Lost in the Local Option

The following letter was sent to the Council of Bishops and the Commission on a Way Forward in late April 2017. Below the text, a PDF copy of the letter sent is available.


Lost in the Local Option: An Open Letter

In April 2014, due to the efforts of Love Prevails, the Connectional Table began a process to formulate General Conference legislation that would call for the complete removal of all discriminatory language against LGBTQI people in The Book of Discipline. That attempt, however, was internally thwarted and The Connectional Table came to General Conference 2016 with a proposal called the Third Way. Now widely referred to as “The Local Option”, this approach enshrines the geographical discrimination of Queer people in our polity and sets up the highly destructive scenario whereby our very being will be debated and voted on in annual conferences and in our congregations. Such objectification damages the hearts and souls of Queer United Methodists throughout the Connection.

Love Prevails has always opposed The Local Option because it is predicated on the notion that it is morally and theologically defensible to allow continued discrimination within certain geographic locations within our church; thus ecclesially sanctioning the spiritual abuse that accompanies this discrimination.

There are some “progressives” within our denomination who believe that The Local Option is a good and helpful step that with time will eventually and inevitably lead to full inclusion for LGBTQI people. Love Prevails strenuously objects to this kind of thinking. This matter is far too urgent. “More time” translates as more lives lost. We believe that creating pockets of injustice is an intolerable solution which lacks the full force of gospel integrity that will ultimately delay justice for all, rather than hasten it. We see The Local Option as a seductive temptation that will lead to self-satisfaction and complacency.

By now it is quite obvious that the Commission on The Way Forward is the very expensive method by which The Third Way, or The Local Option, will be repackaged. The processes by which The Commission seeks to “listen” to voices across the connection are nothing more than resilience-building sessions for General Conference delegates and annual conferences to desensitize themselves to regionally sanctioned discrimination, the United Methodist’s new normal.

It seems clear that our United Methodist bishops are now moving to more fully support a Local Option because of political, not theological, reasons. Their priority is not justice, but institutional preservation, peddled as “unity.” Their desire to avoid a split and “save the denomination” comes on someone’s back—this time at the expense of Queer United Methodists.

Love Prevails objects to institutional preservation over justice. When we object, it is not only because The Local Option will leave some Queer people dangerously vulnerable; it is not only because there will still be babies rocking in the cradles of anti-queer annual conferences who will grow to discover they are Queer and not want to relocate in order to find a church where they will be welcomed; it is because souls will be lost in The Local Option. Permissive and categorical discrimination kills the souls of LGBTQI people as well as the soul of the church. A church of Jesus Christ cannot survive or thrive with bigotry and intolerance in its heart – and the maintenance of such a church turns the proclamations of Belovedness made at our baptisms into propagandist lies.

Love Prevails is neither for a church split nor against it. We do not advocate for it, but we also do not oppose the possibility. We persistently maintain that the only way forward is to remove all of the discriminatory language from The Book of Discipline. While full inclusion and justice will not happen immediately upon the removal of the language, there is no possibility for imagining real, comprehensive, intersectional justice or any notion of unity without first removing discriminatory language.

Laci Lee Adams
Mary Anne Balmer
Rev. Amy DeLong
Rev. Will Green
Sue Laurie
Laura Ralston
Dr. Mary Lou Taylor
Rev. Dr. Julie Todd
Brenda White
Rev. Wesley White

Lost in the Local Option PDF

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.

LGBTQI Groups Condemn Composition of Commission that Excludes Queer Voices

 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 31, 2016
Contact: Dorothee Benz 718-314-4432

LGBTQI Groups Condemn Composition of
Commission that Excludes Queer Voices

Call on Bishops to Start Over, Call on Straight People to Resign,
Make Room for LGBTQI People

Last week the United Methodist Church Council of Bishops announced the members of its Commission on the Way Forward, following a mandate from the church’s General Conference in May to create a body to discuss the UMC’s policies of discrimination against LGBQTI people. Of 32 members, only two are identified LGBTQI people – 6% – and both are white cisgender men. The commission is majority white.

As the Council of Bishops prepares to discuss the Commission as part of its biannual meeting currently being held in St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, Love Prevails and Methodists in New Directions issued the following statement:

The Commission as appointed by the Council of Bishops represents a continuation of the systemic exclusion of LGBTQI United Methodists and perpetuates the fallacies that cisgender heterosexual persons are both unbiased and able to fully articulate the concerns of LGBTQI United Methodists. The only thing this Commission is representative of is the current dysfunction in the United Methodist Church. It embodies the discriminatory status quo and the continuing failure of our episcopal leaders to name the harm being done to LGBTQI United Methodists by our current policies and practices.

For 44 years LGBTQI people have been demonized and condemned by the church, discriminated against and categorically excluded, prosecuted and persecuted, legislated about and lectured to – but never once negotiated with. The formation of the Commission was an opportunity to finally rectify this fundamental injustice.

When the proposal for this Commission was presented to the General Conference in May, LGBTQI people did not stand in the way of its adoption, despite the failure of three previous similar church bodies to remedy our exclusion. In numerous forums since then, we let our bishops know that the Commission needed to include a broad spectrum of LGBTQI United Methodists who constituted at least half the body. Then we let the Council-led process unfold.

It is now clear, however, that our leaders have failed us yet again and that our deep concerns remain ignored. This Commission continues the UMC’s shameful history of treating LGBTQI people as a problem to be solved, rather than faithful partners in ministry.

The Commission has no legitimacy if it omits from the conversation those whose rights, whose safety, whose very lives are at stake.

Therefore, we call on the Council of Bishops to repent of its grievous error and change the composition of the Commission to include the full spectrum of LGBTQI people as well as the full spectrum of people of color in the United Methodist Church. To have validity, half of the members of the Commission must be LGBTQI-identified.

Additionally, we call on heterosexual cisgender members to resign their positions in order to make room for LGBTQI voices on the Commission, and especially LGBTQI people of color and women.

PDF of October 31,2016 Press Release

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.

Episcopal Address Response: Rev. Wesley White

The Episcopal Address 2016 focused on humility. St. Bernard of Clairvaux once summarized the four Cardinal virtues as, “Humility, humility, humility, humility”. This is a pleasant hook with which to begin a sermon/Episcopal Address.

Examples of humility were related back to liturgical formulations that presuppose a community’s virtue to be held by each individual within it and that an individual’s humility is sufficient within a larger community that defines certain people out, regardless of their humbleness.

First, a collect for purity: Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hidden. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Any number of people can say these words and remain desiring and subversive of communal values that they might have the community reflect only their desires. Humility aspired to is not humility in deed. The limit of this intention comes when we get to the details of life, not its theory. As code language we can claim anyone as prideful if they experience and complain that the community has cleansed them from presence at the table (on either or both sides of it).

Second, a prayer of confession: Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As noted in the sermon, the focus here is communal. Unfortunately a communal confession needs a communal repentance. Our usual process is to confess and confess for decades or a century before actually doing something about the pain inflicted on those who were powerless to effect an earlier change. The injured and their allies, not the community, are the humble. The application of communal confession to humility is very dangerous in allowing the community to be righteously blind about their doing harm. Confession does not do away with a need to change divisive legislation.

Confession does not protect from “mutually assured destruction” when it covers the harm being done by intentionally denying God an ability to distribute gifts and graces to the youngest and the furthest outcast as God sees fit. Legislatively limiting God is certainly not a humble act and continuing it because the limits were repeated and hardened is no act of humility.

Third, a Commendation and Welcome in the Order for Baptism and Reception: Do all in your power to: Increase their faith, Confirm their hope, and Perfect them in love.

Who is being spoken to here? If it is General Conference in regard to current church members or a parent/sponsor in regard to an infant, there is no way to increase, confirm, and perfect without acknowledging that the mystery of spiritual gifts and personal identity is not in anyone’s control. They cannot be constrained to a desired outcome. It takes much humility to know the limits of what can be increased, confirmed, and perfected before these become requirements for one more closet.

The address ended with a hymn, “God forth with God”. In addition to going forth in peace, love, strength, and joy. There is a question left about how humbly we will leave this General Conference. This question extends to what increase in peace, love, strength, and joy others will have as a result of our actual humility and not the use of humility as a further constraint on those without power to offer their gifts in a larger community of United Methodism or the use of humility as an accusation to make against those who would offer their gifts to transform the land, beginning with the church.

What then is a legislative expression of humility at this General Conference regarding those lives have been injured through previous legislations? In particular, how might the presumption behind “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” finally be brought to its knees at this late date of 2016?

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