Archive for March, 2012

A Time to Act

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

I want to share with you a story of life under Occupation that I witnessed myself. Nabi Saleh is a small village in the West Bank of about 500 people.

In December 2009 an illegal Jewish-only settlement called Halamish appropriated a fresh water spring that had previously belonged to the village of Nabi Saleh. This spring had been the only natural source of water for the residents of Nabi Saleh, but since the settlement appropriated it, Palestinians have no longer been allowed to approach the spring. If they try, soldiers are called in to disperse them using tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets. In response, the village began weekly non-violent demonstrations in protest to the settlement's appropriation of the fresh water spring. They have been protesting every Friday since December 2009.

"Natalia and a Palestinian protestor in Nabi Saleh. In the background soldiers stand between protestors and the fresh water spring"
Natalia and a Palestinian protestor in Nabi Saleh. In the background soldiers stand between protestors and the fresh water spring.

Bassem Tamimi is one of the leaders of these weekly peaceful demonstrations. As a peace activist, Tamimi has been arrested by the Israeli army 11 times though he has never been convicted of an offence. In 1993 during an interrogation, and as a result of the torture he underwent, Tamimi collapsed and had to be evacuated to a hospital, where he laid unconscious for seven days. A little over a year ago, on March 24, 2011, Israeli soldiers raided the Tamimi home and arrested Bassem Tamimi. He has been charged with "organizing unpermitted processions" and is currently detained. Tamimi was recently named a prisoner of conscious by Amnesty International.

Meanwhile, the weekly demonstrations continue. Last July I witnessed and participated in several of these weekly demonstrations, alongside Palestinians, Israelis, and other internationals inspired by this non-violent struggle for access to water, a basic human right. When I returned to my home state of Maryland I began asking, "What is my church doing about this injustice?" I was reminded of how Moses behaved when he witnessed a similar injustice: 

"…but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well. Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father's flock. Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock." (Exodus 2: 15-17)

Moses got up and acted. When I learned about United Methodist Kairos Response I immediately became involved because I believe we must work to make sure that our church cuts its ties with companies that profit from an unjust occupation. It's time for our church to act in accordance with its values. I hope you will join us in working towards a just peace: www.kairosresponse.org.


Natalia Cuadra-Saez, is a member of United Methodist Kairos Response, a movement in the UMC that seeks to align the church's investments with its resolutions opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. After graduating from the University of Maryland in May 2011, Natalia spent 5 weeks traveling around Israel and Palestine. She will be attending General Conference on a Young Adult Scholarship from MFSA.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!: The Road to Church Restructuring

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

When it comes to church restructuring, I can’t tell you how many times I have asked myself over the last year, “which will win out in my beloved United Methodist Church, faith or fear?”  We are so afraid of our churches declining and dying out, that we are willing to adopt the idea that we must do something, anything.  Thankfully, faith that is bigger than our fears, is liberating, rejuvenating and can lead us to places we couldn’t have dreamed possible otherwise.  So my friends and fellow lovers of this United Methodist Church, as we approach General Conference, I ask, will our faith or our fears guide us?

There’s a relatively new online petition asking United Methodists to sign-on in support of the Interim Operations Team/Connectional Table (IOT/CT) plan of restructuring.  It’s being promoted by a number of large church pastors, some who were a part of the IOT/CT process.  In addition, there have been a number of General Conference delegates that have come under pressure (both internally and externally) to endorse the IOT/CT proposals before General Conference.  Never in my 25 years of ministry have I seen such a hard sell for any program that hopes to save the United Methodist Church from certain demise.  The sad reality is that even the Connectional Table admits (hyperlink to report) that structural changes won’t change the current trends:

     “While there are many examples of effective disciple-making, prophetic witness, and ministries of justice and mercy across the Connection, these efforts do not obviate” (prevent) “the effects in the United States and Europe of our increasingly older membership and aging leaders; declines in the numbers of professions of faith, worship attendance, and baptisms; and growing financial burdens accompanied by decreasing revenues (p. 8 of the Call to Action Steering Team Report, May, 2011).”

 

Recently a group working to develop a “Plan B” proposal on church restructuring has appeared.  While there have been mailings, a website, and a lot of press in recent weeks around “Plan B,” there is no actual legislation yet to even view or analyze.  Is it our hope that it will be the magic pill that saves us?

There is, however, legislation that was submitted by MFSA.  It was submitted to the General Conference because of foundational concerns with the IOT/CT proposals.  The letter and petition from large church pastors do not address those concerns. 

MFSA believes it is critical that any plan to restructure the church must embody the following principles:

 

·         Full inclusion, shared leadership and equal participation that represents the diversity and world-wide nature of our Church.

·         Broad-based, collaborative, participative decision-making and accountability structures that do the following:

o        Support the UMC in its mission, utilizing the broad definition of disciple-making in ¶122, and moving the UMC “on toward being made perfect in God’s love”

o        Maintain and ensure accountability to the entire church through General Conference

o        Strategically put in place governance boards across the general church that involve myriad voices in decision-making and allow them to engage in the missions they have oversight of, rather than concentrating that power in a select few and distancing them so that they are unable to exercise effective oversight

o        Incorporate healthy checks and balances to protect against abuses of power and control

o        Strengthen our connectionalism

o        Address the need for fiduciary and financial controls and separation of roles.

·         Full lay leadership development and involvement in the decision-making processes of the denomination, taking advantage of the diverse gifts God has distributed across the church

·         Social holiness and personal holiness walking hand-in-hand.

·         Right-sizing of the general church that takes advantage of opportunities for increased efficiency while not concentrating power or stripping away accountability structures.

·         Measurements based on both qualitative and quantitative standards

·         An understanding of disciple-making in its broadest sense

Furthermore, the CT proposals are being misrepresented as steps that can achieve healthy and vital congregations.  They cannot.  No restructuring proposal can achieve this because such lofty goals cannot be accomplished from the top down; they require action and change within the local churches themselves.  For this reason, we prepared an additional proposal aimed at the matter of clergy effectiveness and accountability.  Our plan seeks to create accountability for vitality and effectiveness processes which accomplish the following:

 

·         Actively engage all levels of leadership (Episcopal, Annual Conference, laity and clergy)

·         Utilize measurements based on both qualitative and quantitative standards

·         Address disciple-making in its broadest sense (¶122)

 

The proposals from the Connectional Table fail to adequately address these critical concerns.  The “Plan B” proposal is non-existent at this point, but we will continue to look at it from these principles and standards to see if it will be something that might benefit the life and ministries of our church.

There are still many questions to be answered.  Delegates, and all those who are working to effect positive change in the life of our beloved church, are in our prayers and guiding our work at MFSA.  Whatever the outcome at General Conference, we hope to have a renewed sense of what it means to live, work and serve the God of Grace together, in a denomination that embraces the richness of our diversity and values the equality of personal and social holiness as Jesus’ disciples in today’s world.

          

Rev. Steve Clunn is MFSA's Coaltion Coordinator.  His work involves strengthening the coalition of groups and individuals working for justice in the UMC, specifically in regards to the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in all levels of the church by focusing on conference-level action.

Showing Up, Standing Together

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

This post has been cross-posted with OnFire's blog, found at umonfire.blogspot.com.

       Yesterday was the Prayerful Witness on Health Care at the Supreme Court building, and the staff of the Methodist Federation for Social Action made it a priority to be there. Yesterday (March 26) through Wednesday (March 28) the Supreme Court will be hearing challenges to the Affordable Care Act which, when fully implemented, would prevent insurance companies from charging women higher premiums than men and would ensure that access to healthcare is not determined by socioeconomic status.

   This was my first time attending a witness event, so I have to admit that I was nervous as we approached the crowds. I didn’t participate as fully or as loudly as many people did, including my fellow staff members, but just having the chance to be there and to observe and reflect was the highlight of my day. I loved having the opportunity to watch hundreds of people stand up for what they believe is right and to ground it in the faith that is such an important part of their lives. Two things occurred to me as I listened to the speakers and watched the crowds sing and pray together.

The first thing struck me as I watched counter-protesters start to congregate and listened to arguments begin: it is so easy for us to fall into the trap of polarizing issues when there is so much that we could be agreeing on. I don’t think that anyone would argue that some people shouldn’t have access to healthcare, but we get sidetracked about controversial things like abortion and contraception and all progress gets suspended. This isn’t to say that the issues that divide us aren’t important—we wouldn’t be so defensive about them if they weren’t—but it struck me that even among people of faith we are quick to jump to disagreements rather than starting from a point of connection. As we get closer to what could be a particularly divisive General Conference I think this will be more important than ever.

The second thing I realized is how important it is just to show up. So much of the power of a witness really does lie in numbers, in people who show up to say that real people really do care about this issue. The decision made this week in the Supreme Court and the decisions made at General Conference this summer are going to affect countless lives in very real ways. Every person that decides that she or he doesn't need to show up to be seen and heard around the issues that are dear to them makes it just a little bit easier for those issues to be glossed over.

Whatever issues are near to your heart at General Conference or just in your everyday life, I hope that you find the strength to show up and talk about them. I hope that we as the Church can find the humility to start from a place of oneness and to share honestly our hopes and fears about our future. I hope that, wherever you are, you are fully present.

Heather Kramer is a second year Masters of Divinity and Masters of Theological Studies student at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC., where she is also the youth minister at Dumbarton United Methodist Church and an intern at the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA). In her free time (ha!) she tries to read, work for justice, and blogs at The Story I Find Myself In.

United Methodist Coalition Decries Shooting of Unarmed Black Teen in Florida

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

The historic coalition of advocacy groups in the United Methodist Church made its first joint statement on the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.

“We are shocked by this shooting of an unarmed African American teen by an armed neighborhood watch person who contravened the directives of police by pursuing and shooting this high school student,” said Steve Clunn, director of the Love Your Neighbor, Common Witness Coalition.  “As a Christian coalition that works at the crossroads of issues, we must challenge all race-based profiling.  It only leads to heartbreak and disaster.” 

“Violence, whether it is based on race, sexual orientation or gender identity, is wrong and cannot go unchallenged,” said Troy Plummer, executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network.  “Our ‘Love Your Neighbor’ theme is based on a story told by Jesus about human differences.  If we tell the story today, Trayvon was left on the side of the road to die by everyone who has let a racial joke stand without comment, by everyone who avoids crossing unspoken racial lines, by anyone who forgets that Jesus was telling us that our neighbors are people who are different from ourselves—not the people who look and act like us.” 

Pamela Crosby, executive director of Black Methodists for Church Renewal said, “This tragedy for Trayvon Martin’s family and loved ones is anathema to our goals for the beloved community. Trayvon is our son, baby brother, church member, friend. As United Methodists from around the globe prepare to meet together in Florida at the end of April, the need to address racial justice and reconciliation in our communities is urgent and silence has no place in our response. This is just another example where race trumped humanity. The time for love of God and neighbor to trump racism is now!”

Don Hayashi, president of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists said, “We cannot be silent in the presence of violence whether the victim is a person of color, a transgender woman, an immigrant or other targeted group, we must speak for the humanity of everyone—and call for investigation by authorities and repentance by perpetrators. We grieve over the death of Trayvon and we grieve for the heart and soul of this country and pray that one day it can be a sign of hope all people because of its respect for all.”

“United Methodists have a long history of working against the institutional violence of racism. Racism, coupled with the easy accessibility of weapons resulted in this deadly, personal violence and it must end,” said Jill A. Warren, executive director of Methodist Federation for Social Action, an organizational member of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.  “We stand together as a Coalition in our support for all those affected by violence, for justice and the elimination of racism.”

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from all diverse racial-ethnic backgrounds all know someone who has been beaten or murdered for who they are,” said Tim Tennant-Jayne, co-spokesperson of Affirmation.  We stand with Trayvon’s family as they seek a thorough investigation of this tragic death.  I am reminded of the powerful statement attributed to the Rev. Martin Niemöller, during World War II, to paraphrase: ‘First they came for the communists and I didn’t speak out because I was not a communist—then they came for the trade unionists, then the gypsies, then the homosexuals, then the Jews—then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.’  As a coalition, we know we must speak out for each other.  Silence equals death.”


 

The State of Sex: What I Want to Change about High School Sex Ed

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

This blog was originally published at In Our Words: A Salon for Queers and Co. and has been reposted with permission.

Sex education in my public high school was terrible, to the best of my memory. Rumors flew around the school that we had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the state of Illinois, and while I never saw statistical evidence to prove it was true, I would not be surprised at all if it were true. And yet, no one seemed too worried about it…or at least not worried enough to do anything to change how sex ed was taught.

Literally the only things I remember from sex ed were sitting in a dark classroom while one of our gym teachers lectured at us, seemingly without end. The only days I remember were the day she showed us the staple horrifying slide show of pictures of STDs and the day when she gave us her coded lecture promoting her opinions on abortion, informing us that a fetus's (though I assume she used the term “baby's”) heartbeat appears three days after conception.

So basically, I'm pretty sure our sex ed class was designed to scare us into abstinence, but it obviously wasn't working, because even if we weren't actually the high school with the highest teen pregnancy rate in the state of Illinois, we certainly had plenty of 'em. And since that rumor continued circulating through the school unquestioned and unchallenged, it was certain that something needed to change.

Now, in case you didn't catch it, I went to a public high school. As in, not funded by some church or other religious organization. I would expect more. Yet what I found was that even in spite of the present reality in which we live, it seems sex ed, even in public schools, is being taught in a way seemingly dictated by religious fundies [1], resulting in what I wish was only a tragic parody of reality à la Mean Girls.

The present reality in which we live is a difficult one for the fundies to face. The hard fact of the matter is that, no matter what sex ed teaches them, no matter how hard the system tries to encourage abstinence, no matter how much legislation the fundies pass thinking they're taking measures to “prevent underage sex,” it's not going to work in many cases. Some teens are going to have sex.

Frankly, I think that the more pro-life, pro-family, pro-children way to go about dealing with this issue would be to recognize that reality and not only simply spend half a class period quickly brushing over what possible birth control and contraceptive methods are and move on to the “ever more important” so-realistic-you-wouldn't-believe-it-wasn't-a-real-baby “egg baby project” [2] or, as you may recall, those unpleasant pictures of what will happen to you if you contract any of a number of STDs.

By teaching about different forms of birth control and contraceptive methods, the school is not encouraging teens to have sex. Far from it. Pop culture, peer pressure, and basically everything around them encourage them to have sex. Even those statistics that the fundies like to wave around as scare tactic that 7 in 10 US teens have sex by their 19rh birthday make some of those who haven't and who see said statistic feel all the more inadequate and all the more ready to rush into sexual activity, sometimes haphazardly. Not all teens will have sex, but if more than a majority does during teenage years, why are we living in a fantasy world that hopes that they won't?

By giving proper education on birth control and contraceptive methods, by making sure teens are fully prepared and informed for if and when they should decide to have sex, by even possibly making condoms available to those who choose to be sexually active, and by ceasing to live in a fantasy world, I really think that we could be better promoting those family and pro-life values that the conservatives and the fundies always claim to espouse so nearly and dearly.

I really don't get it when people seem to show such concern for the teen pregnancies we see in the US and yet show an absolute blatant disregard for the realities of the preventative measures we could be taking to stop them. Fear mongering, while a tried-and-true tactic with the US public during election season and when attempting to enter into an unpopular war, it simply won't convince teens that they shouldn't have sex. So the least we could do as a society is encourage them to make healthy choices in their sexual relationships.

Support teens, support healthy choices, support safe sex practices, and support family values.  Sounds like a win-win, doesn't it? As a young woman who graduated from a high school which supposedly had the highest teen pregnancy rate in Illinois, I'm sure that a stronger emphasis in safe sex practices in sex ed classes certainly wouldn't hurt. It might have even helped my high school not have its rumored reputation.

 [1] This is short for fundamentalists. Many progressive Christians use the term to refer to fundamentalist Christians. I personally prefer the term to “fundamentalists” because I think it's a softer-sounding term and therefore takes away from the power the fundies earn by the ominous bone-chilling term “fundamentalists.” Plus it's just more fun to say.

[2] Though apparently in some school districts they use bags of flour to simulate the weight of a baby. Or even real baby dolls that simulate the  noises and needs of actual babies! My school district was so broke we couldn't even afford eggs, so we just talked theoretically about responsibilities of childcare a lot, or I assume we did. Really I remember basically nothing from that class. Truly a testament to our system.

—-

Kara Johansen Crawford is a graduate of DePaul University, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Kara has been actively involved in activism and community service for much of her life and is particularly passionate about labor justice, queer issues and engaging faith communities on social issues. Kara is currently serving as a Mission Intern with the United Methodist Church at the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación, based in Bogotá, Colombia. Follow Kara on Twitter @revolUMCionaria and on her blog.

Widening the Circle

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

There is great goodness and justice happening through some of our existing and new chapters, but as a system and the overarching movement, we are not reaching our full potential.  For example, we value and lift as a priority inclusion of young adults and ethnic diversity, yet the make-up of our membership does not reflect our desires.  Generally, the younger generation shares our values of inclusion, equity and peace, yet our organization’s structure contains unintentional barriers to enter, not allowing easy access for folks to engage. 

The structure for MFSA membership was instituted to align with a different age of society.  Today’s culture and mechanisms for communications are vastly different from when our structure was put in place.  In fact, they have changed dramatically in the last decade!  Yet, our structure is centered on a church governance structure and geographic boundaries, which doesn’t make sense to those not already “in the circle.”  

It is time to draw the circle wider, with different lines and colors.  In fact, let’s remove the lines!  Let’s open our arms and remove the barriers (which might be hard for those of us “in the circle” to see) and develop the next generation of Methodists for social action. 

You can read Tara's full statement here.

Tara Thronson is MFSA's Board of Directors Co-chair. She helped to start the Southwest Texas Chapter and currently resides in Sacramento, California.

The Love Your Neighbor Common Witness Coalition is Growing!

Monday, March 12th, 2012

The Methodist Federation for Social Action, United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church, Affirmation and Reconciling Ministries Network would like to announce our two newest coalition partners!

On Thursday, March 1, BMCR (Black Methodists for Church Renewal) “voted to support the Love Our Neighbor proposal” and “committed to partner with those organizations on General Conference strategies.”

BMCR Masthead

The National Federation of Asian American United Methodists (NFAAUM) which represents 10 ethnic groups in the church, including Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Formosan, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Lao, South Asian and Vietnamese United Methodists decided to become a full coalition partner on Friday, March 9th.

NFAAUM logo

We are proud to welcome our new coalition partners!  We look forward to working together as we strive for a more diverse, inclusive, just and welcoming United Methodist Church!

National Office:212 East Capitol St., NE,Washington, DC 20003 * tel: 202.546.8806 *email: mfsa@mfsaweb.org