Archive for April, 2012

Our Value of Connection Cannot Be Taken Away

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Overall, I have really enjoyed attending General Conference. I am currently a seminary student and taking a United Methodist Polity Class; this General Conference is first hand experience for me to witness the nature of United Methodist Polity. While I feel hopeful, cautious and in nervous anticipation about the changes in doing church that will occur, I have connected with something that will never be taken away from the way I do church.

This General Conference has felt much like a homecoming for me. Jessica and I moved to Chicago about 9 months ago, leaving our family, friends and core support system. Their physical presence in our lives is limited and we often sway from feeling lonely to knowing their presence is strongly with us. Since being in Tampa I have reconnected with people in my annual conference of Southwest Texas and their presence has meant a great deal in rejuvenating my spirit this last week. I am so proud of the organizing they have done in the last four years to bring greater justice and mercy to their local community and to the greater United Methodist Church. I have witnessed from a far their efforts to be a haven for those who feel marginalized and oppressed; they have called their local churches to do more in affirming LGBTQ persons and their families; and they have grown in size and fervor to do this work in supportive connection with each other and the larger Common Witness Coalition partners.

When I think about the way I know how to do church I think about them. I think about ways in which they convey God’s unashamed love for ALL and for the courageous justice trailblazing they embody. It has rejuvenated my soul to be with the Southwest Texas team and reminds me that no matter what we change in our ways of doing church this General Conference, that the works of justice they are will always be how I know to do the work of the church. Whatever happens this General Conference that connectional ethos will never be erased. 

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Britt Cox is a Certified Elder candidate in the Southwest Texas Annual Conference. She is a student at Chicago Theological Seminary and has served as a Jurisdictional Organizer with Reconciling Ministries Network.

Dignity Not Detention

Monday, April 30th, 2012

On Saturday, April 28, The UMC Task Force on Immigration (of which MFSA is a part) held a rally about detention and the growing problem of the privatization of Prisons. Over 500 people came together to protest this private prison industry that targets immigrants and people of color, together proclaiming, "Dignity Not Detention! Profit from Pain is Inhumane."

The rally was led by Bishops Minerva Carcaño (Desert Southwest) and Julius Trimble (Iowa), co-chairs of the Task Force. We also heard from Bishop Rosemary Wenner of the German Episcopal Area, Rev. Connie Mella of the Philippines Annual Conference, Rev. Audrey Warren of the Florida Conference, and Desmond Mead of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. 

Where are We Going?

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Will we go forward or backward?



We are about to enter a new phase of General conference . Committees have cared for the petitions and have voted in support or non-support and now the General Conference as a whole will care for them. There are numerous petitions that will provoke much debate.



There were several petitions that were submitted asking that The United Methodist Church change its stance on abortion and end its membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), of which we (The UMC) are a founding member. RCRC has been a voice for women around the world helping to ensure that they had access to safe and healthy abortions, access to contraception and age appropriate sexual education. This ecumenical organization has done important work to help keep women informed, healthy and safe.



It seems strange that in the year that is the 40th anniversary of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) we could end our relationship with a coalition that does positive work with, on be half of, and for women. Of course the lies have been spread, similar to the lies used against Planned Parenthood, that  the RCRC promotes and encourages abortion. Which is simply untrue. Their primary work is to protect the rights that women have to make informed decisions about their bodies and their own health. In the US and in countries around the world, the research suggests that abortion rates are lower in countries where it is legal. Also we have all heard the stories of what happens when abortions are preformed illegally. We can not put women in a place of danger.



It is my hope that our Church will be a prophetic voice in protecting the rights of women. The environment for women in this country and countries around the world continues to grow more hostile. We need voices in the church and organizations like RCRC to take a stand against this changing tide. Women are smart, powerful, and important members of the community of faith and the global body. The church must stay in place that allows women to make their own informed choices and provide support before, during and after  tough choices are made no matter the choice made. We must go forward, not backward.

Kristen Dart is an associate conference lay leader in the Upper New York annual conference. She will be representing New York at the Democratic National Convention.

Ties That Bind

Monday, April 30th, 2012

“Will all the dignitaries stand up?” More than half of the room was filled with Bishops, Theologians, District Superintendents, Presidents of Coalitions, Elders, prominent Laity, and then there was me. I was sitting among the prominent people of our Church. Particularly for me –its significance was because they looked like me. As an African American female, who is a certified candidate for ministry, and was honored to be a part of the Black Methodists for Church Renewal dinner to support the success of Africa University. The theme was the “ties that bind.” 

The room was filled with all races of people and I was wondering, “what are the ties that bind us all together?” The simple answer would be Jesus Christ, or the belief in Methodism. Or maybe it’s that fact that we all have an interest in The Book of Discipline, that all of us had come along one way or another on our journey as Methodist. I guess I wondered: how would this meaningful experience -full of dignitaries- “tie and bind us together” in sister and brotherhood?

There is no question that although we have many similarities—many of us bring to the table our differences. But the evidence of the ties that bind us all together began to reveal itself through the history of Africa University. When Jim Salley, Associate Vice Chancellor of Africa University, spoke about how Africa University came into existence. He said, “It began with a dream and a prayer.” In the United States, many of the Historically Black College and Universities began with Methodist roots.  I have been told that congregations of former slaves –marginalized in society brought their pennies, nickels, and dimes to build the institutions that have been educating African Americans for more than a century. I suspect that the folks who built them would say that those institutions began with a dream –or even a vision to have an opportunity to be someone other than a share cropper, or cotton picker. 

The notion that all people don’t have an opportunity for an education is disheartening. The United Methodist Church, along with the people from the continent Africa and many others whose names we will never know, decided that they could be the changing agent to afford persons an education. 

I believe that most of us in the room have dreams – and I would hope that we share dreams of God doing the impossible in the world. I choose to interpret dreams as visions. God-given visions along with prayer can do the impossible –or God possible. Africa University represents the best of the United Methodist Church. It represents the fact that we can dream with others, share their interest, and use all of our resources together to make dreams reality. Make no mistake about it—I suspect that the people of Africa had already dreamed of their University –and prayed that God would send the resources.

Historically, Christianity has been known to impose many so called “civilized” influences on indigenous people, different races and cultures. Sunday night's worship—held in the Tampa Convention Center- was held to exhibit how The UMC has been involved in other places around the world to support the visions of others, from the After Church Bar, The Nets for Malaria for children of Africa, or the church that is being build in Hungary.  The message has been the same – not to impose culture, but to support others in achieving their own individual goal. 

Although many of the dignitaries in the room are respected and well educated; I suspect for the African Americans in the room who have not forgotten how the belief in visioning and praying has impacted their lives. I am sure they can share countless stories of hardships, injustices, and pain—that needed the hope of a dream or a vision. They too are standing on the shoulders of the ones that have come before them –and I am tied with that legacy of standing on theirs.

Perhaps all of us are tied through our pain and our dreams. I imagine that the church has much more work to do. We have to create relationships that heal or help instead of harm. There are other tasks ahead of us just like that—people who are dreaming for themselves to create a better world . People who have ideas that will strengthen the communities that they are surrounded by; and there are people who need the church to dream with them. I am very excited that I witnessed the tie of what happens when dreams, prayers, and action align. 

Alexis Brown is a mother, wife, and a daughter to a UM Elder. She is a candidate for ordained ministry in the Baltimore-Washington Conference and attends Wesley Theological Seminary, where she hopes to graduate in 2014. She is the Young Adult Coordinator at Asbury Town Neck UMC in Sevema Park, Maryland.

Today may be your cross, but Tomorrow will be your Resurrection

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

This week has been trying. There have been victories, there have been defeats, but yesterday it seemed that the defeats were in the overwhelming majority. Committee after committee seemed to pass legislation on to the greater body that sought to discriminate against women’s bodies, LGBTQ rights, and so forth and so on. It was a hard day for many, and after a week of exhausting and trying legislative committees, defeat stared us in the face.

But today has been a good day. This afternoon, the Common Witness Coalition held a worship service that proved to be transformational, powerful, and just what we needed to realize that the God who created us, is still in control. Dr. James Cone, professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, talked about his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. One of the first things he said was, “Today may be your cross, but tomorrow will be your resurrection.” People erupted in applause. It was a moment of clarity for me.

Photo courtesy of Mittie QuinnDr. Cone eloquently described how Jesus being crucified on the cross was no different than black bodies being lynched on trees or queer bodies being lynched on fences. “The cross and the lynching tree are separated by 2000 years… but their symbolism is intimately connected." He reminded us of the interconnectedness and intersectionality of all forms of oppression and violence. The Black Church and black people know oppression. Muslims in this country know oppression. Indigenous persons know oppression. Migrant workers know oppression. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons know oppression. Women know oppression. People are crucified on the lynching trees of the status quo everyday and it is all connected together. However, the cross is not the final say. The Cross  and the lynching tree both subvert the powers of this world, and yet, after the cross comes the glorious resurrection. In this season of Easter, we all needed to be reminded of this. WE ARE PEOPLE OF RESURRECTION! And we will be resurrected!

Our coalition and our movement is one that experiences the pain of life, and we have seen oppression, yet, we cannot be people of hate. Dr. Cone reminded us that, “Hate kills the hater, not the hated.” We cannot hate! This week, there have been times when I’ve held hate and contempt in my heart because of things that were happening in discussions. I was convicted today that we are not a movement of hate, but we are a movement of love! A movement that resists oppression and creates hope so that we can live into a reality where the lynching trees and crosses of this world fade away, and communities of resurrection spring forth: Communities of resurrection where people live by God’s commandment of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

So as we move forward into this second week of General Conference, I pray that we are a movement that is defined by love: a love for those oppressed, and a love for the oppressor. I hope and pray that our General Conference of The United Methodist Church will be a movement again, that is shaped by God’s love, God’s justice, and God’s mercy for all of God’s children. I hope and pray that we do have true communion, true conversations, and that no matter what happens, we not turn into a movement of hate, but continue to be a movement of Love.

Rev. Justin White is a provisional deacon in the Mississippi Annual Conference. He is the Associate Pastor of children and youth at Wells Memorial UMC in Jackson, Ms. He is also the SEJ representative on the MFSA board.

A Call to Reclaiming My Faith

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

I arrived in Tampa, Florida this past Tuesday night. It was my first time traveling by myself. Beforehand, I had discussed with my friends and family about traveling alone and seeking any advice on how to navigate the airport system, though in the end I did my own research to make sure I had everything in line. When I arrived in Florida, I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was more than I could imagine: here I was, at the General Conference of The United Methodist Church, and I felt at home. We are at the Tampa Convention Center (where the General Conference is being held), and am surrounded by United Methodists trying to make disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world: it is such a reaffirmation of my faith. During worship and the plenary, I can look out into the audience to see believers praising our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I felt a sense of awe and comfort, and it dawned on me what this General Conference would mean to me. It would be a call to reclaiming my faith reminding me who the central tenet of my life should be. God.  As a senior undergraduate at the University of Maryland, I often lose sight of what is means to be Christian and get bogged down by the daily activities of life. I think in a highly techno-mobile society, we are often spending little to no time for God and our spiritual well-being. This General Conference is helping me refocus on what I had strayed away from: a Christ-centered mentality in my everyday life. I hope to leave renewed in my faith and with more knowledge about the body of the church, which I feel I have already accomplished.

At the end of the day on Tuesday before I went to bed, I took some time to personally reflect and read scripture. I opened a random passage in my Bible and was led by the Spirit to John 3:1-21. This is the classical story about Nicodemus who visits Jesus then questions Him about being born again. Jesus responds that you must be born of water and Spirit. What spoke to me about the whole passage was that the need to be transformed of the mind seen in other passages in the Bible without explicitly saying it. Nicodemus, though he is a Pharisee, was taught the true meaning of the Gospel, contrary to what he had little or no knowledge about. I saw it as a call to transform my mind and most importantly reclaiming my faith. A faith we can hold in boldness that Christ came into the world to redeem sinners through Him. This is the faith we should reclaim and proclaim. Therefore, today I ask you to crack your Bible open which might have accumulated dust on it and reflect, pray, and read the Good News that Jesus Christ has to offer.

Thanks be to God!

Mistead Sai is a senior Sociology major at the University of Maryland. He plans to work with non-profit organizations when he graduates. He is active with his United Methodist Campus Ministry and seeks to be more involved in church-related volunteering & service and pursuits for social justice in the near future on behalf of his faith.

General Conference from Home

Sunday, April 29th, 2012
I'm sitting at home following General Conference, and for this self-professed MethoNerd, it's really hard. I attended the 2008 GC as the volunteer coordinator for the Common Witness Coalition, and I loved it.  I got to empower people with tangible tasks to change laws in our Church. Not only change laws, but change lives. But this year I am sitting at home, going about my daily life, but stealing every possible moment I can to check on everyone. 
 
I was feeling sorry for myself a little because I am so in love with the Methodist Church (with some frustrations) and deeply care on the outcome of this conference. I care because of the many stories I've been privileged to hear over the years. The stories of heart-ache, rejection by family and the Church, and more recently a mother not attending her sons wedding because he was marrying another man. These stories are what I'm carrying in my heart and why I continue forward in the fight for full-inclusion of LGBTQ members in the Church. 
 
I realized that instead of feeling sorry for myself for being at home, I can still be a part of the movement at home. I'm great full for the "at home kit" from the Common Witness Coalition which allows me to follow without being there. I quickly downloaded the GC mobile app, which allows access to not only the live-feed, but a wonderful legislation center where I can track important legislation. I watch the live-feed as much as possible and sit and pray. I wake-up every morning with GC on my mind and continually hold everyone involved in prayer. I am also house-sitting for a staff member at RMN which is a very tangible way of contributing to justice  I am privileged to attend a church where we have sent about 10 people to GC. They range from delegates to volunteers to general agency staff and consultants. I watched with tears in my eyes as many stood with Mark Miller as he described the pain he felt during "holy conferencing" about inclusion issues. I felt hope when I saw many people were using the twitter hash tag , #standwithmark. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I am blessed to have so many ways to connect to those in Tampa. 

I will continue to hold everyone in prayer. 


Candie ODell is a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical and is a candidate for Deacons orders in the Cal-Pac conference. She currently lives in Chicago, where she will graduate with a MS in nonprofit management this summer.  She has been a long time advocate of equality and is a past intern at RMN.

Where Is The Love?

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Sitting in legislative committees without a voice or a vote has been extremely frustrating.  Often I find myself seeking to interject into the conversation or call someone out for the illogical-ness of what they’re suggesting. Delegates are talking past one another without meaningfully engaging with each other.  We’ve invited the Holy Spirit to be present throughout the process and blatantly ignored the movement of the Holy Spirit entirely. I can’t imagine God delights in the inefficiency of our process and the discounting of others feelings.

This post pertains to conservatives and progressives alike.

Some of us have forgotten that we represent a God who loves and cares for all people with zero exceptions. As Christians we are called to live out this love in the way we interact with and treat others. We’re called to love all of God’s children. All means all.

Everywhere I go, everywhere I sit, I hear people complaining about other people and using destructive language.

“What an idiot.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Would she just shut up already?”

Seriously? This is the body of people who are supposed to represent The United Methodist Church to the rest of the entire human population? No wonder many of our churches are struggling…

Obviously this doesn’t represent a significant number of our delegates but these types of attitudes seem to spread like a virus throughout an organism…and we are the body of Christ, aren’t we?

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Matt Lockett is a graduate student in Chemistry at the University of Oregon, has been a lay delegate to the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference more than 6 years, and was part of the inaugural Young People's Address to General Conference in 2008.

Repentance: Confliction and Hope

Friday, April 27th, 2012

I am sitting in my apartment in Skokie, Illinois, after watching the Act of Repentance service toward healing with indigenous peoples, and my mind is going back to 1998.  I was 15 years old, and had just been baptized into The United Methodist Church.  I sat in a large tipi with my dad for a meeting of the Native American Church.  I am a Native American, and it was my first time attending a meeting of the NAC.

As the songs were sung, and night turned into day (NAC meetings are 12 hours long), I remember feeling curiously pulled by the conviction that I was worshiping other gods.  We were singing in Native tongues that I didn't understand.  I heard “Jesus” a few times in some of the songs, but not in all of them.  I was pretty sure that if I told any of my church friends about my experience, they would wonder if I was being faithful to Christ.  I thought that I might be going to hell, and that maybe I had no place in either the NAC or the Christian church.  I was certainly wondering, and spent the next 10 years of my life trying to make peace with that uneasy feeling that came from participating in traditional Native American ceremonies and Christian worship.

Our culture seems to forget (or perhaps may not realize) that it wasn't that long ago that Native Americans didn't have religious rights for our ceremonies.  The traditional ceremonies of Native Americans were illegal and seen as a threat to the implicit, established order of worship of the United States.  These ceremonies were not bringing harm to anyone; in fact, they were about  balance and restoration.  In 1978, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was first passed in an effort to protect the traditional ceremonial practices of Native Americans.  In the years following, there were numerous court cases that resulted from this act not being upheld or taken seriously by the U.S. Government.  A similar act was passed in 1993 (the Religious Freedom Resotration Act), followed by several amendments that were put into public law in 1994. 

This is only some of the context for the continuing difficult conversations between Christianity and Native America.  As we have just seen, the United Methodist Church has committed to make progress in recognizing these realities and in working toward creating a safe space for us to express our beliefs as a part of the fabric of God's creation.  We speak in generalities, and not specifics, because – as Rev. Dr. George Tinker so poignantly reminded us in his sermon – we are not yet ready for reconciliation.  What we need most now is repentance – not as individuals, but as community: as church.  This service was prefaced earlier in the week by the opening of General Conference with the traditional way of blessing the space (“smudging”) by two Native leaders from the Oklahoma Missionary Conference. 

As powerful as that opening was – and as hopeful as the Act of Repentance was – my mind keeps returning to one of Bishop Hayes' comments in the statement of the bishops: “We want to learn from your spiritual practices…to help in times of spiritual emergencies.”  Unfortunately, I'm not able to look at a transcript to see his exact words, but it is evident that even our bishops are still speaking in a language of appropriation.  Rev. Dr. Tinker reminded us tonight, however, that “the only agreement open to us right now is to be reconciled to conquest.”  Standing before the world and saying that the spirituality of a people will be helpful “in times of emergency” is to speak in language of commodity and conquest.

My heart is conflicted for my church.  I so badly want to celebrate this positive step forward – knowing that it is a first step and not a last – and yet we continue to see so many signs of conquest in other aspects of our life together as a denomination.  There is an almost defeaning contrast between the space given to indigenous people tonight and the space denied to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters last night.  With this service of Repentance, we have found the beginning of a way to include the voices of those who have been long silenced by power and privilege.  Native Americans are now able to stand and have their voices be heard; we hear liturgy that recognizes our hurts, and yet we see that grace denied to the others to whom we are also related.

Earlier this week, the church created a space for dialogue, and the space in which that dialogue happened was not safe for all.  Last night, we witnessed a faithful and gentle man stand up with a shaking voice and the call of God and say that he has not experienced the holiness to which many of us credit ourselves with obtaining.  He spoke no harm, and only wanted to share a part of his story with us.  The only adequate response to this expression would have been to hear him and repent for the harm done.  Instead, he was told – as was the entire LGBTQ community – that he was “out of line,” and that the time was not appropriate for him to share in that way.  Instead of the gospel, he received the language of conquest.

Brothers and sisters: there is no time but now.  We are standing on the brink of a kairos moment in which the step of repentance is not only for one specific group of people, but a way of life for us all.
It is a thin promise for those of us who believe in resurrection if we are willing to have conversations about repentance and walking the journey together if we do not extend that same grace and relationship to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.  

I am reminded of a Laguna Pueblo prayer.  It is my prayer for all the members of this church, whom I love so dearly, and whom I consider my relatives: "I add my breath to your breath that our days be long on the Earth, that the days of our people may be long, that we shall be as one person, that we may finish our road together.”

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Adrienne Trevathan is a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and is a Christian Educator. As a Native American of the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe, she has struggled with her identity and often feel as though she lives in two worlds because many are not aware that she is Native.  Consequently, she feel a strong connection between herself and all who fall within the category of “Other.”

Love Your Neighbor Campaign Urges United Methodists to “Stand With Mark”

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Advocates for full inclusion in the United Methodist Church lovingly confronted the dismissive and hurtful words, actions, and attitudes of delegates of the General Conference.

After forty years of the exclusionary policies, the General Conference conducted only one hour of “holy conversation” on the subject of the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people on first day of the General Conference. Many people reported experiencing hurtful words during these “holy conversations.” Members of the coalition working for full inclusion set the tone for the coming week by speaking out against demeaning words and actions against LGBT people.

During the Thursday evening plenary, Mark Miller, a delegate and openly gay man, brought the concerns of the coalition before the General Conference. As he rose to speak, allied delegates began to gather around as a visible sign of support.

The following is the text of Mark’s powerful witness:

As an elected, credentialed member of this General Conference, I am offering my voice to say that the attempt at Holy Conversation about Human Sexuality yesterday was incomplete. The process failed because of a lack of leadership and oversight. It failed because there wasn’t any careful preparation that really respects people and takes this work seriously.

So we are standing as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender delegates. Yesterday the United Methodist Church did us harm. When we are harmed, the church is harmed. We serve at every level of the church though no one will admit it. We were bullied, emotionally, spiritually and physically. And no one did anything. We were harmed by the lack of leadership by the bishops. We abide by Wesley’s rule of Do No Harm and that rule was broken.

We are standing because we’re not going to wait for broken promises to fix themselves. We’ve learned that in this church waiting doesn’t work. So now we’re being proactive. It’s time for this church to live our resurrection faith. And I know that there are others delegates who are LGBT and delegates who have family members and colleagues who are LGBT. We invite you to stand with us at this moment. All means all. Stand. Stand, because we can do a lot better.

At Mark’s invitation, those in the audience stood at their seats. The Presiding Bishop ruled Mark’s witness out of order. His words generated a “Stand with Mark” campaign which quickly went viral on Twitter (#standwithmark). The comments on Twitter supported both Mark, and called for the United Methodist Church to oppose bullying words and actions.

In the closing worship healing service, preaching Bishop Robert Hoshibata preached on “Love Heals.” He reported that he wanted “the church to include all, whomever they love.” Supporters for full inclusion left worship early to stand in silent protest. According to one witness, there were over 200 people standing in silent vigil outside worship. Delegates walked past the demonstration, a visible reminder that LGBT people are still an active part of the church, despite exclusionary policies.

The General Conference is meeting in Tampa, Florida until May 4 and will consider nearly 100 resolutions concerning the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the life of the United Methodist Church. The Love Your Neighbor campaign is a common witness for the moral equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender United Methodists.

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