Archive for March, 2013

The Holy Week Work of MFSA

Friday, March 29th, 2013

 

The Methodist Federation for Social Action’s work has always been about the intersectionality of our faith and justice issues. When MFSA got its start as the Methodist Federation for Social Service in 1907 and drafted and introduced the first Social Principles to the General Conference of 2008, no one could have known the rough and rocky road that trying to keep personal and social holiness intertwined in the Wesleyan tradition would become.  The 1908 Book of Discipline ¶59 The Church and Social Problems (pages 480 & 481) you will find that original Social Creed. You will also find these words on those pages: “In this connection we note with satisfaction the organization of the Methodist Federation for Social Service, composed of members and friends of our Church, and of the Methodist Brotherhood. Their objects are ‘to deepen within the Church the sense of social obligation and opportunity, to study social problems from the Christian point of view, to promote social service in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.’ These objects we heartily approve.”

If Holy Week is about being faithful to ones calling and to follow where that faithfulness leads you, even unto death, then MFSA has been doing Holy Week work throughout most of its 106 year existence. By the early 1930s, MFSA was speaking out against race prejudice. When the Methodist Episcopal Churches, North and South began talking about merging back together in the late 30s, MFSA vehemently opposed the formation of a segregated Central Jurisdiction for Black Methodists. It took the Methodist Episcopal Church 40 more years and another merger to realize that separate but equal doesn’t live up to the Gospel standard of “love the Lord your God with all our heart and with all your soul and with all your mind: and, love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27 – The Great Commandment). MFSA continued to speak out for the rights of Women, African-Americans, Labor Movements and Free Speech, even as the organization was itself under attack by the supporters of McCarthyism. Those distancing themselves from anything controversial in those days, pushed MFSA to the near death experience of having its “official” status removed from the Methodist Episcopal Church and being replaced (in 1952) by the Board of Social and Economic Relations (now the Board of Church and Society).  But MFSA refused to walk away from its calling and regained strength and membership during the 60s as they continued to be strong advocates for Peace, Civil Rights and Women’s Rights. In 1968 during the merger that created what we now know as the United Methodist Church, MFSA was heavily involved in encouraging delegates to dissolve the segregated Central Jurisdiction and integrate the newly forming United Methodist Church. On the floor of the 1972 General Conference, it was many of the MFSA faithful who were speaking out against codifying societal prejudices into our Book of Discipline by declaring homosexual persons “incompatible with Christian Teaching.” As you can tell, I’m proud of MFSA’s historic faithfulness to our Christian faith, social holiness, and our Gospel call.

This week, while attending the United for Marriage rally at the Supreme Court Building, I was reminded of this Holy Week work we have been about for so long.  I was reminded through three remarkable people that I met. They reminded me not only of the intersections between our faith and social witness, but the intersectionality of justice issues and how they often create crosses for people to bear in this society of ours. One couple that I met were married in a marriage equality state. Because of DOMA and current immigration policies, they will not be able to stay together in that state when the one bride’s visa expires. You see they are bi-national. One of the brides will eventually be forced to return to Sweden.  While they would both like to remain here in the US, their country of choice, DOMA makes it impossible for the Sweedish bride to apply for citizenship based on a marriage that the federal government can’t and won’t recognize.  The American bride will then have to decide if she wants to move to Sweden and seek citizenship there instead of remaining a US citizen.  Actually, there’s no choice to be made; their love for each other is greater than their love for a country that continually turns its back on valuing them and the love they share.


Later in the morning, as I was waiting for the rally speakers to start sharing their hopes and dreams for our country, I found myself standing next to a Rabbi from Detroit.  Arnie Slbutelberg gave me permission to use his name and share his story.  He flew that morning to be at the Supreme Court rally.  He was flying home later the same day. Arnie fell in love with a school teacher named Robert.  They were married in Canada, but Robert’s work visa will eventually expire and under DOMA and current immigration laws, he too will have to leave. Arnie will have to choose between married life and country, serving the people of his synagogue or faithfully living out his marriage vows. It’s not a choice either Arnie or Robert would like to have to make. Arnie told me his story after I thanked him for making the trip all the way down to DC today. After he told me his story, he said, “I had to be here!  This is what it’s all about… people like me!”

When one of the speakers said that marriage equality was constitutional.  An anti-marriage equality protester behind me started shouting out, “where is that in the Constitution?”  I wanted to shout back, “read our nation’s first foundational document… the Declaration of Independence.”  It tells us what the purpose of governance and our Constitution are about: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men (people), deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  The Constitution and Bill of Rights that followed, were the next steps in defining how that government would work.  They were “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all” people “are created equal.” If “any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure… It is for us living… to be dedicated here to the unfinished work” …so “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  Forgive my fractural referencing of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but the point is still well made: we need to vigilantly be about the ongoing, “unfinished work” of maintaining a governance that is focused on all citizens unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

So there we were, a gay Jewish Rabbi and a straight United Methodist clergy person; standing together in front of a building where the very façade reminds us that we need to be about “Equal Justice Under the Law.”  There we were, two people of faith, so different and yet with so much in common.  There we were in the midst of the holy seasons of Passover and Holy Week, talking about a very different kind of cross.  Forgive me Arnie, for my Christo-centric imagery, but it is in Christ that I see the divine and it was through my encounter with you that the image was sparked in my mind. In reflection, I imagine a cross. A cross of injustice, built out of the cross beams of DOMA and current immigration laws. The intersectionality of injustices that stand ready to crucify and sacrifice love for the sake of maintaining the traditions of oppression and marginalization we have known. A story familiar to my faith tradition. That’s when it dawned on me, I already know how the story ends: love lives! Even if the Supreme Court rules in June that they won’t hear these cases at this point and tries to silence the cries for equal justice under the law; we will not and cannot be silent, for the very stones over the doors of their chambers will continue to cry out.  If, God forbid, they rule against equality under the law and think that that will kill the issue once and for all.  They don’t understand the power of resurrection hope and faithfulness to the breadth and depth of God’s all inclusive love.  They also don’t understand the deep yearnings for equality and justice within all people. If they so decide, history will one day remember this court as the “Plessy v. Ferguson” court of the 21st century and future generations will look back with wonder and bewilderment at our inability to live up to our ideals; our faiths that all proclaim that we should treat others as we would want to be treated; and, our work for protecting all of our citizen’s rights. For me, this is the ongoing work of Holy Week and following the path of our calling from God. This is also the ongoing work of MFSA!

————————————————————————————————————————

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.

 

Photo of Bi-National Couple Courtesy of JeeHye Kim Pak. Copyright 2013. Used with permission.

Methodist Federation for Social Action Witnesses to Civil Marriage Equality at the Supreme Court of the United States

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – March 27, 2013 – Over the past two days, thousands of supporters of marriage equality gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, as justices heard the oral arguments in the cases of Hollingsworth v. Perry, commonly referred to as Proposition 8, and United States v. Windsor, commonly referred to as the Defense of Marriage Act.  The Methodist Federation for Social Action, along with other religious groups, submitted two amicus briefs to the court in support of marriage equality from the perspective of religious freedom.

Yesterday morning United Methodist clergy and laity participated in an interfaith service showing broad and diverse support for civil marriage equality across religious traditions.  Held at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, just blocks from Capitol Hill, over 400 people of faith prayed, sang, and were reminded of that their faith compels them to seek justice for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Singing “This Little Light of Mine,” participants processed one block to the steps of the Supreme Court to join a rally with over 4000 participants.

A sea of robes of robes and stoles moved toward the center of the crowd and signs proclaiming God’s love could be seen in a variety of places. Rev. Steve Clunn, Coalition Coordinator for the Methodist Federation for Social Action, diligently witnessed to the protesters and gathered media at the edges of the rally. “As United Methodist clergy, I hope my presence can be seen as an act of forgiveness. Forgiveness for the past, and present,  harm done to so many, by so many – all in the name of God. It hasn't always been easy for me to accept for myself,” Clunn stated. “But forgiveness is something I must work for as diligently as I hope I am working for God's inclusive love now. For to do anything less, would cheapen the depth and breadth of that love.”

Today, supporters of marriage equality continue to gather in front of the Supreme Court for the final day of oral arguments. At 3pm, the Methodist Federation for Social Action will gather with Seminary students and young adults from area congregations for a simple candlelight vigil with prayers and song. “This is an opportunity to remind ourselves and others that the work of justice for persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities doesn’t end when the crowds leave the front of the Supreme Court,” said Chett Pritchett, Interim Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. “We must continue to work for justice – both in civil society and in The United Methodist Church. This is really just the beginning.”

Since 1907, the Methodist Federation for Social Action has worked to mobilize, lead, and sustain a progressive movement, energizing people to be agents of God’s justice, peace, and reconciliation. As an independent, faith-based organization, MFSA leads both Church and society on issues of peace, poverty, people’s rights, progressive issues, and justice within The United Methodist Church.

###

Getting Personal: Reflections on Today’s Witnessing at the Supreme Court

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

1) Favorite worship moment: The Rev. Dr. Bennett Guess's (UCC) adaptation of 1 Corinthians 13. I laughed and I cried. You moved me, Ben! Read it… it's amazing!

2) Favorite Pro Marriage Equality protest sign: "Don't Mess With Dumbledore's Rights" (tricked out in magical glitter, of course)!

3) Favorite Interviewer: It's a tie between the woman from Spain (Roman Catholic) who agreed with me that the codifying of prejudice in religious institutions, our sacred books, and our governmental laws and policies is simply wrong… and the reporter who couldn't stop smiling during his interview and couldn't wait to proudly tell me that he was so grateful to finally be married here in DC!

4) Most gratifying moments: the shear number of people who saw me robed, wearing a rainbow stole and a name tag reading, “United for Marriage Faith Leader,” who stopped me just to say thank you -and the great conversations that followed!

5) Most disheartening moment: when a anti-marriage equality protester walked up and asked (with a smirk): "You're clergy… would you put any limitations on marriage… If a guy wanted to marry his sister, would that be OK?" Really, a "slippery slope argument" …that has nothing to do with marriage equality for same gender couples. I know I gave him a disappointed look, but I tried to be civil and told him that yes I do put limits on marriage. I was about to tell him about premarital counseling and marital preparedness; and talk with him about healthy, loving boundaries in relationships and our need to be good stewards of the love God calls us to in our lives… when he interrupted with "and what about if I wanted to marry my mom." That's when i knew this wasn't a conversation and as I walked away I told him that I hoped God would bless his day. He yelled after me, "Why aren't you willing to talk with me about this?"

6) Best moment back at the office: Seeing a prayer of confession from a worship service at Dumbarton United Methodist Church prior to General Conference 2012.

Gathering God, our vision for community is never as loving as yours.

We confess that there are people who we would rather not bring near to us or to you.

Forgive us when our love is not like your love. If we really think others are not worthy to approach you and that we are more worthy than they are:

FORGIVE US, O GOD, AND REMIND US THAT NONE OF US ARE WORTHY, THAT YOUR LOVE IS A FREE GIFT TO ALL OF US.

When we demand that people achieve our measure of good or our perceptions of the right way to be with you:

FORGIVE US, O GOD, AND REMIND US THAT WE ARE NOT GOD AND THAT THERE ARE MANY PATHS TOWARDS YOU.

If we think that we can put boundaries around your love and hold you to ourselves within our own community of faith:

FORGIVE US, O GOD, AND REMIND US THAT WE WILL NEVER OWN YOU AND THAT YOU BREAK FREE OF ALL OUR LIMITATIONS.

We confess, before the bounty of your life, that we often make you a small God in our own image.

FORGIVE US, YET AGAIN, O GOD OF GRACE. AMEN.

7) Realization of the day: Forgiveness for the past (and present) harm done to so many, by so many – all in the name of God… is not going to be easy down the road! It hasn't always been easy for me to accept for myself. But forgiveness is something I must work for as diligently as I hope I am working for God's inclusive love now. For to do anything less, would cheapen the depth and breadth of that love!

————————————————————————————————————-

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.

Half My Life Spent at War

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

I’m young.  20 is a wonderful age: so much to see, so much to do. I attend an amazing institution of learning. I have experienced some pretty amazing things in my short life. But I’ve also experienced something that makes me cringe. For a decade of my life, and frankly as long as I can remember, I have experienced a nation at war.

Let me be clear. I live in a peaceful town in the Blue Ridge Mountains; I haven’t had bombing sirens or gunfire surround me as I try to live my life. But in the perspective of a young person, I can’t help but wonder what would have been different what life would be like had we not been at war. Would my school receive better funding if we weren’t at war? Would my Dad not have lost his job after the onslaught of paranoia over the ‘other’ when so many businesses were shut down or sent overseas?  Would my reality be any different? I think the answer to all of those is caught in the tension of the post 9/11 culture that I have known for half of my short life.      

What makes this worse is that I have heard it proclaimed from church pulpits and in my time in a private Christian elementary school that war was right. We were defending the freedom to be Christians in the ‘greatest nation God ever put on earth.’ All the while some of my friends would end up joining the army, signing up for the draft and hoping that in some way they could defend those freedoms. In my opposition to this way of thinking I was suddenly labeled the ‘other.’ I was no better than those terrorists in Iraq with weapons of mass destruction. 

As young as I was, I knew something was terribly wrong with this mentality. I knew that war wasn’t the articulation of the Gospel that Jesus called us to. I find it interesting this juxtaposition of the ten-year anniversary and the celebration of Palm Sunday to point to our reality as Christians. Jesus went to the place that was an assurance of certain death. He entered the city of Jerusalem without an army or F-16’s. He didn’t stand on an aircraft carrier and scream that the mission was accomplished. Jesus, the one we know as Christ, healed, fed and proclaimed a different way of life that took him to the cross.

So where does that leave my generation? For better or for worse, our lives have been forged by this war. My life and ministry thus far has been affirming the rights of the ‘other.’ I trace this understanding and calling to the reality that for the past ten years, any person who was different than the traditional American conception of values was evil. Any person who didn’t fit the mold of what we thought was acceptable became a terrorist or a threat to our ingrained values.

For my generation, this war is so much more than an overseas conflict. It is a way of life that we have grown up with. We have seen the evolution of a country that is living in fear and prejudice. I would be remiss in offering a solution to the great problems of our time.

The reality of this mentality of the ‘other’ is that they wouldn’t be given that title if we are more able to tear down barriers and reach out. In our time, and our place, we are called to be the generation that has witnessed war for our lives, but also as the generation who says resoundingly, “No more.” Generations before us have been called to Jerusalem. For us, Iraq might very well be our Jerusalem. We are called to go to Iraq as Jesus went to Jerusalem, full of love and understanding. We are called to go to Iraq with our bombs left at home.

As we begin prepare our hearts for Holy Week, I invite you to join with me in the hope and prayer that the prophet Isaiah’s words might ring true for this time, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and they will train for war no more.” Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

————————————————————————————–

Rob Lee is a Religious Studies student at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, with plans to attend seminary. A delegate to the 2012  General Conference, where he engaged others on a variety of social justice issues, he has been published with Reconciling Ministries Network, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, and the Huffington Post. He currently writes a column for western North Carolina newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @roblee4 or on his blog, www.robleetheology.blogspot.com

International Women’s Day: A Call to Intersectionality

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Proverbs 31:31: “Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.”

The writer of Proverbs 31 writes of an ëschet-chayil, which depending on the particular biblical translation, can be read as a virtuous, noble, excellent, or capable woman. But as I reflect on the ongoing global struggle for women’s dignity, I prefer another translation of ëschet-chayil—a woman of valor. The term valor is often associated with conflict and even war, and describes a person who approaches danger with bravery and courage.

What are the characteristics of a woman of valor, according to Proverbs 31?  She is trustworthy, hardworking, charitable, and strong—and she is to be given an equitable share of the fruits of her labor.

I know this woman of valor. I have met her many times. She is the one running a rural health clinic in Kenya, serving a community that otherwise would have no access to health care. She is the one in Nicaragua educating her peers about domestic violence and family planning. She is the one making safe birthing kits for those she will never meet.

As the global community prepares to honor International Women’s Day on March 8, I have been wondering, what ought to be the role of the church in commemorating these women of valor among us? The author of Proverbs 31 gives us some direction. First, we are to give thanks for the courage, bravery, and diligence of women in our own communities and around the world. Second, we are to ensure that all women receive that which they have earned—honor, dignity, and access to resources.

Many people are familiar with the statistic that while women do a majority of the world’s work, they own less than 1% of the world’s land. But that is only one aspect of the gender gap that contributes to women’s undervalued position in their homes, communities, and countries.  We must continue to move away from a piecemeal approach to gender equality and begin to look intersectionally at the many injustices women face, impeding their sacred worth as children of God.

We must wake up! Did you know that a young woman in Chad is more likely to die giving birth than she is to receive a secondary education? What does this say about how we value the life of the girl child? The roots of our world’s deepest suffering—violence, HIV/AIDS, poverty, malnutrition—disproportionately impact our sisters in Christ. We are called to be partners with God in creating a more just world for all God’s children, and that means addressing the sins of both our personal and systemic sexism.

As an advocate for maternal health and family planning, my challenge is to recognize that my lens on women’s empowerment is often myopic, and that I must reach out to partners both within and beyond The United Methodist Church who can help me better understand the complexities of not only ensuring women’s survival, but also enhancing their ability to thrive. I have asked myself difficult questions like, what good does it do to build a birth facility if the women of the surrounding communities have no way to get there? Have we really achieved success if a woman has a healthy birth but only two months later dies of malaria? These questions are challenging, and will require a concerted response from the global community, including the church.

On April 3 at 3pm Eastern Time, I invite you to join the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet project and United Methodist Women in a conversation that will explore two equally serious but oftentimes siloed issues: domestic violence and maternal mortality. Violence against women is a global pandemic that denies women's their bodily integrity. When a pregnant woman suffers partner violence, she may suffer injury, miscarriage, or even death. I hope you will journey with us as we explore ways for the church to respond to theses issues in a collective, unified way.

Please register for the webinar by April 2nd.  This event is open to the public.

—————————————————————————————————–

Katey Zeh is an advocate, organizer, and writer for reproductive justice. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, she currently directs the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet initiative of the General Board of Church and Society, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Katey lives in Cary, NC.

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