"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 ‘umc’

#CalledOut

[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…)

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Bridges, Not Walls

[This is the text of a speech I delivered for the Iowa Methodist Federation for Social Action march and rally for peace on June 9, 2014. The theme for the rally was “Bridges, Not Walls,” and I was one of five speakers addressing a range of pressing issues.]

We are all far too familiar with the walls that exclude and demean LGBTQ children of God. But we also know the bridges to a better future because we are those bridges.

When we who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer come out to ourselves, to God, and to others, we testify to the truth — a truth that I have come to know only by the grace of God and through the love of family and friends — that we are already made whole and are blessed by God.

When we who are clergy and lay profess publicly that we will be in full ministry with persons who are LGBTQ, we proclaim the good news of God’s love and mercy for all.

There is real harm and real risk wrought by our church’s policies of exclusion, but we do not have to wait for the action of the General and Annual Conferences and of our bishops to begin living into a more just and reconciling future now.

When we come out and are bearers of God’s radical grace and love, we are already building the bridge to a future in which those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer — young and old, will all know and will always know that we are whole, blessed, and a blessing to the church and world.

May it be so now.

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.

 

God Will Delight…

Last Sunday morning, the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women celebrated its 40th anniversary in worship. The service was uplifting and inspiring as witnesses gave thanks for the work faithful United Methodists have been carrying out toward the empowerment of women in the church and world, at the same time that they raised challenges and urged the church to press onward still toward the vision of gender justice.

I led the reading of the day’s psalm and so was up on the platform throughout the service. From there, I watched as the gathered community streamed through the lines to receive communion. My eyes welled up as I watched friends and fellow sojourners pass through, some of whom I have gotten to know through our work together on the board of GCSRW these past four years, some new friends, and some old. I gave thanks that we journey together, sharing gifts and offering grace as we learn in connection what it means to be the fullness of the Body of Christ.

I cannot quite explain the tears, for they fell with more than gratitude. I am not sure what it means yet to say this, but I felt also that this was a sort of good-bye. After 40 years, it appeared the General Conference was poised to close down GCSRW, combining it with the General Commission on Religion and Race and reducing its status to that of a committee (which indeed came to pass on Wednesday, May 2).

But also, I felt some sense of farewell with respect to the whole church. I do not mean that I intend personally to leave. Rather, The United Methodist Church I have known is no more.

This General Conference has been marked by a fear of the future, by fear that there will be no future without changing course. Imagining a new path forward has largely centered around institutional restructuring and the development of new practices aimed at equipping local churches for vital ministry to transform the world.

There is another shift, however, that may very well change the culture of The United Methodist Church. We have known deep divisions on many issues throughout our Methodist tradition, and perhaps the defining debate at this moment is around sexuality. This is not new. But what has begun clearly to develop is the opportunity for those opposed to any change of the status quo to consolidate power as the number of African delegates, who tend to be socially conservative, increases with the growth of The UMC in Africa.

At this General Conference, efforts not just to maintain present policies but to make them even more restrictive have been finding success. Quite surely there are those who believe that this will allow the church to be more faithful biblically and theologically. And for such persons, this General Conference may seem good news, perhaps even a building block to growing the church once again.

But there are many faithful United Methodists who know God’s love and grace in and through the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. We know from scripture that the work of true disciples will bear good fruit, and so we recognize as holy the goodness that is evidenced through the lives and ministry of LGBT Christians.

Though the General Conference has once again refused officially to acknowledge our division on this issue, the disagreement is undeniable. Thus, seeking greater constraints of the full and equal participation of LGBT persons in The United Methodist Church seems an effort to wield the power of majority votes in order to dominate others and silence dissent.

In this way, I sense the spiritual death of the church, not just because people do not agree with me but because our differences are effaced. If we are organized not so as to live in the richness of our diversity but in order to enforce “unanimity,” if we seek further to alienate our LGBT neighbors and friends, if we cannot commit significant resources to the work of gender and racial justice, if we cannot engage one another theologically but talk past each other with the knowledge that we do or do not “have the votes,” then we have failed to be the Body of Christ. And we have ceased to live biblically insofar as we find modeled in the bible the holding together of disparate ideas and practices.

This feeling emerged most palpably for me during one of the communion hymns at the GCSRW worship service: “For Everyone Born, a Place at the Table.” The refrain declares with unshakable hope, “God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion, and peace. Yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy.”

I could not sing through the sobs that these words brought. Gathered in that place were so many who have struggled and continue to strive to bring justice and joy into the world. However, in this context, at a conference marked by the consolidation of power and domination, I wonder if The UMC can be a church doing work in which God will delight. I wonder if The UMC will have room at the table that I might sit with those who read this and are not of one mind with me, who are satisfied with the actions of this General Conference. I do not wish for a place in which our differences would be erased but in which they would be honored and through which we might know more fully the vibrant, dynamic diversity of creation.

And so I mourn for a church that feels to me like it has lost its soul…

Yet still, as Christians we believe in a God who brings new life out of death. If the death of The UMC is what we fear, perhaps it is time to expect resurrection.

At the end of the day, Church happens in community. Real life happens, not in a political conference, but in the interactions of neighbors, in the ways we find both joy and pain, encouragement and struggle, hope and despair as we work out what it means to live in relationship with God and with one another.

The policies enacted by the General Conference will have formative and constraining effects on the lives of individuals, churches, and organizations, and this matters greatly. But as always, what matters will be the ways we engage one another in our daily lives when it is not winning a vote that is at stake but coexistence. It will be away from General Conference where we will or will not make choices to form bonds of mutuality, care, and understanding.

The real soul of the movement of people called Methodists will always be known in and through justice and joy when they are made manifest. And in these moments, God will surely delight.

Who is Being Compromised?

Coming into the 2012 General Conference, delegates had before themselves various plans to restructure the institutional church so as to most “effectively” create and sustain “vital congregations.” (I use quotes because I begin to lose the sense that such words have any meaning as they become cliché. Nevertheless, the issue of restructuring to meet the needs of the 21st-century church is truly important work.)

The legislative committee charged with making a recommendation rejected every single plan (some in the last fifteen minutes before the enforced conclusion of committee work). They rejected compromise proposals. So this week, around 1,000 delegates will start at nearly the same place the smaller committee began.

If I seem to be lacking faith in the process, my sentiments are being read correctly. The fact of the matter is that now back-room deals have been made to come up with compromises that delegates might approve.

But who is at the table? And who is being compromised? I will wait to see the names associated with the proposal, but the answer as to who has been engaged in this process will probably not satisfy those who are committed to inclusion and justice.

The compromise proposal that was submitted this afternoon so that delegates can read the petition tomorrow and vote on Wednesday combines the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women and the General Commission on Religion and Race and essentially strips all of their functions except monitoring. That is, this new “Committee on Inclusivity.”

But there are compelling, significant reasons not to compromise GCSRW and its work.

First of all, reducing GCSRW to a “committee” undercuts its ability actually to monitor the church effectively. A small office, lodged under a larger Center, cannot speak truth to power at the highest levels of the church and hold the churchwide structures accountable (especially not the Center overseeing it).

Secondly, the compromise proposal fails to deal adequately with the need for the church to enact comprehensive sexual ethics policies and practices in order to prevent and address the problem of sexual misconduct. GCSRW has been facilitating this work now for years and has become a trusted partner of bishops, district superintendents, local churches, and, importantly, victim-survivors. No other agency of the church is equipped to seek fair process for both victim-survivors and the accused since other entities are primarily invested in protecting the clergy or church assets. When people feel that they have been treated fairly, they are less likely to sue the church. And with a current budget of less than $1 million per year, if only one lawsuit is prevented, GCSRW has paid for itself. Reducing GCSRW will save the church little and could cost it significantly.

Third, GCSRW was formed 40 years ago because the UMC committed itself to the idea that gender justice is not just women’s work but the work of the whole church. Addressing gender discrimination and institutional sexism is not nearly complete, especially as the UMC grows in places of the world where women are not always permitted to participate as full and equal members. If we are to be a global church, we have a responsibility to continue and even expand efforts to empower women worldwide.

When considering this structural compromise, the UMC ought to be prepared to answer, “Who is being compromised?” and then to respond out of a Gospel commitment to be in ministry with and for all, especially the most vulnerable.

Rest assured that the staff of GCSRW is working hard with delegates to maintain the Commission as a free-standing, independent monitoring and advocacy agency.

(more…)

Being a Global Church is Hard Work

After finally adopting rules of order to govern the proceedings of General Conference (as they were proposed by the rules committee), committee work began this afternoon. I will be serving as a resource person from the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women for the Independent Commissions committee. This committee deals with petitions and resolutions related to the UMC’s commissions (GCSRW, Religion and Race, Archives and History, Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, Communications, and UM Men), as well as ecumenical concerns.

Today’s business involved electing officers. Once it got underway, the process went relatively smoothly. However, it was abundantly evident at the start that how we function as a global church is still a growing edge.

It’s hard enough to keep up with parliamentary procedures for English speakers. It must be extraordinarily difficult for those who follow translations transmitted through headsets, especially when people speak quickly and move swiftly from one action to another.

I don’t think there was any willful exclusion, but the bishop presiding over the elections nearly pressed on despite the fact that headsets were not working for delegates who needed translation. Of course, when you ask, “Does everyone who needs translation have translation?” those who would answer the question have not actually understood it. It also took time to recognize that some delegates could not complete their first ballot because they didn’t know how to spell in English the name of the person for whom they wanted to vote; the names had been written on a sheet of paper in the front of the room, too small to see from the back. Again, the bishop nearly closed the first ballot despite the fact that more time had been requested to address this issue.

I’m not sharing this to indict the presiding bishop. Who it was doesn’t matter. I describe the scene because we in the United States must be reminded that the United Methodist Church is a worldwide connection. We are used to conducting business in English among English speakers. But when we gather together with our sisters and brothers from around the world, patience and sensitivity must be exercised to the extreme.

I also share because I was moved by the efforts of a woman who is a board member of GCSRW and Women’s Division, along with a few volunteers from the Common Witness Coalition, who called attention to the needs of the African delegates. My fellow GCSRW board member said to me, “I know we’re not supposed to say anything from the gallery, but somebody has to make sure these delegates can participate!” By getting the attention of the pages and other voting delegates, eventually the issues were raised and the proceedings paused until the challenges could be addressed and all votes counted.

As the elections proceeded, it occurred to me what a beautiful thing it was that no one who spoke up for fair process hesitated to think about how those delegates might vote, to think about whether or not they’re “on our side.” The only issue that mattered was that all people be brought fully into the conversation and all voices be heard. Making room at the table was the first and only priority!

As Methodists, we are part of a tradition rooted in the idea that the right methods practiced over and over again, perfected through mutual accountability, will cultivate right attitudes and relationships. Being a global church is incredibly hard work! Therefore, may we practice inclusion again and again until our table is properly set and inviting for all.

Silenced Voices

After yesterday’s joint orientation and women’s briefing, at least one delegate raised her voice to answer a question that had been asked throughout the morning: whose stories are not being told? In review of the presentations and conversations, this woman expressed that as a lesbian she felt invisible.

And this is a problem. Current policies that call homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” (Book of Discipline ¶ 161.F) and prohibit any groups that “promote the acceptance of homosexuality” from receiving United Methodist funds (BoD ¶ 806.9) have created a culture of fear and both intentional and unintended exclusion within the institutional church. Yet, the UMC also says, “We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons” (BoD ¶ 162.F).

These tensions produce an environment in which conversations on intersectionality might freely include discussion of gender, race, ethnicity, class, and other markers of identity, but adding sexual orientation immediately raises suspicion and confrontation. Is it “promoting acceptance of homosexuality” to acknowledge the very real pain that church policies and politics have caused? But how can we commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons without creating an inviting, open, and safe space that does not begin in condemnation but with faithful listening?

Last night, as delegates began to vote on the rules of order that will govern this General Conference, an amendment was proposed that would prohibit presiding officers from calling for a recess for the purpose of allowing any kind of demonstration or protest. This comes in response to an authorized witness in 2008 by advocates for the full and equal inclusion of LGBTQ persons (parts of which can be seen here and here). (The amendment will be voted on after a recommendation from the rules committee.)

I’m sure such moments of witness are uncomfortable for delegates who vote to maintain the current policies. For many, their votes are based on faithfully held convictions. But exclusion is more than uncomfortable, and that hurt likewise arises out of the conflict of knowing God’s love in a way that is rejected by the church.

A proposal to bar all demonstrations is a refusal to hear particular voices. It is a refusal to recognize the deep distress brought by church actions.

It is one thing to disagree in good faith. It is another to silence those who make us uncomfortable.

After all, the Bible itself holds contradictions in creative tension. Scriptural Christianity, then, is not characterized by unanimity but by diverse opinions and experiences of God.

Whose voices are heard? Whose are not? And how might we listen for and hold one another’s stories in loving care?

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