Rev. Dr. Julie Todd wrote the following letter to her Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar. Upon receiving the letter, Bishop Devadhar invited Julie into conversation. They met recently to discuss the following matters and had a painful, meaningful, authentic dialogue. As Love Prevails and the Reconciling Ministries Network has encouraged United Methodists to do, please write to your bishop to express your desire to see justice for LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church. Love Prevails will make a disruptive witness to the Council of Bishops’ meeting in Lake Junaluska, November 10-15.
November 4, 2013
Dear Bishop Devadhar,
Greetings in Christ’s name. Unfortunately I write this letter to you prior to having a chance to speak with you in person, which had been my hope.
Now I write in response to the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops’ statement condemning Bishop Talbert’s officiating at the wedding of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince. When I read such things, I attempt to dismiss them as the familiar and useless institutional nonsense that they are. Yet I seem never to be able to escape how deeply these letters grieve me. I cannot dismiss the ways in which such communications perpetuate the exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in the church. I am dismayed at the all-too-familiar way in which the Council of Bishops finds it acceptable to perpetuate injustice and call it spiritual leadership. I find it unconscionable that the Executive Committee writes what I consider to be a statement of spiritual violence while attempting to affirm that all of you believe in the sacred worth of all people. I feel like you are saying to queer people: “Really, we still love you. We just hate you in practice. Now let us pray.”
My outrage is particularly directed to bishops like you. It appalls me that you agree to lend your own name to such statements. You have portrayed yourself as a bishop who is an ally of the movement for LGBTQ equality in the denomination. I recognize that you have attempted to be kind and welcoming in various ways. I assume you recognize that such kindnesses do not constitute acts of justice. When you purposefully add your name to statements such as the Executive Committee’s recent statement against Bishop Talbert, your previous acts of welcome die their deaths in a void of personal and institutional hypocrisy. Bishop, signing your name to such statements is not being an ally, it constitutes consciously engaging in acts of oppression. The bishops’ language reinforces the culture in which GLBTQ persons continue to be marginalized and violated on a daily basis. I imagine that you do not see it this way. You believe you are upholding your responsibility to faithfully administer the Book of Discipline. Do you not see that Christian tradition at large is the primary factor for creating the atmosphere of hatred for gay people in this country and all over the world? By reiterating traditional anti-gay Christian views through your affirmation of statements like these, you, Bishop Devadhar, personally participate in perpetuating this culture of hatred, exclusion and violence. This kind of purposeful perpetuation of oppression towards queer people undermines my respect for your authority as my bishop.
There is always an overarching theme in such episcopal statements that the most important value in these discussions is the unity of the church. In my mind, these appeals to unity are little more than a cover for preserving the institutional status quo. You bishops reconcile yourselves to injustice and sacrificing the lives and callings of human beings within our church so that the order of the church is maintained. Then you call this affirming sacred worth. Please, I am begging you, stop saying that the unity of the church is more important than the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. Just stop.
Some days I am so incredibly grieved by the lack of radical, risk-taking leadership within the UMC, I can barely stand it. On such days I believe that the church has completely lost the critical and transformational power of the gospel. I think about leaving this denomination all the time, but so far I cannot bear the thought of abandoning my friends in this struggle. Everyone in this denomination knows that there are plenty of bishops, perhaps even a majority, who approve of removing the anti-gay language and practices from the Book of Discipline. If only those of you who so believe would have the courage of one such as Bishop Talbert. If you all acted and spoke together for justice, I believe there is nothing the church could do to you. I also believe the reason that you and others do not make such stands is because you fear your own personal, professional and institutional losses. I for, one, do not fear such losses. I am free in Jesus Christ to pursue radical justice in the church and in the world. In light of my understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I have and I will continue to violate the Book of Discipline in marrying same-gender couples. I feel sorry for you that you do not feel so free, or free to openly dissent from the official position of the UMC on homosexuality. At this point in history, it is unconscionable for you to fail to do so.
As you know, I teach courses in justice and peace. One of the main topics that students deal with personally is how to gain the courage to commit themselves to social justice efforts, which they know will demand losses and sacrifice. One reason they find it difficult to conceive of doing so is because they lack role models. That they lack contemporary role models in the church of Jesus Christ is a sad testament to the lukewarm nature of our witness for justice. I have been blessed with many such role models. I remain in this denomination because of the courageous witness of so many leaders like Bishop Talbert. I wish you and your other colleague bishops would stand so courageously for what you know is right. I will continue to fault you until you do so.
I would like you to know that I will be present with Love Prevails at the Council of Bishops meeting in Lake Junaluska this month. I will see you there. Having voiced my outrage to you, I remain, nonetheless,
Yours In Christ, Julie
Julie Todd is an ordained elder in the New England Conference of the United Methodist and Affiliate Faculty for Justice and Peace Studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. She teaches online and lives in Lawrence, MA.