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.

On Church Unity

One of the main arguments against removing all of the anti-gay language from The Book of Discipline all at once, or taking a prophetic word-and-deed stand of any kind for full justice and inclusion of LGBTQ folks, is that such actions are alienating and would split the United Methodist Church. Here Love Prevails’ member Rev. Dr. Julie Todd reflects on the way the argument for unity over justice makes her feel.


 

Poem: On Church Unity
By Julie Todd

Sometimes
the word unity
slips off the tongue
like a bad french kiss
from a teenage lover
leaving me feeling
sticky and gross.

Sometimes
the word unity
tastes like
nasty cough medicine
my mother forced me to take
from a stainless steel spoon
its cherry “sweetness”
making me gag.

Sometimes
the word unity
looms like a jackhammer
held by a laborer
in the idle position
next to a crumbling urban sidewalk
the jackhammer mocking:
“hold it together, hold it together.”

Sometimes unity
masquerades
as ekklesia
body parts working harmoniously,
hands and feet needing each other
when injustice like gangrene
untreated and festering
implies an impending amputation.

Sometimes unity
masquerades
as ideology
holding fast to theological abstractions
the comfort of inaction
for those who refuse
to make a clear-cut choice
for justice.

Sometimes unity
masquerades
as Christ himself
caught between
no more stone-throwing
& cursing a courageous woman
comparing her to a dog
who begs for scraps
she does not deserve.

Response to Bishop Kiesey’s Supreme Court message

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


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

Dear Bishop Kiesey,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace,

Rev. John Ellinger

Methodist LGBTQ leaders respond to General Conference Commission meeting

The Commission on The General Conference of The United Methodist Church, a body of leaders planning the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon, made a special invitation to representatives of Good News, MFSA, Love Prevails, Reconciling Ministries Network, and The Confessing Movement to their April 20TH meeting.

Representatives were invited to this listening session to share concerns, insights, and hopes for moving forward productively at GC 2016 with a particular interest in moving from debate to building consensus.

The meeting had no direct affect on legislation.

At the closing of the day, representatives of MFSA, MIND, Love Prevails, and Reconciling Ministries Network issued the following joint statement:

For immediate release
April 21, 2015
Contact:               Chett Pritchett, chett@mfsaweb.org
                                Amy DeLong, loveprevailsumc@gmail.com
                                M Barclay, m@rmnetwork.org

Methodist LGBTQ leaders respond to General Conference Commission meeting

 

April 21, 2105, Portland, OR – The General Commission on the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, the body organizing the church’s 2016 quadrennial governing meeting, General Conference, invited leaders from LGBTQ rights groups within the UMC to meet with it in closed session on April 20.

Following the meeting, the LGBTQ representatives – Dorothee Benz, Matt Berryman, Bridget Cabrera, Amy DeLong and Chett Pritchett – issued the following statement:

The issue of whether the United Methodist Church will continue to discriminate against LGBTQ people is of paramount importance to the future and viability of the church, not to mention the well-being of queer people in and beyond the UMC. We are grateful for the commission’s invitation and the opportunity to be in ongoing conversation with them. We ask the commission to take concrete, affirmative steps to prevent the harm suffered by LGBTQ people at past General Conferences from recurring in 2016. Whatever the church’s theological differences, there can be no place for spiritual violence in the church of Jesus Christ.

We also request that the commission schedule the consideration of LGBTQ-related legislation at the very beginning of the plenary week in order for this discussion to receive adequate time.

Further, we insist that any attempt at “dialogue” or “holy conferencing” must begin with the explicit acknowledgement that in the context of discrimination and oppression true dialogue can never occur. Genuine dialogue requires equality, and in the UMC that equality does not exist. One party comes to these dialogues defined as less than the other party, and no amount of vocal wishing for us all to act as “brothers and sisters together” changes that.

We remain open to all discussions that contribute to the process of ending the oppression of queer people by the United Methodist Church, and we will continue to work tirelessly to bring about that day. We are committed to calling the UMC to its highest and best self.

Dr. Dorothee Benz is the national representative for Methodists in New Directions; Matthew Berryman is the executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network; Bridget Cabrera is the deputy director of Reconciling Ministries Network; Rev. Amy DeLong is the founder of Love Prevails; and Chett Pritchett is the executive director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. 

Letter to Connectional Table about “The Third Way”

We recognize the Connectional Table’s attempt to expand two areas of church life to allow for more inclusivity of LGBTQ people (clergy-based decisions regarding marriage and Annual Conference-based decisions of ordination). We honor that there has clearly been struggling and creativity applied. However, in light of forty years of ever increasing draconian restrictions, we remain convinced that these sorts of moderations are too little, too late.

CT Third Way-page-001

Letter in PDF format: Love Prevails Response to the Connectional Table Third Way

Laura Ralston on #showup

Sometimes we are kept away from being present physically with the causes that we support. Sometimes that is because of the busy lives we all have in activism and sometimes it is because meetings are held in other countries and are not accessible to us whether clergy or lay members of the UMC.

Even so, we work to ‪#‎showup‬ in our own contexts in the ways that we can, when we can. In what ways do you #showup for justice? Below is Love Prevails member, Laura Ralston, participating in the ‪#‎DreamUMC‬ twitter chat leading up to the next Connectional Table Meeting.

10662170_663498890426877_1401278367060123837_o