to include:

  1. G)Rights of Homosexual Persons.Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to support those rights and liberties for homosexual persons. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting their rightful claims in same-sex relationships where they have: shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships which involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law. Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against gays and lesbians.

The homosexual report was “received” by the General Conference, but was not approved. 

The last sentence of that description is the most telling and relevant to our current situation. Since 1992, the discrimination and punishments for queer folk and their allies in The Book of Discipline have only gotten worse. The only year this was not true was at the 2012 GC, when Love Prevails held and occupied the floor of GC, resulting in negotiations by which the anti-LGBTQ legislation was pushed to the end of the formal agenda, from which it would not be resurrected. The Book of Discipline, however, remained the same.

Here we are again. The events of yesterday caused us to believe that some positive change took place. Yet The Book of Discipline remains the same. The perceived yet delusional feeling of victory poked a hole in the winds of creative tension and resistance that were mounting in the plenary yesterday. We could have pushed for more. We could have rejected their crumbs. We got played for the okey-doke.

Now we hear progressive voices believing there is a real shift in the institution, signaling hope that justice for LGBTQ folks is possible through this Commission. We hear that our bishops should be applauded for their leadership. We hear that certainly the acceptance of LGBTQ candidates and the end of church trials is on the way.

10615386_622181251225308_1699391787083688447_nHaving traveled around the country with Love Prevails these last four years in order to Disrupt the Council of Bishops’ and Connectional Table meetings, I can report first-hand that the dysfunction, fear and lack of leadership in moral courage and parliamentary procedure on display at General Conference is replicated at these meetings. The very bishops and other leaders that we believe to be on our side lack the guts to create change.

The problem is the failure of moral courage of progressive United Methodists, bishops and others, to disrupt the status quo. The Council of Bishops is a complete disaster area. I have never witnessed anything like it. They are neither willing nor able to act quickly or decisively on mundane matters, much less the matters of justice of almost any kind. This will not change with this Commission. The assumption of personal and collective integrity is mistaken.

Simply speaking, the order and peace of the institution is prioritized over justice for LGBTQ people. The painful truth of the matter is that they really just don’t care that much. When they demonstrate care, it is because we have cajoled and forced them to do so. That is my testimony.

I am angry with myself because in the moment that the bishops’ proposal passed, I also got played for the okey-doke. The wind came out of my own sails. I did not know how to feel or to act yesterday. I temporarily gave away my power and outrage. I have repaired the tear in my own sail today.

I heard many liberals yesterday say that they were prepared to force the issue for the next four years. They say they are ready create continued pressure, commit to hold our bishops accountable, and disrupt the ongoing unjust status quo.

Honestly, I doubt this is true. I hope to see people in this movement proving me wrong. Otherwise, we will have truly and lastingly been played for the okey-doke.

*Editor’s note: This previously said (presumably 100% heterosexual) which was language taken from the cited website. Here is a comment from Jeanne Knepper about the committee: The lesbian on the committee was Jeanne Barnett, of Cal-Nevada. Her partner, Ellie Charlton traveled with her to every meeting after the first because it was so brutal. The gay man appointed to the study left early on. Jeanne spoke in a prepared presentation of the report at the 1992 General Conference, the first time an identified LGBTQ person had spoken to General Conference since Keith Spare had 3 minutes in 1976. Your analysis is accurate and persuasive, but I would not like to lose Jeanne Barnett’s heroic work from our collective memory. We are grateful for the memory shared and apologize for sharing the misinformed citation.

Reflections on Day 3 of General Conference

by Will Green

Will GIMG_6105reen (left) shared the following reflections about General Conference after Day 3 on his Facebook page. We share his thoughts here with his permission to show you what is happening from a Love Prevails perspective.

Post 1: Remember in seminary when “Covenant Groups” were just a time for some students to complain about their classes, but those same people never wanted to carry any water or take any risks to change the school? Ever been to a clergy gathering where it was all about listening to someone complain about how “their church doesn’t let them do anything” and how nobody understands how hard it is for them? If so, then you know what it is like to go up to a Bishop at General Conference to talk to them about how GLTBQ people are getting slaughtered and ALL THEY CAN SAY is how “dysfunctional the council of bishops is” and how you can’t imagine how bad it is to be a bishop. My response in these conversations is, “I do know, I can tell. Let’s do something about it.” Of course they don’t know how to do something about it. That is why they have risen to the positions they have risen to. They are well trained and well practiced in how to survive and advance in the system that exists. Tonight every time I said, “Let’s do something about it”, the response was “I want you to know that I am personally very sorry for what is going on.” We have lots of sorry, sorry people in our denomination. We need more people who are ready to do something about it.

20160513_112608Post 2: trigger warning: child abuse, violence, homophobia, transphobia – an update from the United Methodist General Conference ‪#‎UMCGC GLBTQ people don’t just get beat up on the plenary floor at General Conference. We get massacred in every subcommittee in the convention center. As many people know, a successful strategy for many years has been to insert as many discriminatory statements in as many parts of the Discipline as possible. This way it isn’t just the Social Principles that deal with our lives. It is all over the place. But this little update just comes from the Church & Society B, Human Sexuality Subcommittee. To get to the point, we are going to lose every single vote in this subcommittee this time: every single vote. For example, today they voted down a resolution on culture and identity (petition no. 60114) that affirmed human diversity is a reflection of God… because, to directly quote a delegate who spoke, “the only culture that matters is Biblical culture”. They voted down a resolution on “Reducing Harm for LGBTQ Children and Youth” (petition no. 60841) because, to directly quote a delegate, “He that does not punish the child, does not love the child.” (To be clear, the group voted with those who said – out loud – that disowning, beating and punishing children for being GLBTQ is not something the church should be against because it is a way of disciplining children and does not harm them at all.) They voted down the compromise resolution from the Connection Table called “A Third Way on Human Sexuality” (petition no. 60820) that states there is disagreement over how United Methodists understand sexuality because, to directly quote a delegate, “Jesus is Lord. We must follow Jesus.” It is unclear whether they will tighten the church’s current sexuality statement (which of course says “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”), or if they will simply let it stand as is. One thing I will say about the UMC in 2016 is that perhaps we have finally become so anti-GLBTQ that even the conservatives do not feel they have anything left to prove. They already know they run the church and can pass whatever they want. Liberals have been wasting time talking about process and tinkering with new rules that would allow us to share our stories in “safe” (sic) space. Since those conversations are now clearly and cleanly out of the way, they are now proceeding with destroying us.

On the Body Being Broken

by Rev. Dr. Julie Todd of Love Prevails

There was a regularly scheduled communion at every lunch break in the plenary hall at General Conference 2004 in Pittsburgh. On the day the votes went badly yet again for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people, we decided as a movement to go to that communion service, where we could stand in the presence of the broken and resurrected Body of Christ. We did this as a means of re-asserting our presence in that Body. We did this as a means of resistance against the false institutional proclamation of one cup, one Body, and one baptism, when clearly the actions of the General Conference actively sought to harm and exclude members of that Body. All forms of our resistance and disruption are embodied statements that the unity of the church cannot continue to come at the cost of LGBTQ lives. These same acts of resistance are theological affirmations that the resurrected Jesus lives on in our whole and beloved queer bodies.

There was weeping and there was anger at communion. There was a need for a deep and spiritual release of the violence that had just been done to the queer body of Christ. Because when votes are cast against the very existence of LGBTQ lives, that is what is happens: violence. Christ’s body crucified again. To not act in the face of such violence does further violence.

A communion chalice, broken in protest of the United Methodist Church's stance on homosexuality, is returned to the altar during the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

A communion chalice, broken in protest of the United Methodist Church’s stance on homosexuality, is returned to the altar during the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

When the sacrament was over, Rev. James Preston grabbed a chalice from the communion altar and smashed it on the floor. The smashing of the chalice was not a planned disruption. While there were many interpretations of that moment of breaking the chalice, in fact there was no chaos, no storming the altar, no desecration of the sacrament. There was a holy anger that took shape in a prophetic act. A movement of the Spirit interceded to express anguished sighs too deep for words. In the breaking of the cup, Christ spoke to the real brokenness of the moment.

The bishop who presided at the communion table was distraught by the destruction of the cup. He got down on the floor and started gathering up the pieces. Others joined him in the gathering.

I had an instinct to take a piece. I had some internal resistance to making the moment feel better than it was. I didn’t want all of the pieces to be gathered up. I pushed toward the front of the group, bent down, picked up a piece off the floor, and put it in my pocket. At the time I had no idea that later they would try to reconstruct the chalice from the broken shards.

 

I Julie's piece of cuphave always had that piece of the cup. I rarely speak of it or even look at it. It sits in the same box with other sacred items from across the years. I know exactly where it is in my home. It is in my consciousness. When a recent article came out in the United Methodist News Service surveying the history of LGBTQ protest at General Conferences, I saw a picture of the reconstructed cup and I remembered my piece. I went to the box, took it out and held it for a while. Twelve years later. Things are still so broken and bad in this church for queer people. It is so devastatingly sad and wrong.

The LGBTQ participants in the communion service in 2004 were accused of breaking the church body and fomenting division. This accusation, which will no doubt be leveled at pro-LGBTQ forces at this 2016 General Conference, is completely ludicrous. The Body already was and is broken. The piece of the cup I possess stands as a symbol of this. In the church there simply must be some recognition that parts and pieces of the LGBTQ Body of Christ in the United Methodist Church have been not only broken, but lost. Left. Dead. Gone. Taken. Parts that aren’t coming back to be made part of the whole. Irretrievable by choice or by force.

Despite accusations to the contrary, many of our actions as pro-LGBTQ organizations and as a movement at our General Conferences are Holy Spirit led. This was true of this moment of communion in Pittsburgh in 2004. This will also be true of the disruptive actions of pro-LGBTQ forces at this General Conference. You may not experience it this way, but we ask you to be open to the possibility that this may be true. The LGBTQ body may be broken but the Spirit of Christ is alive in us. All forms of our resistance and disruption are living, embodied statements that the unity of the church cannot continue to come at the cost of LGBTQ lives. Jesus the Christ is working through our movement to speak truths and to resurrect the parts of the broken body that remain.

Sue Laurie is Being Ordained in Portland!

Sue Laurie sent the following letter to friends and colleagues around the country, inviting them to her ordination at the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon coming up in May. If you are not able to stand with Sue physically in Portland, but would like to participate in Sue’s ordination, please read through the entire invitation to the end. There are directions for writing and sending good wishes and affirmations of Sue’s ministry among us.

March 28, 2016
Dear Friends,
As we have known each other for many years, you know my sense of commitment to my calling as a pastor. You may be surprised to realize that I graduated from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary with my Master of Divinity degree over twenty years ago. Wow.

You have been significant in my journey as I continue to pursue this vocation. Over the years I have officiated at baptisms and communion tables. It has been my privilege to preside at weddings and holy unions for lesbian, gay and “straight” couples. I have spoken at funerals. I have begun small “house churches” for LGBT people who often cannot find welcoming church family. “BYKOTA” gathered folks together in NW Pennsylvania, “Rainbow Circle” gathered people in the NW suburbs of Chicago. In ordinary and significant ways, we have been church for one another.

These times spent with you have helped me to claim my identity as a pastor within community. I am writing to let you know that I regard our shared times as sacred. I am humbled by your trust and appreciation. I am grateful for each one. These moments defy the reality that people like me are not “ordainable” by United Methodist law. I feel that I have been ordained over and over.

In twenty five years of ministry, I have spoken in many places about God’s love for all people. I have stressed the inclusion of LGBT people within the full life of the church in my travels for Reconciling Ministries Network. I have been present in wonderful moments of hope and love. I have also felt the great tension within the church against LGBT people. I have been the target of mean-spirited dismissal. With time for reflection you may have heard me say, “I have had a lot of adventures.” 🙂

I was not called by God for the institution of the United Methodist Church. I was called for people. I have felt the Holy Spirit in my adventures… they have been worth my life. Through your invitation to participate in church family life, I have felt encouraged. So much so, that I have realized that it is time for me to publicly claim the ministry you all have granted to me.

At the United Methodist General Conference in Portland this May, with those who wish to affirm me, I will claim and celebrate my ordination… I will let go of the institutional rejection and celebrate the authority that so many have offered, a grassroots ordination as Rev. Susan Laurie. I will “come out” as ordained and take up the responsibilities of one who has been called and affirmed for ministry. My adventures are my credentials.

Today, I am inviting you to participate. If you would like, please send me your memory or thought;

“One memory I want to share as evidence of the Spirit in celebration
of Susan Laurie’s ordination is…”

These are treasures of heart and soul that have been the fuel of my resiliency for all these years.

May God continue to bless our hope and love,

Sue Laurie, MDiv

  1. There are two versions of this invitation, keep reading…

I am celebrating my ordination at General Conference!

Love Prevails will help me with the ceremony. And you are invited to participate. I would like the first ring of people who can be present in Portland to be openly LGBT folk and from there everyone is welcome. We may be a small crowd that day, but that will be enough. Jesus did say, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20.

Yet, we are not a small in number – we are part of a larger cloud of witnesses, United Methodists even, who have continually offered an understanding of God’s inclusive love for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Of course, most people cannot get to Portland to stand with us physically, but you can be part of this moment… this time when our public witness of an open communion reveals that LGBT people are already on both sides of table; clergy and laity, pastors and people.

How to participate: Send in your good wishes or an affirmation of my ministry:

Sue, I have seen the Holy Spirit at work when you _____________________________________.
or

I remember when _______________________________________________________________.
or simply,

Yes, count me as one of the ordaining cloud of witnesses! I send my prayers for continued ministry. _______________________________________________________________________________..

If you send your name and address, I will send a note after General Conference.

Name              _____________________________ email ___________________
Street address _____________________________
City, State       _________________________ ZIP code ________

_______         I remain anonymous. You know, it can be dangerous out here.

You are a treasure to me. I am so grateful for the foundation of Christian teaching that I received as a child and the gracious, committed witness of love and grace that has constantly been part of my life as an adult. So many venues, so many friends and teachers. Thank you.

Please send your thoughts to:
Sue Laurie                                          or         suelaurie432@gmail.com
PO Box 480244
Niles, IL 60714                                            

   “Friend” the Love Prevails Facebook page for updates

Finally, I offer a favorite: John 14: 25-27   and another: 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 26    

Power and Persuasion

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Written by Julie Todd
For General Conference 2008

I have been giving
a lot of thought
lately
To the notion of
Moral Persuasion –
the idea that we have
We, in this case
Being
primarily
Well-meaning
Privileged
White People
the idea that we have
& organize ourselves around
That people can be persuaded

We think
People will be morally persuaded
When
Our cause is righteous enough
Our logic is rational enough
Our argument is strong enough
Our actions consistent enough
Our tone kind enough
Our appeal passionate enough
& so on

We fundamentally believe
People will be morally persuaded
To agree with us
And act in accordance
(these are two different steps
& even if we persuade people to agree,
this does not equal
their willingness to act in accord)

From what I can tell
this “persuasive” strategy
Has rarely persuaded people
at least
not on slavery;
not on women’s suffrage;
not on war;
not on nuclear arms;
not on the environment;
not on civil rights;
not, so far, on gay rights;
I mean, in 2004
We could not even morally persuade
General Conference
to state that we disagree

When people ultimately decide to change their positions on such matters
It is rarely because they have been morally persuaded
But for other reasons
primarily Economic
Sometimes to save face
“evidence” that convinces
or for other political purposes
especially when to make compromise
means to avoid meeting more radical demands

Please, persuade me
Give me an example
To persuade me that I am wrong
& I am not talking about individual instances
where someone changed their mind about something
when institutions have changed
under the influence of moral persuasion

Moral persuasion.
Why do we keep trying this tactic?
I believe the reason mostly relates to
Our being
mostly Well-Meaning White People

Well-Meaning People believe
that hearts change through moral suasion
Well-Meaning People do not want
to examine the power that holds oppression in place
the material and emotional advantages
that moral suasion does not sway

Examining power means
we are going to have to talk
about what kind of Action,
Not Talk,
Action,
dislodges power
& that’s too scary
Too risky
for most Well-Meaning Christians
Challenges our assumptions
about what works
& What doesn’t work
Like righteousness,
rationality,
strength,
consistency,
kindness,
passion
The conservative right gets this
What do they do to persuade?
Power, money, threats.
For good reason
We don’t want to play that game
But what game are we playing?

One of the reasons
we think these things work
gets at being
primarily
White People (the well-meaning kind)
whose privilege in other arenas
when our whiteness, Christianity, social class
And not queerness
gets to define how these things work
we often do secure the changes or successes we seek
& we think we get these things
Because
We are
righteous,
rational,
strong,
consistent,
kind,
passionate.
When in fact
Our success depends on
The power we have
Because we are
White
Christian
Upper-classed
But we attribute our success to these other attributes
& not to privilege & power

But you say,
“I have seen hearts and minds change.”
And, thank God
So have I
But that is not the same thing.
That is individualism
That I can convince you that I am morally right
Has very little to do
with changing the system to reflect that position
White people don’t get things
that they want
because they are morally right
White people get what they want because they have
power
& privilege
& do what it takes to protect & keep it

Persuasion &
Power
As a movement
We gotta think about these things some more.

A Response to the Report of the Task Force on Human Sexuality, Gender and Race in a Worldwide Perspective

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February 12, 2016

Dear Council of Bishops,

From the first paragraph to the last, the Bishops of The United Methodist Church miss the mark in your Report of the Task Force on Human Sexuality, Gender and Race in a Worldwide Perspective.

In recent collective statements on matters of social concern, bishops always remind us of the tasks of the episcopal office: “to guard the faith, to seek the unity and to exercise the discipline of the whole church.” However, a passion for the unity of the Church without a care for the individual parts has the functional consequence of rewarding those with voting power while sacrificing the needs and concerns of LGBTQI people, women and non-white people.

This report falls back into institutional jargon and a refusal to become unstuck from the intentional harm legislated into the Book of Discipline. Rather than a prophetic, Gospel-oriented insistence on eliminating discrimination, you have once again settled for serial harm to Women (gender), Blacks/Natives (race), and LGBTQI persons (sexuality). Thus making your call to repentance hollow sanctimony. Repentance is meaningless unless it is accompanied with changed behavior.

This Task Force of bishops has written a section on repentance, confession, and honesty in a document on sexuality, gender, and race and done so without ever addressing the underlying sins of heterosexism and homophobia, sexism, and racism. This report offers no analysis of oppression or of power and privilege.

This is quite evident in references to your tepid Pastoral Letter on Racism that has no condemnation of white supremacy, police violence, or unjust criminal justice systems in the economic stronghold of United Methodism in The United States of America. There are no references to the formal Acts of Repentance towards Indigenous People, people who are victims of some of the greatest historical and contemporary racist acts. And the report never once mentions heterosexism or explores the harm done to LGBTQI people by the United Methodist Church’s polity and practice.

With no mention of pain, suffering, and violence against women, people of color, queer people, how can you speak of other pains of the earth, children, poverty, or spirit? To have a document that never names the real conditions and situations of injustice toward those it claims to be concerned about is egregious and demonstrates a stunning lack of both comprehension and leadership. We are sick to death of bishops and other church “leaders” using the real lives of LGBTQI people, women and people of color as cannon fodder for dead-end, high-minded theological discussions.

We criticize you for your abstractions, but we rebuke you for one bold lie. In Point 1: God’s Grace for All you write, “Therefore we actively oppose all forms of discrimination.” Categorical discrimination against lesbian and gay people in ordination and marriage is codified in the Book of Discipline. The overwhelming majority of you do not actively oppose this form of discrimination. You are, in fact, active enforcers of this discrimination. To claim anything else as a Council is a falsehood that Love Prevails condemns in the harshest of terms.

This Task Force Report has no basic integrity and is sadly reflective of the Council of Bishop’s unwillingness to substantively address some of the most critical matters of oppression and injustice in our collective life together. Trying to cover up the harm being done under a rubric of Episcopal vows and a self-imposed uniformity leads to a lack of any credibility in your authority and weakens a common witness to the Nature and Name of God—Love.

Love Prevails

PDF of Letter Sent to Council of Bishops on February 12, 2016

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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.