Archive for April, 2011

MFSA: Creative Engagement

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

by Adrienne Trevathan

I was thinking today about what I appreciate about MFSA. It isn’t that I can tell you the history of the organization from the first day to the way it exists now. It isn’t because this is an organization that is a parrot of my own theology, and that I therefore find it to be the best way to approach faith. I appreciate MFSA because it speaks against a Christianity that has little to nothing to do with engaging faith in creative and real ways.

One of the ways that MFSA is encouraging Christians to act is through the “Sing A New Song” conference with MOSAIC in August (you can register at In a recent blog post, one of our MOSAIC leaders critiqued the often-heard logic that hearing the voice of a minority—struggling with issues of inclusion and equality—can be somehow “stalling” the work of the church; that these issues are causing inconvenience for the church as a whole. After all, don’t we have better things to do?

But what else is there to do but to work for justice, hear the oppressed and try to give voice? What else is there? The reality in which progressive Christians find ourselves today is that, in all our actions, we must learn to get past the things which we find to be inconvenient or uncomfortable. If we’re trying to offer something legitimate, then we can only find our strength and authenticity in community. This happens even in “partnering” with other organizations. Conferences like “Sing a New Song” will give progressive Christians a new language to articulate their faith, new people with whom to share their lives, and create a space for transformation. It is no small thing.

Whether you’ve only heard a little about MFSA, or if you know of a similar organization, find a way to get involved. You will do more than you can possibly know.

Adrienne is the Director of Christian Education at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Evanston, IL. A certified deacon candidate, Adrienne is also a regular blog contributor and leader for MOSAIC, RMN's young adult network.

A 40-year Love Affair with MFSA

Friday, April 29th, 2011

by Ginny Lapham

In 1969, our family settled in suburban New York after a decade of working with Palestinian refugees in Jordan and doing population work in Morocco and Tunisia. We joined a local United Methodist Church that met some of the spiritual needs of our growing family but I hungered for a group of concerned people with whom to study, reflect and take action on the injustices we had seen and those in other parts of the world.

A clergy friend told me about the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) and there I found some amazing mid-century pioneers of MFSA who stood against racism in the 1930’s, anti-Semitism in the 1940’s, McCarthyism in the 1950’s and the Vietnam war that was raging at the time.  I was on the MFSA Executive Committee when the Rev. George McClain was hired as Executive Director in 1974.

As MFSA again grew in chapters and issues under George’s leadership so did my understanding of the connections with injustice wherever it was found including within the UMC. At MFSA meetings I learned about shared leadership and the joy of taking collective action with trusted good friends.

I attended my first General Conference in 1980 in Indianapolis and  learned about the heat of opposition as MFSA asked for exclusionary clauses on homosexuality to be removed from the UM Discipline.  It was my first taste of how important it is for MFSA to have a presence and space at General Conference. It takes a cadre of 200 or so volunteers to get out a daily newsletter, hold information and strategy sessions with delegates, provide healthy food, and have space for discussion or mediation.  Retiring from academia in 2001, my response to 9/11 was to call then MFSA Executive Director Rev. Kathryn Johnson and ask to be a volunteer.  Now as we await announcement of the new Executive Director I’m still volunteering in the national office helping to prepare for General Conference 2012. I still love MFSA and hope to see many of you in Tampa next year

Ginny Lapham is an MFSA Board member and volunteer at the national office. Ginny is working primarily on organizing efforts for General Conference 2012. She is also an MFSA consultant on Middle East issues.

Practicing Compassion

Friday, April 29th, 2011

by Rev. Justin White

The Dalai Lama once said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” To me, the Methodist Federation of Social Action is on the forefront of providing compassion to all of God’s children. As a United Methodist Deacon in Mississippi, it is important for me that we have areas in which progressive United Methodists in our state can get together and act out how to be agents of compassion in our society. In the spirit of Wesleyan theology, our acts of compassion and justice do try to provide avenues of a more just society, while allowing us all to be moving towards perfection in love.

MFSA is relatively new in Mississippi, as we are just now starting a chapter, but God’s Spirit is moving in the lives of many of our laypersons and clergy, and God’s Spirit cannot be stopped. We are seeking to become agents of compassion in our state and in our church. We are seeking to show that God cannot be boxed in by our imperfect views of God. We are providing safe spaces for clergy and laypersons to talk about progressive theology, compassion, and God’s unlimited and extravagant love, mercy, and grace for all persons.

MFSA allows us to do this! I am excited and looking forward to how Mississippi MFSA is going to do amazing things in our conference

Rev. Justin White is a Deacon in the Mississippi Annual Conference and will become the Wells Church Children Education Coordinator and Youth Minister this July in Jackson, MS.

Can’t We Leave Jesus Out?

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

When I turned eighteen, I thought it would be a good idea to get a cross and flame tattoo on my back. I had grown up United Methodist and attributed much of my radical politics to my mother, who is a pastor, and because of that, I also attributed those radical politics to The UMC. Both my parents taught me social justice as a Christian value. So I was pretty surprised after I turned eighteen to see that The UMC was not as radical a place as I thought it was. I was appalled to find out that The UMC did not ordain what the Discipline names self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.

Later, after becoming a lay delegate to Annual Conference as a Junior, I was appalled at the opulence of the hotels our conference is held in and the slow-moving bureaucracy that is our church. So I wondered: what were some of the ways I could transform that tattoo into something else, something no longer Methodist-related? But then I went to Student Forum, where I learned about MOSAIC and OnFire, the young adult chapter of MFSA. Here were places where I saw hope for making The UMC into that church I thought it was growing up, that church that practiced the justice that Jesus taught us.

As a seminarian at Drew Theological School, I have had the opportunity to participate in the OnFire Borderlinks immersion trip to the border between the USA and Mexico and later to mobilize with others, including so many United Methodists, on Washington for immigration reform. Those moments were moments where I was proud to be United Methodist, amidst these people working for justice in the world and in our church.

Last semester, I researched Methodist publications for their reactions to the Red Scare, in light of the fearmongering in our time, and was so inspired by what I read about MFSA. In the new history of United Methodism, for instance, the authors write,

"In 1953 [Rev. Jack] McMichael [of the Methodist Federation for Social Action] appeared before the [House Committee on UnAmerican Activities] and challenged its accusations of Communist subversion with such telling references to the ministry of Jesus that an aggravated committee member shouted, 'Can't we leave Jesus out.'" 1

MFSA has shown me that Jesus' ministry is one of subversion, and that The United Methodist Church can live into that same ministry with the help of a few folks committed to justice. Why MFSA? Because they won't leave Jesus out of it; they are working to bring the church into that vision of justice Jesus taught us.

Shannon Sullivan is a seminarian at Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey, and is pursing ordination in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. She is also a regular contributor to the OnFire blog.

1 Russell E. Richey, Kenneth E. Rowe, and Jean Miller Schmidt, The Methodist History in America: A History, vol. 1, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010) 420.

MFSA: A Challenge to ACT for JUSTICE

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

by Bishop Joe Wilson

Upon my retirement in 2000, I found many United Methodist Churches involved in mercy ministries.  However, there were fewer numbers who took seriously justice ministries.  Being a part of my local MSFA chapter, which meets in the United Methodist Church we attend, provides me many opportunities to express my Christian discipleship for the transformation of the world through ministries of justice and hope.

It has become much more than a monthly meeting designed to inform.  It has offered numerous opportunities to participate in issues related to immigration, death  penalty, human trafficking, gay and lesbian rights, as well as the support of the COB study and pastoral letter, "God's Renewed Creation".  If your Christian faith demands more than a "dollar in the plate" for mercy ministries, try MSFA, which will challenge you to ACT for JUSTICE in a world of care-less-ness.

Bishop Joe Wilson, retired United Methodist Bishop, currently serves as Bishop-in-Residence at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.

Hope in the struggle

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

I came to MFSA in the beginning of 2009–not too long after a difficult General Conference–in the midst of a campaign to pass a package of constitutional amendments that would restructure our denomination, moving us toward becoming a more equitable (less US-centric) church.  Having just returned from serving in the German UMC, I was grateful to find myself among people passionate about helping our church to do better, beginning the long process of bringing our structure up to speed with the global nature of our church.  As word came that those and other justice-making amendments were being defeated, I realized I had a decision to make: accept the apparent immovability of the UMC, or commit to a movement of hopeful struggle.
It has not been easy, but two years later, I cannot express how grateful
I am for the invitation to be a part of the struggle.  From the OnFire justice immersion trip to the US/Mexico border, to a Hate Crimes Symposium in New York City, from the Global Young People's Convocation in Berlin, Germany, to the beginnings of an MFSA chapter in the Mississippi Annual Conference, I have met United Methodists committed to the vision of a healed, renewed and fully inclusive church.  As I prepare to begin seminary at the Boston University School of Theology, seeking ordination as elder in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, I am so glad to have found many lifelong partners in the struggle for justice through the Methodist Federation for Social Action.  I don't know where ministry will take me, but I know MFSA will be there–a voice of hope to and for the UMC.

Jennifer Mihok is the Outreach and Communications Coordinator at MFSA and served previously as a mission intern.

The Connection within the Connection

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

As a teenager in the 1950’s I remember my father reading a thing called “The Social Questions Bulletin” at our home on the Canadian  border, in Maine, and hearing about an article in the Reader’s Digest attacking a Methodist Church group.  As a delegate to the 1976 General Conference I collected and eagerly read the “Daily SQB,” published for the first time in two decades,  as MFSA began efforts to remove discriminatory  language about homosexuality from the Social Principles of our church.   It was not until I read the history of MFSA that I realized the connection between my childhood, my first experiences at General Conference, and the leadership opportunity offered to me by MFSA in the second year of my retirement.

My opposition to war and commitment to peace, began as a teenager when I went with an ecumenical delegation of youth from Maine to the United Nations in New York.  In the 1960’s, as a newly ordained pastor, I participated in civil rights demonstrations and opposition to the war in Vietnam.  Through those years I was aware that I was in tune with progressive leaders in the Methodist Church but had not connected them to MFSA. During years as a pastor, district superintendent and delegate to general conference my awareness grew and my commitment to justice grew and found expression.

As a bishop in West Virginia for twelve years I witnessed the impact of a small MFSA chapter on the annual conference as it called the church to address issues of mountain top removal, racism, children and poverty, and the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the United Methodist Church. My first and only invitation to speak in West Virginia since  retirement, was to the MFSA Chapter in 2005.

A few months later I was approached by a colleague in New England and Kathryn Johnson to consider becoming a national co-president  of MFSA in 2006.  If I were to accept I would be the first bishop to do so in forty-five years. Having completed my term as president of the General Board of Church and Society, I was aware of the partnership which existed between the two groups at previous General Conferences. I also knew that progressive bishops were under attack by some in our denomination and honestly wondered if my presence at MFSA would be helpful. I believe it was.  Personally, 2005-2010 were some of the most wonderful and fulfilling years of my life, thanks to all my wonderful MFSA friends.

Bishop Cliff Ives, retired United Methodist Bishop, served as the MFSA Board of Directors co-President from 2006-2010. He is now retired and lives with his wife in Portland, Maine.

The Methodists are here!

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

by Chett Pritchett

When I was a senior in college, I read an article in US News and World Report about a form of coal extraction called mountaintop removal. I was amazed that something so destructive to the environment and the communities in which this was occurring was happening less than two hours from where I was going to school. One weekend a small group of students traveled to Charleston, West Virginia for a rally against this destructive mining practice. It just so happened that the Methodist Federation for Social Action was holding their board meeting in Charleston that same weekend. As they joined the rally the emcee announced, “The Methodists are here!”

     In the years since that rally, I’ve come to understand the deep connection between the degradation of the earth and the destruction of communities and local economies that come with mountaintop removal mining. I’ve also come to recognize the connection between ecological destruction, which sees the earth and its people as “other,” and further forms of “othering”: racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, ethnocentrism.

    I’m thankful for the ways in which the Methodist Federation for Social Action continues to speak with a powerful voice against “othering” in both Church and society. It makes my heart soar when, at critical points of the justice movement, I hear the words, “The Methodists are here!”

Chett Pritchett is Lay Leader at Dumbarton United Methodist Church in Georgetown, Washington, DC.

Cooperation, Collaboration, Coalition

Monday, April 25th, 2011

by Rev. Troy Plummer

Cooperation, collaboration, coalition… all come to my mind when I think of MFSA.  Kneeling in protest, praying in vigil, witnessing in worship…all come to my heart when I feel what MFSA has meant to my life.

At my first General Conference in Pittsburgh at a freezing early morning witness, I knelt between two MFSA veterans who had been on their knees in Pittsburgh 40 years earlier praying for the end of the segregated Central Jurisdiction of our denomination.  Those prayers, actions, strategies, engagements mattered and changed our church.  It is but one time in over 100 years of existence that MFSA has successfully challenged our church and our world and together we have been transformed.  I’m so thankful for those upon whose shoulders we stand, rise, and carry forward.

As a gay man, I can still be surprised by what happens to my heart when parents, friends, allies speak and act so boldly with intentional theological grounding in justice.  Not only does my heart swell but my eyes tear up as well.  I really can’t justify the surprise because the support is constant and strong.  Yet, still….and even as it feels so good my mind slips back into gear and can be overwhelmed by the many, many justice challenges.  So I rely on who I can trust.  I rely on thoughtful analysis.  I rely on Plumblines.  I rely on The Progressive Voice.  I rely on MFSA.

I rely on MFSA to keep my own faithful discipleship grounded with integrity.  I know I can’t focus only on my own advancement in our church and society and still be a person of justice.  I know that there is a system of “isms” out there that function together to separate allies from one another—allies against racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism get wedged apart minimizing the voice for change.  MFSA connects the dots, reveals the systems at play, and challenges me to live out the Gospel wholly.   And I give up being overwhelmed, and imagine myself on my knees in the early morning cold surrounded by so many successful veterans for justice, and then I am able to breathe in God’s love overcoming death all over again.

As a member of MFSA with my mind, heart, and breath, thank you all of you!

Rev. Troy G. Plummer has served as the Executive Director for Reconciling Ministries Network since November 2003.

Inspiration and Hope: Why I am part of MFSA

Monday, April 25th, 2011

by Rev. Becca Clark

I am part of the Methodist Federation for Social Action because it both inspires me and gives me hope. For me, MFSA lifts up the greatest strengths and addresses the greatest areas of weakness in my denomination.

One of the biggest things that drew me to The United Methodist Church as a college student was the denomination's commitment to mission work that equips and empowers, and never uses assistance as a bait-and-switch conversion tool (read more about the UMC's values with respect to relief work here). So many times, I hear people who are skeptical about organized religion say things like, "Christians talk a good game, but they don't actually try to live like Jesus." I believe that the UMC and MFSA stand in counterpoint to this view. Although not an official board or body of the UMC, for me MFSA has functioned as the heart and soul of our denomination, inspiring us to continually seek peace and people's rights, to address systems of poverty, promote progressive initiatives, and work for justice in our own church. Foremost for me, I appreciate a strong witness for pacifism, as I believe that organized religion has too often been used to sound the drums of war.

MFSA inspires me by holding my denomination to a high standard in seeking peace and justice, which I understand to be at the heart of the Reign of God as Jesus proclaimed it. That witness calls the UMC to be the best representation of Christ's body that we can be.

And yet, we are far from perfect.

Like any human institution, my beloved denomination struggles to be a faithful witness to the vast and encompassing love of God. We fall short in our pacifism; we do not stand strongly enough in defense of the natural world, which we have been told to care for; we botch our inclusivity. We have not fully broken free of– let alone repented of– the racism and Anglo-North-American privilege that saturates so much of our movement. We cut couples off from the blessing of the church and deny the call of God to ministry in persons based on sexual orientation. And we spend so much time arguing about these things– particularly the last– that we neglect our call to be Christian community and extend the love of Christ to the world for its (and our!) transformation.

There are days when that list of shortcomings makes me want to give up.

But for the witness of MFSA, which reminds me that I am not alone. I am not the only one who wants to see a stronger pacifist stance. I am not the only one who weeps when I have to tell a couple I can't marry them.

I am not the only one who believes that we cannot tend souls without tending bodies, and we cannot preach a just and inclusive Reign of God unless we work for a just and inclusive human society.

MFSA gives me hope by naming the places where The United Methodist Church needs to become more Christlike, and building community to lovingly call us to that work. None of us needs to carry the weight of our brokenness alone, nor shoulder the burden of our need for healing as a denomination.


And that's why I'm part of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. Why are you?

Becca Clark is a an ordained elder in the New England Annual Conference, currently serving at Trinity United Methodist Church in Montpelier, VT.

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