Archive for May, 2013

Violence Should Be Concern for United Methodist Church

Friday, May 24th, 2013

CHICAGO,IL and WASHINGTON, DC – May 24, 2013 – As discussions about marriage equality, inclusive Scouting, and LGBT ordination loom as annual (regional) conferences of The United Methodist Church begin to gather across the United States, the past week has shown the pervasive, violent nature of homophobia and heterosexism in the nation’s largest city. Anti-gay hate crimes are on the rise in New York City, and in one situation, after an incident of harassment which included the hurling of anti-gay slurs, one man, Mark Carson, was shot to death.

Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) and the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) implore The United Methodist Church at all levels to live into our United Methodist Social Principles by supporting efforts to stop violence against all persons, regardless of sexual orientation (¶162J). Cooperative efforts with local congregations and LGBT services agencies can provide a first step for living out acts of justice and compassion in accordance to Scripture and Wesleyan tradition.

“Hate crimes are committed with the intention of erasing a person’s very being—to tear them apart—to dismember. But, every time we remember someone like Mark Carson, we frustrate the intentions of his killer,” said Matt Berryman, executive director of RMN. “To remember LGBTQ victims of hate crimes is to change the very culture that killed them. In Holy Communion, we have the image of bread being broken, reminding us of the violence, hate, and dismembering committed against Jesus, but we are called to remember Christ’s life, and to live out his teachings showing that brokenness and death ultimately give way to new life. There is an urgency of now for us to remember the Mark Carsons with actions that dismember the power of hate, violence, and bigotry.”

Chett Pritchett, interim executive director of MFSA also spoke out against the violence. “Whether in the form of isolated murders with illegal and unnecessary weapons, state-sponsored war and occupation, or attacks against those who are assumed to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, violence in all its forms is anathema to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This isn’t an issue confined to America’s cities or small towns; violence is happening across the globe and our Church should be in the business of curbing such violence.”

Both Berryman and Pritchett applaud the efforts of New York area Bishop Martin D. McLee for his statement regarding violence against LGBT persons. In a letter to the New York Annual (regional) Conference, McLee states:

While the perpetrator has been arrested, the problem of bias crimes directed at members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Community continues. As Christians, we are called to respond. Let us begin by offering prayers for the victims and families of those harmed by hate crimes. I encourage pastors to provide anti-bias leadership by teaching and preaching about the harm of directing violence against anyone.

RMN and MFSA encourage United Methodists to see how current church policy claiming “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” creates a culture of shaming and violence in both Church and wider society. “Often, justification for such egregious crimes is founded upon carefully taught religious dogma of the kind we see in The United Methodist Church's teaching concerning LGBT persons. It is time for the church to acknowledge its prominent role in enabling such a rationale. A pattern for the proper redress of such harms from a perspective of Biblical Obedience would include honest confession of sin alongside a true commitment to change.” said Berryman.

Reconciling Ministries Network mobilizes United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love. RMN envisions a renewed and vibrant Wesleyan movement that is biblically and theologically centered. As committed disciples of Jesus Christ, RMN strives to transform the world by living out the Gospel’s teachings of grace, love, justice and inclusion for all of God’s children.

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.
 

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Moving. Forward. (a final reflection)

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Moving.  Forward.

If ever there was an appropriate time for reflection one’s life it is at the end of her seminary journey.  Right now is all about looking back and hoping ahead, holding on while life swirls around, praying that it settles nicely again in the future. 

MFSA is in transition too, still, and possibly always will be, staying new and looking forward.  With an interim Executive Director, a staff supported mostly by grants and volunteerism, and a focus on change in response to the world, MFSA is all about transformation. 

After two short years of working with MFSA, it seems to me that the nature of our work is in being unsatisfied. 

Unsatisfied with the way people treat each other.
Unsatisfied with the state of the world.
Unsatisfied by the rhetoric.

Somehow, mysteriously, we will respond to this world with love, as we’ve been taught.  This love is what fuels our movement, brings us to rallies, motivates calls to officials, speaks through our lips, and causes us to gather to remind each other that the goal is now, in our existence, and also tomorrow in our hope.  Our love is itself an end, encouraging hope today, but it points to the future too, promising that tomorrow will be better.  Our love is already, but not yet.

Yes, we are unsatisfied, but yet we stand and love confidently in the grace of God, teaching, believing, willing the world to stand up with us.  Only together can we truly move forward.

Forward.  It’s the proud motto of Wisconsin, my home state. This week I’m moving forward in a different way.  Moving on.  Moving west.   I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to work in the build of 2011, the flurry of hope and tears of General Conference, and the rebuild in this year.  God’s peace to you as we all continue to live today and look for tomorrow when we all might be satisfied.

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Jennifer Southworth, Loyal InternJen Southworth graduates with an M.Div. from Wesley Theological Seminary. Originally from Wisconsin, she interned at the Methodist Federation for Social Action for two years.

Change as a Fact & Goal (a final reflection)

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

It is strange to say, but the one constant throughout my two years here at MFSA has, in fact, been change.

First, we have experienced several changes as an organization in the relatively brief time that I’ve been here—I’ve seen many people come and go, and I’ve watched as we have had to deal with sudden feelings of shortage as well as sudden opportunities and abundance in those transitions. Every time, in need and in plenty, it has been driven home to me that when change comes, as it always does, we all need to have an extra measure of patience and grace for one another. As change comes for me, my fellow Wesley graduates, and all those experiencing transition in the coming weeks, I’m working hard to extend those gifts to others and hope for the same to be offered to me.

More important, however, has been the ever-present idea that change is what we seek here at MFSA. We work for a shift in the balance of justice. Some days, the hoped-for changes are realized, and we rejoice. Other days, as I learned working with MFSA at General Conference last May, we find that change is harder to come by. We have to keep working, keep praying, and keep holding out the vision of a world where justice is made real for all. As my time at MFSA comes to an end, my support for and participation in the work that we do together to bring about real change for justice will not.

May we all continue to work for change—for more grace, deeper peace, and wider justice—and, when change comes, may we remember to extend grace and peace to one another as we seek justice together.

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Heather Kramer interned for two years with MFSA. She will graduate from Wesley Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree. Originally from Houston, TX, she is excited to be a part of such an active and passionate social justice movement. In her spare time she is also the youth minster at Dumbarton United Methodist Church.

You’re right President Obama, it’s time to close Guantanamo

Monday, May 6th, 2013

Last Friday I stood in an orange jumpsuit and black hood, carrying a sign with the name of a detainee who had died at Guantanamo. It was only for an hour, but a profound hour to think about the men that are being held in our name.

This Friday I again joined a Close Guantanamo vigil over the lunch hour in Washington, DC. Between the two Fridays, during a press conference on Tuesday, April 30, President Obama restated his belief in the need to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. 

I appreciate President Obama responding to a question about the hunger strike at Guantanamo that started in February and now reportedly includes 100 of the 166 detainees. It is a hunger strike born of the desperation of men being held in indefinite detention, 86 of whom have been cleared for transfer but Congress has put up roadblocks for the transfers. While I appreciate President Obama’s recommitment, which he had stated during last year’s campaign as well, I am waiting to see words turn into action. The President has blamed Congress for the roadblocks, but he signed the bills into law and has not used the powers the Administration has to certify individuals for transfer.

I have no doubt that a number of the men held at Guantanamo are guilty of war crimes and should be tried, but how long are we going to embarrass ourselves and not transfer men who have been cleared for transfer? Every day that the detention center stays open is another day of reminder of the sins of torture that have taken place there.

So as tourists walked by snapping pictures of the White House, I was present in vigils to let President Obama know that we support his desire to see Guantanamo closed and encourage action to back up his words. I was with fellow colleagues with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), members of Witness Against Torture, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, and more. On April 26, we were joined by Col. Morris Davis (ret.), former Chief Prosecutor of the Guantanamo military commissions. Col. Davis launched a Change.org petition this week that now has over 125,000 signatures.

Later on Tuesday after the President’s remarks in the press conference, 38 religious leaders released a public letter sent to the President and all members of Congress, describing the desperate situation at Guantanamo and calling on President Obama and Congress to back the President’s words with action by expeditiously moving to close the Guantanamo detention center. My colleague Laura Markle Downton read the letter, coordinated by NRCAT, at the vigil this Friday. I shared the following prayer. It is not the lament that has been just on the edge of my mind and unable to get into full sentences, but I offer it for your prayer and reflection:

God of the open spaces like this plaza and God of the closed cells like at Guantanamo, we give thanks that you have created each person in your image, each person with dignity and worth.

We pray that you may help all people remember that each and every person is your beloved child.

When we fall short and do ill to each other, lift us up and let your justice reign.

On this day, here in front of the White House, a symbol of hope and freedom, we gather to call for the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, a symbol of torture and shame.

We gather in solidarity with those desperate enough to go on hunger strike to make their voices heard. May they know that many voices have lifted up for an end to indefinite detention and closure of Guantanmo.

We pray for President Obama, for strength of conviction and action to close Guantanamo. We pray for others in our government to undue this stain on our country. We pray for the guards and medical staff at Guantanamo, we pray for the detainees, especially those who have been cleared for transfer and languish in the unknown. We pray for the American people and we pray for ourselves, that we may not give in to fear – that through your help O God, we can see a closure of the Guantanamo detention facility.

Amen.

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T.C. Morrow is Director of Finance & Operations for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and a member of Foundry UMC in Washington, DC.

One year Later, Reflection on the 2012 United Methodist General Conference

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

I was 5 years old when my Methodist-preacher father returned home from the "Methodist Unification Conference" in 1939 that united three branches of the Methodist Church and created the racially-segregated, all black, Central Jurisdiction. When I grew older and began to talk to my father about the Methodist Church and my beginning sense of "Calling to the ordained ministry", I remember how he expressed his disappointment with most, not all, of the black delegates at the Conference, that the Methodist Church that once debated the wrongness and rightness of slavery of black persons, in 1939 racially segregated most black Methodists.

Reconciling Methodists from many places

Above: LGBTQ United Methodists and their supporters witness to God's inclusive love at General Conference 2012.

There is an interesting article written by Donald W. Haynes, dated February 18, 2009, that
appeared in the April 27, 2013, United Methodist Reporter titled; "How the Central Jurisdiction came to be." Haynes critiques the late Bishop James Thomas, who said at the Conference that "The African American delegates sat in their seats and cried." Haynes seeks to minimize Bishop Thomas' comments without refuting them, by mentioning that there were some black delegates who supported the proposal. But then, in what I would describe as a "confessional corrective", he writes; "Whatever the rationalization for the Central Jurisdiction in 1939, it was later intolerable by the later standards of justice."

I paraphrase these words of Donald Haynes by saying; "Whatever the rationalizations of the 2012 General Conference for continuing the long-held anti-gay language and legislation of the United Methodist Church, THEY ARE INTOLERABLE BY TODAY'S STANDARDS OF JUSTICE."

The above is my prelude, written today at the age of 79, of my Reflections on the 2012 United Methodist
General Conference. These are my reflections.

1. A majority of the delegates at the Conference through their discussions, debates and actions, again performed a great disservice to the "Authority of Scripture" by "using" it to justify their pre-judgments and prejudices, in this case same gender loving persons. Sadly, Christians (Methodists/United Methodists included), have historically linked their bias to the Bible as a way to claim that, in their prejudice, they were being faithful to Scripture.

Martin Luther, painted by Cranach the ElderThis practice pre-dates the coming-into-being of the Methodist Church. Martin Luther, the icon of the Protestant Reformation early on expressed his antisemitism in his speaking and writing. His belief was that Jews should convert to Christianity and, when they did not, he found the words in the book of Ecclesiastes about "incorrigibility" useful as he described Jews. Later in life he sought to recant his anti-Jewish attitudes, statements and writings, and the Lutheran Church that bears his name has sought to critique his early Bible-based antisemitism and remind us that he changed. Evolving "STANDARDS OF JUSTICE" have a way of bringing about change.

This has also been true as Methodism has "evolved" in its affirmation of women. Once, "because the Bible says…", women were not allowed to be ordained into ministry in much of Methodism. But, "evolving standards of justice", despite the fact that the Bible had not changed, woman became "eligible" to be ordained in the Methodist Church in 1956, and the racially-segregated Central Jurisdiction, that some Methodists thought was Bible-sanctioned, was eliminated by merging the racially-segregated CJ into the geographical Jurisdictions in 1968. Again, evolving 'STANDARDS OF JUSTICE."

The contradictions that Historians of the future will point out the 2012 United Methodist General Conference and that despite, again, the evolving STANDARDS OF JUSTICE, LGBTQ persons and same sex couples in denominations with whom the UMC is in "Communion Relationships" and within the USA, the UMC continued to turn its back on these changes, "using the Bible" as it has been used to "bash" Jews, women and blacks, to bash same gender loving persons.

This caused my greatest disappointment about the 2012 General Conference. But the above prompts me to share the following.Broken Chalice, 2004 General Conference

2. Many of us in the United Methodist Church have felt that the Quadrilateral, SCRIPTURE, TRADITION, EXPERIENCE, REASON, as acknowledged and affirmed in our Book of Discipline, enables us as United Methodists to avoid the pitfalls of  the "limiting literalism" of some denominations. We have felt that as we unapologetically and unashamedely affirm the significance of Scripture, we honor it best by understanding it against the backgrounds that Tradition, Experience and Reason provide. I have paraphrased the slogan of the United Negro College Fund; "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste" by saying to United Methodists; "Tradition, Experience, and Reason are terrible things to waste", if we claim to be serious about Scripture.

3. A specific, special and sincere word that I share with my conservative United Methodists sisters and brothers: You continue to enrich our United Methodist journey as you remind us of traditional values and the importance of being faithful to Scripture. Many of us, particularly those of us who are African American, share much of the language, values, rooting in Scripture and "Christian Boldness" that is yours. My conservative colleagues in the United Methodist Church, you seem to believe that maintaining and sustaining our prohibitions against United Methodist clergy performing unions and marriages for same sex couples is essential to your faith perspective. But if the declaration that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" represent the depth and breadth of your perspective and essential expression of your allegiance to Scripture and Christian teaching, then it weakens rather than strengthens that perspective. Martin Luther realized that about his antisemitism. Will you soon realize this about your heterosexism, that you claim is Bible-based. Once there were those who said the same about their sexism and racism, and now we realize the folly of those claims.

4. AFRICA! Some in the African American community refer to Africa as the "Homeland". I made my first trip to Africa in 1971 with a group of African American clergy and lay persons who went to Tanzania for a Consultation of African and African American leaders. At our meeting in Dar Es Saalam, we could not avoid talking about colonialism in Africa and the role white Christian Missionaries performed in maintaining it. The relationship between some African delegates and those who support the denomination's anti-gay language and legislation was evident again at the 2012 General Conference. I have wondered over the years how much discussion there has been  within this relationship of how the predecessors of and some of today's UM Conservatives "back in the day" resisted the Independence efforts of black Africans, and were anti-sanctions and boycotts as being important to the ending of South African apartheid?

It continues to be a mystery to me that those whose ancestors and they themselves were once enslaved, colonized and segregated because their oppressors used the Bible to justify slavery, colonization and racial segregation, now align themselves with those in the USA who have made the United Methodist a companion to Catholics, Mormons and Southern Baptists in their denial of equality and justice to and for same gender loving persons. "The more things change, the more they remain the same". (The need for human beings to deny justice to others as a way to affirm themselves and their "way of life").

5. The violence of our times, nationally and internationally, cries out for a prophetic and healing word from the United Methodist Church. Our history and the ministry that has been ours, historically, has made a profound difference in the lives of people all over the world. I have thought that the United Methodist Church is present in the world "for such a time as this" (Esther). But the General Conference of 2012 failed to claim its God-given place at this moment in history, because in Tampa we again "majored in the minors, and minored in the majors". A year later, it is time for us, to begin again, again.

 

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Gill Caldwell, retired clergyRev. Gill Caldwell is retired United Methodist clergy living in Asbury Park, NJ. He is former Associate General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race and one of the founders of Black Methodists for Church Renewal.  As a long-time MFSA supporter, Gil's ministry of writing challenges the United Methodist Church to be the best it can be.

Commemorating Immigrant Workers on May Day (International Workers’ Day)

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

It's strikingly interesting to be in the city site where May Day, also known as International Workers' Day had its founding historical significance in the labor movement for the 8-hour work day. Unannounced to me prior to working with Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), I never heard of May Day and after researching this international day I understood the efforts to which my teachers over the course of my life would have glossed over this U.S. historical fact, and rather further emphasize Labor Day on the first Monday in September.

As the story is told, in the late nineteenth century, the working class was seeking to gain the 8-hour work day. The working class had been expected to work 10 to 16 hour work days which was quite common for the workforce. Workers took to the streets striking for shorter work days. And in that infamous incident that helped established May Day, police officers fired at workers at Haymarket Square in Chicago in 1886, killing several demonstrators and workers.

It's a brutal part of the U.S. history that we prefer not to think about, but if nothing else, May Day should always serve as a constant reminder of the worker justice struggle across the world. Last year for May Day, the rallies particularly focused on economic inequalities expressed through the Occupy movement and the highly politicized climate of the Trayvon Martin killing. Now, one-hundred twenty-seven years later after the Haymarket massacre, the political climate of immigrants is center stage in light of the new immigration reform bill that was released by the "Gang of 8."

Nationwide immigrant advocate groups, unions, worker centers, and worker justice organizations are participating in local and state-wide rallies and actions to build the national platform demanding immigration reform. Immigration reform is so deeply tied to worker justice. It's important that immigration reform provide a full pathway to citizenship to ensure workers’ rights for the estimated eleven million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Despite worker rights’ laws in the books, undocumented workers are likely to work in unsafe working conditions, experience wage theft (when a worker does not receive their legally or contractually promised wages), and payroll fraud by unscrupulous employers. It's with the understanding that some unscrupulous employers threaten immigrant workers with intimidation and retaliation tactics. Some examples include contacting ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or threatening to complete an immigration audit due to the immigration status of these workers to prevent them from organizing or speaking out, yet all the while extorting them for their labor, denying them their wages, and taking advantage of them.

My history teachers might have missed to tell me about the worker struggle on May Day, but we must not forget the plight of undocumented immigrant workers who seeks to support their families, to be respected and be recognized for their dignity at the workplace, and lastly, to be acknowledged for their contributions in American society.

Today, I stand in solidarity with my immigrant brothers and sisters on May Day, commemorating the past history, but also commemorating immigrant workers in the struggle for worker justice seeking a full pathway to citizenship, stopping family separations and deportations, and fighting for workers’ rights for all people.

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Mistead Sai, US-2 with Interfaith Worker JusticeMistead Sai is a US-2 missionary for the United Methodist through the General Board of Global ministries. Mistead Said serves at Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) as their Worker Center Network Assistant providing support to worker center affiliates nationwide. Mistead received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at the University of Maryland. He enjoys intellectual conversations, likes documentaries, and has taken a liking to investigating issues surrounding environmental racism, biopolitics, and identity politics in recent months.

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