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

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?

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.

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

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February 12, 2016

Dear Council of Bishops,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Prevails

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

A Request for Your Consideration

The following blog post is written by Love Prevails member, Alison Wisneski, in response to a recent tweet after the pre-General Conference meeting. The tweet referenced below suggested that the UMC boards and staffs of IRD, Good News Magazine, Reconciling Ministries Network, and Love Prevails take a mission trip together.

image1Sometimes I see fellow Tweeters and, through following their hashtags that led me to their page in the first place, find out that we like many of the same things. I get excited and I want to follow them so we can share in things other than agreement that the United Methodist Church’s harm toward LGBTQ+ peoples needs to change or we will watch our church crumble to the ground.

This is not one of those situations.

When I am told by straight white men (which is unfortunately too often) that I need to take a deep breath, pause, and then intentionally put myself in harm’s way for the sake of their and other’s comfortability, I cannot agree with them (even if we both get excited at listening to the same music and love the same Netflix hits). It opens up topic for a conversation that, though I am sick of having, I will have until I am blue in the face. Ask me what I need. Stop telling me.

I am flooded with the words of so many who spoke of oppressors before me. Of Martin Luther King, Jr., who shared in the Letter from Birmingham Jail that direct action is the means to the end of negotiation where an oppressed people are heard. Of bell hooks, who says that domination is successful when an oppressor decides in order to love me, they must make me something else. Of Albert Memmi in The Colonizer and the Colonized, who says that when there is no justification for hatred from an oppressor, the oppressed have no choice but to revolt; to break the condition.

I have been called names by people who work for Good News Magazine and The IRD. I have no interest in spending time on a “mission trip” (which, I apologize, is problematic in its own right – as a justice-seeking space and church, maybe we find new language and ways to travel with our youth that are not focused on going in to help the people we deem need help, no?) with people who do not seek for me to have a life within my beloved church. The hateful words in Good News Magazine, which used to be delivered to my office door for distribution, made me feel like I was choking. Like I was buried under an oppressive Church that did not want me to thrive, it wanted me to suffocate and wither to nothing.

I do not live in a place of safety within the United Methodist Church. Currently, I am bound to a book that says my body is useful for the head count at the door but I had better not stand at that pulpit, the faggot that I am, and preach the words of Wesley and Jesus who may have struggled with my identity but would have no doubt let me have a seat with them at the table because they were a people who spoke of forgiveness – oh, no – my body can be counted but it cannot be recognized for what it is. It is strong, ravished by a bone disease that should have stopped me from walking in my teen years but worked through immense physical pain and suffering to get to a point of safety; it is wise, the first of its family to go to college and graduate school and now teach at the college level, moving its way up from homelessness to home ownership; but by in large it is queer, it so fiercely loves a woman who has coincided in the heart that beats in its chest for so long it feels like it has been in love with her since its formation…this body will not be recognized. Just counted in the pew as it sits silently, waiting for pastors and lay people and fellow good-hearted Christian folks who tell it to wait for the right time, to keep its voice down, to have conversation with those who oppress it.

No.

I will not swing a hammer and share in meals and have silly car-ride singalongs with those who want to stifle who I am for the sake of being a hollow shell to fill the space of a dying church.

I will not do something to make you more comfortable when it comes to my distaste for being called a radical sexual liberationist activist (which was fabulous, by the way, when we chose to co-opt it for our own t-shirts and not allow anyone to claim it but ourselves, a decision we are allowed to make as the holders of the name).

I will not be your hollow body to shove full of your ideas of what is the right thing to do before General Conference.

I will not go inside of your church walls, no matter how reconciled the are, to guest preach about my ideas that mean absolutely nothing in a space that so blatantly disallows me to have power.

I’ll be swinging my own metaphorical hammers beside those who seek immediate change. We seek it with our words, through song, through letters like this, through conversation with those who are actually open to hear my words and not fight with me over Twitter like I’m not a real person. I will hold hands with my fellow queers and those who truly seek to see people like me and those I love have power that we so deserve in the United Methodist Church and not with those who will wash it afterward, hoping to get the gay off.

Let this be a request to all of those who want to include themselves in the LGBTQ-inclusivity conversation within the United Methodist Church, or even involve themselves in communities that are marginalized to which they do not belong: do not make suggestions for me. Ask me what I need next time. And before you respond, listen. Don’t say a word. Hear the words I say, listen to my pleas. Because had you asked me what I needed from groups that so openly hate me for my body and everything inside of it, you would know that I sure as hell don’t need to waste my time with those who seek nothing but death for me and my family.

We Have Not Drawn Swords

12604653_823899601053471_8656883557888553864_o“We Have Not Drawn Swords”

Sue Laurie on the pre-General Conference briefing in Portland, Oregon

January 24, 2016

As the discussions in Portland ebbed and flowed around the conflict within the UMC – a conflict that is abusive to LGBT people, sometimes it was deemed “uncomfortable.” For me it was far worse than “uncomfortable” to withstand another public beat-down. And please understand, it is not just the ones argue with us, we are also beaten down by all those who avoid real conversations and wish to look away.

One metaphor from the stage was that “both sides come to GC with swords drawn” and the audience tacitly agreed. I caught that guy later and said his image was not true. We do not carry swords – we do not ask for the annihilation of straight pastors and their families – calling for trials against pastors and marriages. While we have felt the harm of those swords of words and trials, my people come with band-aids, song and rainbow promises of a God who will not abandon us.

We have not drawn swords. We ask for our place at the table. (He did apologize, but only to me.)

Yet at that big UM meeting in Portland this week, a small, faithful cloud of witnesses gave body and voice, finances and passion to the cause of inclusion. We believe it is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I was grateful on the first morning that Rev. Steve Lewis and Rev. Fred Day of the Archives and History, both did break the silence and name gay and lesbian inclusiveness as part of their witness. Very helpful, but then they were the only ones.

Listen to me, these people, these gathered Methodist delegates and agency people, they know that homosexuality is not a sin, yet they avoid us and are “tired of talking about it.” Well I am tired too. And I am so thankful for every moment that Love Prevails strove to offer light and grace. We fought the good fight, we tried.

“Uncomfortable” – poor you. (Wow, that just feels bad today. But I will get over it.)

Meanwhile, I am home again. I am with Julie and Bailey and friends from Pennsylvania. Chicken and biscuits, football, cozy house …

Please pray that I do not become complicit with the institutions of Methodists that are doing harm! Just because I’m tired and I don’t enjoy fighting, please pray that I will not sink into my comfortable privilege and say, “I don’t need this.” Pray that I will stay in solidarity with those still being harmed by United Methodists. Pray that I will lean forward into General Conference and be spiritually fit – able to speak, apply band-aids and trust the rainbow of God’s promise for the full two weeks, with style and grace… even as we differ from others.

Lastly, thank you Love Prevails for stirring this pot for the whole quadrennium… by disrupting the usual dormant period, I can feel hope for integrity.
Thank you, Love Prevails.

Coalition Interview with Rev. Cedrick Bridgeforth of Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR)

Rev. Cedrick Bridgeforth has been the chairperson of the Board of Directors of Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) for three years. As such, he has served as the representative to the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC) for that duration. He is an ordained elder in the Cal-Pac Conference who has served eight years as a district superintendent.

BMCR’s mission is to “Raise up prophetic and spiritual leaders who will be advocates for the unique needs of black people in the United Methodist Church.” (The organization’s mission, purposes and projects can be found at its website: http://www.bmcrumc.org/375206.)

BMCR supports legislatively the renewal of all resolutions about racism that need updating at General Conference 2016. Some resolutions were originally written at the founding of the denomination (1968). Some of those resolutions will be expanded with new language, bringing in a more contemporary voice about police and violence. In every case, BMCR urges the church not to be silent and complicit about racism. Bridgeforth commented, “Our original work is not done, so we are not changing that work.”

When asked about what BMCR brings to LYNC, Bridgeforth responded, “BMCR is a part of LYNC because the coalition helps us live out our mission, deepen our values and bring into view the great vision we have for a renewed, transformed and united body of Christ. We see the need for BMCR to be in relationship with the various partners of LYNC because each of us have issues and strengths that can benefit one another.”

Bridgeforth said that LYNC is still “learning the language and value of working in the intersections of who we are together.” In a speech at RMN and MFSA’s Gather at the River Convocation in San Antonio in August, Bridgeforth described this kind of learning in the following way:

When you invite me to your table, often I am expected or will at least try to conform to your rules, to your norms, to your language, to your agenda and any other thing that may aid in my inclusion at your table. The same is true when I invite to a table that is presumed to be mine. So, we see being a part of LYNC as bringing tables together. Each one brings their passions, interests, strengths, and norms and by joining tables together we are intentional about creating new and equitable space where no one is ridiculed for or forced to give up any unique perspective or principle. But, we join together and work from our common core and purpose. We see being together and working together not only as the best way, but as the only way to advance the greatest call to discipleship and care within and beyond the Church.

Coalition work has power because there is strength in numbers. But the numbers have more than strength, Bridgeforth said, when “within the Coalition we can understand that we are all broken at times, we learn to accept one another and work together to bring about as much wholeness as possible in each other.”

During the interview, Bridgeforth said the five racial-ethnic caucuses in LYNC bring a particular understanding of the intersections of work across differences. As Coalition partners, the caucuses “are uniquely positioned to see the inter-relatedness of all forms of oppression. We see that injustice in any form is an assault on all of humanity everywhere. As racial-ethnic caucuses, we tend to focus on racial injustice, but we see that injustice requires no preceding qualifier.”

Bridgeforth commented that he is personally coming to understand that while there are many factors in our lives and society that will not change—our sexual orientation, our race, our parents—yet “systems that are put in place to keep us apart can change; they must change, they will change.” He wants to live out a belief in that principle of institutional change and hopes it can be lived out “more and more within this coalition of justice and equity seekers.”

According to Bridgeforth, the greatest challenge to ending discrimination against LGBTQ persons in our denomination at this time is “the core fear that people have about what they would lose.” When Bridgeforth spoke of such fear, he referred not only to those who fear LGBTQ persons or changing The Book of Discipline to support gay people. He also highlighted the fear of change by LGBTQ persons themselves. Both sides need to address issues of fear.

He said that sometimes it is easier to set up the other side as the enemy. Both “sides” are concerned that “if we let these folks in, they are going to take something or make me something other than what I am now.” Bridgeforth believes that doing this kind of fear-confronting work “across camps” is helpful. He said, “We can stay amongst ourselves and that can be a very safe place and rewarding place and experience. Entering that dark place where there can be pain and anguish is a scary thing. But the only change that takes hold and matters is deep change. And deep change comes at a great price.”

How do we best work across these kinds of differences? Bridgeforth described his commitment to telling “soul stories.” These are stories that describe how we came to be who we are. He described his own upbringing. “I’m a Southern boy by trade and I come from a lineage of people who were not educated. We have spent a lot of time sharing stories. That’s how we got to know each other, our history, the land upon which we lived, and the expectations of us.”

In the telling of stories, we must “be as vulnerable as we can be, and refuse to demonize one another.” Bridgeforth believes that in the hearing and retelling of those stories, we may learn how to work together regardless of our stated or perceived differences. “If you share your story with me, I am bound to find connection in it somewhere. It requires vulnerability to share and listen.”

When asked to address the critique that the story-telling approach has been tried for forty years, yet failed to end the discrimination against LGBTQ people in the church, Bridgeforth responded, “That discounts that I have not been able to tell my story.” He explained that even though there are many people involved in various organization that have been telling their stories for 40 years, “not all of us have been around for forty years.”

He also countered the argument that we have told our stories for forty years to no avail. “Telling stories has had an effect. The work that Reconciling Ministries, MFSA and Love Prevails have done has made way for a whole new generation of voices to emerge.” There has been real work and change that has happened as a result.

From his perspective, “BMCR joined the Coalition as a result of that work. Black people in the UMC have fought against racism long before the inception of BMCR. So, the argument that 40 years is too long to tell our stories does not hold full strength with me because black people in this country has been raising up trying to combat racial injustice since the first slaves were brought here, but we cannot tire of that fight or of re-telling the narrative so no one every forgets how this came to be. BMCR eventually tackled sexism and gender discrimination. Both those fights continue within the Black arena for the purpose of creating equity at every level of the church and in society. The focus on full-inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ persons has not been a top priority for BMCR, but it is a great concern for me personally. As one who does not have the liberty of separating my person based on race, gender and sexual identity, I do not believe any justice-seeking organization can either. There are times when we are called upon to focus on one or the other, but that does not mean the other pieces and parts of our struggles or ourselves go un-noticed or are without value. It only means we have limited capacity to fight on all fronts at all times.”

Therefore, we have to keep having these conversations and sharing of who we are and where we are now. All of it is important work. “We are all beneficiaries of all of the work that has been done around race and homosexuality.” It is important that new people to the movement understand themselves as beneficiaries to a long history of stories and activism. People who don’t see themselves as beneficiaries of a tradition often are not motivated to believe and invest in making change. Bridgeforth remains unwilling to discount that storytelling and dialogue remain central to efforts for change.

The Coalition would be stronger if there were more issues and actions that call us out of our comfort zones. The broader church thinks that LYNC is just about LGBTQ issues. “As a Coalition partner,” he said, “I’m clear that is not the only matter. For the Coalition to be stronger, it needs to go beyond its one issue. It needs to demonstrate to itself that it is a broad-based coalition with a broad emphasis that would demonstrate how really broad the Coalition’s reach really is.” The Coalition would be strengthened by making the connections among multiple issues that would be noticed by the broader public as well.

We’ll know the Coalition is working well “when we can see how what we are working towards really benefits the whole, when no group or issue gets pushed to the back of the room. Bridgeforth explained that the church wins when we work toward fulfillment of broader agendas. It may be slow and incremental. At many of their gatherings, BMCR sings, 40 Years On The Journey. He ended his comments by saying, “We have to recognize the incremental or subtle changes that we benefit from so we can continue to raise hell in whatever ways we choose about whatever affects us or our sisters and brothers.”

This is the sixth 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. Bridgeforth officially represents BMCR to LYNC, the opinions expressed in this interview report are entirely his own.