Getting Played for the Okey-Doke

Rev. Dr. Julie Todd

13064667_10153997621681005_1496842297994785205_oI learned this phrase yesterday from our Soulforce comrade and nonviolence trainer Haven Herrin, which they learned from their colleague DJ Hudson. The way I understand this, “getting played for the okey-doke” means that when you are on the brink of real possibility for resistance and transformation, institutional power will respond by poking a hole in the fully drawn sail that is catching the winds of change and building momentum. The wind comes out of the sail and the momentum for change is lost. That is what happened to us yesterday. We got played for the okey-doke.

The passage of the bishops’ not-unanimous proposal, “An Offering For a Way Forward” (also known as the Howard Motion), surprised our movement for LGBTQ justice and inclusion. It poked a hole in the sail. Because we never win any votes. I know it disoriented me. I didn’t know how to feel.

Some claimed it as a victory, a step in the right direction. I don’t see it that way. To me, in that moment, we lost some of our collective outrage at the pain of so many years of exclusion and struggle. We ate the crumbs thrown on the floor for us at the General Conference.

This is not to say that what happened was not important. Certainly our pressure before and during GC has prevented worse legislation for LGBTQ United Methodists and their allies from coming before the General Conference for a vote. Votes we would have lost. The collective resistance of our entire movement brought us to this moment. It is good to celebrate that we are a force to be reckoned with. But we need to be clear that we have not won. It is important that we not claim victory.

The status quo of categorical discrimination against LGBTQ persons remains in The Book of Discipline. Nothing has changed. The last paragraph of the bishops’ Offering read, “We will continue to explore options to help the church live in grace with one another – including ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm while we uphold the Discipline.

Our movement seems to be focusing on the first part of this sentence and ignoring the second part. The original draft of this statement from the bishops did not include these last words. Early in the morning, these words entered this document as an official part of this statement. Nothing has changed. Those bishops who choose to pursue complaints and charges against LGBTQ folks and their allies will continue to do so. Those bishops who choose to avoid charges and complaints instead of taking a risk to challenge the status quo, will continue to do so. Nothing has changed.

We have been played for the okey-doke. Our belief in the system, that those entrusted with power have integrity and will act for good over against the maintenance of the institution, poked a hole in the sails of change. Our progressive movement is delusional if we believe that either this Commission or our Bishops will function to serve the well-being of LGBTQ, much less serve that which makes for justice.

13233099_890710957705668_4985865991270562402_nMany progressives will hear this as pessimism and cynicism. That may be true, but it is born of experience and knowledge of our movement’s history.

Recall that in 1988, the General Conference created the Committee to Study Homosexuality, which made very strong suggestions for LGBTQ justice and inclusion to the 1992 General Conference. Here is a description of what was proposed in 1992 (the entirety of this history can be found at http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_umc6.htm):

The * committee was able to reach a consensus on four items:

·      The 7 references to homosexuality in the Bible represent ancient culture and not the will of God. They cannot be taken as definitive.
·      Homosexuality is a normal human sexual variant, which can be healthy and whole.
·      Covenantal, committed, and monogamous homosexual relationships should be affirmed.
·      These conclusions are supported by God’s grace, which is visible in the life of lesbian and gay Christians.

A majority report recommended:

“The present state of knowledge and insight in the biblical, theological, ethical, biological, psychological, and sociological fields does not provide a satisfactory basis upon which the church can responsibly maintain the condemnation of all homosexual practice.”

The committee recommended that Paragraph 72 of the Social Principles be augmented to include:

  1. G)Rights of Homosexual Persons.Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to support those rights and liberties for homosexual persons. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting their rightful claims in same-sex relationships where they have: shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships which involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law. Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against gays and lesbians.

The homosexual report was “received” by the General Conference, but was not approved. 

The last sentence of that description is the most telling and relevant to our current situation. Since 1992, the discrimination and punishments for queer folk and their allies in The Book of Discipline have only gotten worse. The only year this was not true was at the 2012 GC, when Love Prevails held and occupied the floor of GC, resulting in negotiations by which the anti-LGBTQ legislation was pushed to the end of the formal agenda, from which it would not be resurrected. The Book of Discipline, however, remained the same.

Here we are again. The events of yesterday caused us to believe that some positive change took place. Yet The Book of Discipline remains the same. The perceived yet delusional feeling of victory poked a hole in the winds of creative tension and resistance that were mounting in the plenary yesterday. We could have pushed for more. We could have rejected their crumbs. We got played for the okey-doke.

Now we hear progressive voices believing there is a real shift in the institution, signaling hope that justice for LGBTQ folks is possible through this Commission. We hear that our bishops should be applauded for their leadership. We hear that certainly the acceptance of LGBTQ candidates and the end of church trials is on the way.

10615386_622181251225308_1699391787083688447_nHaving traveled around the country with Love Prevails these last four years in order to Disrupt the Council of Bishops’ and Connectional Table meetings, I can report first-hand that the dysfunction, fear and lack of leadership in moral courage and parliamentary procedure on display at General Conference is replicated at these meetings. The very bishops and other leaders that we believe to be on our side lack the guts to create change.

The problem is the failure of moral courage of progressive United Methodists, bishops and others, to disrupt the status quo. The Council of Bishops is a complete disaster area. I have never witnessed anything like it. They are neither willing nor able to act quickly or decisively on mundane matters, much less the matters of justice of almost any kind. This will not change with this Commission. The assumption of personal and collective integrity is mistaken.

Simply speaking, the order and peace of the institution is prioritized over justice for LGBTQ people. The painful truth of the matter is that they really just don’t care that much. When they demonstrate care, it is because we have cajoled and forced them to do so. That is my testimony.

I am angry with myself because in the moment that the bishops’ proposal passed, I also got played for the okey-doke. The wind came out of my own sails. I did not know how to feel or to act yesterday. I temporarily gave away my power and outrage. I have repaired the tear in my own sail today.

I heard many liberals yesterday say that they were prepared to force the issue for the next four years. They say they are ready create continued pressure, commit to hold our bishops accountable, and disrupt the ongoing unjust status quo.

Honestly, I doubt this is true. I hope to see people in this movement proving me wrong. Otherwise, we will have truly and lastingly been played for the okey-doke.

*Editor’s note: This previously said (presumably 100% heterosexual) which was language taken from the cited website. Here is a comment from Jeanne Knepper about the committee: The lesbian on the committee was Jeanne Barnett, of Cal-Nevada. Her partner, Ellie Charlton traveled with her to every meeting after the first because it was so brutal. The gay man appointed to the study left early on. Jeanne spoke in a prepared presentation of the report at the 1992 General Conference, the first time an identified LGBTQ person had spoken to General Conference since Keith Spare had 3 minutes in 1976. Your analysis is accurate and persuasive, but I would not like to lose Jeanne Barnett’s heroic work from our collective memory. We are grateful for the memory shared and apologize for sharing the misinformed citation.

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Reflections on Day 3 of General Conference

by Will Green

Will GIMG_6105reen (left) shared the following reflections about General Conference after Day 3 on his Facebook page. We share his thoughts here with his permission to show you what is happening from a Love Prevails perspective.

Post 1: Remember in seminary when “Covenant Groups” were just a time for some students to complain about their classes, but those same people never wanted to carry any water or take any risks to change the school? Ever been to a clergy gathering where it was all about listening to someone complain about how “their church doesn’t let them do anything” and how nobody understands how hard it is for them? If so, then you know what it is like to go up to a Bishop at General Conference to talk to them about how GLTBQ people are getting slaughtered and ALL THEY CAN SAY is how “dysfunctional the council of bishops is” and how you can’t imagine how bad it is to be a bishop. My response in these conversations is, “I do know, I can tell. Let’s do something about it.” Of course they don’t know how to do something about it. That is why they have risen to the positions they have risen to. They are well trained and well practiced in how to survive and advance in the system that exists. Tonight every time I said, “Let’s do something about it”, the response was “I want you to know that I am personally very sorry for what is going on.” We have lots of sorry, sorry people in our denomination. We need more people who are ready to do something about it.

20160513_112608Post 2: trigger warning: child abuse, violence, homophobia, transphobia – an update from the United Methodist General Conference ‪#‎UMCGC GLBTQ people don’t just get beat up on the plenary floor at General Conference. We get massacred in every subcommittee in the convention center. As many people know, a successful strategy for many years has been to insert as many discriminatory statements in as many parts of the Discipline as possible. This way it isn’t just the Social Principles that deal with our lives. It is all over the place. But this little update just comes from the Church & Society B, Human Sexuality Subcommittee. To get to the point, we are going to lose every single vote in this subcommittee this time: every single vote. For example, today they voted down a resolution on culture and identity (petition no. 60114) that affirmed human diversity is a reflection of God… because, to directly quote a delegate who spoke, “the only culture that matters is Biblical culture”. They voted down a resolution on “Reducing Harm for LGBTQ Children and Youth” (petition no. 60841) because, to directly quote a delegate, “He that does not punish the child, does not love the child.” (To be clear, the group voted with those who said – out loud – that disowning, beating and punishing children for being GLBTQ is not something the church should be against because it is a way of disciplining children and does not harm them at all.) They voted down the compromise resolution from the Connection Table called “A Third Way on Human Sexuality” (petition no. 60820) that states there is disagreement over how United Methodists understand sexuality because, to directly quote a delegate, “Jesus is Lord. We must follow Jesus.” It is unclear whether they will tighten the church’s current sexuality statement (which of course says “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”), or if they will simply let it stand as is. One thing I will say about the UMC in 2016 is that perhaps we have finally become so anti-GLBTQ that even the conservatives do not feel they have anything left to prove. They already know they run the church and can pass whatever they want. Liberals have been wasting time talking about process and tinkering with new rules that would allow us to share our stories in “safe” (sic) space. Since those conversations are now clearly and cleanly out of the way, they are now proceeding with destroying us.

On the Body Being Broken

by Rev. Dr. Julie Todd of Love Prevails

There was a regularly scheduled communion at every lunch break in the plenary hall at General Conference 2004 in Pittsburgh. On the day the votes went badly yet again for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people, we decided as a movement to go to that communion service, where we could stand in the presence of the broken and resurrected Body of Christ. We did this as a means of re-asserting our presence in that Body. We did this as a means of resistance against the false institutional proclamation of one cup, one Body, and one baptism, when clearly the actions of the General Conference actively sought to harm and exclude members of that Body. All forms of our resistance and disruption are embodied statements that the unity of the church cannot continue to come at the cost of LGBTQ lives. These same acts of resistance are theological affirmations that the resurrected Jesus lives on in our whole and beloved queer bodies.

There was weeping and there was anger at communion. There was a need for a deep and spiritual release of the violence that had just been done to the queer body of Christ. Because when votes are cast against the very existence of LGBTQ lives, that is what is happens: violence. Christ’s body crucified again. To not act in the face of such violence does further violence.

A communion chalice, broken in protest of the United Methodist Church's stance on homosexuality, is returned to the altar during the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

A communion chalice, broken in protest of the United Methodist Church’s stance on homosexuality, is returned to the altar during the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

When the sacrament was over, Rev. James Preston grabbed a chalice from the communion altar and smashed it on the floor. The smashing of the chalice was not a planned disruption. While there were many interpretations of that moment of breaking the chalice, in fact there was no chaos, no storming the altar, no desecration of the sacrament. There was a holy anger that took shape in a prophetic act. A movement of the Spirit interceded to express anguished sighs too deep for words. In the breaking of the cup, Christ spoke to the real brokenness of the moment.

The bishop who presided at the communion table was distraught by the destruction of the cup. He got down on the floor and started gathering up the pieces. Others joined him in the gathering.

I had an instinct to take a piece. I had some internal resistance to making the moment feel better than it was. I didn’t want all of the pieces to be gathered up. I pushed toward the front of the group, bent down, picked up a piece off the floor, and put it in my pocket. At the time I had no idea that later they would try to reconstruct the chalice from the broken shards.

 

I Julie's piece of cuphave always had that piece of the cup. I rarely speak of it or even look at it. It sits in the same box with other sacred items from across the years. I know exactly where it is in my home. It is in my consciousness. When a recent article came out in the United Methodist News Service surveying the history of LGBTQ protest at General Conferences, I saw a picture of the reconstructed cup and I remembered my piece. I went to the box, took it out and held it for a while. Twelve years later. Things are still so broken and bad in this church for queer people. It is so devastatingly sad and wrong.

The LGBTQ participants in the communion service in 2004 were accused of breaking the church body and fomenting division. This accusation, which will no doubt be leveled at pro-LGBTQ forces at this 2016 General Conference, is completely ludicrous. The Body already was and is broken. The piece of the cup I possess stands as a symbol of this. In the church there simply must be some recognition that parts and pieces of the LGBTQ Body of Christ in the United Methodist Church have been not only broken, but lost. Left. Dead. Gone. Taken. Parts that aren’t coming back to be made part of the whole. Irretrievable by choice or by force.

Despite accusations to the contrary, many of our actions as pro-LGBTQ organizations and as a movement at our General Conferences are Holy Spirit led. This was true of this moment of communion in Pittsburgh in 2004. This will also be true of the disruptive actions of pro-LGBTQ forces at this General Conference. You may not experience it this way, but we ask you to be open to the possibility that this may be true. The LGBTQ body may be broken but the Spirit of Christ is alive in us. All forms of our resistance and disruption are living, embodied statements that the unity of the church cannot continue to come at the cost of LGBTQ lives. Jesus the Christ is working through our movement to speak truths and to resurrect the parts of the broken body that remain.

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.

Power and Persuasion

POWER & PERSUASIONIMG_3945
Written by Julie Todd
For General Conference 2008

I have been giving
a lot of thought
lately
To the notion of
Moral Persuasion –
the idea that we have
We, in this case
Being
primarily
Well-meaning
Privileged
White People
the idea that we have
& organize ourselves around
That people can be persuaded

We think
People will be morally persuaded
When
Our cause is righteous enough
Our logic is rational enough
Our argument is strong enough
Our actions consistent enough
Our tone kind enough
Our appeal passionate enough
& so on

We fundamentally believe
People will be morally persuaded
To agree with us
And act in accordance
(these are two different steps
& even if we persuade people to agree,
this does not equal
their willingness to act in accord)

From what I can tell
this “persuasive” strategy
Has rarely persuaded people
at least
not on slavery;
not on women’s suffrage;
not on war;
not on nuclear arms;
not on the environment;
not on civil rights;
not, so far, on gay rights;
I mean, in 2004
We could not even morally persuade
General Conference
to state that we disagree

When people ultimately decide to change their positions on such matters
It is rarely because they have been morally persuaded
But for other reasons
primarily Economic
Sometimes to save face
“evidence” that convinces
or for other political purposes
especially when to make compromise
means to avoid meeting more radical demands

Please, persuade me
Give me an example
To persuade me that I am wrong
& I am not talking about individual instances
where someone changed their mind about something
when institutions have changed
under the influence of moral persuasion

Moral persuasion.
Why do we keep trying this tactic?
I believe the reason mostly relates to
Our being
mostly Well-Meaning White People

Well-Meaning People believe
that hearts change through moral suasion
Well-Meaning People do not want
to examine the power that holds oppression in place
the material and emotional advantages
that moral suasion does not sway

Examining power means
we are going to have to talk
about what kind of Action,
Not Talk,
Action,
dislodges power
& that’s too scary
Too risky
for most Well-Meaning Christians
Challenges our assumptions
about what works
& What doesn’t work
Like righteousness,
rationality,
strength,
consistency,
kindness,
passion
The conservative right gets this
What do they do to persuade?
Power, money, threats.
For good reason
We don’t want to play that game
But what game are we playing?

One of the reasons
we think these things work
gets at being
primarily
White People (the well-meaning kind)
whose privilege in other arenas
when our whiteness, Christianity, social class
And not queerness
gets to define how these things work
we often do secure the changes or successes we seek
& we think we get these things
Because
We are
righteous,
rational,
strong,
consistent,
kind,
passionate.
When in fact
Our success depends on
The power we have
Because we are
White
Christian
Upper-classed
But we attribute our success to these other attributes
& not to privilege & power

But you say,
“I have seen hearts and minds change.”
And, thank God
So have I
But that is not the same thing.
That is individualism
That I can convince you that I am morally right
Has very little to do
with changing the system to reflect that position
White people don’t get things
that they want
because they are morally right
White people get what they want because they have
power
& privilege
& do what it takes to protect & keep it

Persuasion &
Power
As a movement
We gotta think about these things some more.