Archive for October, 2014

PRESS RELEASE: Judicial Council Upholds Schaefer Reinstatement

Monday, October 27th, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – October 27, 2014- In a decision released this morning, the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church (UMC) has upheld the decision of the Committee on Appeals and Rev. Frank Schaefer will no longer have to fight for his ministerial status. In November 2013, a trial court of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the UMC found Rev. Frank Schaefer guilty of officiating the marriage of his son, Tim, to another man in 2006. The penalty assessed to Rev. Schaefer, eventually leading to the loss of ministerial credentials, was indirect and convoluted.  Earlier this year, upon appeal, the Committee on Appeals of the Northeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church overturned the penalty assessed in the original trial. Last week in Memphis, TN, The United Methodist Church’s highest judicial body, Judicial Council, heard a final appeal.

“At a time when the Church stands as a painful reminder that human institutions are more concerned with legalisms than with grace, the Judicial Council has noted the errors of a process based on retribution,” states Chett Pritchett, Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA).  “The Methodist Federation for Social Action thanks the Judicial Council for their thoughtful and prayerful deliberation We celebrate with the Schaefer family with this resolution – and all United Methodist families who seek to love their children, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“I couldn't be happier for Frank and his family with this result, but more importantly, this process has only served to strengthen the resolve of this movement,” remarks Kevin Nelson, board member of MFSA. “No amount of persecution disguised as "discipline" will turn back the love of God; it always finds a way to break through.” Nelson assisted Schafer’s counsel, Rev. Scott Campbell, in both appeals.

“It is important for us to recognize that the case of The United Methodist Church v. Schaefer isn’t the beginning or the end of the work for LGBTQ inclusion,” Pritchett reminds. “Indeed it is but a moment in an arc of a great movement for reform – in fact, it comes as no surprise to me that this announcement comes on the heels of Reformation Sunday, a day which Protestant churches celebrate the great Christian reformer, Martin Luther, and his call for institutional transformation almost five centuries ago. It is my prayer that faithful United Methodists continue to seek justice for their LGBTQ siblings in that transformational spirit.”

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.
 

###

Lay Marriage

Monday, October 13th, 2014

This weekend I had the privilege of officiating one of the first same-sex weddings in North Carolina. Earlier in the week I was inspired by Chett Pritchett's (executive director of Methodist Federation for Social Action) prophetic witness to be in ministry with clergy in Virginia and West Virginia, by officiating at same-sex weddings in United Methodist congregations with United Methodist clergy who felt they could not officiate such ceremonies.

Officiating the ceremony was one of the proudest, exciting moments in my life and ministry. The joy that it brought the couple was the greatest reward I could have asked for. I realize that the rules and culture of fear and silence within our denomination can sometimes strangle and paralyze clergy from feeling free to fully serve and offer pastoral care for their congregants.

This week as I sat on watching and anticipating the news of marriage equality in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina; I was constantly reminded of the Parable of the Persistent Widow found in the Gospel attributed to Luke.  This parable is an unusual story of a widows persistence of justice from a corrupt judge who denies her claim.  The role of a judge at the time was to maintain peaceful relationships and to adjudicate disputes. To be a judge was a great honor bestowed only on those in the community that were believed to be impartial, just and fair. Once selected, a judge was charged to give the members of their community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone for the judgement is God’s. A later text adds "a judge will not ignore the supplication of the orphan, or the widow when she pours out her complaint.”

After the widows persistence the judge rules in her favor. The judge does not see an end in the widow's persistence and has exhausted his time and resources on her case, basically the widow’s opponent’s bribe was no longer worth the annoyance of the widow. The parable ends with Jesus posing a rhetorical question, “Won’t God then do justice to the chosen who call out day and night? Will God delay long over them? I tell you, God will give them swift justice.”

I have stayed in the United Methodist Church because the United Methodist Church is so much better than it’s current state. I work for inclusion in the church not only for myself, but because I believe it is an act of God's swift justice. I stay because young people in our church are coming our everyday and need to know that our church can be a safer place. I have yet to better hear and understand my call to ministry more than I did the night that I came out and began to faithfully and authentically live out my call. I have seen that our church needs more people standing up, sharing their stories, building relationships with people, so our church can one day really live out one of our most foundational theological belief that Christ’s table is open to all people, no questions, no exceptions, no limitation, an invitation that must extend beyond our eucharistic celebration.

I will not leave the UMC. I am here! This is just as much my church as it is those who feel that I do not belong. I will struggle with the church and with God. I will not leave the church to struggle alone. I will work to keep our church moving on towards justice and perfection. Like the widow, I will be persistent, continually demanding justice and not settling for concessions. I will continue to build relationships with people. That change can only happen when we bring our authentic self to the table. I will open my heart to clergy who are paralyzed with fear. I will stand beside you as we offer care to your congregants. With your help and presence, I will officiate their weddings standing alongside you. I am here to stay, to struggle and to build relationships, because this is my church and part of my responsibility to keep it accountable for its harm.

So I make this offer to all clergy in the Carolinas (and beyond), taking a lead from MFSA's executive director…

I offer myself to United Methodist clergy in the Carolinas (and potentially other states) as a partner in ministry. If you are asked by members of your congregation or community to officiate their wedding and you do not feel you can do so, I am willing to officiate with you standing beside me. Together. In ministry.

I remember coming out and the terror associated with it.  So I was to stand with you because "solidarity breeds safety and safety emboldens the voice of justice, equality, love, and grace."

———————————————————————————————————–

Joey Lopez is a Community Organizer with the Campaign for Southern Equality. He has served in youth ministry in North Carolina and Detroit and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Methodist Federation for Social Action.
 

 

 

Photo credits: www.freedomtomarry.org and Joseph Lopez

I Guess I am the Marrying Kind

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

For months I’ve been wrestling with a calling, a calling which started 4 years ago when my seminary friends Katie and Rhiannon asked me to officiate their wedding. It was June, it was Atlanta, it was hot. And it was beautiful. I had no legal or ecclesial authority whatsoever, just love in my heart.

Fast forward to July of this year. I was honored to co-officiate the ceremony of a dear college friend and her, now, husband. I did so with a retired United Methodist bishop and it was so simple, so loving, so perfect.

I have to admit. Weddings aren’t usually my shtick. I’m 37, I’m gay, and I’m single by choice. It’s not something about which I often talk, but for me, at this point in my life, I have chosen singleness. The married life, even with marriage equality busting out all over, isn’t for me at this point in time. It’s been an intentional life choice – and one that many people, even LGBT-affirming people, don’t understand.

All this is to say that over the past few months, I’ve been discerning what it might look like for me – an emphatically-single, gay, lay person in The United Methodist Church – to engage in acts of biblical obedience which include officiating services of marriage. The act of marriage isn’t something that’s limited to clergy per our United Methodist Book of Discipline. In fact, in most Protestant traditions the “magic hands” of clergy only applies to presiding at baptism and holy communion. What’s odd is that most state and local governments require you be part of a religious tradition in order to be certified by the state (let’s not get me started about the First Amendment right now).

Marriage equality bans have been falling like dominos this week. It’s been difficult just to keep up! Today, the state I claim as home, West Virginia, became number thirty-something (see the previous sentence). I’m still in shock. West Virginia. Oklahoma. Virginia. Utah. Idaho (maybe, maybe not…) – all of these are places where most urban queer folks would turn their noses up at the thought of still living there. “Didn’t we move from there the first chance we had?”

I’m excited for my friends who have had the benefits my friends in the District of Columbia have had for a few years – even if I’m a curmudgeon who is content being single. My heart is dismayed, however, that our Church, The United Methodist Church, has not prepared clergy or congregations for this historic moment in history beyond perfunctory statements from church leaders. Good, caring clergy people are unprepared to give pastoral care to members of their congregations and communities who seek to solemnize their relationships in light of this newly found civil right.

Today, thanks to previous months of discernment, I made the decision to be certified by the American Marriage Ministries as a wedding officiant. I still hold standing as laity in The United Methodist Church, but, upon approval from civil authorities (the wheels are in motion in West Virginia already), I will be able to officiate weddings – for anyone. I see this as a deep act of pastoral care – both for LGBTQ couples and for clergy.

Today, I offer myself to United Methodist clergy in the states of West Virginia and Virginia (and potentially other states) as a partner in ministry. If you are asked by members of your congregation or community to officiate their wedding and you do not feel you can do so, I am willing to officiate with you standing beside me. Together. In ministry.

Some may feel this is a “get out of jail free card” for clergy who are too scared to stand in the face of increasing legalism in our United Methodist denomination.  I respect that opinion – too often I feel as if our friends don’t understand what it means to be an ally in the movement for equality. But I remember what it was like 18 years ago when I came out of the closet in Buckhannon, West Virginia. I thought I was alone. I knew God loved me, but I was scared. It took good church people (Preacher’s Kids mostly) to stand with me in my journey of coming out to give me the confidence to speak with a prophetic voice. Solidarity breeds safety and safety emboldens the voice of justice, equality, love, and grace.

I hope and pray other lay people might join me in this act of pastoral care for our pastors. And I hope pastors will join us in this act of biblical obedience to the Gospel which calls us to love our neighbors. Won’t you join me?

———————————————————————————————————-

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.

Photo credits: Freedom to Marry (www.freedomtomarry.org) and JeeHye Kim-Pak

 

Why United Methodists Should Be Watching What is Happening at General Theological Seminary

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

This past week my facebook feed went berserk with statuses and links regarding a public battle between a majority of General Theological Seminary’s faculty and their Dean and President (one person) and Board of Trustees. A short summary of the situation, from my perspective is this: The new Dean and President has a heavy-handed communication style and shared a student’s academic record to the whole of the Seminary email list – a clear violation of the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Most shockingly, he has made inappropriate comments about race, gender, and sexuality and has refused to apologize for them, and has created a culture of fear among faculty, staff, and students. For months, faculty tried to open the lines of communication. Finally, when their toiling wasn’t producing any forward movement, they took the next step and communicated with the Board of Trustees, the body with ultimate responsibility for the well being of the Seminary.

In letters to the board, eight faculty members (of 11) were clear: the work environment at General Theological Seminary had become untenable – and in essence, until the board would meet with them to hear their concerns, they were collectively calling a strike. The Chairperson of the Board, certainly in consultation with the Dean and President, preemptively “resigned” those eight faculty members (AKA “fired”) without due process.

Collective bargaining among faculty at institutions of higher learning is not new. Academic collective bargaining includes the unionization of all sectors of the higher-education workforce—tenure-line faculty, academic professionals, and support staff. Such unionization includes protecting academic freedom and shared administrative and governance responsibility. Institutions of higher education have a variety of stakeholders: funders, alumni, business sector, local community leaders, higher learning commissions, and in some cases, state and federal government.

At institutions of graduate theological education, schools with missions to form, train, and send-forth theological leaders – both lay and clergy – it is ever important for there to be a strong, open, transparency between faculty, staff, and administration. While still firmly in the realm of higher education, graduate schools of theological education (commonly called divinity schools, theological schools, or seminaries) have other stakeholders: the Association of Theological Schools and their sponsoring denomination(s), the latter in both formal and informal ways.

Seminaries are places for nurture, growth, and vitality. As one who is “Seminary-trained, but not ordained,” I can affirm the value of community, challenging academic work, and vocational training received in such an educational environment. My thoughts and prayers are especially with the current students of General Theological Seminary; this is a scary, frustrating experience. But I hope they will also learn greatly from this time. I hope they will learn skills for organizing when the systems, institutions, and communities in which they find themselves are unjust. I hope they will learn to see broadly how sometimes the institutions we love the most can do great harm. I hope they will learn that God’s hope for justice is grounded in transparency, collaboration, and care for the soul of individuals, not in snide remarks, triangulation, or assumptions that straight, white, and male are norms for theological education and ministry. If the latter were the case, our seminaries and churches would have closed their doors long ago.

Let us not be fooled. Silencing and belittling of women, people of color, and LGBTQ persons is not something that only happens at General Theological Seminary. I’m sure graduates of United Methodist seminaries and United Methodist-related colleges and universities can talk for days about the ways in which administrators, powerful alumni, and boards of trustees squelch anything which might be seen as too “political” or “distracting.” It is in the hands of some of those same people in which we find aversion to transparency at General Conference.

Last week Jeremy Smith of Hacking Christianity made a clear challenge to those straight, white, married, males in The United Methodist Church who are seeking to do church business behind closed doors. It’s not much of a jump to make the connection between the events at General Theological Seminary and the conversations leading us into General Conference. Even those who claim they have the best interests of the Church at heart make mistakes. Sometimes those are prayerful, easy-to-forgive mistakes. But sometimes they are so grievous, so manipulative, so disempowering that even the stones cry out.

The United Methodist Church has the opportunity to turn the ship from fear and despair, much like the ship moored in Chelsea, and turn it toward transparency, collaboration, and hope. If closing the plenary sessions of General Conference is meant, whether implicitly or explicitly, to keep LGBTQ advocates from participating in General Conference, it may come as a surprise to discover progressive delegates including LGBTQ persons have already been elected to General Conference. Even if the doors are closed, the stones will cry out.

For my friends whose lives were formed and transformed at Chelsea Square, you are in my thoughts and prayers. May God’s grace see you though, even when vision is difficult. For all of us struggling to make the institutions we love better conduits of justice, may we find community as God’s foolish ones. And for a society where backroom decisions, top-down leadership, and looking out for number one are rules of the day, may we join with our siblings and be the stones who cry out.

(Photo from archives.episcopalchurch.org)

———————————————————————————————————-

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.

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