An Open Letter to Members and Leaders of the United Methodist Church

For nearly fifty years, The United Methodist Church (UMC) has officially discriminated against LGBTQIA+ persons in doctrine, policy, and practice. In these five decades, the UMC has denied God’s calling of Queer people to ordained ministry, revoked Queer clergypersons’ orders, refused to bless Queer relationships in ceremonies of Christian marriage, and spoken vile lies about Queer lives from the floor of General Conference. The UMC’s intention that “all persons are individuals of sacred worth” has been rendered hollow by its sinister anti-gay teachings and its inflammatory silence in the presence of physical violence and spiritual harm. The Church has been and remains complicit in the suicides, beatings, and murders of Queer persons.

For nearly half a century, many faithful saints attempted to change this denomination’s damning policies, but to no avail. Nearly ten years ago, Love Prevails was formed because the usual approaches of legislation-writing, storytelling, holy conferencing, and relationship-building had failed to halt the steady advance of intolerance. Following the Spirit’s leading “to do a new thing,” we engaged in a three-dimensional strategy to challenge and abolish the UMC’s policies and practices of discrimination against Queer lives. Our goal was to Disclose, Divest, and Disrupt until the log of “incompatibility” was removed from the eye of the UMC.

During this decade, Love Prevails consistently showed up and challenged the powerbrokers of this denomination (see a list of activities below). We believed in the possibility that this time (or at least, over time) direct-action witness would stir institutional change. We were mistaken.

Despite our best efforts to engage the Council of Bishops, the Connectional Table, the Commission on a Way Forward, General Conference delegates, and numerous Boards and Agencies to act with justice, we, like our faithful predecessors, failed to effect positive change. Instead, we were consistently dismissed as an unwelcome distraction.

The behavior and attitudes of those openly opposed to us were no more hurtful than the quiet words of encouragement whispered in empty hallways by progressive leaders – a fearful lot, content with closets and unholy concessions, whose words were never coupled with public, liberative action.

While these leaders tinkered with plans that allowed just the right amount of discrimination to still be palatable to average United Methodists, the hard right successfully passed more crushingly oppressive legislation and the church’s collective heart hardened against us. It has become clear: the UMC is satisfied to sacrifice some of its most vulnerable members in the most hostile places – in the United States and around the world. Nothing more visibly illuminates the moral bankruptcy of this denomination.

Love Prevails has come to the painful conclusion that the UMC’s leadership and methods are so corrupt that we must replace “Disclose, Divest, and Disrupt” with one final word … “Depart.” Many of us in Love Prevails have spent most of our ministries trying to provide opportunities for education, change, and prophetic courage – but no longer will we invest our treasure, talent, time, or energy in trying to reform a denomination which has neither the desire nor the capacity for such transformation.

We once thought the church’s proclamations of grace were simply ironic, but now we understand them to be wicked hypocrisy. We wrongly assumed that the UMC would eventually change its policies and welcome Queer people, if only out of institutional preservation. We failed to realize that the church would rather destroy itself than become fully inclusive. And now, because we hold no hope that the UMC will live out its highest stated values, we cannot counsel anyone of good conscience to remain in this denomination.

While we are thankful for the many who have supported our work of consciousness-raising and direct-action, we repent that our presence and persistence sent a damaging message to Queer folx and our allies that hate and spiritual harm should be endured. We deeply apologize for the ways we encouraged others to stay in the battle longer than was healthy for them.

It is time to shake the dust from our sandals and find new ways to partner with God’s good news. With this open letter, Love Prevails releases itself from the UMC denomination which, for its entire existence, has proved to be an adversary of grace and justice for God’s Queer people. As we move ahead, our grief has ebbed and our capacity for creative ministry and new life is being refreshed. We offer deep gratitude to those who have gone before us and illuminated our path out!

Sincerely,

Laci Lee Adams [white/cis/queer, she/her – Laci fell in love with the UMC as a teenager, received a B.A. in Religious Studies with a certification in Church Careers at Centenary College of Louisiana, graduated with a M.A.S.M in Spiritual Direction and Religious Leadership at Iliff School of Theology.  She attended the past 5 General Conferences, co-facilitated FLAME (Iliff’s queer caucus group) and served on the MoSAIC and Affirmation boards. Seminary educated, but unordained as an out queer person, Laci has served as a Unitarian Universalist religious professional since 2017 after being radically welcomed and affirmed by First Parish in Brookline, MA (UUA).] 

David E. Braden [white/cis/gay, he/him – Born, baptized, raised and confirmed United Methodist, Lay Leader, Northern Illinois Annual Conference Lay Delegate, Northern Illinois GBHEM committee member and campus ministry liaison, North Central Jurisdictional Conference Delegate, GBHEM Board Member and Chair of the Committee on Racial and Ethnic Concerns, former Reconciling Ministries Network staff member—all before age 30—and now unchurched.]

Dr. Deborah Buffton [white/cishet, she/her  – Daughter of a United Methodist pastor, actively involved in local UMCs for many years. Served on COSROW in the Wisconsin Conference, and a member of Kairos CoMotion for many years. Left the UMC in 2003; currently participates in a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.]

Joy L. Butler: [white/cishet, she/her – Fourth generation Methodist (North GA & Rio TX), 11 years working on LGBTQIA+ inclusion in church and society, RMN “Voices in the Wilderness” laity award (2015). Invited out of the UMC in 2020, currently an active LMX collaborator] 

Rev. Amy E. DeLong [white/cis/lesbian, she/her – Born and raised UCC, Amy gave her heart to the the United Methodist Church while in college. Believing it was possible for the UMC to live into its noblest proclamations of love and grace, she offered the best years of her life and all the years of her ministry advocating for LGBTQIA+ justice. An ordained Elder in the Wisconsin Annual Conference, she attended five General Conferences and is a former conference co-chair of COSROW, Jurisdictional Conference Delegate, MFSA National Board Member, author of “The Loyal Opposition,” Co-founder of Kairos CoMotion, Love on Trial, and Love Prevails, survivor of a church trial, and recipient of several UM awards. Left ministry in the UMC in 2021.

Rev. Will Green [white/cis/gay, he/him – Left the United Methodist Church at the end of 2020. He was at the last 5 General Conferences, served on the RMN and GBHEM boards, and was very active in the New England Annual Conference. Will is the pastor of New Brackett Church on Peaks Island in Maine, which disaffiliated from the denomination as well. In 2021, the congregation and pastor are entering into a relationship with both the UCC and the UUA.] 

Rev. Sue Laurie [white/cis/lesbian, she/her – 2020-21 Garrett-ETS Distinguished Alum Award (class of 1995), 2016 General Conference, affirmation and ordination by grassroots authority, 2001 – 2009 National Outreach Coordinator for Reconciling Ministries Network, 2000 as a spokesperson for the AMAR coalition, arrested at the Cleveland General Conference. Inspired by those who live and contribute in harsh, anti-queer geographies.]

Laura Ralston [white/cis/lesbian, she/her – Illinois Great Rivers Conference (IGRC) lay delegate (~1997-2006), IGRC CCYM District President (2000-2001), Wesley Foundation at the University of Illinois Peer Minister (2001-2005), President of the IGRC United Methodist Student Movement (2004-2005), US-2 Missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries (2005-2007), Middle School Camp Dean for the New Mexico Conference UMC (2009-2011), Board Member & Treasurer of the Wesley Foundation of the University of New Mexico (2009-2011), District Youth Coordinator of the New Mexico Conference UMC (2009-2011), New Mexico Conference lay delegate (~2009-2011), Iliff Student Senate Co-Chair (2012-2013), Love Prevails (2013-present). Seminary-educated and not ordained. Currently unchurched.] 

Dr. Mary Lou Taylor [white/cishet, she/her – Fourth generation Methodist, board member of Kairos Co-Motion, active member of Love On Trial and Love Prevails. Former chair of Missions Committee, Chancel Choir, LGBT Advocacy Group, Environmental Concerns Committee and Church Council president at Whitefish Bay UMC. Currently churched by nature.]

Dr. Julie Todd [white/cishet, she/her – Born and raised united methodist, third generation methodist clergy, educated at all um-related higher ed institutions, methodist missionary in hiroshima, japan, ordained in new england conference 1996, did all kinds of institutional things in resistance to white racism and queer oppression, finally divested elders orders in 2019, currently living my best life in grassroots spiritual community in lawrence, massachusetts.] 

Brenda Smith White [white/cishet, she/her – Formerly served as Chair of Wisconsin Conference Council on Ministries, Co-Chair of Conference COSROW, Chair of NW District Committee on District Superintendency, Vice-President of Conference UMW and in several roles in district UMW organization. Advocate for LGBTQIA+ justice and full inclusion in UMC, Founding Member of Kairos CoMotion and Love Prevails.  Currently attending UU Fellowship.]

Rev. Wesley White [white/cishet, he/him – Ordained Elder, Student-body President of Garrett Theological Seminary, Wisconsin Delegate to multiple General and Jurisdictional Conferences, WUMFSA Perry Saito and Wisconsin Status and Role of Women awards for inclusion, Certified Intentional Interim Minister. Still carrying the identity of UM as an albatross to remind me of structural harm.]

A Sampling of our Actions:

  • Shut down General Conference until anti-Queer, anti-Trans legislation was removed from the agenda. (Tampa, 2012)
  • Moved the Connectional Table to break their agenda and open a discussion about human sexuality. (Nashville, 2013)
  • Witness at the trial of Rev. Frank Schaefer in East Pennsylvania Annual Conference. (2013)
  • Raised the question that led the Connectional Table to pass a motion to remove the “incompatibility” language from the Book of Discipline (though the motion passed overwhelmingly, the Connectional Table never acted on it). (Chicago, 2014)
  • Invited by representatives of the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table to meet for conversation with traditionalist representatives. Members of Love Prevails, RMN, and MFSA arrived to learn that the conservatives had backed out of the meeting at the last minute. (Chicago, 2014)
  • Excluded from being present for the panel on sexuality. (Oklahoma City, 2014)
  • Invited into conversation with Discipleship Ministries and received a confession that the “funding ban” had caused them to self-censor their publications relating to human sexuality and spiritual growth. (Nashville, 2015)
  • Asked a key question at a Commission on General Conference that prevented General Conference from being held in a country where it was unsafe for Queer people to attend. (Portland, 2015)
  • Discussed issues of inclusiveness in communications with UMComm staff at their invitation. (Chicago, 2016)
  • Participated in pre-General Conference panel and witness. (Portland, OR, 2016)
  • Provided non-violent, direct-action training at General Conference (Portland, 2016)
  • Met with two recent presidents of the Council of Bishops and with all Bishops who were to become members of the Commission on a Way Forward prior to its first gathering. Advocated clearly for 50% queer representation on that Commission. Our demands were ignored and queer representation was not increased. (St. Simon’s Island, 2016)
  • While present at the Council of Bishops at their annual meeting, requested the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum and Library to more accurately portray John Wesley’s encounter with Native Americans and the United Methodist Church’s historic relationship with enslaved people. (St. Simons Island, GA, 2016)
  • First meeting of the Commission on a Way Forward, continued to demand more and diverse LGBTQ+ voices. Told by a bishop that we had been locked out of the building so the Commission could “create sacred space.” (Atlanta, 2017)
  • Endured being shut out of United Methodist buildings and bathroom facilities and being policed (sometimes by armed guards and sometimes by JustPeace) while meetings were being held about the presence of Queer people in the UMC. (Oklahoma City 2014, Atlanta 2017, Glenview, IL 2017, St. Louis, 2019)
  • Helped defeat the segregationist One Church Plan at special session of General Conference. (St. Louis, 2019)  
  • Participated in a General Board of Higher Education and Ministry colloquy on missio dei and published Nothing About Us Without Us: LGBTQ Liberation and The United Methodist Church. (2017, Boston)
  • Submitted proposals imploring the UMC to allow a significant representation of Queer persons in meetings and commissions where the future of Queer people in the church was being discussed. Each of these attempts failed.      
  • Wrote numerous position pieces and letters – still available on our website (loveprevailsumc.com) and Facebook page (facebook.com/loveprevailsumc).

2018 Fundraising Letter

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December 6, 2018

Dear Friends in the Struggle:

Everything Love Prevails has ever said or done boils down to one message: Take all of the anti-queer, homophobic, cis-gendered language out of The Book of Discipline. This is simply the only way for justice, love, and inclusion to be made real in the United Methodist Church.

Like many of you, we have felt discouraged and stymied over the past couple of years. Despite repeated pleas from Love Prevails, the Commission on (Not) the Way Forward carried on its work without significant input from a diverse representation of United Methodist queer folks. The release of the Traditionalist Plan has revealed the vicious intent to purge the church of an LGBTQ+ presence. And the hearts of our Bishops have remained hardened against us as they prioritize the maintenance of the institution over the well-being of God’s queer children.

We have shared the shock of just how bad this denomination feels right now and how much worse it might actually get for queer folx and their allies in February of 2019. As we approach the Special Session, we are horrified that the majority United Methodists seem to believe that the One Church Plan is a step in the right direction.

Love Prevails remains committed to the defeat of the One Church Plan. The effect of the One Church Plan would be the functional abandonment of our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters in certain geographic areas, while others enjoy newfound privileges. The United Methodist Church certainly does not need pockets of prejudice and discrimination which will continue to infect the rest of the Body of Christ.

Additionally, while it is true that the One Church Plan would remove the costly public spectacle of church trials – it will do so by transferring all that violence to our Annual Conferences and local churches, where LGBTQ people will not have access to representation or due process. Instead of creating One Church that is faithful to the gospel, this plan will essentially place targets on the backs of LGBTQ people and make every one of us more vulnerable to the worst of United Methodist harm. The One Church Plan will set us all back by making every decision-making body of the church, at every single level, a place where LGBTQ people will be debated and wounded, punished and pushed out.

In the midst of all this, Love Prevails continues to offer our critical analysis and prophetic witness. Our core team meets by phone and video conferences every three weeks and we have podcasted our most current thinking. Some of us continue to travel to meetings at the general church level – where we are often met by local police and hired security, avoidant glances, and tired excuses. We have been faithful to loving one another through difficulty of continued exclusion.

And, we will show up at the General Conference in St. Louis, offer the faithful witness that only we can, and demand again that General Conference remove the discriminatory language and make no provisions for codified, localized injustice.

To do this, we need your support. We humbly ask you to make an end-of-year contribution to help our team travel to and from St. Louis. Please consider a donation to Love Prevails by going to our website www.loveprevailsumc.com/donate or by sending a check to Love Prevails c/o Kairos CoMotion. P.O. Box 45234, Madison, WI 53744-5234

With Advent Hope,

The Members of Love Prevails,

 Rev. Amy E. DeLong     Rev. Will Green       Laura Ralston         Dr. Mary Lou Taylor   

Rev. Dr. Julie Todd       Brenda White          Rev. Wesley White

PDF of 2018 Fundraising Letter

Open Letter to the Council of Bishops

November 2, 2018

To the Council of Bishops,

Love Prevails formally requests that the Council of Bishops write a pastoral letter to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer members of the United Methodist Church in the United States and around the world. As the special General Conference approaches, our lives and worth come under ever more vicious and sustained scrutiny. No matter which plan is passed or if no plan is passed in February 2019, the lives and the loves of queer people will be fought over without us having much voice or vote in that process.

Even if the One Church Plan is passed, we fear for the lives of queer people who must endure the pain of witnessing our church fight over our belovedness and belonging. As a majority of you supports this plan, it is necessary for you to both recognize and publicly state that in the option you have selected as the best way forward for the church, LGBTQ+ lives will continue to be actively debated, damaged, and harmed.

For our spiritual, emotional, and physical safety, we request that you speak publicly with care and attention to the wounds of our people. We are not asking you to speak of “respecting both sides,” or of “everyone hurting,” or of “having a right to differing opinions.” We beseech you to speak directly to queer people whose spiritual and physical lives are in danger as we live in the crosshairs of church-sanctioned discrimination and violence.

This request is difficult for us to make because we have experienced your lack of compassion for the hearts and souls of LGBTQ+ people. In the past, when speaking about “human sexuality,” your theological abstraction and emotional detachment has caused more injury than healing.

Given the harm that you, the Council of Bishops, continues to perpetrate against queer people in the name of institutional unity, a pastoral letter directly to LGBTQ+ persons and our families is the very smallest act of care you could offer. As you craft this letter, we ask you to be mindful of the lived experience of queer people in the United Methodist Church.

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.
Jeremiah 6:14

Sincerely,

The Members of Love Prevails,

Rev. Amy E. DeLong
Rev. Will Green
Laura Ralston
Dr. Mary Lou Taylor
Rev. Dr. Julie Todd
Brenda White
Rev. Wesley White

PDF of November 2, 2018 COB Request

Love Prevails attends Colloquy

Love Prevails’ members are attending the Colloquy sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education & Ministry and the Association of United Methodist Theological Schools in Boston, MA. The theme of the Colloquy is Missio Dei and The United States: Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness. In this Colloquy, faculty from United Methodist theological schools and United Methodist bishops are invited to present papers in a small-group discussion format with plenary report-backs. Love Prevails’ member and Iliff School of Theology faculty Rev. Dr. Julie Todd was invited to present a paper. Here are the key points from the paper she presented today.

Paper: “Nothing About Us Without Us: LGBTQ Liberation and the United Methodist Church”
Key Points

  • Organized as a part of the The Commission on a Way Forward’s (CWF) work, the present Colloquy participates in perpetuating and participating in the illegitimacy of the CWF’s effort to determine the lives and futures of LGBTQ persons in the denomination, whose voices continue to be marginalized and silenced in this very process by cisgender, heterosexual persons.
  • These gatherings and processes embody the discriminatory status quo and the ongoing failure of our church leadership to name the real and active harm being done to LGBTQI United Methodists and other queer people by our current policies and practices.
  • LGBTQ persons are not the only people for whom the Methodist movement has mounted decades-long attempts sublimate histories and practices of violence under the halo of theological discussion, and to silence their voices and destroy their communities in the name of mission.
  • Under the requested topic of Missio Dei, the present Colloquy falls prey to the same temptation as the institutional church in general to theological discussion that sublimates an entire history of oppression in the United States’ context in which genocide and slavery were justified and propelled precisely by Christian people as the mission of God in the “new world”. The paper rejects the concept of Missio Dei as a theological grounding for the Colloquy.
  • Using a liberationist methodology that emphasizes the experience, action and reflection of those most impacted by violence, in this particular case the violence experienced by LGBTQ persons themselves as a result of the UMC’s anti-queer institutional policies and practices, as the primary locus for the determination of the means of liberation in any way forward, the paper argues against the prioritizing of the theological abstractions such as unity and missiology over-against the practice and pursuit of equality and justice for all oppressed persons, including LGBTQ persons, as a central “missional” demand.
  • Only the removal of the discriminatory language in The Book of Discipline will put the denomination on a path towards addressing the underlying systemic injustice and inequities of heterosexism and homophobia more broadly within the church and world. When this path is cleared, there will be more space for deeper commitments to address the scourges of white supremacy, savage capitalism and economic inequality, endless war, migration crises, misogyny, climate change and environmental destruction.

 

The Exhausted Right

IMG_0706 (2)by Rev. Amy E. DeLong

“I’m just so tired of fighting about this issue!”

These are words I hear spoken, not from me or my Queer friends who are rightfully exhausted by the church’s oppressive and intractable demand for hetero- and cis-normativity, but from my conservative brothers and sisters within the United Methodist Church.

It is a statement which frankly confuses me. Since 1972, the conservative faction of the United Methodist Church has enjoyed immense success in their legislative efforts to codify anti-Queer discrimination and prejudice. Here are the General Conference lowlights:

1972 – Labelled all Queer people “incompatible”
1976 – Scared boards and agencies silent with a funding ban
1984 – Categorically barred the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” and took steps to weed out gay candidates for ministry by inserting into the Book of Discipline the seemingly benign phrase “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.”
1996 – Prohibited holy unions from being performed by United Methodist clergy or in United Methodist facilities
2000 – Arrested 29 people (including two bishops) who protested the church’s anti-gay practices and polity
2004 – Criminalized immorality (including, but not limited to not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a   heterosexual marriage), being an ordained “self-avowed practicing homosexual”, performing holy union ceremonies or same-sex marriages

For more than four decades, the LGBTQ community within the United Methodist Church has never experienced what could be regarded as “a win.” The legislation has only gotten more prohibitive, restrictive, and punitive. And yet, it is the religious right who claim exhaustion.

Of course, this begs the question, “Why are they so pooped?” The answer seems simple enough: Because they never thought it would take so much time, money, and focused energy to get rid of us. They must have been so certain that with each cruel and callous piece of legislation we would leave; that their attempts at cultural genocide would have been measurably successful by now; that their profound spiritual brutality and ever-increasing malice would have driven us away, long ago. And yet, here we are.

I am reminded of the Mexican proverb that says, “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

We Queers just keep popping up. And like defiant spring dandelions, we are ever more resistant to the religious right’s spiritual “Roundup.” We are stronger, prouder, more resilient, more rebellious – and most importantly, more certain of God’s acceptance and more confident of God’s call, which, of course, makes us increasingly impervious to their spiritual abuse and bad teachings.

Yeah … the religious right should be tired. But imagine how tuckered out they will be after they break away from the United Methodist Church to start their own church (free of the ambiguous and gritty reality of human sexuality), only to find that there are little Queer kids singing in their Cherub Choirs who, when they grow up, won’t want to be thrown out of their churches either.

From where I stand…

Janet Ellinger, United Methodist clergy, retired

April 30, 2017, was Confirmation Sunday.  I listened to eighth and ninth graders speak their “credo,”…that to which my heart clings.

Recent rulings within The United Methodist Church have moved me to state that to which my heart clings and where it is I stand.

I boldly speak against the injustice and discrimination toward LGBTQ persons, their families and allies that yet remains within, and is supported by, the policies and people of The United Methodist Church.

I announce the harm that is being inflicted over and over again to LGBTQ persons, their families and allies.  This is not “an issue.”  This is about real peoples’ lives, literally.

I call upon allies and families to add their voices, time and resources to protest this devastating attack on LGBTQ people that is an affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I will not make any further financial contribution that supports the institution through apportionments.  I know apportionments support good things, too.  This does not give me pause.  I easily find ways to continue my financial support of the good work in a local church as well as similar efforts for justice and compassion outside of the Church.

I dissent in place and will not leave The United Methodist Church.

I keep my clergy credentials.  The church is a vessel.  God has ordained me.  No one can take that from me.

The April 28, 2017, ruling of the Judicial Council regarding, “can a gay clergyperson serve as a bishop?” (my summary) and the possible judicial or administrative process that may unfold in Bishop Oliveto’s Western Jurisdiction, has made it very clear what The United Methodist Church is all about when it comes to gay clergy and their appropriateness for ministry.  It is this crazy “practicing” language.  “Self-avowed practicing homosexual…”  You can be gay, you just can’t “practice.”  So it all boils down to genital sexual contact.  I sat at a church trial a few years ago and listened to the Counsel for the Church ask the clergy on trial, “Have you had genital contact with your partner?” That is where the United Methodist Church is focused.  Shameful.  Disgraceful.

Bishop Jung, your statement on this recent Judicial Council ruling talks about a “minefield of differing opinions…living in the liminal spaces of uncertainty and disagreement is stressful…our journey is fraught with perils, pressures and problems…And where does that leave us?”

It leaves us with people torn to pieces, literally, by that minefield of “faith-mines.”  It leaves us with people being told they are outside of the love of God by a church that claims to have open hearts, open minds and open doors.  It leaves us with Church leadership whose language and actions are absent of the compassion and justice we are all called to pursue.  It leaves us as participating partners in a time in our national life that is fraught with shame, abuse and disregard for decency.  It leaves us with people who can’t take a step back and catch their breath because every time they do, the church repeatedly knocks the wind out of them.

When will I hear an official episcopal statement, or a bishop, say, “We/I so deeply lament the injustice and harm we continue to inflict on the LGBTQ community”?  And if that has been offered and I missed it, I apologize to the speaker.  I can only assume we are a denomination lead by sleep deprived leaders because I don’t know how one can sleep at night while this goes on – knowing you could do something about it and be somebody who speaks against this institutional harm.

All of this…and more…is that to which my heart clings.  This is where I stand today.

Rev. Janet Ellinger, retired United Methodist clergy.

Lost in the Local Option

The following letter was sent to the Council of Bishops and the Commission on a Way Forward in late April 2017. Below the text, a PDF copy of the letter sent is available.


Lost in the Local Option: An Open Letter

In April 2014, due to the efforts of Love Prevails, the Connectional Table began a process to formulate General Conference legislation that would call for the complete removal of all discriminatory language against LGBTQI people in The Book of Discipline. That attempt, however, was internally thwarted and The Connectional Table came to General Conference 2016 with a proposal called the Third Way. Now widely referred to as “The Local Option”, this approach enshrines the geographical discrimination of Queer people in our polity and sets up the highly destructive scenario whereby our very being will be debated and voted on in annual conferences and in our congregations. Such objectification damages the hearts and souls of Queer United Methodists throughout the Connection.

Love Prevails has always opposed The Local Option because it is predicated on the notion that it is morally and theologically defensible to allow continued discrimination within certain geographic locations within our church; thus ecclesially sanctioning the spiritual abuse that accompanies this discrimination.

There are some “progressives” within our denomination who believe that The Local Option is a good and helpful step that with time will eventually and inevitably lead to full inclusion for LGBTQI people. Love Prevails strenuously objects to this kind of thinking. This matter is far too urgent. “More time” translates as more lives lost. We believe that creating pockets of injustice is an intolerable solution which lacks the full force of gospel integrity that will ultimately delay justice for all, rather than hasten it. We see The Local Option as a seductive temptation that will lead to self-satisfaction and complacency.

By now it is quite obvious that the Commission on The Way Forward is the very expensive method by which The Third Way, or The Local Option, will be repackaged. The processes by which The Commission seeks to “listen” to voices across the connection are nothing more than resilience-building sessions for General Conference delegates and annual conferences to desensitize themselves to regionally sanctioned discrimination, the United Methodist’s new normal.

It seems clear that our United Methodist bishops are now moving to more fully support a Local Option because of political, not theological, reasons. Their priority is not justice, but institutional preservation, peddled as “unity.” Their desire to avoid a split and “save the denomination” comes on someone’s back—this time at the expense of Queer United Methodists.

Love Prevails objects to institutional preservation over justice. When we object, it is not only because The Local Option will leave some Queer people dangerously vulnerable; it is not only because there will still be babies rocking in the cradles of anti-queer annual conferences who will grow to discover they are Queer and not want to relocate in order to find a church where they will be welcomed; it is because souls will be lost in The Local Option. Permissive and categorical discrimination kills the souls of LGBTQI people as well as the soul of the church. A church of Jesus Christ cannot survive or thrive with bigotry and intolerance in its heart – and the maintenance of such a church turns the proclamations of Belovedness made at our baptisms into propagandist lies.

Love Prevails is neither for a church split nor against it. We do not advocate for it, but we also do not oppose the possibility. We persistently maintain that the only way forward is to remove all of the discriminatory language from The Book of Discipline. While full inclusion and justice will not happen immediately upon the removal of the language, there is no possibility for imagining real, comprehensive, intersectional justice or any notion of unity without first removing discriminatory language.

Laci Lee Adams
Mary Anne Balmer
Rev. Amy DeLong
Rev. Will Green
Rev. Sue Laurie
Laura Ralston
Dr. Mary Lou Taylor
Rev. Dr. Julie Todd
Brenda White
Rev. Wesley White

Lost in the Local Option PDF

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

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?