Posts Tagged ‘UMC’

MFSA Statement on Recent US Election

Tuesday, 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:

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

Weeping with Rachel

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

“Thus says YHWH: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and bitter weeping. Rachel, weeping for her children, refuses to be comforted, for her children are no more.”  

- Jeremiah 31:15 (The Inclusive Bible)

Beloved MFSA Family,

Our hearts mourn acts of violence committed against black and brown bodies; our prayers join Rachel’s, and we too cry out into the wilderness refusing to be comforted for our children are no more.

In recent days we are once again in anguish but, cannot and will not let ourselves be paralyzed by our fear and feelings of helplessness. This is a time when we are called to listen more, learn more and lead more. We recall and reaffirm our baptismal vows to “accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” We must continually live into our commitments and move to make justice ever more real in our own lives, congregations and communities.

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.  

“Racism is the combination of the power to dominate by one race over other races and a value system that assumes that the dominant race is innately superior to the others. Racism includes both personal and institutional racism. Personal racism is manifested through the individual expressions, attitudes, and/or behaviors that accept the assumptions of a racist value system and that maintain the benefits of this system. Institutional racism is the established social pattern that supports implicitly or explicitly the racist value system.” (Par 162.A 2012 Book of Discipline)

MFSA calls upon ourselves and our progressive partners, along with local churches, annual conferences, and all denominational bodies, to confess and condemn the sins of systemic and personal racism, and to engage in the hard work of repentance and reconciliation.  To assist in this, we recommend the resources and work of the General Commission on Religion and Race.

As an organization, MFSA will continue to educate our board and member leadership in anti-racism, bias, and white privilege. As we seek to increase racial diversity among decision-makers and prioritize anti-racism in our programs and ministry, we also will call The United Methodist Church, its general boards and agencies, and its leadership to join us in sacred change. In doing so, we hope to embody the beloved community to which Christ calls us.

The work for racial justice must go deeper than statements and endless pastoral letters. James Cone once said: “sympathy does not change the structures of injustice.” We invite you to partner with us in committing to listen more, learn more, and lead more. Linked here are resources to help you and your communities begin and continue to have conversations about race, racial justice, and white privilege as well as organizations committed to racial justice that you might consider partnering with locally.

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

A Moment of Personal Privilege

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

June 4, 2016

Moment of Personal Privilege

Iowa Annual Conference

Sisters and brothers in Christ, in covenant, in connection:

I have been a United Methodist almost my entire life.  When I was 4, my parents came to faith, and I was baptized in the United Methodist Church in De Ridder, LA.  I was baptized, confirmed, called, commissioned, and ordained into this church.  This has been my place of spiritual belonging, of vocational calling, my faith community, my faith home.  I do not want to, therefore, go.

But.  And.

I am a self-avowed, practicing homosexual.  Or, in my language, I am out, queer, partnered clergy.  I know this is not news to most, if any, of you.  But by simply speaking this truth to you, aloud, here, I could be brought up on charges, face a formal complaint.  I could lose my job, lose my clergy credentials, lose my space of spiritual belonging, of vocational calling, my faith community, my faith home.

I cannot begin to describe the persistent pain and weary wounded-ness of being raised in and called to a church that continues to call my being and my loving a chargeable offense, that continues to identify my being and my loving as incompatible with Christian teaching.  I do not know if it is faithful or just plain foolish of me to continue giving my prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness to a denomination that continues to call me and so many I love an abomination, an issue, a divisive distraction.  How can I be in honest study, prayer, and conversation within this connection when I am not, when we LGBTQ people are not, safe to speak the truth of our living, and our loving?

This institution is instilling in me and other LGBTQ people some horrible, harmful untruths.  That we are unloved, and unlovable.  That we are unworthy.  That we are incompatible, disordered, divisive.  That at our core, at the core of our created-ness, there is something shameful, sick, sinful.

That, friends, is incompatible with Christian teaching.  Allegiance and adherence to unjust laws in incompatible with Christian teaching.  Welcoming us and our ministry only if we hide, be quiet, and stay in the shadows is incompatible with Christian teaching.  Isolation and oppression are incompatible with Christian teaching.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” does not equal justice.  Silence does not equal support.

How can the hand say to the foot, Therefore go, I have no need of you?  How can the ear say to the eye, Therefore go, I have no need of you?

It’s time.  It’s so long past time.  The Spirit is calling, moving, inviting.  No more crumbs.  Stop the complaints, stop the charges, stop the prohibitions, stop the harm.  Justice delayed is justice denied.  Be the church.  Now.  Be the Body of Christ.  May it be so.


Rev. Anna Blaedel is an ordained elder in the Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church. A graduate of the University of Iowa, Pacific School of Religion, and a current doctoral student at Drew University, Anna serves as the campus minister/director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Iowa. She is a child of God, and #CalledOut.


An open letter to the UMC Council of Bishops

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has his foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – Bishop Desmond Tutu


Dear brothers and sisters of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church:

It is Advent on the calendar, but we look up from our holiday candles and all we see is a Good Friday world consumed by hate and violence, much of it in the name of our Christian religion. Though we are encouraged by what is contained within our Book of Resolutions, we long to hear a prophetic call to action from you, our leaders, regarding the current anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Last week we witnessed a new and frightening low in our nation’s ever more virulent prejudice against Muslims. On Monday, Donald Trump, the leading candidate in the Republican primary for the highest office in the land, called for a blanket exclusion of Muslims from entering the United States. That followed his earlier suggestion to close down Muslim houses of worship. Across the nation, many who call themselves Christian have voiced a menacing and violent intolerance of Muslims; Jerry Falwell’s call for Christians to carry guns so “then we could end those Muslims before they walked in” is but one instance.

On the same day that Donald Trump called for the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” news outlets reported the story of a sixth grade Muslim girl who was attacked by classmates on the playground and called “ISIS” as they tried to rip off her hijab. On Friday, a California mosque was firebombed during worship. Threats, harassment, vandalism, and violence against Muslim Americans are increasing at an alarming rate and are a daily reality for our Muslim siblings.

Yet the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church has not said a word to condemn them.

Numerous denominations, church bodies, and leaders have spoken out – from the National Council of Churches and the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ to the Southern Baptists. But to date the most prominent United Methodist voices in opposition to this religious oppression are… Hillary Clinton and Dick Cheney.

Like these individuals, members within your own Council have spoken out at this grave hour in our nation’s history. It is a travesty that the Council has not followed suit, and it begs the question of the very viability of this authoritative and priestly body of our beloved church.

When it comes to reinforcing the UMC’s prejudice and discrimination against LGBTQI people, our bishops have been quick to cite the Book of Discipline and solemnly intone the imperative of following it to the letter (for example, here and here). That same Discipline also asserts “the right of all religions and their adherents to freedom from legal, economic, and social discrimination” (¶ 162B). General Conference resolutions, which queer people and their allies are so often reminded are binding upon the church, have called for UMC “members and its leaders: [t]o oppose demagoguery, manipulation, and image making that seeks to label Arabs and Muslims in a negative way; [t]o counter stereotypical and bigoted statements made against Muslims and Islam, Arabs and Arabic culture… [t]o publicly denounce through statements from the Council of Bishops and the General Board of Church and Society current practices that discriminate against this community [emphasis added].”

Where are those statements from the Council of Bishops now when we need them most? We long to hear a word of prophetic exhortation from you, calling us to stand with our Muslim siblings!

Our sacred duty to welcome the stranger, defend the vulnerable, and stand with the oppressed are at the very core of our Christian faith. Yet demagogues daily denounce immigrants, Muslims, and refugees without a word of protest from the Council. When those denunciations come in the name of our own religion, the imperative to speak up is even greater. Ted Cruz’s bigotry against Muslim refugees comes wrapped in the lie that “there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” The grieving families of Robert Dear’s victims shot at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood would beg to differ. As would the Emanuel AME Church community in Charleston. (Not to mention 100+ years of terrorized Black communities in the South who saw thousands tortured, maimed, burned alive, dragged, and hanged by the Christian, churchgoing members of the KKK.)

But here, too, our Council of Bishops has been silent. Indeed, it pains us to say, but the Council has abdicated its role of a body of Christian leaders again and again. Where are the words of protest against the police killings of our Black children? Where is the outrage against the lethal epidemic of violence against transgender women of color? Where is the call to welcome Syrian refugees? Where is the defense of Latino and other immigrants? Where is the outcry against human rights abuses of Palestinians?

We implore the Council of Bishops belatedly to speak out and stand with those whom Jesus stands with.


– Rev. Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey and Dr. Dorothee E. Benz


Pamela R. Lightsey, PhD, is associate dean for community life and lifelong learning and a clinical assistant professor at Boston University School of Theology.


Dorothee E. Benz, PhD, is the national representative of Methodists in New Directions (MIND) and a delegate to the 2016 General Conference.

Behind the safe security of white privilege and stained-glass windows

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Indictments of killer cops like Ray Tensing who murder black men like Samuel Dubose don’t let the rest of us off the hook.

Last night I attended a discussion and showing of the film Selma at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. Given the recent news of police killing people of color like Dubose, I couldn’t help but draw parallels over the 1965 shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson.

For years, state trooper James Bonard Fowler claimed Jackson was reaching for his gun and the shooting was done in self-defense, but in 2010, 45 years later, the seventy-seven-year-old confessed to the murder. Historians believe that there would have been no march from Selma to Montgomery and less urgency for the Voting Rights Act had Jackson not been killed. It was the event that precipitated Bloody Sunday that woke white America’s conscience—bringing many to travel to Selma to add their bodies in solidarity against racism and white supremacy.

It made me wonder, what is it going to take today to move Americans, and specifically white people in this country, to take responsibility for what is happening? How many people of color have to be killed to stir us to outrage?

As a white man I know it is easy to compartmentalize oppression happening to others, only caring about it when I choose to. I don’t have to ever fear driving while white. If I do get pulled over, I have never once ever felt I was in danger of being shot. This is not the reality of many people of color in this country.

And it is easy for me to breathe relief when a bad officer gets indicted for one of these murders. It is good for my white conscience, but the words of Dr. King don’t let me off that easy. He says the killer “did not act alone.”

A state trooper pointed the gun, but he did not act alone.

He was murdered by the brutality of every sheriff who practices lawlessness in the name of law.

He was murdered by the irresponsibility of every politician, from governors on down, who has fed his constituents the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism.

He was murdered by the timidity of a federal government that can spend millions of dollars a day to keep troops in South Vietnam and cannot protect the rights of its own citizens seeking the right to vote.

He was murdered by the indifference of every white minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows.

And he was murdered by the cowardice of every person who passively accepts the evils of segregation and stands on the sidelines in the struggle for justice.

- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the funeral of Jimmie Lee Jackson, 1965

It’s never a lone wolf. Racism is a system that wraps its tentacles around me and all white people. When we see obvious white supremacy like Tensing or Fowler, I fear it leads more to progressive whites patting ourselves on the back rather than making us get off our ass and choose to place our bodies in solidarity with people of color who are literally targets.

Do you know the arrest and killing by police statistics of your community? Is it disproportionate by race? What are you doing to interrupt that? If we are indifferent, we are part of the problem.

Do you know local politicians whose rhetoric is directly or indirectly feeding racist hatred? What are you doing to interrupt that? If we are indifferent, we are part of the problem.

Do you know federal politicians who decry murder out of one side of their mouth while supporting the same act with drones all over the world? What are you doing to interrupt that? If we are indifferent, we are part of the problem.

Has your pastor or bishop remained silent on the murder of Samuel Debose and other people of color, perhaps behind the excuses of there being people on both sides of this issue in the pews or that we don’t know all the information yet? What are you doing to interrupt that? If we are indifferent, we are part of the problem.

MLK’s words haunt me because they call me to face the truth that these people are being murdered not by lone bigots, but by the cowardice of every person who passively accepts the evils of racism and white supremacy, and stands on the sidelines in the struggle for justice.

When I face this truth, I have no choice but to get off the sidelines. Will you join me and encourages others to do the same?



Rev. Andy Oliver is an elder from the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church, currently organizing in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area against racism and other forms of injustice. Contact or follow him on social media at

Photo Credit: Murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson by Jonathan Frost

A Tale of Two Baltimores

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

“I’ve never been on this side of North Avenue before.” –Penny Pingleton, from John Waters’ Hairspray

As I walked along North Avenue in Baltimore yesterday, I became painfully aware of the truth behind this statement. The reality is that Baltimore in 2015 isn’t much different than the Baltimore of the fiction 1960s. On one side of North Avenue, there is a cul-de-sac behind high, wrought iron fences, blossoming trees, lush green lawns, ample parking, and back porches with fine looking barbecue grills. Not more than thirty steps away, on the other side of North Avenue, stands a brutal building with no windows which serves as the Office of Student Records for the Baltimore City Public Schools. Surrounding this building is a housing development with about fifteen apartment buildings. In stark contrast to the homes across the street, these buildings are painted in drab brown, there are no trees, the ground is not well-manicured. In that moment, I recognized there are two Baltimores: the one that people of privilege – not unlike myself -see and experience, and the one that is experienced on a daily basis by the men, women, and children who live the reality of systemic oppression every single day.

Walking further along North Avenue, I realized it was difficult to tell what was boarded up because of looting and what is the norm. In the Sandtown neighborhood, a United Methodist clergy person explained that for years rowhouses where families live are connected to homes that are abandoned and boarded up.

In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander writes, “Poor people of color, like other Americans –indeed like nearly everyone around the world – want safe streets, peaceful communities, healthy families, good jobs, and meaningful opportunities to contribute to society.” This was echoed in the voice of a Lutheran pastor who said, “Just for the record, our children are not thugs or criminals…they are children who are without hope and need our help.”

At Pennsylvania Avenue AME Zion Church, bags of food were being handed out to those who sought assistance after stores were damaged or closed. Sure, it felt good to help out those in need: the elderly, families with young children, those with wheelchairs and walkers. But truth be told, many Baltimore residents needed this before Monday night and they will need this long after the media frenzy dies down. The same system of oppression that turns an eye to police violence is the same system of oppression that keeps poor black people economically marginalized and disenfranchised, while social safety nets disappear and larger budgets for prisons and militarized police forces loom on the horizon.

Baltimore is learning too well about militarized police forces. Outside City Hall there were busses and vans from the Maryland Department of Corrections ready to round up suspected criminals. The National Guard presence around City Hall and in other pockets of the city were a show of automatic weapons and institutional power against a people and a place that have known nothing but poverty and oppression. As Michelle Alexander continues, “Are we willing to demonize a population, declare a war against them, and then stand back and heap shame and contempt upon them for failing to behave like model citizens while under attack?” While Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake seems to misspeak and misstep, the clergy leaders in Baltimore have opened wide the doors of their churches, have walked the streets to talk with the people of their communities, and have literally fed the people. All without a national network media presence. All without an advance team. All without closed meetings. All without the help of the military. clearly, there are two Baltimores.

As a white male with privilege, I needed to see and hear it. My privilege of living in a society created for the prosperity of people who look like me; my privilege of not being called “angry” because of the color of my skin; my privilege of being asked for change and saying “sorry, I don’t have any cash on me” because I have a credit and debit card; my privilege of not having to worry about a police curfew in my own neighborhood – my privilege reminds me that I cannot ever believe I completely understand the experience of being black and poor and living in America (because if you think this is unique to Baltimore, think again). I can only listen and learn and seek greater justice, and be empowered to those tasks by a God who brings hope from despair, love from hate and ambivalence, and life from death.

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

PRESS RELEASE: Methodist LGBTQ leaders respond to General Conference Commission meeting

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

April 21, 2015
Contact: Chett Pritchett,
Amy DeLong,
M Barclay,

Methodist LGBTQ leaders respond to General Conference Commission meeting

April 21, 2105, Portland, OR – The General Commission on the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, the body organizing the church’s 2016 quadrennial governing meeting, General Conference, invited leaders from LGBTQ rights groups within the UMC to meet with it in closed session on April 20.

Following the meeting, the LGBTQ representatives – Dorothee Benz, Matt Berryman, Bridget Cabrera, Amy DeLong and Chett Pritchett – issued the following statement:

“The issue of whether the United Methodist Church will continue to discriminate against LGBTQ people is of paramount importance to the future and viability of the church, not to mention the well-being of queer people in and beyond the UMC. We are grateful for the commission’s invitation and the opportunity to be in ongoing conversation with them. We ask the commission to take concrete, affirmative steps to prevent the harm suffered by LGBTQ people at past General Conferences from recurring in 2016. Whatever the church’s theological differences, there can be no place for spiritual violence in the church of Jesus Christ.

We also request that the commission schedule the consideration of LGBTQ-related legislation at the very beginning of the plenary week in order for this discussion to receive adequate time.

Further, we insist that any attempt at “dialogue” or “holy conferencing” must begin with the explicit acknowledgement that in the context of discrimination and oppression true dialogue can never occur. Genuine dialogue requires equality, and in the UMC that equality does not exist. One party comes to these dialogues defined as less than the other party, and no amount of vocal wishing for us all to act as “brothers and sisters together” changes that.

We remain open to all discussions that contribute to the process of ending the oppression of queer people by the United Methodist Church, and we will continue to work tirelessly to bring about that day. We are committed to calling the UMC to its highest and best self.”

Dr. Dorothee Benz is the national representative for Methodists in New Directions; Matthew Berryman is the executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network; Bridget Cabrera is the deputy director of Reconciling Ministries Network; Rev. Amy DeLong is the founder of Love Prevails; and Chett Pritchett is the executive director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action.

Marching: Selma and Beyond

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Just over a week ago, I saw the exciting news about the Presbyterian Church – USA. The domination ratified an amendment allowing their clergy to officiate same sex weddings. The next morning, headlines were buzzing of the news. One article in The New York Times caught my attention for its acknowledgement of The United Methodist Church’s failure to change (and made the common and xenophobic error of blaming our African conferences for the resistance).

Just days later, on March 21st, I set out on a journey with Gender Benders, a group of awesome trans* organizers based in Greenville, SC.  We participated in a Walking Classroom sponsored by the U.S. National Parks Service along the 54 mile stretch of Highway 80 from Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.

For most the march I was at a loss for words, but never at a loss for thoughts. As a member of The United Methodist Church, I want my church to be a place of compassion, kindness, and peace with justice, truly creating a beloved community that Dr. King preached about 50 years ago. To reach this beloved community, the church must think more deeply about whether it invests its money in companies benefiting from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or harmful fossil fuels. The church must become dedicated to racial equity and ethnic justice. We cannot forget to listen to young people's voices. I and others must learn to step aside to make space for those across the world who speak truth of our church’s colonialist history. We persevere as members in this church and humans even when we are often erased, overlooked, and tossed aside because we are queer.

The last day of the march I wore an old half stole that I had turned into a bow tie. I marched with this bow tie, in my summertime Sunday best, to honor those who marched 50 years ago and to remember a commitment to justice, not just for me, but for everyone within my church. The marchers 50 years ago were witnessing for the right to vote. The marchers 50 years ago were marching to be recognized as children of God overflowing with worth, infinite, sacred worth.

50 years later, we march for the same underlying value, against both historical and contemporary oppression. I marched to remember those who came before. My strength arose from my resilience, determination, and hope for my church. I march for those my church has colonized, for those my church tries to erase, for the voices of young people often ignored, and for the way we invest our church’s money.

As I step into Holy Week, I renew my commitment to movements like MFSA because God, our source, demands the church move against injustice and for the oppressed.  I renew my commitment to act as a nonviolent witness like Jesus whose love for the least and the last and resistance to an oppressive system led him all the way to the cross.  I renew my vow to pray daily for justice because only by the power of Holy Spirit can we ourselves, our church, and our world truly become a beloved community.

May it be so.


Joey Lopez lives in Asheville, NC and works for the Campaign for Southern Equality as a Community Organizer through the Tzedek Social Justice Residency. Personal experiences with intersecting identities shape Joey’s commitment to educational, economic, racial, ethnic and queer justice both inside and outside communities of faith. Joey is also a member of MFSA’s Board of Directors.


A Better Way Forward: A Short Response to “A Way Forward”

Monday, January 26th, 2015

On Saturday, November 22, 2014 the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church held “A Day of Holy Conversation on Sexuality in the United Methodist Church.”  Facilitated by the Common Table for Church Vitality, we discussed this question: “In light of concerns being expressed in different areas of the connection of The United Methodist Church and in society as a whole regarding human sexuality, how can we move forward in mission and ministry together?”  The Common Table invited representatives to speak from three key perspectives in the church: progressive, traditionalist, and centrist.   No doubt these labels are questionable and far too simplistic but they each represent a sizable and vocal constituency.   Without going into a detailed description of the proceedings, I want to offer a critique of the centrist “solution” and give more definition to a progressive “solution” that I hope will also appeal centrists and some conservatives.  The speakers representing the centrist position suggested something like the solution proposed in the document “A Way Forward.”  This document has been signed by over by over 2600 United Methodists.  As I read the document I found much to affirm, but there are serious flaws that I think would exacerbate divisions in our church.   Let me begin with what I affirm.

First of all, I’m grateful to the writers and signers of “A Way Forward” for rejecting a proposal for an “amicable separation” of the denomination and for offering an alternative.  The authors and signers speak up for the vast majority of United Methodists who reject schism.  Second, the authors affirm that the local church is the primary place of mission and ministry—I do too.  Third, I appreciate the humility of the authors.  They recognize that the “proposal is, at this point, merely conceptual. There are many questions that must be answered and many details to be worked out.”  Lastly, I affirm the last section about what unites us as United Methodists. 

Now I want to highlight what I think are the key flaws in the proposal.  I thought I was going to have to write a lengthy analysis but I found that others have done that better than I could.   Blogs written by David F. Watson, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio and Bill T. Arnold, Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary show clearly how the proposal undermines the connectional structure that has been a hallmark of United Methodism.   I think they also effectively show that “A Way Forward” ironically makes schism more likely.  David F. Watson writes:  “It’s not at all clear that this proposal will actually preserve our unity. Dividing up between annual conferences and congregations that accept gay and lesbian marriage and ordination and those that do not seems to be a step toward division, rather than away from it.”   Rather than quote them at length, I encourage you to read both blogs—they are not very long.  

Besides making schism more likely, there is another key problem with “A Way Forward”:  it maintains the derogatory language and discriminatory policies in the Book of Discipline.  For a local congregation to override these statements, it would require “request from the senior pastor and a supermajority vote of the members of the congregation after a process of prayer, study and discernment.”   This is a high bar indeed.  Suppose the congregation no longer wants to discriminate against same-sex couples but the pastor does: too bad.  Or it could be the other way around.   These negotiations would once again push the battles of general conference back into the local church.   And, there is no mechanism in “A Way Forward” for pastors to offer their pastoral services to same-sex couples unless their congregation has agreed to change the policy.   This will lead to more costly and counterproductive trials as increasing numbers of clergy refuse to discriminate.

As I believe “A Way Forward” is in actuality a path toward schism, what am I proposing as an alternative?    I believe our sister church, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, provides a good model for us. 

First of all, their statement is grounded in their theology.  It is 37 pages long, not counting the addendums.  It openly acknowledges differences among them on same-sex relationships but treats the different viewpoints respectfully.   On page 20, it outlines four different positions on same-sex relationships.  Each one begins with this phrase “On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced . . . .”   What a wonderful way to show respect for other positions.  We recognize that those with other convictions are operating in good faith and good conscience.   Lastly, there are no derogatory statements about same-sex relationships and no discriminatory and punitive policies.  So, what I am proposing is 1) a recognition that we are divided in our beliefs, 2) a commitment to respect the beliefs of others recognizing that they are “conscience-bound beliefs” and 3) we remove from The Book of Discipline the derogatory “incompatibility” statement, the discriminatory policies regarding ordination and marriage, and affirm that pastors are free (but not required) to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Finally, I think those who identify as “liberals/progressives,” as “moderates/centrists,” and as “conservatives/traditonalists,” all need to repent.   We are all complicit in an institution that has hurt and alienated LGBTQ persons, that has denied and rejected their gifts and graces, and that has slowed the progress of their civil rights.  There is no room for gloating—all are complicit by action and inaction. The way forward will be a way of repentance and will look a lot more like the “Truth and Reconciliation” process that is being used in the Michigan Area than allowing congregations and conferences to “do their own thing” as proposed in “A Way Forward.”   The “Truth and Reconciliation” process would bring hope for genuine repentance as we listen to the stories of LGBTQ persons and hear how our church’s statements and policies have affected them. 

So, what are the strengths of this “solution”?

1)     It promotes unity.  Local congregations and conferences will not need to take sides or vote in what would be deeply divisive decisions.   Clergy and laity are free to hold and express different views on same-sex relationships as long as they show respect for other positions.   Pastors are free to determine whether they can, in good conscience, officiate at same-sex marriages.  I would hope that pastors with conscience-bound convictions against same-sex marriage could refer same-sex couples to pastors with conscience-bound convictions that affirm same-sex marriages, but that would be their decision.

2)    It is simple.   Rather than kicking the can farther down the road with piecemeal changes to The Book of Discipline, it simply removes the derogatory “incompatibility” statement and the discriminatory policies regarding ordination and marriage.  In many ways The Book of Discipline would be silent on these issues like it was before we added the hurtful language and policies in 1972. But, it does require us to acknowledge that we are divided in our beliefs regarding same-sex relationships and to respect the convictions of others. 

3)    This proposal will eliminate the divisive, costly, embarrassing, and counterproductive trials of clergy officiating at same-sex marriages.   Our church’s attitudes and policies toward LGBTQ persons have hampered its ministry to and with young adults.  Research conducted by the pro-Christian Barna Group in 2007 on Americans age 16-29 found that “anti-homosexual” was the dominant perception of modern Christians. Ninety-one percent of non-Christians and 80 percent of Christians in this group used this word to describe Christians.”  Trials of clergy who provide pastoral services to same-sex couples makes the church look vindictive and punitive.  These trials directly undermine our public relations campaign of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors: the people of the United Methodist Church.”

4)    There are no winners or losers.   When I signed on to “An Altar for All,” along with many others, I made this confession:  “We repent that it has taken us so long to act. We acknowledge our complicity in the church’s discriminatory policies that have tarnished the witness of the Church to the world. We value our covenant relationships and ask everyone to hold the divided community of The United Methodist Church in prayer.”  We are all complicit—no one is without sin.  Few of us share exactly the same position on these issues.  If we are disciples we are constantly searching the scriptures and searching our hearts to hear how God is guiding us through the Holy Spirit.   This “solution” does not require us to fit into some prescribed box or to adhere to one position.   Let us show charity to one another and offer the hand of fellowship remembering Wesley’s words: “’If your heart is as my heart,’ if you love God and all [humankind], I ask no more: ‘give me your hand.’”

Like “A Way Forward,” I acknowledge that my “proposal is, at this point, merely conceptual. There are many questions that must be answered and many details to be worked out.”   At the same time, I think it is much simpler and much more conducive to the unity that “A Way Forward” seeks.

I invite those readers who find this approach persuasive or helpful to sign the linked petition that will go to The Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops.



John D. Copenhaver, Professor Emeritus of Religion and Philosophy at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia. He is a member of the Virginia Chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action and a board member of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. You can email him at

A Just Resolution is Still Unjust

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Last night, on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, the terms of a just resolution were released in the complaint filed against Bishop Melvin Talbert for officiating the wedding of Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw in Birmingham, Alabama in October 2013.

Photo by Laura Rossbert, Reconciling Ministries Network

In many ways, the announcement of just resolution from the College of Bishops in the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church is a recognition of Divine presence throughout the complaint process.  I’m thankful for the faithfulness of all who were part of this resolution – and for those of us who will continue to be part of helping this resolution come to fulfillment. It seems fitting this would take place on Epiphany, which traditionally marks the end of the Christmas season and in many faith communities it is expressed through the arrival of the Magi bearing gifts, marking the recognition of the Divine in our midst.

The just resolution process placed within our Book of Discipline – for bishops, as well as for clergy and laity – was developed as a way to seek out honest conversation, wholeness, and restoration. Indeed, it is intended to be an alternative to a punitive trial system which mirrors the American legal courts. Just resolution has been used in many contexts including schools, legal cases, and in many recent church complaints.  Our Book of Discipline sets just resolution as the hoped for goal of any complaint that is filed for violation of the Discipline. I celebrate on this day of Epiphany that our church law is one of grace and wholeness.

Unfortunately, this same Discipline which provides grace and wholeness causes pain and harm in the first place. The Council of Bishops would never had the need to file a complaint against Bishop Talbert if a ban against officiating at same-sex weddings were not in place. And this ban stems directly from our Discipline’s famed incompatibility clause (¶161.F).

While it is important to celebrate this just resolution as a way forward, both the complaint and the need for just resolution in complaints regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) persons and those in ministry with these persons, are inherently unjust from their genesis. Bishop Talbert, drawing from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Augustine, has made this abundantly clear in his articulation of the concept of Biblical Obedience: “an unjust law is no law at all.” I hold the same to be true: that an unjust resolution is really no resolution either because the unjust law – anti-LGBTQ language in the Book of Discipline – still exists.

I pray for the Council of Bishops as they work alongside Bishop Talbert to bring life to the terms of the just resolution.

I pray that all of the bishops might encourage the work of the Council of Bishops Task Force on Accountability and Task Force on Human Sexuality, Race and Gender in a Worldwide Perspective to understand the pain The United Methodist Church has caused to LGBTQ persons, their families, and friends in every corner of the world.

I pray that all members of the Council of Bishops will seek “to actively pursue sustained theological conversation especially around human sexuality, race and gender in a worldwide church.” Ending the deafening silence from the Council of Bishops, as a body, surrounding the injustices of racism, white privilege, and police violence in America and around the world, could be one step in exploring the intersection of injustice.

I pray for the Council of Bishops and all individual bishops to “make use of the teaching role of the bishop through preaching, teaching, writing and theological conversation to continue to address our differences and to work for unity in diversity.”

I pray that the Council of Bishops consider options in addition to the complaint process to address differences that “reflect our Wesleyan heritage, and acknowledge that ways of resolving disagreements within a community of faith should be distinct from those of a civil judicial process.”

I pray for the day when our Council of Bishops, as a whole, as well as individual episcopal leaders, do not have incompatibility clauses to uphold.

I pray for those delegates selected by Annual Conferences to be seated at General Conference. I pray they realize how much power they have to change our Discipline and our Church. I pray they recognize the Holy Spirit in their midst. I pray they know how much their lives are intertwined with mine.

It pains me that the Council of Bishops must spend their time on this injustice and not collectively speak a prophetic word to the brokenness of our immigration system, climate change, our Church’s complicity in the occupation of Palestine, and issues of police violence and white privilege. It pains me that our best leaders are not able to be effective pastoral shepherds and witnesses to Christ’s love and grace because of time lost to administrative duties created in the upholding of unjust laws.

So when I say ‘pray,’ it means more than words. It means action.

Won’t you pray with me to work so that a ‘just resolution’ can become a resolve for justice?


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


Photo by Laura Rossbert, Reconciling Ministries Network

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