Archive for November, 2012

Remembering My Privilege

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. In many locations around the world, vigils will be held to remember those transgender persons whose lives were lost to violence and fear. I hope that you might be able to light a candle or join a vigil to remember, but also that you might be able to envision a world that is free of  gender-based violence. Beyond this Day of Remembrance, we must work to eradicate mis-education, transphobia, and fear of difference.  As a gay man, I am thankful to my transgender and genderqueer friends who have held me accountable of my own gender biases. I thank God for their words their words of challenge, and for their words of grace when I forget my cisgender privilege.

A few years ago I posted a "note" on Facebook entitled "Why I Stand for Transgender Rights." I'd like to share part of that today, giving thanks, remembering, and working for justice and a less violent world.

"I know that my own identity was shaped, for better or for worse, around what was considered masculine and feminine. Much of my adolescence was shaped, not solely around physical and emotional attraction to other males, but because the society around me told me that the things I enjoyed: singing, dancing, reading good literature, and acting were all “gay.” In reality, my early sexual identity had little to do with actual sexual experience. It depended greatly on the social construction of gender. This is true for most others, too – regardless of sexual orientation. My transgender friends have helped me see that a deeper understanding of gender and gender identity is not only healthy for those who are transgender, but for all of us who transcend the binary structures of masculine and feminine each and every day of our lives.

It is because of those friends who are transgender that I am able to stand for transgender equality. From San Francisco to Boston (and towns and cities in between), I have been fortunate to meet transgender and genderqueer individuals who have shared their stories and have allowed me to be part of their journey. I stand for transgender rights because of them. I stand because they are unable to have consistent and quality medical care. I stand because they are discriminated against in the workplace (if they are fortunate enough to make it through a job interview). I stand because their legal marriages and health benefits are called into question. I stand because sometimes changing their driver’s license could be a task more daunting than applying for a home mortgage (if it’s even allowed). I stand because it takes them longer to get through airport security because of ignorance. I stand because going to the bathroom can be a frightening experience for some. I stand because they have been denied housing and because homeless shelters aren’t much of a shelter for people who don’t fit easily into “men’s housing” and “women’s housing.” I stand because I take seriously the Christian theological idea of the redemption of all creation, and I believe truly that all means all."

On this day set aside for remembering, I remember that violence happens in a multitude of ways. When I stand silent about transphobic language, I add to a violent culture. When I don't work to change unjust laws, I add to a violent culture. When I don't challenge my Church to welcome all God's children, I add to a violent culture. Join with me today in lighting a candle that eradicates the darkness of phobia and difference, and illumines a world that is awash in God's love for all people.

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Chett Pritchett is Interim Executive Director for the Methodist Federation for Social Action. He is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and Wesley Theological Seminary, and serves as Lay Leader at Dumbarton UMC in Washington, DC.

Our New Council of Bishops: Transparent Leadership?

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

I have a growing concern for our Council of Bishops.  They are constantly being scrutinized and criticized over their role in “upholding the Book of Discipline.”  So much so, that you can’t help but wonder if our Bishops don’t feel as if their hands are tied in terms of their ability to lead the United Methodist Church and the Annual Conferences they serve.

Now consider the many issues facing the Council of Bishops as they gather at historic Epworth by the Sea on Saint Simons Island, Georgia next week (November 4 – 9).  First, they have been asked in a letter from 70 ultra conservative leaders to censure Bishop Melvin Talbert (retired) and several other active and retired Bishops for statements made at the Love Your Neighbor Coalition’s Tabernacle during General Conference in Tampa.  Second, they have to begin to discuss how, or if they will respond to the Western Jurisdiction’s whole Biblical Obedience Movement in which they have decided to do ministry as if paragraph 161F of the Book of Discipline didn’t exist.  That, combined with the fact that both the Northeastern and North Central Jurisdictions are starting to explore how they will relate more broadly to The United Methodist Church in the future, surely means that Episcopal leadership will be needed as we sort out what our connectional future might look like.  Finally, Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, President of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, recently signed an ecumenical letter to the United States Congress requesting an end to unconditional military aid to Israel.  They have also asked for Congressional hearings to examine Israel’s “compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies,” especially around human rights violations against Palestinians.  Our Bishops will need to talk about the support and/or fallout that they are getting over this issue.

So here’s my other concern…  After calling Epworth by the Sea and asking for a meeting schedule, I was contacted via the Council of Bishops and informed:

“This meeting of the COB is a retreat meeting – and it is closed to ANYONE other than bishops and their spouses.  As the first meeting of the quadrennium, the newly-elected bishops will be welcomed and the Council will proceed with their planning for the next quadrennium…The next open meeting of the COB will be in San Diego in May of 2013.”

My understanding is that United Methodist News Service was given the same “closed” meeting message.  According to the Book of Discipline  (Para. 721. Restrictions on Closed Meetings) it says that “while it is expected that the General Conference, the Judicial Council, and the Council of Bishops will live by the spirit of this paragraph, each of these constitutional bodies is governed by its own rules of procedure.”  Others have reported to us that they have inquired about attending and have been told that they cannot be on the retreat grounds.

My problem isn’t with the Bishops having some alone/fellowship time and helping the New Bishops to be oriented/trained in their role on the Council.  In fact, I applaud that effort and wish them the best! My real concern is the pace at which this will allow the entire Council of Bishops to address pressing issues that require leadership. 

If our Bishops intend to discuss important issues behind closed doors next week; then shame on them for violating the spirit of open meetings within The United Methodist Church.  If the Bishops are intending to hold off those discussions until May of next year, then I would encourage them to rethink this unwise and protracted approach to leadership.

My hope and prayer for our Bishops, as they begin their work next week in Georgia, is that they realize that we are all pulling for them.  We hope they will see that the future of The United Methodist Church involves not just “ANYONE”, but ALL of us working together toward vitality born of the Spirit of openness and God’s ALL embracing love.  We need a Pentecost moment in our United Methodist Church and to move beyond the closed and locked doors of Emmaus – or Epworth by the Sea.

My prayer next week will be for our Bishops to know that they are loved, respected and being encouraged to step out in faith.  We need your leadership and guidance!  We hope you need our voices of both challenge and praise, so that together we might help God to prophesy life back on to the dried bones of our institutional skeleton.

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Rev. Steve Clunn serves as the Coalition Coordinator for the Methodist Federation for Social Action. Clergy in the Upper New York Annual Conference, Steve's work at MFSA focuses on coordinating United Methodist caucus groups in their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in the life of the Church.
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