On Soulforce

 

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On Soulforce

Reflections by Julie Todd

Soulforce has been an intimate part of the United Methodist movement for LGBTQ inclusion and justice in the United Methodist Church, particularly during our General Conferences. As Soulforce will work closely with Love Prevails during the 2016 General Conference in Portland, I wanted to share some of my experience with Soulforce over the years. It is important to understand how this organization has shaped the moment of potential change that we are in as Methodists seeking justice for LGBTQ people.

I heard the name Soulforce while preparing for GC2000 in Cleveland. Soulforce had been recently founded and led by Rev. Mel White, a former speech writer for televangelist Jerry Falwell. He became well-known after publishing Stranger at the Gate, about coming out as a gay man in that conservative evangelical Christian context.

Soulforce is an LGBTQ-determined organization comprised of Christians, people of other faiths and people of no faith. They are not faith-based, they offer a Soulful critique of Christianity as a structure. In 2000, their focus was traveling around the U.S., (non)violently disrupting big denominational meetings. For the General Conference in Cleveland, Rev. White organized well-known leaders – Greg Dell, Jimmy Creech, Joe Sprague, Phil and Jim Lawson, Arun Gandhi – to be arrested on the streets outside of the Convention Center in order to bring light to the matter of LGBTQ injustice and exclusion in the part of Christ’s body called the United Methodist Church.

Soulforce invited United Methodists to join their members in this act of civil disobedience outside of the convention center. If you wanted to participate in this act, you were required to receive a training from Soulforce. Some 190 folks were arrested that day. Most of us were not Methodist. Soulforce communicated with the police and guided us in the process, from booking to jail holdings to court hearings.

We faced the inevitable questions: was it worth it? Did it make a difference? Did the arrests impact what went on inside the building that day? The impact was huge. Soulforce made a clear statement to the General Conference. They were organized. They were prepared. They were not messing around. They were intent on facing down LGBTQ discrimination within the Christian community. It was front page news in Cleveland the next day.

This Soulforce action outside of the Convention Center inspired and laid the groundwork for and inspired an action that led to 14 more people being arrested on the plenary floor inside of the General Conference on the next day. All of those arrested the second time were United Methodist. All of the arrests outside and inside the plenary shamed the denomination.

That same foundation impacted General Conference 2004 in Pittsburgh. Many movement veterans remember an incredibly moving, mass witness that year that we called The River Of Life. Hundreds of queer folks and their allies filled the plenary floor and took the stage in a huge river of rainbows. United Methodists were at the head of the human river that flowed into the hall, but the reason we made it in there at all was Soulforce. Because of demonstrating their commitment to taking serious and well-prepared disruptive action in 2000, the bishops agreed to enter into negotiations with Soulforce leadership in 2004 in order to avoid another series of humiliating public arrests. Soulforce had the experience. Soulforce had the direct action credibility. They helped us negotiate the peaceful River of Life. While in 2004 some members of our movement spent countless wasted hours negotiating yet another “agree to disagree” petition in Pittsburgh, Soulforce then spread out on the streets around the Convention Center to make a witness to the world.

During these two General Conferences, the movement’s attitude to Soulforce was tepid, if respectful. They made our Methodist movement feel nervous and look weak. They were blamed for being outside agitators, not respecting the long work of Methodist progressives in between conferences.

Despite forty years of resistance in our denomination, the situation for queer people and their allies has only gotten worse. Soulforce pushed at the calls for the incrementalist, legislative approaches of our movement that clearly had been and were going to be ineffective. Soulforce understood that basic Gandhian claim that, once dialogue and efforts to compromise continue to fail, disruptive direct action is what will bring people in power to the table to talk real change.

At the General Conference in Fort Worth in 2008, Soulforce did not plan a large-scale disruptive witness. By then, two long-time Affirmation members, Steven Webster and Jim Dietrich, who were well-trained Soulforcers, represented Soulforce to our movement. Steven Webster, myself and Troy Plummer constituted a negotiation team with the United Methodist bishops about any disruptive actions that might emerge. Steven and I were chosen for the negotiating team because of our experience with nonviolent disruptive action, the tools for which Soulforce had given us. Once again, Soulforce’s history of determined training and action lent us the credibility to be at tables of power, and to take up the mantle of collective action.

In Fort Worth, Soulforce had the foresight to secure a public permit for occupying a park across the street from the Convention Center for the entire length of GC. Some of the most powerful moments of GC2008 took place there. Soulforce gathered long-time LGBTQ justice allies Jimmy Creech, James Lawson and Gil Caldwell for a conversation after a public showing of For The Bible Tells Me So. They organized a panel on justice for transgender people in the park. Sue Laurie and Julie Bruno held their wedding there. They also brought the sound system. In strategic nonviolence, all of these details create impact.

In the tradition of Soulforce, at General Conference 2012, Love Prevails emerged as a nonviolent disruptive force in Tampa. Our occupation of the floor after the inevitable fail of yet another “agree to disagree” compromise legislation prevented any other punitive legislation related to LGBTQ concerns from coming to the floor for the rest of the Conference. (Read more about that action and some of Love Prevails’ history here)

Without Soulforce, our movement would not be where it is today. In all of our United Methodist efforts for change over the years, there has often been a fear of messages and actions coming from people that seem too radical or disruptive of the status quo. Since our formal inception as Love Prevails, Soulforce has walked beside our group with their trainings, counsel, presence and moral support as Love Prevails has emerged within our denomination to work for a more radical and disruptive witness that has been Soulforce’s hallmark. In my estimation, Love Prevails now stands within our movement as an inheritor of the disruptive tradition that Soulforce has brought to our movement over the years.

People in our movement don’t necessarily like Love Prevails for the same reasons they didn’t like Soulforce. We make them nervous. We ruin their plans. Though a number of our team are long-term insiders of the movement, we are considered outsiders by many mainstream LGBTQ Methodists and allies. We thank Soulforce for standing with us in the last four years to inspire, cajole and train us.

Some of the best moments we may claim as a movement at this General Conferences will be a result of Soulforce’s outside agitation, experience, preparedness, creativity and willingness to take risks. We continue to need Soulforce’s experience in strategy and nonviolent resistance. We need alliances and collaboration to broaden our vision for what is possible and to give us strength.

I hope that you will support our efforts to forge resistance together. If you are going to be in Portland for General Conference, please come to the training with Soulforce on nonviolent direct action on Wednesday, May 11.

Register for the training here.

Power and Persuasion

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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.

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

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February 12, 2016

Dear Council of Bishops,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Prevails

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

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On The Violence of Dialogue

by Rev. Dr. Julie Todd

In an article on Monday, veteran Methodist activist and lesbian Sue Laurie described how in settings like the pre-General Conference briefing, LGBTQ folks take verbal and emotional beat-downs by their Methodist kindred, while being accused of being the ones wielding the weapons.

This is a classic projection of the violence that is deeply embedded within dominant groups in all forms of oppression, wherein the perpetrators of violence are reversed. In the church, queer folks, who are the actual objects of Christian violence, are portrayed as the problem.

Laurie wrote that Queer Methodists are not the threat they are portrayed to be. LGBTQ Methodists come to the church with band-aids, songs and rainbows, asking for a place at the table. What Laurie means by “a place at the table” is ordination and marriage for LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church.

We hear that the demand for equality is what is “hurting the church.” How many times have we heard it? “We are all hurt by this debate.” No, we are not all hurt by this debate. As Laurie points out, while many people may be made to feel uncomfortable by the demand for lesbian and gay equality, the discomfort of having one’s opinion challenged and privileges shaken is not the same as the daily violence experienced by LGBTQ persons. The equation of these harms is yet another form of violence.

What Laurie does not mean primarily by “a place at the table” is having a place on a panel. I’m sure that she was very glad that Dr. Dorothee Benz was invited to the human sexuality panel at the briefing. Because when Laurie went to the briefing four years ago, they had a panel on human sexuality; that is, a panel about gay people, with no gay people on it.

In her opening remarks, Benz was quick to point out that the subject matter of this year’s panel was not, as it was titled, “A Conversation About Topics Related to Human Sexuality.” The subject matter of the panel was “in blunt terms, about whether and how the UMC will continue to discriminate against LGBTQI people.”

Though Benz was invited to this particular table, it was not as an ordained United Methodist minister. The year Benz came out as a lesbian is the same year that United Methodists decided to bar gay men and women from ministry. Benz went on to provide examples of how the pain of her own personal experience “does not begin to capture the pain of UMC policy for LGBTQI people.”

After the pre-conference briefing, when an LGBTQ ally suggested on Twitter that Love Prevails members should go on a mission trip with the IRD to “swing hammers” together, just not at one another, LP member Alison Wisneski responded. She requested well-intentioned allies to think about what it means for a queer woman to even consider the notion of spending time with “groups that so openly hate me for my body and everything inside of it,” and with “those who seek nothing but death for me and my family.”

Liberals tend to think that any form of inclusion is good, as an end in and of itself. Inclusion on a panel is better than exclusion from a panel and therefore it is a good thing, right? Under the same logic, “both sides” dialogue is always an unmitigated good. Methodist holy conferencing is especially good, because it is holy.

In fact, this logic is not good. This kind of thinking is lazy analysis that fails to include the dynamics of power and pain. Such inclusion on panels and in debate does not, in fact, create good, nor does it necessarily even mitigate pain. It may, in fact, cause it.

This most recent panel, and virtually all panels that seek to provide “balanced viewpoints” are full of verbal and theological violence directed at gay people. They are also undergirded with infuriating claims: “how much we all love the church”; how important it is that we share the value of God’s grace; our agreement over the centrality of our mission of making disciples; and, above all, the importance of our unity in Christ. The head-nodding and sighing moans of agreement with these declarations only serves to make the hypocrisy of them all the more sickening. Very few see it or feel it, but it is violence. Not the violence of swords or fists, but violence nonetheless.

Recently another UM blog suggested that the “leading champions” of five “major” legislative proposals on human sexuality coming before the General Conference “owe” United Methodists the favor of conferencing together over their proposals.

The author notes that the makeup of these “leading champions” – five straight, white men – “lacks global, racial, gender, and orientation diversity–the lack of which, in-and-of itself may tell us something.” Here the author makes his most truly useful point. The makeup of this group tells us not just something, but everything. There are no gay people in this group of leaders.

Here is a central part of the problem. Whether LGBTQ people are invited to tables or not invited to tables to discuss their very own lives and the life-and-death consequences of our anti-gay policies, the results in the United Methodist Church have remained the same or gotten worse. Violence is perpetrated and injustice remains.

Here is the harsh reality that we who desire and are working for LGBTQ justice in our denomination must face. None of these panels nor proposals to General Conference, not holy conferencing nor the invoking and implementing of a Rule 44 alternative process for General Conference – none of this has anything to do with the true welfare of LGBTQ persons at all. None of this is about “balanced views,” respectful dialogue, shared Christian values, or the gospel of Jesus Christ. All of these efforts are about how to maintain the institutional church at the expense of queer people.

It is especially painful when allies to LGBTQ persons simply do not understand the levels of harm and cost to queer bodies, hearts and minds that are actively and passively perpetuated by such proposals, panels, conversations and conferencing. There are many different versions of the violence that cries “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”

Traveling about the country at the highest levels of the church over the last four years, Love Prevails’ has encountered a deep and insidious kind of violence inherent in dialogue (panels) and so-called holy conferencing, efforts which have resulted in a deadliness that the vast majority of people in our church simply fail to acknowledge that is real.

The only solution to even begin to repair the harm we have done is to take all of the anti-LGBTQ language out of The Book of Discipline, putting LGBTQ folks as equals at the table. It is the only just and right place to begin.

A Request for Your Consideration

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

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

This is not one of those situations.

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Divesting

On Divesting
Julie Todd
November 2, 2015

At exactly what point
does it become enough?
To put down the sword;
not because the choice
to spare the ear of the opponent
saves the other pain.
But because the choice
to put down the sword
& walk away
gives you peace?

At what point, exactly,
does it become enough?
At what point do you see the stripes
by which we are healed
for what they also are:
Lashes.
When do you finally decide
to no longer be complicit with beatings?
When light breaks on the cross at dawn
& you see it for what it is.
Is there a time
when is the best form of resistance
is turning your back
on death and violence?

At what point does it become enough, exactly
to agree with Pilate?
In washing our hands,
answering Jesus’ question:
“What is truth?”
directly
& in all sincerity;
in the institutions of deceit
“I do not know what the truth is,
But I know the truth is not found here.”

Response to Adam Hamilton – May 8, 2015

Love Prevails member Wesley White has written a paragraph-by-paragraph response to Adam Hamilton’s most recent blog post addressing “A Way Forward.” Please read below. Hamilton is regular font, White is italicized.


A year ago, with input from others, I wrote a blog post called, A Way Forward for a United Methodism?.  In it we offered suggestions for how the United Methodist Church might move forward as it relates to the divide over homosexuality.  It was written in response to some who were discussing dividing the denomination.  It was written in consultation with evangelicals, moderates and progressives across the country.  Over 2,000 pastors and hundreds of laity signed the document that you can read here.
It is of note that “A Way Forward for a United Methodism” is described as having been vetted by three theological categories, but not by those over whom some theoretical divide continues to harm. No number of “evangelicals, moderates, and progressives” can have an equivalent voice to that of LGBTQ persons and their family/community. No number of pastors can speak for those being harmed. Look again at the story of Greek widows being harmed in Acts 6.

In the year since, there have been a host of other proposals that have surfaced as a way of moving our denomination beyond the impasse over same-gender relationships.  I’ve been in dozens of conversations with various groups listening and looking for what might be a better way forward.  I’ve yet to see a proposal that would seem to have a reasonable chance of passing at General Conference.
There has not been a host of other proposals that move us forward. They all fall under the same difficulty—they are not in the voice of the LGBTQ community. The voice there is universal in simply ridding the church of the single, named people who, claimed by some, stand outside the gifts and call of God and Christ to life and ministry within the church. Again wisdom from Acts is pertinent here (see chapter 10).

My assumptions about any proposed changes at General Conference include the following:

  1. The more complicated the change, the less likely it will pass.
  2. The more places in the Discipline that must be changed, the less likely it will pass.
  3. The more radical the change, the less likely that it will pass.

Thank you for naming your assumptions. However, they are simply that and not particularly helpful:

  1. It is a dangerous beginning spot, to think that United Methodists cannot handle complications in life or thought.
  2. This is simply a particular application of 1).
  3. This continues a limited view of the heart of United Methodists.

It also seems to me that conservatives are underestimating the number of evangelicals, including many pastors of our largest churches, who have come to see this issue differently in the last few years.  Their changing understanding does not reflect a departure from theological orthodoxy or evangelical passion, nor does it reflect a reduced view of biblical authority.  Instead these persons recognize the complexity of scripture and see the Bible’s teaching on same-gender relationships as similar to the Bible’s teaching on slavery, violence in the name of God, the role of women in the church and a host of other things found in the Bible but which we no longer believe reflect God’s will for us today.
It is not particularly comforting to think how long it has taken some number of “evangelicals” to see what continued discrimination is doing to our ability to evangelize. Like it or not, theological orthodoxy, evangelical passion, and biblical authority are, historically, the last roadblocks to the expansion of expressions of God’s ability to be a Living God and Jesus to welcome the most outcast, live among them,  and witness God’s love through these acts. The Bible is no more or less complex than it was before. The slowness to see “God’s will for us today” is not helped with a continued slowness to wait for the last prejudiced person comes “to see this differently”. If you have come to see LGBTQ people differently, act on it.

It also seems to me that many of our progressives are underestimating the number of people in our denomination, and in most of our local churches, who are not ready to ordain persons in same-sex relationships, nor host same-sex marriages in their churches.  In most United Methodist churches there are a significant number of people who lean conservative on this issue. For conservatives the question of same-sex relationships is not about justice, but about faithfulness to Scripture, as they understand it.  To completely reverse the denomination’s position, even if progressives and moderates had the votes, would mean a significant loss of membership and vitality in many local churches, and across the denomination.
It seems to this liberal/radical that you may be underestimating the number of people in our denomination who ARE ready to ordain LGBTQ people gifted and called to ordained ministry and to see the marriage of their sons and daughters and nieces and nephews and friends duly celebrated in the church. As long as we leave this in the realm of “seems”, fears will always come to the fore. “Seems” always brings the worst speculation to the fore before we can look at the movement of Spirit through history and in our own time. We are a people who have added the gift of “Experience” to the previous trinity of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason to be an antidote to “seems” and present fears. When we separate “faithfulness” from “justice” we wound ourselves and the world around us.

Finding a way forward means we must see this issue through the eyes of the other.  Progressives must see the issue through the eyes of earnest, thoughtful conservatives.  Conservatives must see the issue through the eyes of earnest, thoughtful centrists and progressives.   Even the terms we use to describe our own position might need to change.  It is possible to be conservative on this issue, and still love justice and inclusivity.  It is also possible to be progressive on this issue and still be theologically orthodox and passionately evangelical.
Yes, let us look through the eyes of the other. Note, however, that the “other” needed here is not a Conservative/Progressive difference where we somehow catch enough of a glimpse of our self in that “other” and budge ever so slightly. The “other” needed here is for everyone who is not LGBTQ in orientation, to look through the eyes of those who are discriminated against, castigated, described as “incompatible”, shunned, and even beaten and killed. Both Progressives and Conservatives have been complicit in delaying a transformation of the church, much less the world.

I continue to believe that the best way forward is to allow United Methodist pastors to determine who they will and will not marry, while allowing local churches to determine their own wedding policies as it relates to the usage of their building.  This is currently how things are done for heterosexual marriages.  Pastors meet with couples and determine whether they will or will not officiate, and local churches develop wedding policies for the use of their buildings.
The issue of local control is but another delaying tactic that allows theological orthodoxy, evangelical passion, and biblical authority to keep us from experiencing again how unsurprising it is for God to call for renewal from the most unlikely of places and people. Patchwork discrimination keeps the battle between “progressives” and “conservatives” boiling and even heightens it as it moves into local settings.

Under this scenario the current language of the Discipline regarding homosexuality and same-sex weddings would become the “historic position” of the United Methodist Church and the default policy of each local church regarding same-sex marriage. The Discipline would allow local churches to adopt a more permissive policy towards same-sex marriage.  Only churches that felt compelled to change the default position would take a vote.  Conservative churches would continue as they are.  Moderates might spend several years in conversation before deciding whether to make a change to the default position. Progressives would vote right away to adopt a different policy.    Likewise, while a pastor would be bound by the local church’s policies for weddings within the walls of the church, each pastor would determine who they would and would not marry outside of the walls of their local church.
This imagined move to “historic position” does not become an historic position until there is a change in The Book of Discipline. Until that time it divides our Method of engaging the “Nature of our Theological Task” laid out in The Book of Discipline—2012 (¶105, pp. 79–80). There is a naïve assumption here that there are conservative congregations, progressive congregations, and moderate congregations. This model forgets how we need each other and further divides us. We are in the business of revealing a Jesus Way together or we are not. More could be said to demonstrate how flawed this approach is, but folks either get it or don’t.

I believe we can trust local churches to make this decision. Some have suggested that allowing local churches to make this decision will be the end of connectionalism and will signal that we have adopted a congregational polity.   But it is not our position on homosexuality that makes us a connectional church; rather, it is our shared ministry, our shared doctrinal standards, our appointive process, our episcopacy, and our trust clause that are the hallmarks of our connectionalism.
The trust clause is an indication of our lack of trust or it wouldn’t be there. The lack of leadership by the episcopacy in favor of some uniformity of response that reduces us to good-thoughts and prayers-at-a-distance has unconnected us from those we harm whether that be a recent statement about racism or lack thereof regarding orientationism. Doctrinal standards and ordination restrictions that are based on false witness are not places of connecting with one another.

If the General Conference (or under some proposals the Annual Conference) continues to adopt a one-size-fits-all policy forced upon local churches and pastors we can anticipate that this issue will continue to be our focus for the next twenty years, with continuing conflict year after year.
One size does fit all if we are talking about love and grace. No amount of tinkering with one or another proposal from strengthening the current sin of casting our family out and dividing ourselves, one from another, to more modest forms of the same will honorably heal us. The fault is in ourselves.

Regarding ordination, decisions are largely made at the Annual Conference level.  Let’s let annual conferences make decisions regarding the ordination of married homosexual* candidates for ministry.  Conservative conferences will not ordain married homosexuals.  Progressive conferences will ordain such persons.  Moderate conferences may come up with creative new solutions.  These solutions are more likely to be developed at an annual conference than during the two weeks of General Conference meeting once every four years.   Again, it seems that trying to create a one-size-fits-all policy for the entire denomination does not take into account the vast differences in different regions across the denomination.
Ordination decisions are to be made in the Annual Conference, except for those removed from them by The Book of Discipline. Playing the “married” card is but a variation of “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness” game-playing that its authors have confessed to being code language for “keep the gays out”. It sets the bar at the wrong place—appearance rather than the call and gift of Spirit. How many of these appearance games have we already come through—dancing, smoking, divorce, etc.—and how many more are we going to have to go through before we are willing to submit our denomination to the Covenant Service we currently limit to individuals. John Wesley was right that reform of the nation begins in the church.

We are a denomination divided over how we interpret the scriptures regarding same-sex relationships; most of our congregations are also divided. Any possible solution must allow room for differences of opinion.  What seems clear to me is that a viable long-term strategy cannot be found in a one-sized-fits-all policy imposed upon every church in every region and nation by the 800 delegates to the next General Conference.
Yes, our congregations are made up of many opinions. This is evidence that the conservative, progressive, moderate congregation argument above really doesn’t hold water. Intentionally harming LGBTQ people with our current legislation is a one-size for all and is imposed with many different rationales. Whether those rationales are conservative or progressive, they pale in the face of a Living God.

*I mention married homosexuals as opposed to “practicing” homosexuals as the Discipline calls for celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage.
*There is no cute, linguistic way out of the corner into which we have painted ourselves. We are ever reforming or we end up on the dust heap of history.


You can download a PDF of this response in a side-by-side printout here: Hamilton Response.

Mary Lou Taylor Reflects on Cherokee Removal for Love Prevails Native American Study

In the epilogue to The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears, the authors conclude: “The Trail of Tears is their (the Cherokee) story, but it is also an American story. And if it is a story we are not proud of, we should make sure that its lesson is well learned: Racism, greed, and political partisanship can subvert even the noblest American ideals.”

While reading the book, I could not help but make parallels, not just to what is happening in the United States today (where racism, greed and political partisanship seem even worse than ever), but to what has been happening over and over around the world. The American government’s treatment of Native Americans in the United States, especially its policy of removal, was our Holocaust. White Christian Europeans assumed that the native tribes were lesser than fully human, that because their civilization was different, it was uncivilized, and because they worshipped in a different way, they were heathen. While there were no gas chambers and no grand design of extermination, the United States government forced thousands of men, women and children to march over 1,000 miles barefoot, with little clothing, almost no tents, inadequate food and literally none of their belongings. Everything they owned had been taken from them. Many died.

In the last paragraph, I have written “the government,” but in truth I should say “we.” Though we were not alive at the time of the past atrocities against Native Americans, we currently sit in our living rooms and watch as people around the world are suffering a similar fate. Trails of Tears continue.

I pray that understanding what the Cherokee Nation suffered, and what all of the First Nations peoples suffered, will help me get out of my living room and really commit to working for safety and dignity of all people. I look forward to the next six weeks of study, and to going to participating in continuing Acts of Repentance and Healing towards Indigenous People through the United Methodist Church.

Open Invitation to Study

Join the Love Prevails 2014 Native American Study as we engage in larger resistance to oppression within the United Methodist Church. For more information check out the tab above and please read the letter sent to the Council of Bishops and Members of the Connectional Table below for more information.

Open Invitation to Native American Study with Love Prevails-page-0