Archive for January, 2014

It Takes a Village to Change a Church

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

A recent article has piqued attention across the United Methodist connection. Written by a pastor who left The United Methodist Church in order to remain serving in the community to which he felt called, many I’m sure are mourning the loss of a congregation and a faithful pastor who felt the need to make such a decision.

However, in the midst of the article, this departing pastor said, “I lost hope in the UMC making changes to its structure in a helpful way after the last General Conference. If Mike Slaughter and Adam Hamilton can’t work out a way to bring a systemic or structural change to the UMC, who can?”

A friend of many years emailed me about that statement with this critique: “I wanted to shout: What about organizing? What about education?”

My friend is right. It seems the pastor forgot that two charismatic faces of United Methodism cannot bring about lasting, systemic change. I give Slaughter and Hamilton credit: they are engaging discipleship in new and transformative ways; they are admirable and important leaders, but neither would suggest Church of the Resurrection or Ginghamsburg were built by alone. They too would agree that building relationships, education, and organizing to effect change are community work.  Indeed, it takes a village.

Here’s a glimpse of what that village looks like:

Hundreds of General Conference delegates who hold committee meetings late into the night as they hash out complex details to a newly structured UMC pension plan – a major change which protects individual clergy families AND helps move our denomination toward enduring financial sustainability.

Thousands of United Methodists who wake up early on Sunday morning and, rather than read a newspaper or cuddle into bed, get up and turn on the furnace (or air conditioning) in the church so that when the congregation arrives, they are welcomed into a hospitable worship space.

Pastors who set alarms for 4:30am this morning so they could sit with a family during a double bypass or holding vigil next to a hospital bed during someone’s last few breaths?

I’m sure the politicos among us (or as one of my friends calls us “Methodistas”) objecting: that’s not systemic change. That is important ministry, but it is not change.   Except it is.  Systemic, structural change can only happens when a multitude of factors are working for the same purpose.  Those factors must include building relationships and living faithful Christian lives, modeling what a transformed world looks like.

When we depend upon any single leader, powerful position, or charismatic figure to solve our problems, we are abdicating our responsibility and ability to change the church.  Change comes not when a single genius says “here is how the world can be” and everyone falls in line, but when consistent pressure and long term education combine with policy shifts and new institutional practices to transform both the legal and cultural aspects of the Church.

Change happens when thousands of Methodists gather at a state capitol to march against privatizing prisons.

Change happens when Methodists raise millions of dollars for nets, education and treatment to end Malaria.

Change happens when organizations like the Methodist Federation for Social Action and Reconciling Ministries Network and the General Board of Church and Society regularly publish educational materials and studies and handouts and information about upcoming legislative opportunities. When volunteers share that information and organize trips to visit senators or state representative about immigration reform, structural change is happening.

Change happens when the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women trains a few dozen folks to operate more effectively in conferences by introducing them to  Roberts rules.  When those few dozen members take that knowledge to shift a budget line or pass a new resolution, the change is already among us.

Change happens when the General Commission on Religion and Race educates district superintendents on cross cultural appointment making practices, and multicultural churches thrive because their leaders understand their unique gifts and challenges. 

So whatever change we hope to see – whether it is the eradication of malaria, immigration reform, end of human trafficking, or a new global structure within The United Methodist Church – does not depend upon find the one right charismatic and powerful leader.

It depends upon you – have you told your story about the urgency for action?  Have you volunteered to attend annual conference? Have you shared the information you have about your passion with a Small group or Sunday School Class?  Have you taken part in trainings or participated in a meeting with a representative or church official?

Changing the Church isn’t Adam Hamilton or Mike Slaughter’s responsibility.  It’s the responsibility of the Holy Spirit, and her favorite way of working is through many people gathered together. Indeed, it takes a village to change a Church.

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

 

 

 

Cruciformity: Searching for a Consistent Ethic of Life

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Abortion is one of the most contentiously debated issues in the current American political climate, particularly as legislatures around the nation continue proposing restrictions on reproductive health access.

In Christ’s universal church, there is no shortage of debates, public forums, caucus groups, ecclesial statements, sermons, and religious literature pertaining to abortion, human sexuality, the beginning of human life, and reproductive justice. The United Methodist Church’s struggle to present a compassionate and grace filled approach to conversations about homosexuality and church polity is indicative of our inability to cultivate healthy, respectful, and theologically dense review of deeply held values. I believe we experience the same challenge with regard to sexual health and reproductive justice.

Recently, Bishop Kenneth Carter preached at the Lifewatch Sanctity of Life Service calling for a deep inclusion in the church that extends inclusion to unborn children. He also suggests that there is theological chaos in our polarized church due to partisan politics. I, however, contend that there is theological clarity among ranks of clergy and laity across the church regarding cruciform ministry and pertinent social issues.

I yearn for a United Methodist Church that is deeply inclusive of persons whose lives are neglected, shamed, forgotten, at risk, and near the point of death. As a minister of the gospel of Jesus the Christ, I believe that a cruciform ethic (imitating the spirit and model of the crucified Christ) is important in difficult considerations of human life and sexuality.

In my ministry, I counsel current and would-be mothers whose lives are at risk due to pregnancy complications, times when legal access to safe and compassionate abortion care is critically needed for their long term healing. Sadly, too, there are young women in our neighborhoods whose lives are traumatized everyday by rape, incest, and abuse. Theological clarity about the cruciform ministry of Jesus the Christ affords me and many others a model for contextual ministry that is full of grace, compassion, mercy, and justice. Cruciform posture extends to my public advocacy so that comprehensive sexual education and legal access to safe reproductive services and contraception are available in our communities.

Cruciform ministry has at its heart the pouring out of one’s self for the world. Cruciform posture recognizes that complications in a pregnancy can jeopardize a woman’s ability to continue to live as a mother and spouse. It seeks an ethic of life, healing, and wholeness where there are no clear answers and suffering already abounds. I yearn for a church where cruciform posture and inclusion abound. An ethic of hospitality, healing, life, and wholeness certainly does not end with sexuality and reproductive justice. It extends to any and all who occupy space on the edges: immigrants, prisoners of war, inmates, and day laborers.

A thoroughly consistent ethic of life, which Bishop Carter encourages, means the church can no longer abdicate its responsibility to advocate for the comprehensive health of all men and women, and the legal mechanisms through which to seek health and wholeness, no matter a person’s gender, economic status, or sexual orientation; cruciformity recognizes that inhumane work conditions that drive materialism and the cogs of consumerism in American industry and around the world compromise the vitality of human life; cruciformity leads us to care for the stranger who crosses the border in the desert heat; cruciformity calls for Christ’s church and its people to publicly repent of the sin of war couched in the fight against terrorism; lastly, it calls for an immediate end to the utilization of the death penalty as a tool of justice.

Rev. Adam Kelchner is the Pastor of Mission and Outreach at Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN. He is a student of post-Holocaust theology, an avid cyclist, and engaged to be married in 2014.
 

12 Years Open, 5 years past-due: Close Gitmo

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

NRCAT demonstrators in the rain. Last Saturday was the twelfth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, a facility where United States personnel perpetrated acts of torture. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture and other groups of conscience, like the incredible “Code Pink” – a women’s activist group, came in surprising numbers to a demonstration by the White House lawn: soaking wet and cold. Demonstrators carried umbrellas or wore rain-parkas – I wore my green kefia and accidentally made a statement I had not intended. Others wore orange jump-suits and black hoods, in solidarity with the detainees subjected to cruel interrogation techniques. No matter how we define torture, there is nothing compassionate or spiritual about giving someone the sensation of drowning (a la 'water-boarding') or binding them in painful positions. That's cruel and even more unusual.

This is a large part of why we are having a prayer vigil on Tuesday, January 21st at the White House.

There is no good reason we should have all been demonstrating in the rain. Guantanamo Bay should have been a ‘lucky seven’ mistake: the executive order to close the prison was issued on January 21st of 2009, five years ago this Tuesday.

We are frustrated with climbing on our metaphorical (and literal) soapboxes in all kinds of weather to talk about why torture is wrong for the United States – wrong for human dignity, wrong for gathering intelligence, wrong for setting the tone as a global power, even wrong for torturers because of the psychological warps caused by causing harm to other people. We are frustrated but never weary. On the steps of the Museum of American History, we used our voices to amplify a poetry reading where a sound-system would have served better. We are preparing to do it all again this coming Tuesday at a vigil to mark five years of opportunities missed. This is not even the first time the topic has surfaced on this blog…

NRCAT's Finance & Operations Director, T.C. Morrow, blogged on the topic this past June: "You're Right President Obama, It's Time to Close Guantanamo"

TC Morrow Speaks (inset)

I (JD) had the opportunity to fast with NRCAT in preparation for a Senate Hearing on Guantanamo the following July: "Why We Fast for Guantanamo's Closure"

JD at Senate Hearing on Guantanamo

Proponents of the facility have spun many tautologies about security and the danger prisoners could cause of they were released. US military and legal personnel have soundly debunked such transparently political claims. In fact, Guantanamo seems to be the most useful propaganda tool in the hands of anti-US militants. It is much less difficult to convince potential operatives that the United States is evil when… well… the United States is engaged in acts of evil. As people of faith, we are responsible for more than just preserving our nation's reputation: we need to be the voice of compassionate reason that restores a respect for human dignity. We must be the voice that puts an end to such anti-social acts because violence will never vanquish violence — only peace can do that.

Please come to the vigil, with us, and pray for an end — a de facto conclusion, not merely promises.

Black Signs with White Lettering

JD (John Daniel) Gore is a young adult missionary working through the General Board of Global ministries. JD serves Methodist Federation for Social Action as the 'Associate for Movement Building' and worked previously in Bethlehem for The Wi'am Center. He aspires to work for a culture of acceptance and collective responsibility through better dialogue, both in higher education and the general public.

Call ‘The Black Widow’: SodaStream is in Trouble!

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Scarlett Johansson as "Black Widow"SodaStream just signed actress Scarlett Johansson as their brand celebrity. They needed to do something before the Super Bowl…

According to CEO Daniel Birnbaum, the goal is to “demonstrate how easy it is, how sexy it is, to make your own soda,” summarizing the new pitch as “better bubbles, made by you and Scarlett,” (“SodaStream to Bring Some Heat to Super Bowl Ad with Scarlett Johansson”, New York Times, January 10th, 2014). “Using her celebrity,” added Humanaut advertising executive Alex Bogusky, “can really normalize the machine and the process.”

Their stock just took a 17% dive after “disappointing year-end figures,” so they had better normalize fast…

SodaStream Wash-tacticsI call bingo! Normalization!* The process by which systemic-injustice is given a non-stick coating! SodaStream is always angling their mirrors and blowing a cloud of ‘green’ smoke about reducing the need for bottles. They wanted to run an ad during last year’s Super Bowl condemning Coke and Pepsi by name but CBS disallowed it. “CBS failed to find the courage” said Birnbaum, “we were just telling the truth: If you use SodaStream, you don’t need all those bottles and cans and trucks.” SodaStream loves to tell the truth about eco-footprints but fails to ‘find the courage’ to address their HUMAN-footprint.

They profit from illegal West Bank settlements: beyond submarining the bottlers, they are low-balling Palestinians – families forced violently from their lands, now with little choice but factory jobs in a captive economy. Not coincidentally, Israeli citizens working in Israel (just kilometers away) collect better pay and benefits. *Sarcasm*: we would hate for SodaStream’s green-Gospel-of-soda to be hurt by ethical labor practices, hm?

SodaStream uses their facebook page and twitter campaigns to ‘grease’ their product with trendy, cute imagery {originals at left}. They can add sex-appeal to their concealer palette, using a color called “Scarlett” as touch-up for capitalizing on neocolonial enterprise. In a consumer culture, we love to hear stories about how consuming something (like a soda-machine) actually makes us less consumerist. Yet occupation is not cute, sexy, green, or (God forbid) trendy. Someone has to spray a little degreaser: SodaStream cheats to make their money…

…except they did NOT make as much money as they had anticipated. Applause is rippling through the boycott, divest & sanction movement. Did BDS play a role?

Maybe the American Dental Association delivered the critical blow: the carbonic-acid in seltzer water is still terrible for teeth, with or without sugar. I was not aware of a push from dentists, however. Maybe their target market is already saturated, since many adults prefer coffee or tea. Perhaps people bought Sunbeam ‘hot-shots’ or ‘Nespresso’ machines. Then again, a carbonator sounds like precisely what people with disposable income buy as gifts for one-another. How did SodaStream spin this disappointment?

Jammed Soda-Stream Graphics"Despite achieving all-time record sales,” spun Birnbaum in ‘Business Insider’, “we failed to deliver our profit targets and are disappointed in our fourth quarter performance…These preliminary results reflect a challenging holiday selling season in the U.S. and several factors, mostly from the second half of the quarter, that negatively impacted our gross margin."

Maybe there was indeed a ‘challenging holiday selling season’ but the second half of their fourth quarter coincided with an orchestrated culture-jamming campaign. BDS faithful marshaled a combination of hashtags, informative articles, and “jammed” graphics {my jams, at right} to adversely affect SodaStream’s holiday revenues. Net income was $12 million less than projected; SodaStream’s stock is worth nearly 20% less than before the campaign. It happened at just the time we wanted it to happen. Causality is difficult to assert but the correlation indicates that momentum is on our side between now and the Super Bowl.

Scarlett may give them the “sexiest drink shot of all time”, avenging their fourth-quarter short-fall. The US media landscape is an insulated microclimate protected by mountains of misdirection and naïve characterizations of Palestinians (as evidenced by another New York Times article that does not merit a link). Yet as reputable US institutions like the Modern Language Association and American Studies Association continue to debate academic boycott and consumer pressure continues to mount in a gradually awakening Europe, there might be more than a whiff of ‘spring’ in the air for the solidarity movement.

SodaStream’s holiday-hiccup will provide enough room for awareness and boycott campaigns to dig their cleats deeper into the turf, poising at the line of scrimmage for the big (American) football game February. SodaStream should consider courting goodwill by moving their factories West, especially if Starbucks finally debuts the ‘Fizzio’ machine and other appliance companies start throwing their weight into the market (what’s a ‘Karbon’?). Boycott proponents are itching to give consumers a soda-machine alternative that is green… green like the bottom stripe on the Palestinian flag.

*With gratitude to Remi Kanazi & other artists using their gifts for Justice.

Where be those exploitators?_______________________________________________________________

JD (John Daniel) Gore is a young adult missionary working through the General Board of Global ministries. JD serves Methodist Federation for Social Action as the 'Associate for Movement Building' and worked previously in Bethlehem for The Wi'am Center. He aspires to work for a culture of acceptance and collective responsibility through better dialogue, both in higher education and the general public.

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