Peace

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Connect, Engage, Grow!

By Rev. JanJay Innis

I had just graduated from Seminary. Unlike many of my peers who knew what iteration of ministry they were called to, I was uncertain. However, learning about God's preferential treatment for the poor and marginalized had transformed me and I wanted to use my faith to help repair the world.  Still uncertain about what I wanted to do with my theological degree, I became a missionary to have a nuanced understanding of how the church could better connect with society and facilitate social change on micro and meso and macro levels.

I applied for young adult mission service with Global Ministries wanting to serve in Liberia where I am originally from, but God called me to serve in the United States where I'd been living for more than half of my life. I was led to the understanding that though the US and western European countries had been at the forefront of sending missionaries to third world countries in the 21st century in attempts to Christianize them, mission had to be more about working together to restore a world broken and divided because of the failure to see all persons in the image of God and bearing gifts to bring about the changes they needed. Such ideologies had caused many social ills that led to vulnerable populations working tirelessly to survive while greed , prejudice and misused power stratified a privileged few  to the top in the name of upward mobility. The US is an eternal case study for said problems and persons of faith need to be at the full front, speaking truth to power and seeking justice with the marginalized . I'd been shaped by US politics and policies whether I was aware of it or not. So, I trained for and became a US-2 missionary to utilize my right as a citizen to shift the nation's consciousness and actions to what was right in the ways I was capable of . I became a Social Justice Advocate at Tacoma Community House in Tacoma, Washington. There, I told the success stories of Refugees and Immigrants in efforts to help transform the anti-immigrant sentiments and narratives that were circulating around the country. I helped break down policies that were pertinent to the lives of refugees and immigrants to a basic level of understanding and coordinated self advocacy visits for them at the state level. I also led voter registration campaigns encouraging newly naturalized citizens to register to vote. In addition, as social media exposed racial violence across the country, I found myself deeply committed to anti-racism work as a self interest but also as a way to open up candid dialogues in the church about America's original sin of racism.  

With faith being the primary lens through which I read the world, my theological education gave me the theory to connect  my faith to justice work and my time as a US-2 gave me the opportunity live out this theory in practice. I am currently 3 months into my first appointment as a pastor in a multicultural community where on any given day of the week, people walk into the church needing food, jobs or a shelter because they are victims of human trafficking. I am overwhelmed by the experiences thus far but I know with God's help, I have been able to connect them to resources they need and motivate the church to assist and love towards solutions to some of the problems because mission work has taught me how to do that. 

If you're a young adult between the ages of 20-30 or know such a person with a heart that is equally passionate for the abundant living of people as well as their faith,  know that the two can intersect and can be applied to all areas of interest and skill sets. Explore those intersections by applying to become Global Mission Fellow!

Rev. JanJay Innis serves as a clergyperson in the North Georgia Annual Conference and is a member of the MFSA Board of Directors. 

MFSA Responds to the Judicial Council Decisions

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

Beloved Justice-Seekers,

Led by the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus, MFSA along with hundreds of Justice Seeking United Methodists gathered in Newark, NJ last week to bear witness to love at the Judicial Council hearing. We prayed together, we sang together, and we broke holy bread together.  We called into existence a United Methodist Church that more fully reflects the grace-filled, hope-driven, justice-seeking, love-centered kin-dom of God. 

We encountered a Judicial Council that more fully reflects an empire than the kin-dom of God. Heavily guarded by uniformed security, we experienced a Judicial Council and, therefore, institutional church that feels the need to be protected against the most vulnerable – centurions who were guarding the powers and principalities to protect order rather than protecting the vulnerable to build the beloved community as the family of God.

Their resulting decisions had the opportunity to reflect that beautiful beloved community to which we are called. Instead, their rulings more fully reflected the empire they so fearfully protect. In the words of the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus“These decisions will further harm us, our families, the faith communities we serve, the wider LGBTQI community and our allies, but we trust in God's grace and love, and shall remain in solidarity with one another as members of the Body of Christ. These decisions do not negate our call to ordained ministry nor our desire to serve God.” We continue to stand alongside our partners in justice seeking in the belief “that The United Methodist Church can truly embody God’s love, peace, and justice. We continue to affirm our commitment to love of God and neighbor, to lives of ministry and service, and to the ongoing work of seeking justice and freedom for all of God’s children.”

A part of this ongoing work is to engage in an expanded conversation on sexual ethics in the church. Many of us live in contexts in which vulnerable people like women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA)  people are protected by anti-discrimination laws and policies prohibiting sexual harassment. In these Judicial Council rulings, our church’s shame is made clear: Instead of protecting the vulnerable, we hide behind religious exemptions to promote regressive cultural stereotypes and traditions that harm and humiliate vulnerable groups within our family. Using marriage licenses as weapons, asking people about consensual genital contact, and reducing families and relationships to sexual acts within the context of professional evaluation is an embarrassment, an injustice, and absolutely contrary to the inclusive, table-turning gospel of Jesus Christ. We call on our partners, congregations, annual conferences, boards of ordained ministry, and bishops to join us in refusing to follow these unjust and shameful laws. We call upon General Conference to pass justice-seeking legislation that reflects the humanity in each of us and ends our sinful discrimination against LGBTQIA people. We call upon the whole church to engage in a mature and faithful dialogue about sexual ethics centered on the Christian values of love, equity, and protection for the vulnerable and oppressed.

We will continue our legacy of calling into existence a United Methodist Church that more fully reflects the grace-filled, hope-driven, justice-seeking, and love-centered kin-dom of God. We invite you to join us in making this sacred change a reality.

Centered in Love,

The Staff and Board of Directors

Methodist Federation for Social Action

Spring 2017 Board of Directors Update!

Monday, March 20th, 2017
Watch a video update from the Co-Chairs of our Board of Directors: Spring 2017 Board of Directors Update
 
Dear Justice Seeking People of Faith,
 
This weekend the MFSA Board of Directors met and we want to share with you a little bit about what we’ve been up to!
 
MFSA adopted an Intersectional Organizing Principle in 2015. As Audre Lorde says, “There’s no such thing as a single issue struggle because we don’t live single issue lives.” We understand intersectionality to mean we recognize that all forms of oppression are interconnected, and we have to work for liberation for everyone simultaneously.
 
So we committed to intersectionality in 2015, and in 2016 at General Conference, in response to incidents of racism, we released a statement confessing and condemning the sin of systemic racism within our church and progressive movement. 
 
That day, we committed to increase racial diversity among our leadership and to educate ourselves about anti-racism, bias, and white privilege.
 
Since then, recent events in our nation have reminded us that white dominant institutions (like the United Methodist Church and the progressive movement!) have consistently chosen to ignore the continued reality and consequences of white supremacy in our society.
 
All of that brings us to this snowy weekend outside of Philadelphia, where our board met with facilitators from Crossroads Anti-Racism Organizing & Training to explore together the history of systemic racism in the United States and how, if we’re not intentional about living differently, we will continue to perpetuate the white supremacy that builds the foundation of our nation.
 
We started out our weekend together grounding ourselves in scripture—stories of Jesus the rebel, tearing apart structures of domination, and stories of Jesus the revolutionary, building communities grounded in revolutionary values of radical hospitality, fierce love, and enduring hope. 
 
Then we did the hard work of self reflection and analysis about where white supremacy and racism show up in our own organization and that it’s not enough to just value diversity. The only way to be faithful followers of Jesus, the rebel and revolutionary, is to resist and dismantle white supremacy by building anti-racist communities. And that’s what we’ve begun to do.
 
This commitment to becoming an anti-racist organization requires us to be really intentional about how we understand leadership. Last year, we made a strategic decision to hire Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck as a full-time intentional interim executive director to partner with us on this journey. And we look forward to taking this year to discern what kind of staffing model will allow us to take this transformative step. 
 
So stay tuned. Follow us on Facebook. We’ll be sharing resources and opportunities to learn and be a part of this work.
 
Seeking Justice Together,
Co-Presidents, MFSA Board of Directors

In This Moment…

Monday, January 30th, 2017
Beloved Justice Seekers,
        
In this moment, it is hard to not let darkness of despair and fear overcome Epiphany's light. There are days when it seems that we are in a perpetual state of lent – lamenting the realities we are facing with the new presidential administration. I think back to hearing the news of our presidential election. I spent the days following that news at Facing Race, the largest conference focused in racial justice, surrounded by thousands of folks dedicated to seeking justice. Over the past few days I've surrounded myself with thousands of queer and trans people organizing, dreaming, and resisting together. I can't think of a better place to be in light of what was happening and is continuing to happen in our nation. 

As I prepare for what lies ahead and the paths of resistance we will each walk, I'm grounded in the thought that our priority must be to care for our bodies and each other. We do not have to lean into platitudes of unity at the sake of our own sacred worth. Our fundamental desire to thrive and the vows we take at our baptism call us to look inward, resist injustice, and serve all! We commit to our own personal rejection of the evil powers of this world, accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist, and finally put our trust in Christ promising to serve a church for all people. As we step into this new season our welcome must be intended for those pushed from the center – the source of privilege – in our communities. We must resist the ways we are complacent in maintaining privilege. We must bring others along with us in this struggle. 

From our earliest days, the Methodist Federation for Social Action identified as a movement energizing people to be agents of sacred change in the church and the world. We believe that the root of justice lies within people of faith in grassroots communities called to engage in collective liberation. It requires storied relationships, resilience in the midst of oppression, and resistance to all that stands in the way of love. Our intersectional lens reminds us of the words of Methodist and civil rights leader, Fannie Lou Hamer, who said: “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Our lived experience tells us sacred change is only possible in a movement that is boundary breaking and refuses to be silenced by the powers and principalities of our day. 

Your partnership in this movement has made and continues to make sacred change possible each and every day. We have faced difficult days in the history of our movement. We stood up and resisted when the church refused to integrate, we stood up and resisted when the government used fear to attempt to silence us in the McCarthy era, we stood up and resisted when the church said no to women’s ordination, we stood up and resisted when the government said no to women's suffrage, we stood up and resisted dangerous child labor practices. Our legacy of resistance is faithfully long. We will continue our legacy of standing up and resisting. No matter whom the powers and principalities are we will accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. 

In order to do so we need your help. In the coming year we need to increase our staff to increase our capacity to resist. Please consider making a donation to the Methodist Federation for Social Action today to help us continue our legacy of resistance.

It is our commitment to faithfully look within ourselves, our movement, and our world to renounce the wickedness we perpetuate, to resist the injustice in our world, to trust in God’s grace and to serve Christ through a church open to ALL people. Will you join me in making sacred change possible with a gift to MFSA!

Seeking justice,
Joseph Lopez
He, Him, His
Nominations and Governance Co-Chair
Board of Directors
 

 

MFSA Statement on Recent US Election

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

Dear Justice Seekers,

For 109 years, MFSA has been a prophetic voice for justice-seeking people of faith in The United Methodist Church, in our nation and the world. We will continue to be that voice. We are a voice for peace with justice in Israel and Palestine. We are a voice working against racism and white privilege. We are a voice for reproductive health and justice. We are a voice for a healthy planet. We are a voice against colonialism, militarism, and misuse of power. We are a voice of inclusion for all God’s children, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We are a voice that welcomes our migrant neighbor. But most importantly, we are a voice at the crossroads where these concerns for justice intersect.

We believe the recent decisions made by President-elect Trump with respect to leadership in his administration speak against the very foundation of our justice seeking faith. We are alarmed. We believe these individuals have not shown the necessary skills for leadership and whose past words and actions have not represented the values of civilized society. As justice-seeking people of faith, we stand opposed to not only one individual, but the emerging pattern that President-elect Trump is building a cabinet founded on white supremacy, fear, and bigotry.

MFSA calls our church to expand its understanding of the radical call of the Gospel to be an inclusive, justice-seeking, risk-taking Body of Christ. We live out our belief that to be faithful witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be involved in the transformation of the social order. Therefore, we call The United Methodist Church, the Council of Bishops, congregations, and its members to join us in taking active steps to publicly “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”

Experiences of injustice do not happen in a vacuum, and therefore it is imperative to: develop the most effective strategies to create space for understanding privilege; organize in an intersectional framework led by marginalized communities; and build effective systems of resistance and cooperation to take action for justice. We invite you to join us in this work.

We invite United Methodist leadership including our bishops, clergy, and lay leaders to join us in signing the “Faith Leaders Call on Republican officials to reject Mr. Trump’s Cabinet of Bigotry” letter distributed by Faith in Public Life. You can find the link here: https://goo.gl/J9zXSx

We call on all Justice-Seeking People of Faith to join us by:

  • Contacting your legislators to express as a justice seeking person of faith your concern that the leadership of our nation must reflect justice for all people.
  • Speaking and working against the narrative that privileged communities are being oppressed when they are asked to acknowledge the ways their privilege perpetuates bias and injustice.
  • Committing to create opportunities for education and advocacy to publicly and actively resist white supremacy, white privilege, and implicit bias in your communities.

If you are so moved, we invite you to support the work of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, so we can continue to be a voice for justice for all people.

Seeking Justice Together,

The Staff and Board of Directors, Methodist Federation for Social Action

What’s at stake in this election?

Monday, November 7th, 2016

What’s at stake in this election?

Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck

Interim Executive Director

 

Families. Families are at stake in this election. Families that look like my quirky, non-traditional, Jewish-Christian interfaith family and families that look quite a bit different than we do.


Families with a member living with a serious medical diagnosis that depend on the elimination of the pre-existing diagnosis clause in the Affordable Care Act to ensure the continuation of life sustaining health care coverage.


Muslim and interfaith families who fear for their safety with a rise in Islamphobia in this nation.


Working class families who fear for the loss of jobs that pay a fair and living wage with benefits that protect their futures. Families struggling to make ends meet even when working full time.


Families that fear the loss of income when a child is born without access to paid family leave.


Families with Dreamers that fear the loss of the only home they have ever known without access to just immigration reform.


Families that fear for the lives of their black and brown children each and every time they leave the house in the face of police related violence. Families who fear going to church on Sunday morning and bible study on a weeknight for fear gun wielding hate fueled racism will walk through the door.


Families that fear a rise in gun violence and question their children’s safety at school, in movie theaters and at the local shopping mall.


Families that fear the poisoning of their water from lead, oil and fracking.


Families that depend on the legal right to marry the person they love. This legal right protects them, their children and their spouses and extends health care coverage, health proxy and adoption. Families who serve this country with honor and distinction in the armed forces and were extended the same protections of law following the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Transfamilies who fear their safety as there is an increased attack on the lived equality of LGBTQ people by state governments throughout the U.S. These laws create a culture that has contributed to the death of more than 20 transgender people of color this year alone.


Have you asked your local, state and federal candidates what they believe on economic justice, racial justice, climate justice, gender justice, reproductive justice, peace in Israel/Palestine, immigration reform, LGBTQIA justice? If not, you still have time. #mfsavoices #votesmatter #christiansvote




Common Good, Collective Liberation

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Common Good, Collective Liberation

A sermon delivered at Arch Street UMC

Philadelphia, PA 

October 9, 2016

By: Rachel Ternes, Global Mission Fellow US2

Jeremiah 29 1, 4-7 (NRSV)

“29 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

We’ve been hearing for many of the past weeks, scriptures from the book of Jeremiah, a prophet who lived in the time leading up to and during the exile of God’s people from Jerusalem into the unfamiliar wilderness of Babylon. Jeremiah had prophesied that the people would be exiled as a punishment from God for their disobedience. Other supposed prophets had been assuring the people and the king of Judah that God would not let them be overcome by the Babylonians, just as God had protected God’s people so far in the story. Unfortunately for them, Jeremiah was right. This scripture starts the first letter that Jeremiah sends to the people in exile, sharing with them God’s instructions on how they should live purposeful lives, even after having been kicked out of their homes and sent to a strange land.

The instructions are strange. Jeremiah tells the exiles to invest in their new city. To build houses and live in them. To plant gardens and eat what they produce. Basically to settle in, and love the city as if it was their own. God, through Jeremiah, goes as far as to say that the exiles should seek the welfare of the alien city and pray for it to flourish, because the exiles’ welfare will be determined by the welfare of the city.

How strange it must have been to the exiles to be told to pray for and invest in a city that they did not consider home. It wasn’t their home– it represented the people who had uprooted and overturned their lives. The welfare of this new city must have been a very low priority to the exiles. They had no emotional connection to the city, no history there. They did not identify with it in the way they identified with their true home of Jerusalem. And yet, here God is, telling the exiles that their own destiny was bound up in the destiny of this strange, alien city. On one hand, it’s not something that I would be really excited to hear, as one of the exiles. On the other hand, it makes sense because it sounds like something our God would say. Our God is a God of relationships. Our God wove all of creation together in such a way that our decisions and the way we live our lives have impacts that reach far out into the rest of creation. Our existence was formed in such a way that the flourishing of a seemingly separate part of creation contributes to my flourishing. Isn’t that beautiful? Seek the welfare of this city, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare.

This concept that God is sharing with the exiles in Babylon, the idea that their welfare is bound together with the welfare of a city that they don’t identify with, is similar to the concept of collective liberation, a philosophy and way of working followed by many activist movements today. To describe collective liberation, I have to first talk about intersectionality, a term coined by the legal scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. Intersectionality describes the way that all our individual identities and our systemic oppressions are interconnected and complex. That racism and ableism work together. That sexism and homophobia feed off one another. That classism and environmental degradation are intimately connected. Once you know that, and you want to do something about it, collective liberation is the response. When we fight for good jobs and fair wages, we think about how how race and gender impact that fight. We don’t put on blinders and say, this is about labor, not racism! We coordinate with groups that work for racial justice and gender justice. Because we know that our liberation from all the intersecting forms of oppression is going to be a collective liberation, and the work to get there is going to be collective work. As the civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” The liberation of every part of God's creation hinges on the simultaneous liberation of every other part.

In the scripture, God instructs the people in exile to “build houses and live in them.” I can think of a building project that lives into the idea of collective liberation. I live at Serenity House, our church's ministry in North Philadelphia. The story of this building project started a few years ago, when a group of environmental studies students began working with Serenity House to do environmental projects, like reviving the back yard garden, and installing a solar panel. What was special about their approach was that they recognized that environmental justice work is intersectional, and they made that intersectionality a focus in their work. Because God created everything to be in relationship, when you work for the welfare of the earth and the green things on it, the humans automatically benefit. These students and the community members they worked with made that concept a part of their model. When a solar panel was donated to the group, it became an opportunity for new learning and empowerment for the Serenity House men’s group, through a series of lessons about solar energy and how solar panels work. That grew into a project that you may have heard about: Serenity Soular, spelled SOULAR, has gone through the process of raising money, connecting with a local North Philadelphia solar installation company, recruiting and training two young people from the neighborhood, and involving them in the solarization of Serenity House. God calls us to invest in our communities by building houses and living in them. This house that’s being solarized is already built, but we’re adding onto it, building the infrastructure, making it more liveable. The Serenity Soular project seeks the liberation of God’s natural creation by reducing energy consumption and emissions, but it doesn’t stop there. It seeks the liberation of the people of North Philadelphia from racism-impacted poverty and disinvestment, by believing in and investing in its young people and helping them develop the skills and tools to flourish in their own lives. The first two young people who were recruited have since been hired by the local solar company, and Serenity Soular is preparing to engage two more apprentices to be involved in solarizing a church down the street. This project seeks not just the environmental welfare of the earth, not just the economic welfare of the people, but the collective liberation of humanity and all the rest of creation. As Jeremiah would say, it seeks the welfare of the entire city.

In the scripture, God instructs the people in exile to “plant gardens and eat what they produce.” Guess what? The Serenity House neighborhood is following this instruction too! The collective liberation seed that those students planted branched off into another project that I’ve been very involved in. There is a vacant lot around the corner from Serenity House that for years had been good for nothing but dumping trash and being a dangerous eyesore. Before I started serving here a year ago, some neighbors and community members decided that something needed to be done about that lot. They started dreaming of a space where North Philly neighbors could grow and harvest fresh fruits and vegetables, where children could play and learn and feel safe, where elders could sit and relax, and where everyone could cultivate community and a sense of neighborhood pride and self-sufficiency. A year later, we now have The People’s Garden, a beautiful space around which a diverse, intergenerational community has formed. As people came together to plant the seeds of sunflowers, tomatoes, collard greens, carrots, they were also planting the seeds of new friendships. The children, who are some of the most dedicated gardeners in the neighborhood, helped the fruits of the earth grow, and in return they had the experience, very unique and special for urban kids growing up in a food desert, of knowing where some of their food came from, and feeling the empowerment of helping to create a plate full of carrots and tomatoes from some tiny seeds. “Plant gardens and eat what they produce.” I think the prophet knew that when a community comes together to plant a garden, they can’t help but begin to think intersectionally. My neighbors know that by investing in the flourishing and welfare of the People’s Garden, they are investing in their own flourishing.

The world we live in today can sometimes feel like hopeless Babylonian wilderness. The terrible incidents of racist violence seem like they will never stop, and the white supremacist cultures and structures seem determined to make People of Color live like exiles in their own lands. Women are treated like objects and subject to violence and discrimination, and our culture defends and celebrates the men responsible. Native people with a deep understanding of the connectedness of the welfare of the Earth and the welfare of humanity, are seeing their sacred land ripped out from under them to be turned into a pathway for the dangerous products of dangerous oil extraction processes. Queer and trans people are experiencing physical violence, spiritual violence, psychological and emotional violence, often at the hands of our own Christian church. The greed and shortsightedness of corporations, governments, and organizations (including the United Methodist Church), are prioritizing profits over people, and contributing to global climate change, and the results include increasingly severe natural disasters that have the most impact on the the world’s poor people, and People of Color. Almost 900 people have been killed in Haiti by Hurricane Matthew in the past few days. [Edit: as of 10/11/16, the death toll is 1000 and counting.] The same greed and shortsightedness are fueling war and destruction all over the world. Is this what wilderness looks like? Is this what exile feels like?

Some other prophets around at the same time as Jeremiah were prophesying a victory for Judah, saying that Babylon would be defeated. They were wrong, and Jeremiah called them out as false prophets. We would like to believe that some prophet, or politician, or church leader will appear and solve all these problems, end all this oppression, but that’s not going to happen. God says that it’s up to us to work together like neighbors facing a hostile world, to think not only of ourselves and the issues that affect us clearly and directly, but to seek the welfare of the entire city. The collective liberation.

Serenity Soular and the People’s Garden make it look easy. But it’s not always easy. Just like the exiles probably didn’t like being told to invest in a city they didn’t identify with, to be honest sometimes I don’t like being told to invest in an issue that doesn’t seem to impact me. We fail sometimes. An example: I recently read an article on how the new policy platform of the Movement For Black lives, (a movement that for the most part can teach all of us a lot about collective liberation, with their understanding of the way racism is in cahoots with capitalism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia), how their platform is lacking in disability solidarity. This is a huge oversight, as the majority of people who have been murdered by police in the US were disabled or deaf. The struggle for liberation from white supremacy must happen hand-in-hand with the struggle for the welfare of people with disabilities. Even the Movement for Black Lives will have to stretch in that regard.

There is another example of a failure to seek the welfare of the entire city, going on here in Philadelphia. Later today, many of us will be walking over to the Gayborhood for Outfest, a block party in celebration of National Coming Out Day. While we are dancing and celebrating, we cannot ignore the stain of racism that exists in the Gayborhood, and that had been getting more attention in recent days and months. Last week, a video surfaced of the owner of a popular Gayborhood bar addressing customers of color with racial slurs. It has sparked a lot of anger, for good reason, but many queer people of color have said that they are not surprised. That racism is the standard in many parts of the Gayborhood, and that for decades certain clubs and bars have enforced dress codes that are meant to subtly exclude Black people. This stain is made so much uglier by the fact that it’s white LGBTQ people, who know what discrimination feels like, who are guilty. Maybe they somehow don’t know that queer justice is bound up together with racial justice. But now we know. We know that, if we are to seek the welfare of the entire city, we cannot accept racism anywhere.

It can be a difficult mental shift, to live into collective liberation. Our culture teaches us to be obsessed with getting ahead, with being a winner instead of a loser. It teaches us to care only about the issues that we think directly impact each of us, and even to compete with other causes, other movements. But God teaches us that we are all one body, and if we don’t work together, across lines of identity, for God’s justice, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

There is a lot of violence and injustice out there. The wilderness can seem overwhelming. But we do not need to lose hope. God is with us. God has provided a way for us to overcome the oppression, and God has even given instructions. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Working in solidarity with groups we don’t identify with can be difficult, but what’s even more difficult is trying to change the world alone. We can’t do it alone. But victory over racism and sexism and homophobia and environmental degradation seem so much more possible when I know that it’s really all one struggle, and we are all working together. In your welfare, I will find my welfare, and our liberation will be collective.

Rachel is a young adult missionary serving through the United Methodist Church's Global Mission Fellow US2 program. She serves at Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia, PA, and at Serenity House, where she also lives. She is halfway through a two-year term in the program. Rachel served as one of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition scholarship recipients monitoring legislation during General Conference 2016. Check out her blog

Memo to Justice-Seeking People of Faith: Make a Mark on Your Jurisdictional Conference

Friday, July 1st, 2016

What is a Jurisdictional Conference?

Every four years The United Methodist Church in the United States meets to elect new bishops and select members of general boards and agencies. Our bishops and general boards and agencies are tasked with shaping the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church. We are divided into five areas known as jurisdictions: Northeastern, Southeastern, North Central, South Central and Western. This July 11-16, jurisdictional delegations elected by each Annual Conference will gather at their quadrennial meetings to engage in this important work.

Bishops play an important leadership role in ordering the life of the church and helping set the direction to fulfill its mission in the world.  All bishops share in teaching, equipping, and encouraging mission and service.  All bishops are members of the Council of Bishops, which collectively is charged with the general oversight and promotion of the temporal and spiritual interests of the entire Church. (The bishops elected this year may take part in convening a special session of General Conference that will deal with queer discrimination and, possibly, restructuring the church.)  Bishops are specifically assigned to preside over the work of an Annual Conference.

General boards and agencies are created by the General Conference and administer or carry out the programs and directives adopted by General Conference.

What can we do as MFSA?

As justice-seeking people of faith we believe the ministry of the church must be intersectional in nature fulfilling our baptismal covenant to accept the freedom God gives us to resist evil, oppression and injustice in whatever form they present themselves. To do so we need leaders at every level of our denomination from our local churches to our episcopal offices who seek to fulfil that covenant. Below are some critical guidelines from MFSA for justice-seeking leadership (You can find a formatted printable version here.). Here are three ways you can use these guidelines to help make your own jurisdictional conference more just:

  1. Find out who are members of your annual conference’s delegation for jurisdictional conference, and email (even better, hand deliver) to them a copy of MFSA’s Guidelines for UMC Leadership.
  2. Find out which of your delegates are on the “Nominations Committee” of your Jurisdiction. These are the people who actually make the nominations for boards and agencies. Email (even better, hand deliver) to them a copy of MFSA’s Guidelines for UMC Leadership.
  3. Find out who is running for bishop in your jurisdiction. Consider using these guidelines within your own local MFSA group to make endorsements of these individuals. Then make sure voting delegates know about your endorsements!

May we be agents of sacred change, God being our guide!

Methodist Federation for Social Action

Guidelines for UMC Leadership

We need bold prophetic leaders that are Christ-centered.

We need leaders who will prayerfully follow our radically loving, fully inclusive, justice seeking, and boundary crossing God even in the midst of fear and uncertainty. 

We need leaders who are followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who was born of great struggle, challenged the oppressive powers and principalities of his day, overturned the tables in the temple to call out exploitation and corruption, and called children to his side to share sacred stories of faith and hope, justice and courage, love and community.

We need leaders that are led by the movement of the Spirit. Leaders who will answer the gospel call to love our neighbors even when it’s in opposition to the Book of Discipline.

We need bold prophetic leaders who will serve with us as co-creators of justice, and co-sharers in a sacred story of hope and change. We need culturally competent leaders who seek racial, gender, and economic justice. We need leaders who seek a fully inclusive church, one that includes our LGBTQIA siblingswelcomes our immigrant neighbors, and seeks to eliminate the colonialismwoven into the very fabric of our institutional structures. We need leaders who care gently for creation and seek peaceful non-violent resolution to the world’s conflicts.

We need effective leaders, administrators and communicators.

We need leaders with the capacity for adaptive change, the ability to listen with openness and compassion, and who approach leadership with humility and grace.

We need leaders who are effective communicators, who serve with openness and transparency embracing new technologies and ways of connecting in mission and ministry.

We need creative, visionary leadership who see the church for who we are called to be not who we are in this day.We need leadership who mediate conflict assertively and are disciplined not disciplinarian.


MLK: Remembering and Transforming

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

April 4, 1968: a day that will forever be ingrained in my mind. It was the day that put Memphis on the map, and not for a good reason. Martin Luther King Jr. had come to Memphis, TN for a sanitation strike. As he stood on the balcony of his hotel, the day after delivering his famous mountain top speech, a shot rang out in the night that put an end to his young life. He was only 39 years old.
Lorainne Hotel, Memphis

Growing up in Memphis, I heard this story so many times that I got bored by it. Every year my class would visit the National Civil Rights Museum and spend at least 2 weeks, talking about Dr. King, his civil disobedience movement, and his assassination. I honestly began to dread going to school on these days. I never wanted to tell my teachers or classmates my disinterest with this topic for fear of what they might think of me.

Since being in seminary, I have come to see Dr. King in a very different light. My background is that of a middle-class, white girl who has been provided for comfortably her entire life. Yet, as I get older and my eyes are opened more fully to the struggles of the world around me, I have begun processes for challenging my own experiences and putting myself in King’s shoes. I can now fathom the lengths to which someone would go to in order to see dreams for their children fulfilled. I have begun to feel how wanting, hoping, and wishing for change can move even the shyest person to action. I am starting to realize that, in many ways, we are not far beyond the world in which King lived. We have not come that far and for that I am ashamed It makes me weep that all of God’s children are not loved, protected, and treated as the glorious creations we all are.

Everyday we are bombarded with stories and images of the injustice and inequality. I wonder what Dr. King would say today? His quote from his mountaintop speech still rings true today. “The world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.”

What would Dr. King do today? He would stand up and speak out. He would seek to effect change in systems and in the hearts of people. I often wonder what I can do to be more like Dr. King. Am I standing up for inequality? Am I speaking out about injustice? Would I have the courage, like him, to face those who perpetrate injustice? Martin Luther King Jr’s last speech was titled “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” and it is one of my favorite speeches given by King because it sums up my call story. He says, “We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tells it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.’”

Jesus has anointed all of us to be preachers, teachers, and healers of this world. We are all called to speak up and speak out about the desperation and desolation we see around us every day. So on this day of remembrance I choose to honor Dr. King’s death by carrying of his legacy. I will speak out about injustice and do my best to walk with those who need it the most. Won’t you join me?
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Sarah Louise Cobb is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary. Originally from the Memphis area, Sarah is seeking ordination as a Deacon in The United Methodist Church. As part of her field education, she is interning at MFSA.

Putting On Ashes

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

 

Putting on ashes is a practice that goes back dates to the very earliest writings of the Hebrew Bible: Job sat amongst the ashes and covered himself in them to show his sorrow before God; Abraham expressed that he was like dust and ash before God’s majesty; Mordecai put on ashes and sackcloth when he heard the plan by Haman to exterminate the Jewish population in Persia; and the people of Nineveh put on ashes to show their repentance to God. The use of ashes throughout the scriptures is complex. It shows our mortality before an immortal God. It shows that we were created from the dust of the Earth and, in the end, we will return to our origins. The putting on of ashes also serves the purpose of showing repentance.

Today on Ash Wednesday we participate in this ancient practice. We put ashes on our heads, but what does this symbolic act mean for us today? We have often associated Ash Wednesday with the acknowledgement of our own mortality, but repentance, one of the key meanings of this practice, is becoming has become lost to us. “To repent” means “to turn” or “to take a different path.” As Christians today, it is easy for us to see the sin in our lives or in our world, and to keep right on stubbornly trudge along the path that we are on. It is very easy for us to ignore people freezing out on our streets. It is easy to ignore the inherent sin in the systems that make us comfortable, that keep us warm, fed, and safe. There is a big difference between recognizing that there is sin in this world and that we are participants in it, and turning our backs on these sinful systems in order to take a new path.

On Ash Wednesday, we must remember that God is calling us to a new path. This path, however, will not be easy nor will it be comfortable. Love of God and love of neighbor never put us in easy or comfortable situations. The practice of putting on sackcloth and ashes was not meant to be a comfortable activity. It draws attention to us and the sackcloth and ashes were itchy dirty and discomforting. It draws the attention of the crowd to our dirtied bodies as we itch under rough cloth. Putting on ashes is not a fad, but a communication event that sends a message to us and to God. When we put on the ashes and make the uncomfortable decision to call out to God in repentance, God turns us in the direction of a new path. When we repent God does not send us back to our old path of security and prosperity, but instead sends us into the wilderness.

The connection between repentance and the pathway into the wilderness is the very reason why Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. Repentance is always the gateway to new opportunity. The Israelites had to first submit themselves to God by heeding Moses’ directions for Passover, before they could be led from Egypt into the wilderness. The wilderness is not a bleak, desolate place of hopelessness. It is a place where our relationship with God can be both strengthened and put to the test. Repentance brings us reconciliation with God, but the work is not yet finished. Venturing into the wilderness is hard for us to comprehend in a culture of plenty because we are taught by the culture to find the path that makes us comfortable. But this culture is not God’s culture. God calls us to a path that makes us uncomfortable.

Our culture calls us to all-you-can-eat buffets and Black Friday sales. God calls us to ask the question of why some people have so little to eat and so few resources compared to us.

Our culture calls us to celebrity obsession and quick judgment of an oddly-dressed stranger on the bus. God calls us to humility, in which the dignity of every human being is respected.

God calls us to change while our culture calls us to stay the same.

Change is never comfortable. Marking ourselves with ashes not only symbolizes that we are creatures standing before a divine God, but also that we are willing and able to change, to no longer participate in the sinful systems and powers that have made us so comfortable.

The wilderness transforms us into a people who seek God’s justice and God’s Kingdom in this world. The wilderness is a place from which we leave no longer the same people that we were before we entered it. We become a community that asks the hard and troubling questions like, why are so many young black men being killed in our streets? Why are 500,000 women raped every year in our country? Why is HIV/AIDS a scary yet treatable disease for most Westerners and a death sentence for an African mother? We become a church who puts action behind these questions and responds to these questions with action to change the very systems that brought us comfort, plenty, and security through sin.

To put on ashes is to step out into the unknown, to go on to the new path that God has set before us.
 

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Matt Knonenborg is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary and an intern with the Methodist Federation for Social Action. A graduate of Shenandoah University, Matt served congregations in rural Virginia prior to coming to MFSA. He's a passionate researcher and hopes to continue this studies to one day become a professor. (Photos provided by Creative Commons and Matt Knoneborg)

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