Episcopal Address Response: Rev. Wesley White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sue Laurie is Being Ordained in Portland!

Sue Laurie sent the following letter to friends and colleagues around the country, inviting them to her ordination at the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon coming up in May. If you are not able to stand with Sue physically in Portland, but would like to participate in Sue’s ordination, please read through the entire invitation to the end. There are directions for writing and sending good wishes and affirmations of Sue’s ministry among us.

March 28, 2016
Dear Friends,
As we have known each other for many years, you know my sense of commitment to my calling as a pastor. You may be surprised to realize that I graduated from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary with my Master of Divinity degree over twenty years ago. Wow.

You have been significant in my journey as I continue to pursue this vocation. Over the years I have officiated at baptisms and communion tables. It has been my privilege to preside at weddings and holy unions for lesbian, gay and “straight” couples. I have spoken at funerals. I have begun small “house churches” for LGBT people who often cannot find welcoming church family. “BYKOTA” gathered folks together in NW Pennsylvania, “Rainbow Circle” gathered people in the NW suburbs of Chicago. In ordinary and significant ways, we have been church for one another.

These times spent with you have helped me to claim my identity as a pastor within community. I am writing to let you know that I regard our shared times as sacred. I am humbled by your trust and appreciation. I am grateful for each one. These moments defy the reality that people like me are not “ordainable” by United Methodist law. I feel that I have been ordained over and over.

In twenty five years of ministry, I have spoken in many places about God’s love for all people. I have stressed the inclusion of LGBT people within the full life of the church in my travels for Reconciling Ministries Network. I have been present in wonderful moments of hope and love. I have also felt the great tension within the church against LGBT people. I have been the target of mean-spirited dismissal. With time for reflection you may have heard me say, “I have had a lot of adventures.” 🙂

I was not called by God for the institution of the United Methodist Church. I was called for people. I have felt the Holy Spirit in my adventures… they have been worth my life. Through your invitation to participate in church family life, I have felt encouraged. So much so, that I have realized that it is time for me to publicly claim the ministry you all have granted to me.

At the United Methodist General Conference in Portland this May, with those who wish to affirm me, I will claim and celebrate my ordination… I will let go of the institutional rejection and celebrate the authority that so many have offered, a grassroots ordination as Rev. Susan Laurie. I will “come out” as ordained and take up the responsibilities of one who has been called and affirmed for ministry. My adventures are my credentials.

Today, I am inviting you to participate. If you would like, please send me your memory or thought;

“One memory I want to share as evidence of the Spirit in celebration
of Susan Laurie’s ordination is…”

These are treasures of heart and soul that have been the fuel of my resiliency for all these years.

May God continue to bless our hope and love,

Sue Laurie, MDiv

  1. There are two versions of this invitation, keep reading…

I am celebrating my ordination at General Conference!

Love Prevails will help me with the ceremony. And you are invited to participate. I would like the first ring of people who can be present in Portland to be openly LGBT folk and from there everyone is welcome. We may be a small crowd that day, but that will be enough. Jesus did say, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20.

Yet, we are not a small in number – we are part of a larger cloud of witnesses, United Methodists even, who have continually offered an understanding of God’s inclusive love for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Of course, most people cannot get to Portland to stand with us physically, but you can be part of this moment… this time when our public witness of an open communion reveals that LGBT people are already on both sides of table; clergy and laity, pastors and people.

How to participate: Send in your good wishes or an affirmation of my ministry:

Sue, I have seen the Holy Spirit at work when you _____________________________________.
or

I remember when _______________________________________________________________.
or simply,

Yes, count me as one of the ordaining cloud of witnesses! I send my prayers for continued ministry. _______________________________________________________________________________..

If you send your name and address, I will send a note after General Conference.

Name              _____________________________ email ___________________
Street address _____________________________
City, State       _________________________ ZIP code ________

_______         I remain anonymous. You know, it can be dangerous out here.

You are a treasure to me. I am so grateful for the foundation of Christian teaching that I received as a child and the gracious, committed witness of love and grace that has constantly been part of my life as an adult. So many venues, so many friends and teachers. Thank you.

Please send your thoughts to:
Sue Laurie                                          or         suelaurie432@gmail.com
PO Box 480244
Niles, IL 60714                                            

   “Friend” the Love Prevails Facebook page for updates

Finally, I offer a favorite: John 14: 25-27   and another: 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 26    

On Soulforce

 

Soulforce-Logo-for-Web

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.