"The lines we draw are invitations to cross over and that crossing over, as any nomadic subject knows, constitutes who we are." (Judith Butler)

Posts tagged ‘iowa annual conference’


[This is a letter I wrote to the bishop of the Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church after a speech in which I talked of my faith as someone who is gay. It received no response. I share it for those interested in truthful conversation beyond the UMC’s continued practices of either outright rejection of LGBTQ persons or of glossing over our presence.]

June 10, 2015

Dear Bishop Trimble and Members of the Appointive Cabinet,

Greetings to you in the name of Christ who has set us free.

In just a two minute speech at Annual Conference, the text of which is included below for your reference, I offered a witness with consequences that I know extend beyond the parameters of a debate and vote on Action Item 106. While I am not typically so presumptuous as to imagine myself as the subject of high-level conversations, I also know that you take your responsibilities seriously enough that my words cannot simply be ignored. And so I write to you in order that I might elaborate my motivations for sharing with the Annual Conference my story of faith as someone who is gay.

It is important for me to make clear that I did not offer my testimony simply to be provocative. And though the timing did come just a year after my ordination, it is not the case that I was simply waiting for the protections of full connection before coming out. In fact, I have been out from the very beginning of my candidacy process. I suspect that just as many people overseeing and supporting my candidacy, provisional membership, and ordination knew as much of my personal life as would be the case for any straight person. Indeed, my intention was not to inflame further the tensions over the issue of LGBTQ inclusion. Rather, my motivations for making a statement in such a public way were twofold. (more…)

Annual Conference Speech

[This is the text of a speech delivered at the Iowa United Methodist Annual Conference on June 7, 2014 in support of a resolution acknowledging the harm of the United Methodist Church’s policies prohibiting the ordination of lesbian and gay persons and the blessing of same-gender unions; recognizing that some clergy are nevertheless choosing to be engaged fully in ministry with persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ), including to perform marriages; and encouraging alternative solutions to church trails.]

It might seem that our response should be simple. It might be said that the Bible is clear and that the Book of Discipline is unambiguous. But we’ve been having this conversation for decades and are having it again here today because the gifts of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons — the ways LGBTQ persons are being blessed by God and are a blessing to others and to the church — raises a fundamental question with which we wrestle: where is God present, and how might we know clearly God’s calling?

Many of you likely feel settled on this issue, but many — perhaps more than we’d think — are uncertain of how faithfully to hold together the Bible, tradition, and the desire to act with love toward LGBTQ persons.

Blessedly, we’ve been having this kind of conversation from the earliest days of Christianity, from which we might learn for the present time. From the time Jesus walked the earth, some followers have said, “You cannot be righteous if you do not follow the food laws.” “You do not circumcise your boys as the law prescribes.” “You do not refrain from work on the Sabbath.” (Indeed, we are doing prohibited work on this day, the Sabbath). “Thus, you are not right with God,” it has been argued.

But we profess the faith we do as Christians today because of a trajectory of inclusion.* Jesus, Paul, and many of Jesus’s earliest followers looked at the same Bible and disagreed about all of the details of what it means to live in right relationship with God and one another. But they tended toward inclusion, trusting the idea that you will know the faithful by their fruits.

We are a church that is already ordaining LGBTQ persons. We are a church that is already blessing the love shared between people of the same gender. Not because we are rule breakers. Not because “anything goes.” Not because we can no longer name what is right and wrong.

But because we see the good fruits of LGBTQ persons. Because we are committed to honoring the blessing of those God has already blessed as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.

Because ours is a tradition based on the biblical principle that God’s grace is inclusive and available to all. This resolution honors that biblical tradition of both faithful disagreement and seeking to recognize how God is made manifest in the good, life-giving, faith-deepening love shared by and between God’s people.

[I concluded the speech here in consideration of time but had also written the following:
My own life has been enriched and my faith strengthened in no small part by the love and witness of faithful LGBTQ persons. I pray that our church will know the same blessing by finally coming out and naming it. Saying “yes” to this resolution would be a meaningful step toward witnessing to the world God’s love for those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.]


*I would not wish for this to be construed as replicating the old, problematic notion of Jesus as inclusive over and against exclusive Jews. Rather, we would do well to think about Jesus as a prophet in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets. My primary point here is that dominant articulations of Christianity we know today are possible in no smart part because of important ways the Bible was not read literally by early followers of Jesus.


General Conference 2012

And so it begins again…

Every four years, up to 1,000 United Methodist delegates from around the world come together for an intense period of worship and work. The quadrennial assembly, General Conference (coming up again in 2012), considers and votes on revisions to the polices of the church, as well as makes resolutions addressing contemporary religious, social, political, economic issues, etc.

Frankly, I love church conferencing… It is exhausting. Participants can be mean spirited. I’m fairly confident that people don’t know what is happening most of the time. It’s really not the church at is best. (To be fair, people can also be great, collaborative, and competent!) But it works for my brain, and I find it all to be exciting (and it’s important because that’s the system we have).

Also, I feel that I have a fairly strong grasp on issues facing the church, being active in the UMC at various levels. Through serving as the legislative chairperson for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (which is a denominational agency charged with monitoring and advocating for the full and equitable participation of women at all levels of the church), I have gained some valuable insight into the legislative processes and the pertinent matters that will come before the General Conference in 2012.

So with a twisted fervor for church conferencing and skills and knowledge I think can be useful, I’ve decided to run to be a lay delegate. This means I’ve submitted a statement to the Iowa Annual Conference, the regional conference of which I’m a member, and we’ll be voting at Annual Conference in June to select seven lay and seven clergy delegates.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say as the time approaches (and after and for years to come), but for now, I thought I’d share my 250-word nomination statement: (more…)

Who Cares about the Bible?

I’ve begun writing a series of essays for the Iowa Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) newsletter, “Social Questions Bulletin,” on how the Bible is used in church debates with an eye toward developing a public hermeneutic (method of interpretation) that is grounded in the life-giving nature of scripture, rather than (solely) in its rhetorical value as an authoritative source for Christians.

The impetus is, well, many circumstances generally but specifically, a vote of the 2010 Iowa Annual Conference (a regional organizational unit of the United Methodist Church). Following Arizona’s passage of its severe anti-immigration law, SB 1070, United Methodists around the country organized to propose Annual Conference resolutions denouncing the xenophobia represented and further incited by the legislation. Perhaps most poignantly, the resolution brought forward in Iowa called for a period of prayer and a spirit of compassion in the midst of fear.

The resolution grounded itself firmly in scripture and the Methodist tradition, beginning with the following:

WHEREAS:  Throughout scripture we see evidence of God’s call to welcome the sojourner,
WHEREAS:  We are called through our baptism to stand against evil, injustice, and oppression…

The footnote to the first statement highlighted the biblical call to care for the stranger and outcast, referencing Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:33-34, Jeremiah 7:5-7, Zechariah 7:9-10, Matthew 25:35, and Hebrews 13:2.
(Read the full resolution here: Final 2010 Resolution on Immigration for AC Floor (as approved by Legislative Section II) June 2010)

Of course, support for immigrants is generally perceived as a politically “liberal” position, and so the conservatives in the church were ready with a response. I’m assuming they ceded the fact that a majority of people might feel compelled to respond in some way since the Bible speaks so clearly about care for our neighbors (who are, to be sure, everyone). Thus,an alternative was brought forward saying simply that “God calls for love” and that “Christians have differing views on the complex issue of immigration,” so we should pray for comprehensive immigration reform. (The full text can be read here.) Basically, it was a way to say something without saying much at all.

The substituted resolution felt more comfortable (“less divisive”) to people, and it passed. What was most striking to me, though, was that scripture was totally and completely axed from the substitution. What does it mean when we claim at one moment that the Bible constitutes the primary source of Christian teaching and then at another time toss it aside as it challenges us toward places we do not want to go?

Moreover, I am absolutely certain that those who proposed and advocated for the scripture-less substitute resolution are among the same folks who reject the ordination and full participation of LGBT persons, ostensibly on the “literal” basis of scripture. I have long had this cynical suspicion that people don’t actually care what the Bible has to say when engaged in church debate; rather, scripture serves as a convenient rhetorical tool to win an argument since it is afforded such primacy by Christian tradition.

After the astounding rejection of the Bible as a source for thinking about immigration that was displayed at the 2010 Iowa Annual Conference, I say it’s time to stop pretending that we take scripture seriously… and do it (or don’t but at least admit to it)! Certainly, the challenge is how we take the Bible seriously since interpretations will invariably differ (which I don’t think is such a bad thing). As a biblical scholar in training, this issue is an especially crucial one to me, and so I have begun a series of articles for the Iowa MFSA to consider how we might engage in processes of (re)reading the Bible so as to build up the church rather than tear it apart.

My first article was published in the Fall 2010 “Social Questions Bulletin” (but the topic has been on my mind recently, and so the post now), which can be found here, or you can read the text below. The next essay is coming quite soon. (more…)

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