Archive for May, 2015

The Relationship of the Same-Sex Marriage Vote in Ireland To the Black Justice Journey

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

   

     "And Noah said, 'Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be to his  

     brethren… Blessed be God, the God of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant….

                   God shall prosper Japheth…and Canaan shall be his servant."

 

                    -Genesis 9: 25-27, KJV

 

Many of us contend that the misinterpretation and misuse of the above verse, has been a biblical justification for anti-black bias that has been responsible for colonization in Africa, slavery in the Americas and the USA, lynchings, prohibitions against interracial marriage, segregation, legalized discrimination, and today's police killings of unarmed black men, boys, women, and girls.

And, some of us believe that it is a misuse of Scripture to suggest that the Bible describes marriage as being only between one man and one woman. The marriage of one man to more than one woman is mentioned over and over again in Scripture. The Bible also describes women married to men, as being "property". The Bible, we believe, is misused and misinterpreted to justify opposition to same sex marriage. Today's arguments about the importance of gender difference being essential to marriage, overlooks the greater importance of authentic love of two persons and their love of children if they have them. Regardless of their genders.

I have sought in my ally/advocacy of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) persons and same-sex marriage to consistently remind my white colleagues in the gay rights movement that their resistance to Bible based anti-same sex marriage passages is nothing new. We who are black have from the very "git-go", challenged literal interpretations of Scripture that justified and sustained, anti-black bias and hatred. My hope had been that we who have been victimized because of race, by a misinterpretations/misuse of Scripture, would be the first persons to challenge misinterpretation/misuse of Scripture to victimize women, the disabled, LGBTQ persons, and others.

But, to my continuing amazement, many of us who are black, are Biblical literalists about all of the Bible, except those portions that have been and are, used against us. We have demythologized Scripture when it has harmed blacks, but we have not done that when it has been used to harm others.

A majority of the voters in Ireland, a predominantly Catholic nation, through their "Yes" vote for same sex marriage, transcended Bible-based Scriptures that were used against same-sex couples, just as we who black have transcended the above Genesis passage that has been used against us.

We have had potential allies for black justice in the gay rights movement, but too many times we have demeaned them. May what happened in Ireland on May 23rd, provide rationale for greater cooperation between the black rights and gay rights movements.

 

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Rev. Gil Caldwell is retired United Methodist clergy. Gil is a founding member of Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) and co-founder of Truth in Progress, a multi-media project highlighting the intersection of race, sexual orientation, and religion.

The Bible and Blacks and Gays – “It’s Deja Vu all over again”

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

I believe honesty compels all of us to acknowledge, no matter if we think of ourselves  as evangelicals, traditionalists, liberals, progressives, etc., that knowingly or unknowingly, we have encountered, maybe been shaped by a misinterpretation of Scripture that has informed attitudes and actions about blacks. Genesis 9: 25-27 has been called Noah's curse, the curse of Ham, or more accurately, the curse of Canaan.

The story's original intent was to justify the subjection of the Canaanites to the Israelites. But, the Scripture has been interpreted by some Muslims, Jews and Christians as an explanation for black skin as well as for the enslavement and segregation of blacks. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), have been more honest than Methodists and other denominations  in admitting their practice of denying black men acceptance in leadership roles until the 1970's, was shaped by the misinterpretation of this Genesis scripture.

But, the fact of the matter is that our Methodist debates/divisions about slavery, and the decision to form the all-black Central Jurisdiction in1939, were informed by misinterpretations of the Genesis scripture as well.

I share this in the wake of knowing how Ireland has voted on marriage equality for same-sex couples. And, I share it because the above is an illustration of how the Bible has been misused to justify bias. I suggest that the Bible is being  misused to justify  marriage as being   between   only,   one   man  and one woman, because to do so is to ignore the Biblical accounts of men being  married to more than one woman. And, to ignore how married women were viewed as "property" in some Biblical accounts. My United Methodist colleagues, lay and clergy, with whom I disagree on the anti-gay, and anti marriage equality language in our Book of Discipline say that "the definition of marriage has not changed in 2,000 years". I respectfully disagree.

One of the reasons I use racial illustrations as an ally/advocate of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) persons and marriage equality for same-sex couples, to inform my advocacy, is that so many have not, or find it difficult, to acknowledge that "Noah's Curse/the curse of Canaan", historically, has been/is, a manifestation of how the Bible has been misused to justify anti-black, racial bias. And, today the Bible is being used by some United Methodists to justify their bias against same-gender-loving couples and LGBTQ persons.

Our love of Scripture in its totality, not selectively, ought not be compromised by allowing Scripture to be used/misused to demean, dehumanize, nor to discriminate against black-skinned or LGBTQ persons.

The decisions United Methodists make in 2015 and 2016 about the Bible and same-gender-loving persons, will not only correct the misuse of Scripture to discriminate against same-gender-loving persons, those decisions will remind us of how, historically, Scripture was used to discriminate against black persons. There are still some United Methodists who are unable and/or unwilling to acknowledge our history of Bible-based, anti-black racism.

The United Negro College Fund has as one of its mottos, "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste". I suggest to the United Methodist Church; "The Bible is a Terrible Thing to Waste, By Misusing It." I have experienced personally, its misuse to justify racial segregation. I, and I hope all United Methodists, will vote to discontinue its misuse to discriminate against and thereby hurt and harm, LGBTQ and same-gender-loving persons.

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Rev. Gil Caldwell is retired United Methodist clergy. Gil is a founding member of Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) and co-founder of Truth in Progress, a multi-media project highlighting the intersection of race, sexual orientation, and religion.

The Connectional Table’s Bribe to Straight Progressive Clergy

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

 

On Palm Sunday this year, I preached a sermon entitled "How the Racial Bribe Killed Jesus". It was not exactly a "Hosanna", children smiling with palm branches kind of day at Church of the Village. That was because we spent the season of Lent reading Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Alexander talks a good deal about racial bribes in the book, which are basically when racial groups or subsets of racial groups take certain advantages in a system in exchange for an institutional peace that continues to perpetrate injustice on more vulnerable groups (Think the Jewish tax collectors and chief priests of Jesus’ time.).

On my reading of the book this time around, I was taken aback by one of Alexander's claims: that I myself am a bribe-taker. In her last chapter, she claims that the “civil rights community”, largely made up of middle and upper class people of color, have taken the racial bribe of affirmative action and its promise of surface level racial representation in the halls of education and power. While these gains are important, they have knocked the wind out of the sails of a more fundamental and systemic civil rights movement that would include true racial justice for poor Black and Brown people, the very folks who are left out of the gains of affirmative action.

Since reading Alexander’s judgment upon me, I have been trying to be more aware of when I take bribes, when I claim advantages in exchange for a peace without justice. And that is why I worry about new legislation that came out this week from one of our denomination's highest bodies. Our Connectional Table just approved a proposal to change much of the discriminatory language in the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality. The plan does some good things, the most notable of which is making it legal for clergy to perform same-sex weddings.

But this change at the highest echelons of the church does not necessarily strike me as a courageous step. Instead, the fact that such an inertial and institution-preserving body is taking this action is a sign to me of the incredible power of the LGBTQ equality movement in the world and in our church. Same-sex marriage will very possibly be legal throughout the United States in one month's time. And the grassroots movement of clergy publicly performing same-sex weddings has made church trials a dead end for the institution. These accomplishments are the work of millions of activists and regular people, LGBTQ folks and allies, who have worked and risked and refused to give in to despair. And the Connectional Table's proposal should be celebrated as a sign of the power of God working through these grassroots movements of love, justice, and courage.

This proposal is certainly a sign of movement, and there are people I respect who believe this is a proposal that holds great promise for change at our 2016 General Conference.

A part of me really wants to agree. As a progressive, heterosexual, cisgender, married pastor with one child and two cats, this proposal does everything for me. It would give me the ability to fully, freely, and safely answer my call to ministry. I can be a progressive LGBTQ ally and I can be a United Methodist pastor with a guaranteed job with a salary and benefits. And I can do it anywhere in the world. This is all win for me.

But it is not a win for everyone. The proposal would make the church a little more just, but it is not justice. It falls short of justice and true welcome in several ways, the most disturbing of which is that it allows annual conferences to decide whether or not they will ordain gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. Many, if not most, regions of our church will likely choose not to ordain people based on their sexual orientation. LGBTQ candidates for ministry will have to live in particular, strategic regions if they want to avoid discrimination.

As an out United Methodist clergy ally living in New York City, I have had the privilege of talking with many gifted and called LGBTQ people who are discerning whether or not to enter into the ordination process in the United Methodist Church. I have seen them pour money and years into seminary and ordination requirements without knowing if they will even be seriously considered. I have heard them struggle with how much of their spiritual journey they can really share, as each of their paths with God are inseparable from their sexuality. I have watched them wonder if they will be safe in their jobs even if they are granted full clergy rights. These are all things I never had to worry about because of my sexual orientation.

But it is these young, talented LGBTQ people offering their lives to the church who will remain unsafe even if this limited legislation passes. Now, people will say that this is incremental change. And when we realize that same-sex marriage doesn't cause the church to implode or sprout horns, then we will take the next step and the next step. And that may be true.

But my question is this: When I get everything I need, will I still be as passionate about pushing for change for the next person? When I am free to be myself and to be a pastor in my region with my sexuality, will I still be as passionate about making sure that gay seminarian in Alabama can do the same? I want to say yes. But I know myself. I am a sinner. I am a bribe-taker.

Progressives who want to take this compromise need to do some serious spiritual discernment about our apple-craving, bribe-taking tendencies. I do not believe that members of the Connectional Table meant for this to seem like a bribe to progressives or even progressive heterosexual clergy. But it could very easily become one. We could too quickly take this as a victory in exchange for an unjust peace.

I know that I am a sinner who too often stands in the crowds offering Jesus up for Barabbas. As a heterosexual elder in full connection in a progressive annual conference, I am concerned about claiming my own freedom while people far more vulnerable than me still find themselves in the church's chains.

So, while I celebrate the movements that have forced this proposal, I feel very uneasy about supporting it.

 

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 Rev. Vicki Flippin is the co-president of the board of directors of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. She is the Pastor of Social Justice, Exploring Faith, and Inter-generational Ministries at The Church of the Village, a progressive, multi-racial, and Reconciling United Methodist Church in Manhattan. A graduate of Yale Divinity School and the University of Chicago, Flippin has been elected to the New York Annual Conference Jurisdictional/General Conference delegation for 2016.

A Conversation Starter

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

I remember the day a few months ago when I ran across an advertisement for t-shirts a woman was having made that were simple; black in color with the words #blacklivesmatter on them. 

My involvement in the anti-police brutality movement has been a winding road.  It began when I played basketball as a young man, and made many African-American friends.  I remember we would always get much more 'attention' (clerks would follow us around) when we went to the mall together than if I went with just my older brother.  Through the years, I've become more interested in the Civil Rights movement in that culminated in the 1950's and 60's.  Leading youth on a Civil Rights Bus Tour has helped expand my knowledge on specific events and details that mainstream history often forgets. 

So it was with this backdrop and experience that I stayed glued to my TV night after night as protesters met violent and escalating police in Ferguson.  Soon I took to the streets in Dallas in solidarity with local and national groups to let Ferguson and the world know we cared.  I had to order a t-shirt.         

One of the first places I wore the t-shirt was at church.  I felt if I couldn't wear it at church, as a youth minister, then I really couldn't wear it anywhere.  I got plenty of looks, but the most memorable moment was a gentle encounter I had with a mom of one of the youth.  She came to me and said, "Thanks for wearing that, it means a lot to me."  You see, the church member was white, but both of her children are bi-racial.  Since this time, we have had many conversations about race and what it looks and feels like for her and her family. 

Fast forward a couple months, to a recent visit to Washington DC.  Like always, the Metro was full of folks coming and going.  One African-American gentleman, probably near 40 years old, checked my shirt out and said powerfully "Thanks."  I was touched by this.  As I stood to leave, the man reached his hand out and said "It's just so refreshing to know and see that someone actually gives a shit."  We shared a handshake, and his words and emotion have stayed with me.

Just this week, I ate at a restaurant for lunch and one of the workers (young and African American) inquired where I got the shirt. After talking about the recent events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and even here in the Dallas area, I sat down to eat. I looked for him as I left but couldn't find him. He raced outside after I left, asking if I'd take a picture with him. Of course, I obliged. As I drove away, I was so moved and even perplexed. What an indictment on our society and culture (and the Church!) that someone simply wearing a t-shirt is so compelling!!

What's funny is I often tell folks I get more 'looks' than comments when I wear this shirt. And let me be clear, there is a definite difference in how individuals of different races respond to this shirt. But for me, the comments give me LIFE and affirm my desire to unashamedly pronounce that #blacklivesmatter.  

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Jason Redick hails from Lewisville, Texas. He is the youth minister at Holy Covenant United Methodist Church in Carrollton, Texas and sits on the board of directors for the Center for Theological Activism. 

“A Little Civil Disobedience”

Friday, May 1st, 2015

I was the second to last person in the holding cell. Six other names had been called before mine, including that of my friend, Rabbi Renee Bauer. Renee, the director of our local Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice, had texted me just about a week before, “I want to talk about joining me in a little civil disobedience. :) ” I was pretty excited.

This was last September. The push for international fast food corporations to raise the minimum wage was starting to get some traction. Organizers felt more hopeful; turnout for actions had started to grow. Word that there were large rallies all across the US buoyed everyone’s spirits.

I had never been arrested before– a rather embarrassing admission for a progressive United Methodist clergywoman. Of course as member of Generation X, my contemporaries never seemed too interested in social justice issues. The baby boomers laid claim on the 60’s and 70’s and the millennials are still trying awaken us from decades of ambivalence and self-centeredness. My generation lived in a Reagan daze, somewhere between the dancing zombies of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album and the fall of the Berlin Wall. I think my personal convictions emerged about the same time the handsome pair of Governor Bill Clinton and Senator Al Gore swept through our capital city of Madison, Wisconsin, in October of 1992, and simultaneously swept this little Assembly page off of her feet.

I sat across from the last woman, waiting for the officer to call us out to complete paperwork. Most of my thoughts jumped from a quiet pride that I was finally getting arrested to the disbelief that it had taken me fifteen years of ordained ministry to do it. Getting out of myself for a moment, I turned to the woman, quietly seated in the same hot, unventilated room. I asked her about her name, age, and why she decided to walk out from her job.
Sadly, her story was a familiar one. She had graduated in the spring from a local high school with hopes of attending an area community college. Making just over seven dollars an hour she had no options but to live with her grandma in order to save money. She barely made enough money to pay for daily needs, food, bus fares, and give a little to her grandma for rent. Even as young as this woman was, she had come to a very mature decision: she really had nothing to lose by walking out.

Acts of social justice are much like the other parts of our faith. By offering a gesture or word, we think we are doing something good for someone else. The greater part of the good, however, ironically falls upon us, the “givers.” Unexpectedly, we receive gifts like humility, perspective, and thankfulness in those moments. In a few, short minutes of conversation I was reminded about the privileges I enjoy on a daily basis: my race, my high degree of education, the title to my profession, my income bracket and on and on…

As I walked out of the police department that day, I left rather ashamed of myself. Just minutes before, I believed that I was sacrificing my day to attend the rally and risk arrest. I squeezed the protest into my busy schedule and juggled family obligations to do it. I believed that I was giving up so much, but the truth of course, was that my offering that day was so small. At the police department I could have called one of dozens of people with immediate access cash to bail me out; I would have had resources and people to lean on like parishioners, lawyers, and city officials. At any time I could have simply walked away from the rally, got in my air-conditioned car and driven away.

As an individual of privilege, doors and opportunities open for me so frequently I must be wary of entitlement settling into my soul. I recognize in myself that growing wealth and status make me more reluctant to share and sacrifice. However, to be a faithful person, it is imperative that I be reminded of these facts. Serving others, a deep self-awareness, and the accountability of a faith community are essential elements to stay a withering soul.

I must also remember my cellmate. Hers was the dark face that our society projects images of little value— a low wage job and a long list of challenging circumstances. Despite what the world has told her, I saw this woman give and give unconditionally with confidence. Just as she walked out on her job in the morning with her head held high in the echo of raucous applause, she left the police station that afternoon with her head just as high in silence.

For International Workers’ Day this year I encourage you to put yourself out there. Humble yourself and serve a person or community completely unlike yourself. And then do it again and again. Take time out—a real time out– to look at yourself and your lifestyle to see if it honestly reflects your faith. And, may I suggest you consider some civil disobedience? You will find like I did, that such actions are not just for low wage workers, but for us and our salvation.

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Rev. Amanda Stein
Rev. Amanda Stein is the Associate Pastor of Sun Prairie United Methodist Church in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. She is a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary and is a leader in the Wisconsin Chapter of MFSA.

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