On Soulforce

 

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On Soulforce

Reflections by Julie Todd

Soulforce has been an intimate part of the United Methodist movement for LGBTQ inclusion and justice in the United Methodist Church, particularly during our General Conferences. As Soulforce will work closely with Love Prevails during the 2016 General Conference in Portland, I wanted to share some of my experience with Soulforce over the years. It is important to understand how this organization has shaped the moment of potential change that we are in as Methodists seeking justice for LGBTQ people.

I heard the name Soulforce while preparing for GC2000 in Cleveland. Soulforce had been recently founded and led by Rev. Mel White, a former speech writer for televangelist Jerry Falwell. He became well-known after publishing Stranger at the Gate, about coming out as a gay man in that conservative evangelical Christian context.

Soulforce is an LGBTQ-determined organization comprised of Christians, people of other faiths and people of no faith. They are not faith-based, they offer a Soulful critique of Christianity as a structure. In 2000, their focus was traveling around the U.S., (non)violently disrupting big denominational meetings. For the General Conference in Cleveland, Rev. White organized well-known leaders – Greg Dell, Jimmy Creech, Joe Sprague, Phil and Jim Lawson, Arun Gandhi – to be arrested on the streets outside of the Convention Center in order to bring light to the matter of LGBTQ injustice and exclusion in the part of Christ’s body called the United Methodist Church.

Soulforce invited United Methodists to join their members in this act of civil disobedience outside of the convention center. If you wanted to participate in this act, you were required to receive a training from Soulforce. Some 190 folks were arrested that day. Most of us were not Methodist. Soulforce communicated with the police and guided us in the process, from booking to jail holdings to court hearings.

We faced the inevitable questions: was it worth it? Did it make a difference? Did the arrests impact what went on inside the building that day? The impact was huge. Soulforce made a clear statement to the General Conference. They were organized. They were prepared. They were not messing around. They were intent on facing down LGBTQ discrimination within the Christian community. It was front page news in Cleveland the next day.

This Soulforce action outside of the Convention Center inspired and laid the groundwork for and inspired an action that led to 14 more people being arrested on the plenary floor inside of the General Conference on the next day. All of those arrested the second time were United Methodist. All of the arrests outside and inside the plenary shamed the denomination.

That same foundation impacted General Conference 2004 in Pittsburgh. Many movement veterans remember an incredibly moving, mass witness that year that we called The River Of Life. Hundreds of queer folks and their allies filled the plenary floor and took the stage in a huge river of rainbows. United Methodists were at the head of the human river that flowed into the hall, but the reason we made it in there at all was Soulforce. Because of demonstrating their commitment to taking serious and well-prepared disruptive action in 2000, the bishops agreed to enter into negotiations with Soulforce leadership in 2004 in order to avoid another series of humiliating public arrests. Soulforce had the experience. Soulforce had the direct action credibility. They helped us negotiate the peaceful River of Life. While in 2004 some members of our movement spent countless wasted hours negotiating yet another “agree to disagree” petition in Pittsburgh, Soulforce then spread out on the streets around the Convention Center to make a witness to the world.

During these two General Conferences, the movement’s attitude to Soulforce was tepid, if respectful. They made our Methodist movement feel nervous and look weak. They were blamed for being outside agitators, not respecting the long work of Methodist progressives in between conferences.

Despite forty years of resistance in our denomination, the situation for queer people and their allies has only gotten worse. Soulforce pushed at the calls for the incrementalist, legislative approaches of our movement that clearly had been and were going to be ineffective. Soulforce understood that basic Gandhian claim that, once dialogue and efforts to compromise continue to fail, disruptive direct action is what will bring people in power to the table to talk real change.

At the General Conference in Fort Worth in 2008, Soulforce did not plan a large-scale disruptive witness. By then, two long-time Affirmation members, Steven Webster and Jim Dietrich, who were well-trained Soulforcers, represented Soulforce to our movement. Steven Webster, myself and Troy Plummer constituted a negotiation team with the United Methodist bishops about any disruptive actions that might emerge. Steven and I were chosen for the negotiating team because of our experience with nonviolent disruptive action, the tools for which Soulforce had given us. Once again, Soulforce’s history of determined training and action lent us the credibility to be at tables of power, and to take up the mantle of collective action.

In Fort Worth, Soulforce had the foresight to secure a public permit for occupying a park across the street from the Convention Center for the entire length of GC. Some of the most powerful moments of GC2008 took place there. Soulforce gathered long-time LGBTQ justice allies Jimmy Creech, James Lawson and Gil Caldwell for a conversation after a public showing of For The Bible Tells Me So. They organized a panel on justice for transgender people in the park. Sue Laurie and Julie Bruno held their wedding there. They also brought the sound system. In strategic nonviolence, all of these details create impact.

In the tradition of Soulforce, at General Conference 2012, Love Prevails emerged as a nonviolent disruptive force in Tampa. Our occupation of the floor after the inevitable fail of yet another “agree to disagree” compromise legislation prevented any other punitive legislation related to LGBTQ concerns from coming to the floor for the rest of the Conference. (Read more about that action and some of Love Prevails’ history here)

Without Soulforce, our movement would not be where it is today. In all of our United Methodist efforts for change over the years, there has often been a fear of messages and actions coming from people that seem too radical or disruptive of the status quo. Since our formal inception as Love Prevails, Soulforce has walked beside our group with their trainings, counsel, presence and moral support as Love Prevails has emerged within our denomination to work for a more radical and disruptive witness that has been Soulforce’s hallmark. In my estimation, Love Prevails now stands within our movement as an inheritor of the disruptive tradition that Soulforce has brought to our movement over the years.

People in our movement don’t necessarily like Love Prevails for the same reasons they didn’t like Soulforce. We make them nervous. We ruin their plans. Though a number of our team are long-term insiders of the movement, we are considered outsiders by many mainstream LGBTQ Methodists and allies. We thank Soulforce for standing with us in the last four years to inspire, cajole and train us.

Some of the best moments we may claim as a movement at this General Conferences will be a result of Soulforce’s outside agitation, experience, preparedness, creativity and willingness to take risks. We continue to need Soulforce’s experience in strategy and nonviolent resistance. We need alliances and collaboration to broaden our vision for what is possible and to give us strength.

I hope that you will support our efforts to forge resistance together. If you are going to be in Portland for General Conference, please come to the training with Soulforce on nonviolent direct action on Wednesday, May 11.

Register for the training here.

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Coalition Interview with Evy McDonald of the United Methodist Association of Disabled Ministers (UMAMD)

Rev. Evy McDonald is the recent past co-chair of The United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities (UMAMD). She has been a member of UMAMD for about 10 years, and is the group’s official representative to the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC). She is also an elder in the New York Annual Conference.

According the UMAMD’s website (http://www.umdisabledministers.org/210.html), the organization has a three-pronged focus:

  1. Advocating: raising awareness regarding persons with disabilities and how ministries might be enhanced by the challenges that ministers work with in everyday life;
  2. Educating: helping others to understand disabilities and the way in which such is a means of being “otherly gifted” for serving God in ministry;
  3. Supporting: being together in an association to support one another and provide community wherein we join together to address the needs and opportunities that are presented by disabilities.

For General Conference (GC) 2016 in Portland, Oregon, UMAMD and multiple annual conferences together wrote and will offer five pieces of legislation. This legislation includes a number of topics.

  • Removing discrimination toward ordination candidates with disabilities; confirming that the ordination process ensures non-discrimination;
  • Dealing with discriminatory actions that occurred in the 2012 GC in regards to mental-emotional disabilities;
  • Securing non-discriminatory insurance coverage in relationship in to long-term disability policies and disability compensation, as well as non-discrimination in the UMC’s denominational employee disability benefits;
  • Ensuring accessibility at all annual conference meetings. Current legislation in The Book of Discipline only guarantees accessibility to general agency meetings.

The Association’s primary goal for GC 2016 is to get this legislation passed, and participation in LYNC assists in this potential passage. McDonald also said that UMAMD’s participation in LYNC broadens every member’s “overall sense of how much discrimination is out there” and how “discrimination comes guised in many different forms.”

McDonald described that the particular aspect of discrimination that people with disabilities face is silent. “It’s the largest unspoken discrimination in our country. Discrimination happens every day, so many times in our lives. People don’t want to admit it and they don’t want to talk about it.” Many times people with disabilities feel they are invisible.

She described the some of the deep-seated, unconscious ways people in the church think about people with disabilities. Church-goers may think about ending discrimination against people with disabilities by doing things that make it possible for people with disabilities able to sing in the choir and read from the pulpit, making the bathrooms as accessible as possible but, far too often, they believe that such changes will cost a lot of money that they will not get back.  In talking with people in churches there is an unconscious belief that most people with disabilities are poor and uneducated. McDonald explained that as a group, one of the largest percentage of people who live below the poverty line are people with various disabilities. The stereotype, however, is that “we are not talking about people who can’t be employed, but rather people who can work but aren’t working, for whatever reason.”

Then the discrimination moves into “What about the safety of our children? There’s an unconscious, media-driven fear that people who deal with intellectual disabilities are dangerous people and people who have emotional-mental illness are all going to be mass murderers. People still pull their children away from disabled people in the grocery store without recognizing what they are saying non-verbally and the discrimination they are perpetuating.”

The primary challenge of working in Coalition is “learning to trust one another. As that trust has grown we have discovered that all of us are desirous of finding ways to support one another that will enhance the whole.” McDonald expressed that at the last two General Conferences the LYN Coalition felt less viable. It was not truly working together across issues. Increasingly the Coalition feels like it is coalescing around a larger agenda. She said, “The way we’ve be talking about working together is that as each of the many issues come to the General Conference floor [for voting], the Coalition will be ready to support or do whatever is necessary at that time.” She further commented, “I see this coming into reality. When we work together, we are stronger. And it’s biblical. When one group is honored instead of ignored, it strengthens other groups, because it opens GC’s eyes about discrimination. We are creating a unified effort that will startle the GC participants.”

The challenge of trust comes in “when we show up to support someone else, and then it’s our turn to be supported, there is a fear that others will not be there for whatever reason.” Individual and group members of the Coalition have all dealt with different kinds of pain and discrimination. That experience can help all parties to remember “that each of us will say and do something wrong. Together we can all learn.” When something difficult happens among group members our first tendency may be “to write them off and decide we’re not going to trust them anymore.” The harder task is “to learn how to heal and grow together. It doesn’t mean we won’t also unintentionally inflict pain on one another but we can model intentional healing for the whole denomination.”

Therefore, the other primary challenge is communication. “We need to communicate, communicate, communicate and not make assumptions; ask for clarification.” When there is conflict among parties working together across differences, all parties have to “see where our own prejudice and blocks are, and be willing to move through them, or at least put them down temporarily.”

McDonald thinks that the greatest challenge of ending discrimination against LGBTQ people in the UMC is dealing with delegates from other continents. She remembers hearing in 2012 from one of the African delegates, who explained, “You people came over and told us that we were wrong to have multiple wives. You told us it was one man, one woman. And now you want us to believe something different?” U.S. Christians created this problem. In McDonald’s opinion, if a portion of the delegates outside of the U.S. could be brought into a new way of understanding, there would be no problem with ending the discrimination. McDonald believes that we need to move all people “to fully realize that discrimination is discrimination is discrimination.”

Clearly, the matter of the exclusion of LGBTQ persons is a central concern of the Coalition. “The language in The Book of Discipline, particularly for an LGBTQ person who wants to be ordained, is atrocious and a black smudge on United Methodism. But if you don’t think there’s any chance in hell of that being removed this time, where in the heck do we put our efforts in order to have an impact? I don’t have an answer to that question.”

Everyone will know the Coalition works when it stands behinds whatever needs to be stood behind in that moment. McDonald described an example of this kind of Coalition work that happened early in this quadrennium. It was originally decided that the Coalition-based Convocation gathering would be held in Atlanta. The Native American member of the Coalition, said the Native American caucus wouldn’t participate because of the offensive native mascot used by a major sports team in Atlanta. So the Coalition decided not to have the meeting there. “And that’s how it works. Instead of saying “well, that’s just one part of the Coalition, the rest of us don’t have that issue. It’s really hearing someone’s issue at a point in time when it is critical to hear it. And then putting force behind doing what’s right.” When a coalition doesn’t work it looks “like we’re all just scattered behind our own issues and just gotten behind walls and hunkered down in our own little forts.”

This is the fifth in a series of interview reports that Love Prevails is conducting with representatives of every member group of the LYNC as a part of preparing for General Conference 2016 in Portland, Oregon. We share what each group brings to the Coalition, their particular emphases and concerns for GC2016, and the challenges and benefits of working across various kinds of differences related to identity, opinion and action. While Rev. McDonald represents the UMAMD to LYNC, the opinions expressed in this interview report are entirely her own.

Interview with Walter Lockhart of Affirmation

This is the fourth in a series of interview reports that Love Prevails is conducting with representatives of every member group of LYNC as a part of preparing for General Conference 2016 in Portland, Oregon. We share what each group brings to the Coalition, their particular emphases and concerns for GC2016, and the challenges and benefits of working across various kinds of differences related to identity, opinion and action.

Walter Lockhart is the Affirmation Council’s representative to the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC) at General Conference (GC). However, Walter is not an official spokesperson for the group because he is not a gay man. He is an ordained elder in the Minnesota Annual Conference, where he is appointed to two churches and serves at Star Lake Wilderness Camp.

Since the mid-1970s, Affirmation has existed “As an independent voice of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer people.” Affirmation is “an activist, all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization that challenges The United Methodist Church to be inclusive, and radically speaks out against injustice for LGBTQ people around the world.” (See Affirmation’s website at http://www.umaffirm.org/um/about-us/1-about-us)

Lockhart explained that it is sometimes unclear what Affirmation’s role and presence is at General Conference (GC), because there not much thought among the group that GC is the place where action to make change will be most effective. Affirmation’s current witness has a different focus than the larger mainstream lesbian and gay movement in the UMC. He said, “Our focus right now is more on people who are being persecuted for who they are than people who are doing gay marriages, people who are being persecuted for being LGBTQ.” Affirmation is interested in generating support for queer folks in places like Uganda.

Affirmation and its predecessor organizations have been present at every General Conference since 1992. Historically, Lockhart said, “Affirmation has always attempted to be the voice for the voiceless. In the trans-queer world we are living in today, one piece of Affirmation’s work is to be on the edge of what inclusive is. As a result of this work, Affirmation has always made people be uncomfortable. That is part of our role at GC.” As a member of Affirmation, Lockhart has also served at previous GCs as one of LYNC’s GC chaplains. “There are a lot of people who are hurt right there at GC.” Part of our work is to ask “How can we be a part of care and concern and reasonable expectations, so that people can be at GC safely?”

Part of the challenge of working across organizations in the Coalition is that “the culture of the member organizations is so different.” The “sheer organization of the two weeks requires so many things,” and all of the organizations only work together on this one multi-faceted event every four years. Additionally, while “MFSA and RMN are staffed, historic organizations that are institutions, the various caucuses are a whole different culture of what an organization is.” The other, smaller all-volunteer groups “have a different set of stories of what it means to live together. The cross-issue legislative work is not culturally a part of what the smaller organizations have historically done.” The larger organizations’ agendas tend to have the biggest voice. “It makes it very hard to get to the point of having enough trust of each other in our different cultures.” Finding ways to be and to act together on equal and mutual footing is the most important element of the work. “We are going to be frustrated, this is part of the work of being human beings. How we work together constructively is the big challenge. No one of our voices is going to be the voice to change the church.”

Lockhart described the benefits of working together across the differences as he has experienced coalitions over the years. “Given that I am a White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, cis-gender, heterosexual person of privilege, if I am not uncomfortable, then I haven’t worked well in Coalition.” He said he personally grew the most when working with people who were the most different than him. “That is also when our movement has grown the most, when we have been in conversation, when we worked with such differences. The more diversity we have the more possibilities we have for bringing justice to our church.” Lockhart believes, for example, that if the Coalition would focus on the #blacklivesmatter and #15now movements, that would “be more of a challenge to the UMC than anything it has going on now.”

Lockhart hopes that the Coalition can be one of the “places we can build to honestly listen to each other.” It is hard to build time and spaces for such conversations because there is so much work to do for change. “But somehow the reality of change is only going to happen if we have built spaces where we can communicate.” There is a tension here for Lockhart, because he is a person who wants to live boldly and believes the Coalition should encourage us to live more boldly into multiple platforms of action and change, including LGBTQ matters and #blacklivesmatter. There’s a need for listening, but he also, said, “I’m ready for less playing nice and more being bold.”

He said that LYNC members will know the Coalition is working when “we are making everybody a little bit uncomfortable.” We will see the fruits of our work when we do things together that make us “all able to stand back and have that wow moment where realize we’ve really done so much more than we could have done alone.”

Coalition Interview: Methodist Federation for Social Action, Chett Pritchett, Executive Director

This is the third in a series of interview reports that Love Prevails is conducting with representatives of every member group of the LYNC as a part of preparing for General Conference 2016 in Portland, Oregon. We share what each group brings to the Coalition, their particular emphases and concerns for GC2016, and the challenges and benefits of working across various kinds of differences related to identity, opinion and action.

The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) “mobilizes clergy and laity within The United Methodist Church to take action on issues of peace, poverty and people’s rights within the church, the nation and the world.” (See http://mfsaweb.org/). The MFSA Board has developed a broad list of possible legislative priorities on progressive social issues for General Conference 2016:

  • economic justice
  • power and privilege
  • reproductive choice
  • LGBTQ inclusion
  • Israel/Palestine
  • peace and colonialism
  • immigration/migration
  • building an inclusive church
  • ecological justice
  • global health
  • higher education and ministry, and
  • denominational structure

With such a wide agenda for justice, MFSA prioritizes its programmatic responses to these intersecting issues. Once all petitions to General Conference have been submitted, MFSA will distill its focus and develop “Plumbline” position papers linking General Conference petitions to those issues.

Chett Pritchett affirms, “There are certain core pieces of legislation about which MFSA has always been clear. We stand firm to remove the incompatibility language for LGBTQ folks, and the funding, marriage and ordination bans.” One challenge at the 2016 General Conference will be how to respond to a “Third Way” proposal for LGBTQ matters “while maintaining that anything less than the removal of the incompatibility bans is not justice.”

Being “a catch-all for justice in the UMC,” is MFSA’s greatest strength and, at the same time, greatest challenge.” Chett quoted the words of poet-activist Audre Lorde, saying, “we’re not single issue people because we don’t lead single issue lives.” Chett noted that this is particularly so for the organization’s work at General Conference. MFSA has more than a hundred-year history of “looking at justice from multiple and varying perspectives.” MFSA’s very character is to work in collaboration even as other organizations must strategically focus on a single issue. Once partners in collaboration become accustomed to collaboration it is easier to recognize that “There are certain things that one of us does not have strength for, but our partners do.” The work of coalitions is to ask each other, “How do we help uplift that strength?” In the LYN Coalition (LYNC), we have to ask ourselves, “How do we do that for all forms of justice in the UMC?”

LYNC, Chett said, is still new to this kind of collaboration and new to working together across so many diverse issues. There are bound to be growing pains. “When coalitions work, each organization and each person recognizes when we’re working for the least common denominator and what needs to be done to make that least common denominator happen.” In LYNC, there are so many least common denominators, so many subjects on which to potentially act, “there has to be more give and take. Sometimes a group needs to give more to another issue than they take for their own, or take more assistance than they give to others.” We know that we are working together well, “When we come back at the end of each day and can say, we gave a lot today, who can give more tomorrow? This is not a zero-sum game. Some days, in any relationship, there is this give-and-take. One partner takes the trash out and does the dishes and will ask their partner for what they need from them the next day. Coalition building is an art, not a science. We are glad to be in this together.”

A critical part of the work of coalitions of any kind is simply showing up. In very concrete terms, the most basic things are “that we commit to being on calls, being in touch with one another, being present to one another. Ninety percent of ministry is just showing up, and it’s the same with movements.” The strength of being together is the ability to see work getting done together. Learning to become collaborative also means “we don’t have to take credit for everything, we don’t have to host everything, not everything has to have our stamp on it, so long as we are part of the work getting done.” Chett said, “When it works, there is authenticity. Everyone brings their authentic self and yet is open to transformation.”

Chett described his experience of showing up with MFSA as a part of a religious action working group related to reproductive justice issues. “As a gay male whose experience has not always been in the reproductive rights movement, I learn more just by showing up. When I don’t show up, I don’t learn. Also I can bring my own gay male perspective that others can learn from. My perspective has changed by my showing up. Showing up, listening and participating.”

Chett shared that the Coalition could be stronger if groups that support LGBTQ rights also showed up more consistently for the issues of racial ethnic minority groups. He wonders if the Coalition could do more with the #blacklivesmatter movement and more solidarity work for racial justice of all kinds within the denomination. The strongest move queer folks and allies to the LGBTQ cause could make toward realizing justice for themselves is to see their “work for LGBTQ equality alongside the work for justice in other parts of our church.” LGBTQ folks need to see themselves as part of a movement linked “to other social change movements, and with ecumenical and secular partners.” In relation to LGBTQ folks’ goals for full inclusion, Chett said, “Our work is part of a movement, not just a moment.”

Me & Bishop Dorff

Below are reflections on disrupting Bishop Dorff at Gather at the River by Rev. Dr. Julie Todd


Bishop Dorff and I know each other. We don’t have a close relationship, but we have a special one.  He serves on the UMC Connectional Table (CT). At the first CT meeting Love Prevails attended (see http://umcconnections.org/2013/11/19/disruption-prompts-church-leaders-address-sexuality-issues/ ), I disrupted the meeting by singing a list of the names of leaders the UMC has lost as a result of our denomination’s anti-LGBTQ policies. In a time of public conversation after the disruption, Bishop Dorff shared his experience of my disruptive singing. I invite you to listen all the way to the end. Here’s what he said:

At that time, Bishop Dorff was about to make an official episcopal ruling on the matter of the candidacy of queer-identified M Barclay (formerly known as Mary Ann Barclay) for ordained ministry. He had previously refused to rule when the Rio Texas Conference Board of Ordained Ministry denied the District Committee on Ministry’s decision to recommend M to move forward with their candidacy for ministry, but had been ordered by the Judicial Council to reconsider his own decision. So after Bishop Dorff’s comments at the break, I spoke with him about his words and his coming decision. He told me that I had been an agent of the Spirit to him that morning and he asked me to pray for him, which I agreed to do.

Ever since that time, at every CT and Council of Bishops meeting that Love Prevails has disrupted over the past two years, I have made a point of greeting Bishop Dorff and reminding him of our connection. He is always exceedingly warm and gracious, and he gives me big, Southern hugs, which I actually do not mind. I don’t mistake our connection for anything like real knowledge of one another, but we do have a connection.

When I heard that Bishop Dorff was coming to bring greetings to Gather at the River 2015, held in San Antonio at Travis Park UMC on August 6-9, I wasn’t surprised. It is customary to invite the bishop of the resident area where these progressive UMC conferences are held. It is common knowledge that Bishop Dorff has not been a supporter of LGBTQ people, but is a supporter of the Disciplinary status quo that inflicts harm on queer folk. Some of those present at Gather at the River thought it particularly good of Bishop Dorff to come, even brave, considering his known stance. I thought it was presumptuous.

In the past two years of deeply disturbing contact with the highest levels of our denomination through the work of Love Prevails, I have seen the very ugly sides of the episcopal imaginings of their benevolent power. And their stated lack of power to make change. The leaders of our denomination do not see themselves as perpetuators of injustice against LGBTQ people in the midst of their maintenance of the institution, and yet they very much are. So I imagined that Bishop Dorff thought it would be really good and welcoming of himself to say something kind to queer people, something that would not be considered controversial by anyone else.

I didn’t want to let that happen without a marking of protest.

Some might think that the protest that developed during Bishop Dorff’s remarks was highly coordinated. On the contrary. The night before, I understood that some Love Prevails members and a few other people would hold signs within the sanctuary while he spoke. Nothing major, just a few pointed messages. I wanted to position myself somewhere where Bishop Dorff could really see me, because of our connection. I wasn’t sure how it would play out, but I knew I wanted to look him in the eyes and speak to him, because we have history. When I walked into the sanctuary late that Saturday morning, it seemed a few more people had become interested in the witness, and now there was talk of kneeling at the altar, preparing material to create gags, and hanging signs and messages to the bishop from the balcony.

I quickly made two signs that read, “FRIENDS LAY DOWN THEIR LIVES FOR THEIR FRIENDS” and “BISHOP DORFF IS NOT A FRIEND TO LGBTQ PEOPLE.” I didn’t hang my signs from the balcony. I took them with me. And when it was time, I knelt at the altar rail.

Conference leaders began to introduce the bishop. The next thing I knew, he passed by me and headed up the stairs. I didn’t think about it. I followed him up there with my signs. He saw me. I said, “Hi, Bishop,” and motioned for him to read my signs. He said, “Oh, thanks.”

While our leaders continued to explain the creative and important tension of the moment, I spoke to the bishop. I said things like:

“We’ve shared a Holy Spirit moment in the past, Bishop, haven’t we? I wonder if this is going to be one of those moments again.”

“I’m going to be really interested to hear what you are going to say to gay people here today. You know there are a lot of gay people here today, right?”

“There are a lot of people who have suffered an awful lot out there today. I wonder if you are going to say something meaningful to them.”

“I wonder if this is going to be a Holy Spirit moment. I wonder if the Spirit is going to use you right now.”

Except for acknowledging that we had shared a Pentecost moment in the past, he mostly nodded and smiled. I don’t think he was shaking me off; I think he was quite nervous and unprepared for what was transpiring.

Here is a video of his remarks:

For those of you interested in seeing the full length of the events that unfolded, here is the video:

Once it was Bishop’s Dorff’s time to speak, there was some shouting at the bishop on occasion. There was anger in the room and weeping at the altar rail. He finished his remarks, walked off stage, and returned to his seat. I followed him and sat down right next to him. He didn’t notice me right away. When he did, I said, “Hey.”

He smiled, shook his head at me and said, “You know I love you, Julie.” Which was a little gross, but I honestly didn’t take his words as insincere.

Then he hugged me, a hug that I somewhat returned while squirming and saying, “Don’t try to make this better.”

I continued, “I’m sure this wasn’t pleasant for you, but I could not let you come here today,  deliver your episcopal pleasantries, and then walk away with credit for being the good guy for coming. You have caused a lot of pain to a lot of queer people and you need to know that. I’m not sure it was right for you to come today, but the Spirit is using the moment again. Do you see that?”

To which he said, “Yes, I see that. The Spirit is working within me, too, Julie, right now.”

My response was, “The problem with you bishops is even when you have these Holy Spirit moments, when you go back into your powerful church world, the spirit of the institution overcomes the work of the Spirit within you. That’s what happens to you bishops.”

He took some umbrage with that and said, “You don’t know what my experience is.”

I conceded that point, saying, “You’re right. I don’t know what your experience is. I take it back. But that is my experience of you guys. Seriously. But I take it back.”

During all of this there was ongoing kneeling, praying, weeping, singing and speaking by others in attendance.

Clearly the Holy Spirit was moving in the moment and even Bishop Dorff knew it. He said so.

Though this witness took place as a result of far more than the actions of Love Prevails members alone, what resulted felt like a classic Love Prevails experience. We #Showup prepared to seize prophetic moments of Spirit guidance. We #Disrupt. We are often perceived and described, as in this case, as disrespectful and bullies. We stand firm in the knowledge of ourselves as utterly authentic in responding to the Spirit as She reveals injustice and violence towards LGBTQ persons in the United Methodist Church. We understand that the expressed embodiment of our truths is difficult and uncomfortable for some people. As the saying goes, the truth hurts.

protest2We are often accused of “hurting our cause.” This is a clear reversal of who and what the problem is.

When Bishop Dorff saw me later again in the hallway, before we both left the building,  he again hugged me and said, “I love you, Julie.”

My reply was, “I know. I am yours in Christ whether we like it or not.”

To which he answered, “Amen.”

I did not disrespect Bishop Dorff, and neither did the witness disrespect him. He himself admitted to the working of the Spirit in the moments of protest and afterwards. Ask him yourself. Nonetheless, injustice does not deserve our respect.  All United Methodist bishops must be held accountable to whom and how they are agents of injustice in the ongoing perpetration of discrimination and oppression against gay folks in our church. Not one of them, including Bishop Dorff, can presume that their role or status as a bishop gives them the right to say a few words about inclusivity to gloss over the pain that they the bishops have caused by direct action or inaction, to a multitude of our LGBTQ family in Christ.

We need our bishops to stop throwing us breadcrumbs in the form of welcoming-sounding words, expecting us to keep waiting and praying for an end to discrimination within our church, when the power to end the pain and the hurt lies in their hands.  Bishop Dorff said he believes that the UMC should be fully inclusive, so let’s see him bring full inclusion to the Rio Texas Annual Conference and work toward full inclusion in the connection.  My sign said that Bishop Dorff is not a friend to LGBT people, because friends lay down their lives for their friends. Friends don’t let their friends get hurt when they can stop the harm.