Posts Tagged ‘change’

In This Moment…

Monday, 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
 

 

Statement on Commission on a Way Forward and Recent Judicial Council Rulings

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016
November 1, 2016
 
Beloved Justice Seekers,
 
From our earliest days, we 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 that use a call for unity as a veil for discrimination.
 
“As a queer layperson of color in The United Methodist Church I am disheartened by the choices of our bishops and judicial council. However, the liberation of LGBTQ people in the church and the world will not come from an institution that has strived to erase the existence of our lives and experiences. Our liberation will come from building relationships in our local communities, our resilience to continue to exist in the church when we are told the Church’s table is not large enough, and when we harness our collective power to resist the sin and temptation to oppress others. As queer people in the church, we must hold on to our love for God. We must also hold on to the ways we have learned to love ourselves, despite church teachings, so that we can better love – in word and deed – our neighbor.”  — Joseph Lopez, MFSA Board of Directors
 
“I feel betrayed by those who committed to seeking a way forward but have offered business as usual. The imbalance of power represented on the commission will uphold the status quo. We cannot continue to say we want a way forward when we are willing to leave so many behind, even in the formation of our Commission. This reflects our broader institutional practice of trampling underfoot the same people that oppressive powers trample. The ways of exclusion and silencing are not God’s ways. How will we be different? From the bottom up, we have to reclaim the faith that listens for God in the places where the powers say it cannot be, and dare to be transformed by what we hear. Our witness is the most powerful thing that we have as people of faith. Let us use this witness to change our present reality to more fully reflect God’s kin-dom.” — Rev. Elyse Ambrose, MFSA Board of Directors and UMC Queer Clergy
 
We call justice-seeking people of faith…

  • To pray for those on the commission, especially the LGBTQ persons that have made themselves known and for those who have not, whatever their reasons.
  • To pray and be in solidarity with Boards of Ordained Ministry and Annual Conferences that are faithfully pursuing non-conformity with any policies that stand in the way of love. 
  • To challenge your bishop and church leadership to uphold and continue the commissioning and ordaining of openly LGBTQ clergy, and the support of openly LGBTQ lay leadership.
  • To step out in faith and advocate for LGBTQ people in your communities. There is an increased attack on the lived equality of LGBTQ people by state governments throughout the U.S. These laws create a culture that have contributed to the death of more than 20 transgender people of color this year alone.
  • To connect and build deeper relationships within your own faith community. The work of reconciliation must begin within ourselves and our own communities first. 

We call on the Council of Bishops…

  • To live into their prophetic call. It is long past time to claim the sacred worth of LGBTQ people and our families by advocating for our full protection in the communities in which we live.
  • To be vulnerable within your own context. For such a time as this, we need you to boldly express your support and pastoral care for LGBTQ people. What you say or don’t say matters. LGBTQ people need you to be our pastors, too. 
  • To lead the church in our baptismal call to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever form it presents itself – by naming the harm of erasure and exclusion that is done through legislated discrimination woven into the very fabric of our polity.
  • To commission, ordain, and appoint openly LGBTQ clergy. 

In the words of Mark Miller, “No matter what the church says…” as justice-seeking United Methodists, it is our courage in faithfully living out our gospel commission to love God and our neighbor by seeking sacred change and breaking boundaries that we will find a way forward boldly proclaiming…you are a “child of God.”

 
May it be so,
The Staff and Board of Directors
Methodist Federation for Social Action

Moving. Forward. (a final reflection)

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Moving.  Forward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change as a Fact & Goal (a final reflection)

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

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

Reconciling Methodists from many places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Preparing Our UMC for Pentecost!

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

The next two weeks are going to be a critical time for The United Methodist Church.  The Connectional Table (CT), called to bring together all of our connectional ministries, will meet in Chicago next week.  I like to envision them meeting at a large round table in Camelot, attempting to bring all of our worldwide ministries together. The General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA), the money folk and current drivers of so much of our agenda as a denomination, will be meeting May 2 to 3.  If you don’t believe me when I say that money is driving ministry, “at the 2008 General Conference, a Petition (#81071) ‘General Church Support’ was referred to GCFA to form a study group, in conjunction with the CT, to explore alternative structures for the apportioned general funds of the UMC.” The result was the CT investing a half million dollars and two years on re-structuring… and the restructuring debacle of General Conference (GC) 2012 was born!  Finally, the active Bishops will be holding a closed door, “private meeting” in San Diego on May 5 to 8.  They are doing this even though several of us who asked to be present at the Council of Bishop’s (COB) meeting in November were informed that it was “a retreat meeting – and it is closed to ANYONE other than bishops and their spouses.”  However, we were reassured “the next open meeting of the COB will be in San Diego in May of 2013.”  I guess our Bishops either need more retreat time, or they are weary of growing criticisms and imagined that a closed door session might instill more trust.  (Just a reminder for all you Methogeeks out there: Paragraph 722 of the 2012 Book of Discipline says that “in the spirit of openness and accountability, all meetings of councils… of the Church at all levels of the church… shall be open”).

 The next two weeks are formational preparations times for these three key leadership groups. They will be focusing on how to lead the UMC through what appears to be four of the most crucial years in United Methodism’s short 45 year history.  What are we facing? Financial ruin, societal irrelevance and a dying colonialist institution in a post-colonialist world – interconnected pieces of the global United Methodist puzzle! 

Here are five things impacting current discussions that every United Methodist should know:

1)      Approximately 33,750 US UM Churches will be asked to pay around $4,500/year (through 2016) in apportioned funds, to support our worldwide, connectional ministries.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that’s what your individual congregation’s apportionment will look like.  There is a complex formula that GCFA uses to determine the amount of apportioned dollars for which each Annual Conference is responsible.  That apportioned formula (on pages 42-45) is online.

2)      Another interesting fact about apportionments is that your congregation’s apportionments are impacted by “per capita income for the counties that comprise the conference’s geographic area” and “by adding (1) local church clergy expenses, (2) local church current operating expenses, and (3) payments toward budgeted annual conference costs (excluding general Church apportionments).”  In other words, if your Annual Conference is in a more affluent region, your apportionments will be slightly higher.  My question for GCFA is this: does this explain why per capita giving is slightly higher than average in the Western, North Central and Northeastern Jurisdictions (40% of the US UMC) as opposed to the slightly lower than average per capita giving of the Southeastern and South Central Jurisdictions (60% of the US UMC)?

3)      Last financial fact: Central Conferences (Europe, Africa and the Philippines; representing 33% of the UMC membership worldwide) do not pay apportionments (except for 10% of their Episcopal Fund – all costs associated with their Bishops).  This means Central Conferences contribute little more than $2.25 million of the annual apportioned total of over $150 million.

4)      The United Methodist Church is declining or stagnate in all Jurisdictions in the US.  For the first time, in 2005 – 2008, we saw a decline in Central Conferences.  However, the Central Conference decline can be explained by regional difficulties and is expected to revert to a growth pattern. In fact, the Central Conferences are expected to represent 40% of the worldwide UMC by 2016.  Also, note that Annual Conferences of Central Conference do not have to do things the same way as US Annual Conferences. They have a constitutional right “to make such rules and regulations for the administration of the work within their boundaries including such changes and adaptations of the General Discipline as the conditions in the respective areas may require, subject to the powers that have been or shall be vested in the General Conference” (UM Book of Discipline ¶31.Article IV.5).

5)      Three of our five US Jurisdictions are currently studying how they are and will continue to relate to the overall denomination given the reality that they do not have similar freedoms and latitude as the Central Conferences.  Yes, this has much to do with differences in faithful understandings around some heated social issues, but for many who have raised the need for study, this has as much to do with their understanding of being faithful United Methodists and being relevant to the congregations and communities they serve.  Some fear this to be the precursor to a denominational schism along Jurisdictional lines.  I don’t believe such an action will, or even should, happen!  However, unless our highly politicized and divided denomination finds some way to compromise, the continued decline of the UMC in the US, the perceived irrelevance among younger US citizens, and, the rapid movement toward financial ruin is all but inevitable.

I was so grateful to find some hope this week.  I found hope within the documents of something I’ve been highly skeptical and critical: the “Vital Congregations” movement within the UMC.  The document is called, “Toward Vitality Research Project: Final Report” (TVRP) and I encourage you to read it with an open heart and mind!  The team interviewing congregations that had gone through a process of change that they felt led them to more vitality in ministry (not quantitative – numbers, but quality – ministries), found something interesting. “Often congregational leaders who related this experience of change were unable to verbalize what happened. In listening to these stories over and over again, the interview team affirmed that the Holy Spirit had descended on these congregations… The three strands (Eccl. 4:12) that seem to be universal in all the interviews… conducted across all lines of diversity are (1) a clergy leader who is not afraid of change, (2) laypeople in leadership who partner with the clergy leader, and (3) a sense of God’s vision/purpose to fuel mission and ministry. When these three factors work well together, a vital and enthusiastic ministry is the outcome!”  I’d invite our Bishops to see themselves as the clergy of their Annual Conference congregations!

As I read through this TVRP report, I couldn’t help but imagine all three of these important meetings taking place over the next two weeks.  Everyone worried about what will be the fate of our beloved UMC.  Some even behind closed doors in some private (maybe upper) room.  Everyone wants to find a way to save what we perceive we had, even though there is no way to revive what was.  Instead, we might allow the Ruach, the Holy presence of God to blow through us, so we can start facing the real changes that need to occur to make our people want to be a part of the new thing we are doing.  Then we might find support for our connectional work by everyone’s prayers, presence, gifts, witness and service.

Rather than trying to control the outcome and force something that causes the UMC as an institution to implode; “This new understanding commonly involved a decentering of the ministry. Instead of focusing on the pastor, the ministry was focused on the calls and the gifts of the people in the church, with the pastor working to emphasize empowerment, rather than detailed, hands-on leadership… The role of the pastor in these churches was to communicate the need for change and the methods of change, exercise authority where needed, and resolve conflicts that could not be resolved otherwise.  For many, this is a new—or perhaps rediscovered—paradigm for what it means to be a church.”

Come on CT, CGFA and Bishops – be those pastoral leaders, don’t try to control the Church, but don’t be afraid to challenge us –really challenge us – either.  The fate of the UMC is not in your hands, so let the Spirit flow freely and then invite us ALL in to help create this new and Spirit filled United Methodist Church!  We’re waiting… see you in two weeks… travel well and know that our hearts and prayers are with you!  With Love, The Church!
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Rev. Steve Clunn serves as the Coalition Coordinator for the Methodist Federation for Social Action. Clergy in the Upper New York Annual Conference, Steve's work at MFSA focuses on coordinating United Methodist caucus groups in their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in the life of the Church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of Bi-National Couple Courtesy of JeeHye Kim Pak. Copyright 2013. Used with permission.

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