A Word from Lancaster

August 17th, 2017

July 2016

Beloved MFSA Family,

Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. was my neighbor in White Plains, NY on November 19, 2011. Mr. Chamberlain was a 68 year old African American Marine Corps Veteran. He was in his own home. He accidentally triggered his medical alert button given to him by his family for his protection. The police responded to the alarm presumably to check on his safety. Mr. Chamberlain assured the officers he was fine and that setting off his alarm was an accident. They would not accept his word and refused to leave. After some time the officers broke through his door, called out to him using a racial slur and shot him dead. In his own home. On that November night while my husband and I slept a few blocks away, the very officers sworn to protect and serve me, robbed my neighbor of a life well loved. It was my neighborhood, my neighbor and my police. 


Thursday night, I joined more than a thousand of my neighbors, colleagues and friends for a march and then vigil at my home church, Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia, PA. Many were delegates to the African Methodist Episcopal Church General Conference meeting across the street from our church. It was standing room only. We called as an interfaith multi-ethnic community for the end to racist police violence. One of the speakers, an AME bishop declared: “we talk about terrorism in Istanbul, Turkey, Belgium and Paris, France but, what the media fails to report is we’ve been dealing with terrorism for years in Ferguson, Baton Rouge and Minnesota.” We sang, we prayed, we preached, we wept, we were angry, we refused to be silenced.

Philadelphia is my home now and the home of Old St. George’s UMC and Mother Bethel AMEC. Old St. George’s is the congregation where Rev. Richard Allen and several black members were denied participation during a prayer service more than 200 years ago. Philadelphia is the city that birthed the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  It’s the birthplace of Methodist racism. Today Arch Street UMC organizes with Mother Bethel AME in an interfaith community organizing network called POWER. We walk side by side and struggle together for change. 


This week United Methodists in the United States will gather in jurisdictions to elect our episcopal leaders. Jurisdictions were formed in 1939 as a way to establish a separate structure for African American churches and church leaders and in doing so created the Central Jurisdiction. The Central Jurisdiction was eliminated in the 1968 merger forming the United Methodist Church but, it didn’t wipe out the racism woven into the very fabric of our denominational structure.

Audre Lorde once said: “ The master’s tools will never dismantle the master's house.” We need a new narrative and a new structure.  More importantly we need a new set of tools for us to build new houses.  The racism within our houses of worship, our houses of government and even the houses our movements reside within cannot be dismantled with the same tools we’ve used for centuries. It’s time to have a new conversation. A conversation that looks within our own movement first at the ways we continue to perpetuate a racist system. Only then will we be able to build a new house, one where the beloved community can call home. 

Will you join me?

Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck
Interim Executive Director

Johnson Amendment

June 8th, 2017

Johnson Amendment

The Johnson Amendment serves as a shield preventing political campaigns from entering into the pulpit. It also prevents tax-deductible donations to houses of worship from being routed directly to political candidates. In May the President signed an executive order that threatens to dismantle the Johnson Amendment. We believe that true religious liberty respects individuals, supports the common good, and reflects the foundational principles of our nation. Separation of church and state as well as religious freedom grounded in the rights of individuals to exercise their beliefs without being imposed upon by the government are cornerstones of our democracy and the Johnson Amendment works to maintain that critical barrier and as such it should not be weakened or eliminated.

MFSA Responds to the Judicial Council Decisions

May 4th, 2017

Beloved Justice-Seekers,

Led by the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus, MFSA along with hundreds of Justice Seeking United Methodists gathered in Newark, NJ last week to bear witness to love at the Judicial Council hearing. We prayed together, we sang together, and we broke holy bread together.  We called into existence a United Methodist Church that more fully reflects the grace-filled, hope-driven, justice-seeking, love-centered kin-dom of God. 

We encountered a Judicial Council that more fully reflects an empire than the kin-dom of God. Heavily guarded by uniformed security, we experienced a Judicial Council and, therefore, institutional church that feels the need to be protected against the most vulnerable – centurions who were guarding the powers and principalities to protect order rather than protecting the vulnerable to build the beloved community as the family of God.

Their resulting decisions had the opportunity to reflect that beautiful beloved community to which we are called. Instead, their rulings more fully reflected the empire they so fearfully protect. In the words of the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus“These decisions will further harm us, our families, the faith communities we serve, the wider LGBTQI community and our allies, but we trust in God's grace and love, and shall remain in solidarity with one another as members of the Body of Christ. These decisions do not negate our call to ordained ministry nor our desire to serve God.” We continue to stand alongside our partners in justice seeking in the belief “that The United Methodist Church can truly embody God’s love, peace, and justice. We continue to affirm our commitment to love of God and neighbor, to lives of ministry and service, and to the ongoing work of seeking justice and freedom for all of God’s children.”

A part of this ongoing work is to engage in an expanded conversation on sexual ethics in the church. Many of us live in contexts in which vulnerable people like women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA)  people are protected by anti-discrimination laws and policies prohibiting sexual harassment. In these Judicial Council rulings, our church’s shame is made clear: Instead of protecting the vulnerable, we hide behind religious exemptions to promote regressive cultural stereotypes and traditions that harm and humiliate vulnerable groups within our family. Using marriage licenses as weapons, asking people about consensual genital contact, and reducing families and relationships to sexual acts within the context of professional evaluation is an embarrassment, an injustice, and absolutely contrary to the inclusive, table-turning gospel of Jesus Christ. We call on our partners, congregations, annual conferences, boards of ordained ministry, and bishops to join us in refusing to follow these unjust and shameful laws. We call upon General Conference to pass justice-seeking legislation that reflects the humanity in each of us and ends our sinful discrimination against LGBTQIA people. We call upon the whole church to engage in a mature and faithful dialogue about sexual ethics centered on the Christian values of love, equity, and protection for the vulnerable and oppressed.

We will continue our legacy of calling into existence a United Methodist Church that more fully reflects the grace-filled, hope-driven, justice-seeking, and love-centered kin-dom of God. We invite you to join us in making this sacred change a reality.

Centered in Love,

The Staff and Board of Directors

Methodist Federation for Social Action

Easter People, Raise Your Voices

April 19th, 2017

Dear Justice-Seeking People of Faith,

This week, we celebrate the triumph of love over hate and the assurance that God can heal even the most shameful and harmful violence. It is our faith in this week’s revolutionary resurrection that will guide us through the struggles of next week, whenthe Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church (our highest legal body) will gather in Newark, New Jersey to hear several cases involving our denomination’s discrimination against LGBTQIA persons. 

In weeks like this, the Methodist Federation for Social Action strives to be intentional about asking the question, “To whom are we accountable?” We believe it is our sacred duty to ask those who are most vulnerable and most affected by our work to hold us most accountable. That is why, in this moment, we are encouraging our constituents to look to LGBTQIA people themselves as you consider what actions you might take to respond to next week’s hearings. Be in prayer for your family and friends who identify as LGBTQIA. Hold up to God those young people sitting in United Methodist pews, wondering if there is a place for them in the house of the Lord. Carry in your hearts those LGBTQIA kids who are living hard and dangerous lives on the streets of our cities because they have been rejected by their families in the name of religion. And, especially as the Judicial Council hears cases personally related to the ordination and consecration of LGBTQIA leaders in our denomination, do take time this week to meditate on the whole lives and ministries of our LGBTQIA clergy, those 170 clergy from 26 annual conferences who have joined the #CalledOut movement to publicly identify as LGBTQIA as well as those who are in spiritual and material situations that keep them from taking such a public stand.

As an organization, we are wholly supporting the work of the newly formed Queer Clergy Caucus and we encourage you to do the same. We stand in solidarity with theirpublic letter in advance of the Judicial Council hearings. MFSA is also collecting financial offerings on behalf of the caucus to assist their members in traveling to the Judicial Council hearings to make a visible and public witness to the harm done when their rich and faithful lives of relationship and ministry are reduced to sexual acts and dragged through a mud of legal definition in front of the world. In a denomination that frequently talks about LGBTQIA people without including them, we will strive to do all we can to support the Queer Clergy Caucus and their allies in being unmistakably present at the site of debate that directly affects their lives. 

 
We ask you to join us in this support and solidarity by:

  1. Reading and sharing the public letter of the Queer Clergy Caucus. Consider adding your name in support of this letter here.
  2. Making an effort to be present in Newark for the Judicial Council Hearings April 25-28. You can register your desire to participate in the physical witness onApril 25 here.
  3. Offering a financial gift for the witness of the Queer Clergy on our donate page. Please make a note in the “tribute” box to “Queer Clergy Witness.” 
  4. Posting a photo of you proudly wearing your #CalledOut solidarity t-shirtnext week and/or changing your profile picture to include a selfie of you wearing it.
Through these efforts, we hope to be a witness that God’s resurrection word is true and that, though harm is being done this day, we live boldly in the faith that love will win the victory.

Seeking Justice Together,
The Staff and Board of Directors
Methodist Federation for Social Action

Spring 2017 Board of Directors Update!

March 20th, 2017
Watch a video update from the Co-Chairs of our Board of Directors: Spring 2017 Board of Directors Update
 
Dear Justice Seeking People of Faith,
 
This weekend the MFSA Board of Directors met and we want to share with you a little bit about what we’ve been up to!
 
MFSA adopted an Intersectional Organizing Principle in 2015. As Audre Lorde says, “There’s no such thing as a single issue struggle because we don’t live single issue lives.” We understand intersectionality to mean we recognize that all forms of oppression are interconnected, and we have to work for liberation for everyone simultaneously.
 
So we committed to intersectionality in 2015, and in 2016 at General Conference, in response to incidents of racism, we released a statement confessing and condemning the sin of systemic racism within our church and progressive movement. 
 
That day, we committed to increase racial diversity among our leadership and to educate ourselves about anti-racism, bias, and white privilege.
 
Since then, recent events in our nation have reminded us that white dominant institutions (like the United Methodist Church and the progressive movement!) have consistently chosen to ignore the continued reality and consequences of white supremacy in our society.
 
All of that brings us to this snowy weekend outside of Philadelphia, where our board met with facilitators from Crossroads Anti-Racism Organizing & Training to explore together the history of systemic racism in the United States and how, if we’re not intentional about living differently, we will continue to perpetuate the white supremacy that builds the foundation of our nation.
 
We started out our weekend together grounding ourselves in scripture—stories of Jesus the rebel, tearing apart structures of domination, and stories of Jesus the revolutionary, building communities grounded in revolutionary values of radical hospitality, fierce love, and enduring hope. 
 
Then we did the hard work of self reflection and analysis about where white supremacy and racism show up in our own organization and that it’s not enough to just value diversity. The only way to be faithful followers of Jesus, the rebel and revolutionary, is to resist and dismantle white supremacy by building anti-racist communities. And that’s what we’ve begun to do.
 
This commitment to becoming an anti-racist organization requires us to be really intentional about how we understand leadership. Last year, we made a strategic decision to hire Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck as a full-time intentional interim executive director to partner with us on this journey. And we look forward to taking this year to discern what kind of staffing model will allow us to take this transformative step. 
 
So stay tuned. Follow us on Facebook. We’ll be sharing resources and opportunities to learn and be a part of this work.
 
Seeking Justice Together,
Co-Presidents, MFSA Board of Directors

In This Moment…

January 30th, 2017
Beloved Justice Seekers,
        
In this moment, it is hard to not let darkness of despair and fear overcome Epiphany's light. There are days when it seems that we are in a perpetual state of lent – lamenting the realities we are facing with the new presidential administration. I think back to hearing the news of our presidential election. I spent the days following that news at Facing Race, the largest conference focused in racial justice, surrounded by thousands of folks dedicated to seeking justice. Over the past few days I've surrounded myself with thousands of queer and trans people organizing, dreaming, and resisting together. I can't think of a better place to be in light of what was happening and is continuing to happen in our nation. 

As I prepare for what lies ahead and the paths of resistance we will each walk, I'm grounded in the thought that our priority must be to care for our bodies and each other. We do not have to lean into platitudes of unity at the sake of our own sacred worth. Our fundamental desire to thrive and the vows we take at our baptism call us to look inward, resist injustice, and serve all! We commit to our own personal rejection of the evil powers of this world, accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist, and finally put our trust in Christ promising to serve a church for all people. As we step into this new season our welcome must be intended for those pushed from the center – the source of privilege – in our communities. We must resist the ways we are complacent in maintaining privilege. We must bring others along with us in this struggle. 

From our earliest days, the Methodist Federation for Social Action identified as a movement energizing people to be agents of sacred change in the church and the world. We believe that the root of justice lies within people of faith in grassroots communities called to engage in collective liberation. It requires storied relationships, resilience in the midst of oppression, and resistance to all that stands in the way of love. Our intersectional lens reminds us of the words of Methodist and civil rights leader, Fannie Lou Hamer, who said: “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Our lived experience tells us sacred change is only possible in a movement that is boundary breaking and refuses to be silenced by the powers and principalities of our day. 

Your partnership in this movement has made and continues to make sacred change possible each and every day. We have faced difficult days in the history of our movement. We stood up and resisted when the church refused to integrate, we stood up and resisted when the government used fear to attempt to silence us in the McCarthy era, we stood up and resisted when the church said no to women’s ordination, we stood up and resisted when the government said no to women's suffrage, we stood up and resisted dangerous child labor practices. Our legacy of resistance is faithfully long. We will continue our legacy of standing up and resisting. No matter whom the powers and principalities are we will accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. 

In order to do so we need your help. In the coming year we need to increase our staff to increase our capacity to resist. Please consider making a donation to the Methodist Federation for Social Action today to help us continue our legacy of resistance.

It is our commitment to faithfully look within ourselves, our movement, and our world to renounce the wickedness we perpetuate, to resist the injustice in our world, to trust in God’s grace and to serve Christ through a church open to ALL people. Will you join me in making sacred change possible with a gift to MFSA!

Seeking justice,
Joseph Lopez
He, Him, His
Nominations and Governance Co-Chair
Board of Directors
 

 

Being the Good Samaritan Isn’t Enough

January 17th, 2017

Being the Good Samaritan Isn't Enough

By Irene R. DeMaris, M.Div.

A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?” He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”

Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

This Sunday at my church, the Rev. Dr. Luke Powery, the Dean of Duke University Chapel, preached for our Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday. His words were prophetic and courageous, I quickly took notes and there is one part of his sermon that struck a nerve with me. He talked about the Good Samaritan, that it was a good first action, but not the last step in seeking justice. Powery brought up that we needed to know why the road was so violent, what was the systemic reasons behind this. How come the others didn’t stop, why did the Samaritan have to pay so much out of pocket to heal the man? He opened up the parable for me and as I sat down to write about the ACA and how it affects women’s reproductive health, I can’t get it out of my head.

Last week we learned that 91% of the 115th Congress identifies as Christian thanks to the Pew Research Center. The religion of the prolific healer, Jesus Christ who healed those who needed him. Yet, in the same week in the dead of the night last week, the U.S. Senate begun its work dismantling the Affordable Healthcare Act and taking us backwards from the Gospel. In a space of Christian majority, the Gospel did not flourish.

We also know now, there are ten senators who identify as United Methodists and eight of them voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act: Jeff Sessions, Tom Cotton, Johnny Isakson, David Perdue, Pat Roberts, John Kennedy, Richard Burr, and Rob Portman. (It is worth noting, two United Methodist senators voted against: Elizabeth Warren and Debbie Stabenow.)

Some of our United Methodist siblings voted against our neighbor. Those we are in communion with, who verbally join in our baptismal covenant, yet do the opposite. What are we to do? Our neighbors who are about to lose their healthcare are hurting at the hands of our siblings.

The stories have flooded our news feeds of people who will be directly affected by the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act. They grow by the day. You may even have your personal story. As I listen, it’s hard not to lose hope. The ACA was not perfect, it was a first step like the Good Samaritan caring for the man on the side of the road to Jericho. Repealing the ACA is walking by one of God’s beloved children in pain and not doing a damn thing.

Instead of repealing it, we should be addressing it and the systemic issues regarding health care. Why profit comes before people. Why a group of overwhelmingly Christians are ignoring Jesus’ words and actions. A group who knows that the most vulnerable is disproportionately affected by these changes.

I think another part of the parable’s lesson for me is that we also need to call to task the priest and the Levite who walked past the injured man on the road to Jericho. We need to hold those in our communion, who join our baptismal covenant to our Wesleyan heritage of radical love, grace, and justice.

As we move forward into the fight to maintain the ACA, instead of strengthening it, I will leave you with The Social Principles section on Right to Health Care:

Health is a condition of physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. John 10:10b says, “I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person to whom health has been entrusted. Creating the personal, environmental, and social conditions in which health can thrive is a joint responsibility—public and private. We encourage individuals to pursue a healthy lifestyle and affirm the importance of preventive health care, health education, environmental and occupational safety, good nutrition, and secure housing in achieving health. Health care is a basic human right.

Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril. In Ezekiel 34:4a, God points out the failures of the leadership of Israel to care for the weak: “You don’t strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, or seek out the lost.” As a result all suffer. Like police and fire protection, health care is best funded through the government’s ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities. Countries facing a public health crisis such as HIV/AIDS must have access to generic medicines and to patented medicines. We affirm the right of men and women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health/family planning information and services that will serve as a means to prevent unplanned pregnancies, reduce abortions, and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The right to health care includes care for persons with brain diseases, neurological conditions, or physical disabilities, who must be afforded the same access to health care as all other persons in our communities. It is unjust to construct or perpetuate barriers to physical or mental wholeness or full participation in community.

We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.

We encourage hospitals, physicians, and medical clinics to provide access to primary health care to all people regardless of their health-care coverage or ability to pay for treatment.

Being the Good Samaritan isn’t enough, moving backwards from the Gospel is also not acceptable. As people of faith, we must protect our siblings who are on the precipice of losing their healthcare. All hands are needed on the road to Jericho. It’s time to stand up and act.

Call the United Methodist Senators who are actively trying to repeal the ACA today!

Senator Jeff Sessions: (202) 224-4124

Senator Tom Cotton: (202) 224-2353

Senator Johnny Isakson: (202) 224-3643

Senator David Perdue: (202) 224-3521

Senator Pat Roberts: (202) 224-4774

Senator John Kennedy: (202) 224-4623

Senator Richard Burr: (202) 224-3154

Senator Rob Portman: (202) 224-3353

 

Irene R. DeMaris, M.Div. is a feminist, lifelong member of The United Methodist Church, and former MFSA intern who advocates for women’s health through a faith-based lens.

The Festival of Lights

December 19th, 2016

 

Dear Beloved Justice-Seekers,

Each year I journey through Advent with the same devotional. It’s called Night Visions: Searching the Shadows for Advent and Christmas written by United Methodist Jan L. Richardson.  It prepares me for the journey reminding me to seek out the sacred in the places of deep darkness and great light. The most meaningful for me has always been the Festival of Lights.

“In the years to come I will learn how necessary it is to keep dancing, how celebration is not a luxury but a staple of life, how in the grimmest moments I will need to take myself down to the closest festival at hand. I will go not to drown my sorrow or to mask my despair or to ignore the real suffering of the world or of my own self. I will go to beat out the message with my feet that in the darkness we are dancing, and while we are weeping we are dancing, and our legs are aching but we are dancing. And under the night sky we are dancing; lighting a match to the shadows, we are dancing; starting to sing when they have stopped the music, we are dancing; sending shock waves with our feet to the other side of the world, we are dancing still." Jan L. Richardson

These last few months Richardson’s reminder to seek out the moments of joy even in the midst of the weeping have been life-giving for me.  A reminder of the importance of reclaiming celebration as an act of holy resistance in the midst of an ever more broken and hurting world. Perhaps you have needed a reminder too. Perhaps it was the actions of the 2016 General Conference or the recent US and local elections that threatened to extinguish your light. In moments like that I remind myself of the great honor I have of dancing with each of you. I am reminded that justice-seekers just like you are resisting the narrative of exclusion by opening your congregations as Sanctuary Churches to our immigrant neighbors; you are declaring your radical welcome and inclusion of our LGBTQIA siblings by publicly resisting laws that mask hate as religious freedom; you are proclaiming the sacred worth of women and girls by protecting their right to make informed decisions about their bodies; you are declaring that a true and lasting peace requires justice for all people; you are declaring access to clean water in Flint, Standing Rock, and in every community throughout the world is the most basic of human rights; you are resisting the deadly violence of racism embedded within our criminal justice system; and you are standing with our interfaith neighbors because we all deserve to feel safe within our homes and houses of worship.

You are taking yourselves down to the closest festival, march, vigil and capitol building at hand dancing to the song of sacred change for all people. This year on Christmas as we celebrate the birth of the one who brings us hope, peace, love, and joy I will be giving thanks for each of you. I will be giving thanks for the gift of dancing out the songs of sacred change with the justice-seeking people of faith in our movement. I will do so with joy as an act of holy resistance. Help us in this moment in our movement to continue to choreograph a dance of holy resistance by making a gift to MFSA. Let’s dance!

In Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy;

Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck

Interim Executive Director

Justice-Seeking Mothers

December 13th, 2016

“Justice-Seeking Mothers”based on 1 Samuel 2:1-10 and Luke 1:46b-55

A sermon delivered to the First United Methodist Church of Schenectady, NY

December 11, 2016

Rev. Sara E. Baron

It has been said about Mary, “No woman in scripture is more honored, blessed as she was ‘above all women’ (Luke 1:42), and she holds an iconic status shared by no other woman in Christianity. Through the accounts of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke, Mary is one of the first biblical characters many children encounter. Along with Eve, Mary is integral to shaping how Christians understand the nature of womanhood and motherhood.”1 What is said is true.  Mary, along with Eve, has both shaped how women are understood in Christianity AND the inverse: perceptions of Mary (and Eve) are indicators of how Christianity is understanding women.  How Mary is seen is a bell-weather for how women are seen. Cary Gibson, the author of the opening quote, also says, “Mary is a container into which we pour ideas of what it means to be a woman. In turn we then draw from her image ideas about our own womanhood.”2

Most commonly, Mary is said to be meek and mild.  Usually, it is her subservience that sets her up as the ideal woman.  The pedestal of womanhood that Mary most frequently occupies as the ideal woman is the pedestal of the selfless mother, the one who exists simply so her son can exist.  She’s faithful, sweet, and biddable.  There is, however, one issue with this common perception Mary: it completely ignores the words of Mary found in the Gospel of Luke.  

Now, I’m not saying that I really think some literate scribe was following Mary around during her pregnancy to record her insights for posterity.  However, I am saying we have a rather long monologue attributed to Mary that defies the way she is most commonly defined. The meek and mild ideal does not match the actual Gospel.  The myths around her are more about what Christian women have been told to be than they are about the actual stories about and words of Mary.

Therefore, it seems worth exploring the words attributed to Mary.  Whether the words are what Mary said, or something Mary could have said, or simply what it made sense to someone that the Mother of Jesus WOULD have said, they are attributed to her.  Since the general perception of Mary is based on 20 centenaries of trying to put women in their place, and I’d prefer to get to know Mary as presented in the Gospel. It may be that we can take a look at Mary-the-ideal-woman and get a different answer about what it means to be an ideal woman.

For starters, these words are not meek, nor mild.  In fact, Cary Gibson says Mary, “voiced a defiant and righteous hope in the face of violence and injustice.”3  It is true.  These words express a HARDCORE faith and a great ideal for women to seek to live up to. :)  Men too.  This is the sort of faith we can all aspire to!

First of all, Mary’s song is deeply rooted in her faith tradition.  It echoes Hannah’s song of celebration after Hannah fulfilled her promise and brought her son Samuel to Eli to serve him as a priest. It also echoes with phrases from the Psalms.  The version of this song that we have is a work of theological and scriptural brilliance and sophistication.  Hannah’s song is powerful, but reflects a less mature faith.  Hannah yearns for God to smash the powerful, deride her enemies, and break the mighty.  In her mind the powerless are lifted up BY making the powerful small.  There is violence in her imagery, even as there is celebration of the goodness of God and of her sense of becoming more significant in the world.

Mary’s song, though, is not vengeful.  She also speaks of lifting up the poor and lonely.  Like Hannah she speaks about God’s power, but she also adds God’s mercy.  Mary speaks of lowering the mighty, but the lowering isn’t violent or dangerous for them:  the proud are “scattered in the thoughts of their hearts” which sounds like a way to be more humble; the powerful step down from their thrones (but she doesn’t suggest they’re harmed afterward); the rich are sent away empty – as if they don’t need any more.  Hannah had the the formerly “full”  “hire themselves out for bread.”  Mary is interested in lifting up the lowly and removing their oppression, not in oppressing the oppressors.  She is a actually meeker and milder than Hannah, Hannah’s is pretty rough.  Mary is simply less violent!

Hannah speaks of her victory, Mary speaks of being treated with God’s favor. While both are grateful for the child they are able to nurture, and while both express incredible gratitude to God and deep theological reflections, they have different energies.  The insertion of material from the Psalms into Hannah’s original poem changes it into a more gracious piece.  One scholar found that in addition to the source material of Hannah’s poem, the song of Mary includes 7 pieces of different Psalms, as well as a quote each from Deuteronomy, Job, Micah, and Isaiah.  By that scholar’s reckoning all of the words of Mary’s song are attributable to Hebrew Bible quotations.4

Mary’s song starts in the specific.  She is grateful to be useful to God, humbly aware of her status as a poor woman in her society, and attentive to the change of her status because of God’s favor.  She attributes her life change to God’s greatness, and she praises God. She expresses who God is: merciful, consistent, strong, and powerful.  She talks about a God who cares about the lowly, and feeds the hungry with GOOD food. Her song makes another journey outward, celebrating God’s care for all of the Jews and then attributing God’s care to God’s merciful nature and God’s promises.  She moves from celebrating God’s work for her, to celebrating God’s work for the vulnerable, to celebrating God’s work for all her people.  It is as if she is expanding her gratitude in increasingly wide circles.

While it is unlikely to be factual, this text suggests that Mary knew her scriptures well enough to combine them creatively into a truly beautiful and majestic song celebrating God WITHOUT demeaning anyone else.  It suggests that her humility was real, but it wasn’t a form of self-deprecation.  It says she was genuinely honored to be able to serve God and be useful in forming the world in God’s kindom of shalom.  She was delighted and amazed to be chosen.  She recognized the depth of the blessing she received, seemingly without thinking that it made her more important than others.  She said she was blessed, and was amazed that people would remember her as blessed. That indicates she didn’t think she’d done anything right or worthy, it was God’s choice not her worthiness that mattered.  Her gratitude was expansive and celebratory and still focused on lifting up the lowly and attentive to the hungry.  She kept her head!

The Mary of this song is wise, strong, compassionate, creative, humble, and grateful.  She knows and celebrates a God who is a fierce advocate of justice.  John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, in their book “The First Christmas” point out that each of the Gospels start with a “Gospel in miniature” (with the possible exception of Mark which starts at a gallop and just keeps going!).  Luke 1 and 2, which likely do NOT represent authentic memories of things that really happened, DO represent themes of the Gospel, understanding of Jesus, foreshadowing of things to come, and ways to see how God is known in the Gospel.  Luke pays particular attention to women – as we can see here where Mary gets a prolonged monologue – as well as to the poor and vulnerable.  We can also see that here in the words Mary speaks.  The writer of Luke, and/or the Christian tradition, and/or the editors who came later attribute these words to Mary largely to help those of us who came later to understand her son.

Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m disparaging Hannah’s song.  Her song is FIERCE and profound, and reflects an era one whole millennia before Mary’s.  Hannah, as well, sought justice.  She sought it for herself and she sought it for all of God’s people. She understood God to be one who cares about the poor, the hungry, the feeble, the barren, the low, and the needy.  That is a reflection of the unique tradition of Judaism, from a pretty early time.  Other ancient peoples believed in god and goddesses.  The Israelites were unique, however, in believing in a God who cared about how they treated each other, and in a God who cared about the people who had the least power and influence.  There is a constant tension in the Bible between this belief – in a God who cares for the poor and lowly – and the human tendency to prefer the rich and powerful.  Hannah reflects the God who cares for the poor and lowly without being pulled toward the rich and powerful at all.  Then Mary manages to take it a step further and acknowledge a God who cares for everyone. They sought justice, and believed in a God who wanted justice.  This is our radical tradition.  This is the wonder of worshiping a God of compassion.

Those sons of those women took their justice-seeking natures and their understandings of the God of Compassion, and changed the world.  We mostly know about the mothers because of the sons.  Samuel anointed kings.  Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, ate with sinners, and told parables that still confound us today.  Both sons changed the world.  Both mothers are presented as sources of wisdom for their sons.  Their stories are preludes to their sons stories, and yet I am so grateful that the Bible gives them voices and songs and stories! They are not ONLY vessels through which their sons come to be, they are interesting in their own right.

I do wish for all of us to be able to be a bit like these justice seeking mothers.  And if we are going to hold up Mary as the ideal, then I hope it takes the form of being moved to sing our  gratitude to God and celebrating the wonder of God’s good work in the world.  I hope we can become so steeped in our faith tradition that we can use it in creative ways that bring more caring, compassion, and justice to our tradition.  I hope that we can see and name the goodness of our lives without taking ourselves too seriously.  And I do hope that when push comes to shove we are more like Mary than like Hannah, and that we can hope for the transformation of oppressors – not the oppression of them.  I hope we too can always remember the people of God who are struggling the most, and find ways to help lift them up. I hope we can be part of our tradition that remembers God as a God of compassion for the least, the last, the lost and the lonely.  

If Mary is the ideal, and she seems to be well set up to be the ideal, then let’s seek to be like her:  fierce, grateful, and brilliant. Amen.

1 Cary Gibson, “Mary, Jesus’ Mother” in an email from The Common English Bible send by Abingdon Press on December 2nd, 2016.

2Ibid.

3Ibid.

4Joseph A. Fitzmeyer “The Gospel According to Luke I-IX” in the The Anchor Bible Series (Doubleday and Co.: Garden City, NY, 1981) p 356-357.

MFSA Statement on Recent US Election

November 22nd, 2016

Dear Justice Seekers,

For 109 years, MFSA has been a prophetic voice for justice-seeking people of faith in The United Methodist Church, in our nation and the world. We will continue to be that voice. We are a voice for peace with justice in Israel and Palestine. We are a voice working against racism and white privilege. We are a voice for reproductive health and justice. We are a voice for a healthy planet. We are a voice against colonialism, militarism, and misuse of power. We are a voice of inclusion for all God’s children, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We are a voice that welcomes our migrant neighbor. But most importantly, we are a voice at the crossroads where these concerns for justice intersect.

We believe the recent decisions made by President-elect Trump with respect to leadership in his administration speak against the very foundation of our justice seeking faith. We are alarmed. We believe these individuals have not shown the necessary skills for leadership and whose past words and actions have not represented the values of civilized society. As justice-seeking people of faith, we stand opposed to not only one individual, but the emerging pattern that President-elect Trump is building a cabinet founded on white supremacy, fear, and bigotry.

MFSA calls our church to expand its understanding of the radical call of the Gospel to be an inclusive, justice-seeking, risk-taking Body of Christ. We live out our belief that to be faithful witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be involved in the transformation of the social order. Therefore, we call The United Methodist Church, the Council of Bishops, congregations, and its members to join us in taking active steps to publicly “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”

Experiences of injustice do not happen in a vacuum, and therefore it is imperative to: develop the most effective strategies to create space for understanding privilege; organize in an intersectional framework led by marginalized communities; and build effective systems of resistance and cooperation to take action for justice. We invite you to join us in this work.

We invite United Methodist leadership including our bishops, clergy, and lay leaders to join us in signing the “Faith Leaders Call on Republican officials to reject Mr. Trump’s Cabinet of Bigotry” letter distributed by Faith in Public Life. You can find the link here: https://goo.gl/J9zXSx

We call on all Justice-Seeking People of Faith to join us by:

  • Contacting your legislators to express as a justice seeking person of faith your concern that the leadership of our nation must reflect justice for all people.
  • Speaking and working against the narrative that privileged communities are being oppressed when they are asked to acknowledge the ways their privilege perpetuates bias and injustice.
  • Committing to create opportunities for education and advocacy to publicly and actively resist white supremacy, white privilege, and implicit bias in your communities.

If you are so moved, we invite you to support the work of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, so we can continue to be a voice for justice for all people.

Seeking Justice Together,

The Staff and Board of Directors, Methodist Federation for Social Action

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