Posts Tagged ‘united methodist church’

Being the Good Samaritan Isn’t Enough

Tuesday, 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.

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

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

The FDA and The UMC

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

This week's announcement that the Food and Drug Administration had lifted the ban against gay and bisexual men from donating blood lit up my Facebook feed. For over 30 years, this ban has kept millions of men (and a good number of women) from donating blood which had the potential to be life-saving in emergencies and natural disasters. But with this recent announcement, thousands of gay and bisexual men should be receiving their One Gallon Pin within just a few short years, right? Wrong.

The news from the FDA has a flaw. Men can only donate if it has been longer than a year since their last sexual activity with another man.

It seems the FDA has marked as asterisk in their policy with a footnote that states “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” shall not be appointed to donate blood. It’s ironic, isn't it, that in the age of marriage equality, two men married under the eyes of the law aren't eligible to give blood until they have stopped having a healthy sex life for at least a year? Or that a woman married to a bisexual man will still have to wait a year after the last known same-sex encounter of her husband? I'm not even sure how the FDA would begin to address transgender and genderqueer persons in this policy. It might just blow their minds too much.

A friend who was teaching at a large university a few years ago attempted to give blood and when he was refused the opportunity, he adamantly stated this was against the university’s non-discrimination policy. Unfortunately, neither the American Red Cross nor his employer thought so. His teaching contract was not renewed. Now, it seems, the flawed FDA policy is only a little better than before.

Let’s be honest. This is the same place we find The United Methodist Church. For years, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) persons have heard the call to ministry in our congregations and campus ministries, and then they have struggled through seminary coursework and the ordination process. They have needed to stay silent, leave certain boxes unchecked, or simply faded away from the ordination process – and in some cases, the Church – because of flawed policies surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity. And when they dare to question policies, they are marked as troublemakers, denied access to pulpits, and, in some cases, defrocked. Even as we review the multiple different proposals which seek church unity, we recognize these proposals are written on the backs LGBTQ United Methodists.

These same imperfect policies, like those lifting of the FDA ban of the blood of same-gender loving persons, might be a baby step into the realm of full inclusion, so let’s call them what they are: baby-steps. As these discussions open The United Methodist Church to forward movement and possibility, they are not, and cannot be confused with, acts of full justice. To do so, would be nothing more than accepting flawed policies in lieu of life abundant.

May the FDA and the UMC recognize the folly in their policies, both enacted and proposed.  And may we, the people, continue to hold decision makers accountable for these flawed policies and practices.

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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.

Cruciformity: Searching for a Consistent Ethic of Life

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Abortion is one of the most contentiously debated issues in the current American political climate, particularly as legislatures around the nation continue proposing restrictions on reproductive health access.

In Christ’s universal church, there is no shortage of debates, public forums, caucus groups, ecclesial statements, sermons, and religious literature pertaining to abortion, human sexuality, the beginning of human life, and reproductive justice. The United Methodist Church’s struggle to present a compassionate and grace filled approach to conversations about homosexuality and church polity is indicative of our inability to cultivate healthy, respectful, and theologically dense review of deeply held values. I believe we experience the same challenge with regard to sexual health and reproductive justice.

Recently, Bishop Kenneth Carter preached at the Lifewatch Sanctity of Life Service calling for a deep inclusion in the church that extends inclusion to unborn children. He also suggests that there is theological chaos in our polarized church due to partisan politics. I, however, contend that there is theological clarity among ranks of clergy and laity across the church regarding cruciform ministry and pertinent social issues.

I yearn for a United Methodist Church that is deeply inclusive of persons whose lives are neglected, shamed, forgotten, at risk, and near the point of death. As a minister of the gospel of Jesus the Christ, I believe that a cruciform ethic (imitating the spirit and model of the crucified Christ) is important in difficult considerations of human life and sexuality.

In my ministry, I counsel current and would-be mothers whose lives are at risk due to pregnancy complications, times when legal access to safe and compassionate abortion care is critically needed for their long term healing. Sadly, too, there are young women in our neighborhoods whose lives are traumatized everyday by rape, incest, and abuse. Theological clarity about the cruciform ministry of Jesus the Christ affords me and many others a model for contextual ministry that is full of grace, compassion, mercy, and justice. Cruciform posture extends to my public advocacy so that comprehensive sexual education and legal access to safe reproductive services and contraception are available in our communities.

Cruciform ministry has at its heart the pouring out of one’s self for the world. Cruciform posture recognizes that complications in a pregnancy can jeopardize a woman’s ability to continue to live as a mother and spouse. It seeks an ethic of life, healing, and wholeness where there are no clear answers and suffering already abounds. I yearn for a church where cruciform posture and inclusion abound. An ethic of hospitality, healing, life, and wholeness certainly does not end with sexuality and reproductive justice. It extends to any and all who occupy space on the edges: immigrants, prisoners of war, inmates, and day laborers.

A thoroughly consistent ethic of life, which Bishop Carter encourages, means the church can no longer abdicate its responsibility to advocate for the comprehensive health of all men and women, and the legal mechanisms through which to seek health and wholeness, no matter a person’s gender, economic status, or sexual orientation; cruciformity recognizes that inhumane work conditions that drive materialism and the cogs of consumerism in American industry and around the world compromise the vitality of human life; cruciformity leads us to care for the stranger who crosses the border in the desert heat; cruciformity calls for Christ’s church and its people to publicly repent of the sin of war couched in the fight against terrorism; lastly, it calls for an immediate end to the utilization of the death penalty as a tool of justice.

Rev. Adam Kelchner is the Pastor of Mission and Outreach at Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN. He is a student of post-Holocaust theology, an avid cyclist, and engaged to be married in 2014.
 

PRESS RELEASE: Schaefer Defrocked, UMC Inflicts More Pain on LGBTQ Members

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – December 19, 2013 – Thirty days following the penalty handed down by a trial court in the Eastern Pennsylvania (regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church, Rev. Frank Schaefer has been defrocked by the Board of Ordained Ministry of that same Conference. Schaefer was found guilty in a church trial this past November of celebrating the wedding of his son, Tim, and another man more than five years ago. Schafer was instructed to report if he would uphold church doctrine and not officiate at future same-gender unions. In a press conference on Tuesday, Schaefer made clear his intention to continue his ministry and not voluntarily surrender his clergy credentials.

“Today is a sad day in the life of The United Methodist Church,” states Chett Pritchett, executive director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA). “In these Advent days, we hear about God’s love made incarnate and God delighting in justice and joy, yet in stark contrast The United Methodist Church continues to say to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people and those who are in ministry with them that injustice rules the day.”

Beginning in 1972, the United Methodist Book of Discipline has included discriminatory language against gay and lesbian persons. Discrimination was further codified with an ordination ban in 1984 and a union/marriage ban in 1996. For over 40 years, MFSA has worked with a growing coalition of organizations seeking to overturn such discriminatory policies and work for justice within The United Methodist Church.

“This action by both the trial court and the Board of Ordained Ministry is indicative of the deep pain caused by the discriminatory language in our Book of Discipline, the homophobia and heterosexism that is pervasive in our Church, and the inability of church leaders to lead from their hearts and embrace the fullness of Christ’s charge to ‘love one another,’” Pritchett states. “True leadership requires willingness to be vulnerable and seek a way forward that encourages vital ministry with those who find themselves on the margins of the Church without engaging in acts of retribution. Church trials accomplish nothing but perpetuation of pain inflicted on LGBTQ people and those who minister with them. It’s time to stop the trials!”

Since 1907, the Methodist Federation for Social Action has worked to mobilize, lead, and sustain a progressive movement, energizing people to be agents of God’s justice, peace, and reconciliation. As an independent, faith-based organization, MFSA leads both Church and society on issues of peace, poverty, people’s rights, progressive issues, and justice within The United Methodist Church.

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United Methodist Council of Bishops Statement is ‘Questionable, Harmful, and Life-less’

Friday, November 15th, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – November 15, 2013 – The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops has spoken. They wish to charge one of their own for being obedient to scripture and the vows he took at baptism, confirmation, ordination, and at his consecration as a bishop.

In a statement read this morning by Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. of the Oklahoma Episcopal Area, the Council of Bishops requested that Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the Council, and Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett of the North Alabama Conference file a complaint regarding Bishop Melvin Talbert’s action, for “undermining the ministry of a colleague and conducting a ceremony to celebrate the marriage of a same gender couple.”  Talbert officiated at the blessing of marriage of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince in Birmingham, Alabama in late October. The ceremony did not take place in a United Methodist Church, but many United Methodist clergy and laity were present to celebrate the marriage of the couple. In doing so, Bishop Talbert provided pastoral care to a couple with whom he was acquainted by celebrating the love of God present in their relationship.  Such pastoral care was an extension of Bishop Talbert’s obedience to Scripture and the covenants he previously affirmed.

The Council of Bishops has asked that the complaint be filed in Bishop Talbert’s home area, the Western Jurisdiction.  But in July 2012, the Western Jurisdictional Conference went on record stating they support the concept of Biblical Obedience:  “We commend to our bishops, clergy, local churches and ministry settings, the challenge to operate as if the statement in Para. 161F (“homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”) does not exist, creating a church where all people are truly welcome.”

“The Council of Bishops statement raises some very important questions,” states Rev. Steve Clunn, Love Your Neighbor Coalition Coordinator. “How did Bishop Talbert undermine the authority of Bishop Wallace-Padgett? Did she engage in acts of pastoral care to Openshaw and Prince? Was the Bishop allowing clergy under her care to extend acts of grace and compassion to longtime church members? Or, is the complaint only about Bishop Talbert not heeding a request to ignore the pastoral care of members within the bounds of the region in which Bishop Wallace-Padgett presides?” 

“The idea of forcing a region of the Church so deeply committed to inclusion of persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities to file charges against Bishop Talbert is preposterous. In essence, the Council of Bishops has begun to cannibalize themselves, rendering their leadership questionable, harmful, and life-less,” states Chett Pritchett, Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. “This is spiritual carnage, not just to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, but to the Bishops themselves and the entire United Methodist Church.”

The Council also voted to initiate a task force to lead conversations about human sexuality, race and gender in a global perspective. “While this initiation is laudable, I wonder if the Council has forgotten that the 1988 General Conference commissioned a task force to study human sexuality – a task force which recommended the phrase ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ be removed from our Social Principles,” Pritchett states. “The time for study has passed. It’s time for our Bishops to be prophetic!”

Since 1907, the Methodist Federation for Social Action has worked to mobilize, lead, and sustain a progressive movement, energizing people to be agents of God’s justice, peace, and reconciliation. As an independent, faith-based organization, MFSA leads both Church and society on issues of peace, poverty, people’s rights, progressive issues, and justice within The United Methodist Church.

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Same-Sex Benefits: Thanks, But…

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

Last week’s announcement by the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) of The United Methodist Church has major implications for our denomination. Indeed, it is a step in the right direction. But it is only a step on the journey toward justice. I applaud the staff and board of GCFA for their willingness to consider such a proposal which would align them with the civic legal authorities in many of the state governments in which The United Methodist Church is engaging in vital ministries. I pray for the Judicial Council as they begin to consider if this decision falls within the bounds of our Book of Discipline (likely next spring). But let me be clear: this decision is not enough.

It is not enough because this policy, in practice, will only extend benefits to lay employees of The United Methodist Church. While the policy change would theoretically extend to clergy as well, applications for the extended benefits would indemnify clergy under ¶304.3 of the Discipline. This cannot be considered an act of justice until we banish the idea that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and lift a ban on clergy who are not heterosexual.

Likewise, the GCFA policy only extends to those who are married in states where marriage equality has become the law of the land. While I celebrate these civil victories and pray for the spirit of inclusion to pervade every law-making body, is it not odd that The United Methodist Church is following the civil and legal authorities of governments instead of leading the way for those powers and principalities to become agents of grace and peace and justice? Some of us remember a time when Methodists were a prophetic voice to civil society, not the other way around. If the goal of this new policy is to create a more just and fair culture within the Church, then the policy needs to be extended to the whole denomination, not just in those places where marriage equality is recognized.

It could be, however, that GCFA is being more prophetic than they realize. I hope this small step encourages more and more United Methodist lay professionals to enroll their partners in the benefits program to make a loud statement: “We’re part of The United Methodist Church. We make connectionalism work. We care for your buildings and lead mission teams and plan worship and create educational programs. We’re here and we’re not going away.” And in some small way, I hope this decision motivates faithful United Methodists in small towns and big cities to share the message that love isn’t for just a few progressive states, or even just for The United Methodist Church – indeed, it’s for the whole world.

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Chett Pritchett is Executive Director at 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.
 

I Believe The United Methodist Church is “Stronger Than The Storm”

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

It is no secret that I celebrated my 80th birthday on October 28th. It has been suggested that one has "arrived" when, rather than complaining about our age, we brag about it. I am "bragging.” I write and share this, not because I believe that I have a depth of insight, and capacity to communicate in some unique way. Rather the reverse is true. I have wondered for years, "Why in the name of heaven don't some of my friends who are scholars, thinkers, theologians, and writers in ways that I am not, write and share their writings with the rest of us?" I think they write only after in-depth research, because they want to be certain their writing is deeply grounded. Much to the dismay of some of you, I am not restricted by possessing that kind of scholarly and intellectual maturity.

These words of writer/teacher of writing, Pat Schneider continue to motivate & inspire my writings; "No one has seen the night sky exactly from your trajectory. No one has loved the people and places you have loved. Who will tell that part of the earth's story if you do not?"

We in New Jersey have responded to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy by allowing the words in quotes found in the title of this blog become a mantra for us. We give our Governor, Chris Christie, credit for those words. (It is possibly because of these words that retired basketball player Shaquille O'Neil has endorsed Christie).

The United Methodist Church has been in a storm, or at least under storm clouds, since 1972 when General Conference passed language and legislation that many of us feel is anti-LGBTQ and insensitive to the fact that same-gender-loving persons fall in love with each other and want to acknowledge and celebrate that love in publicly-, legally- and church-supported ways, as those who are not same-gender-loving do.

Some thoughts about The United Methodist Church in these moments:

1. "Some of my best friends" in The United Methodist Church do not agree with my thoughts and actions regarding gay rights and the continuing struggle for equality and justice for African Americans. It has been interesting and informative that some who agree with me totally on one of these topics, disagree with me on the other. I see similarities between the two, not equivalences; they do not.

2. I believe now, more than ever, that the God of the Church has been, is, and will be, intertwined with both the Church and the state, particularly in the United States. The concept/belief in the "separation of church and state" does not preclude history as it unfolds through the actions of the state, being informed by the intent and intentions of God. I believe the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated racial segregation in public schools, had an imprint of my understandings of the intentions of God. And, I believe the state-sponsored movement toward equality for LGBTQ persons and marriage equality for same-gender-loving persons is also God related. The Methodist Church did not invalidate denominational racial segregation until the formation of the United Methodist Church in 1968, and the UMC is a "tail light" as marriage equality slowly, but surely, becomes the law of the land. As imperfect as complete human equality has been in the United States, it seems the Constitution has done and is doing for the nation what the Bible has been slow to do for The United Methodist Church.

3. I suggest that our denominational wrestling with the living legacies caused by sexism, racism, and now, heterosexism, has kept us (maybe deliberately?) from acknowledging, confronting and transforming what could be the most demonic of all of the isms; Classism, caused by economic and educational imbalance and inequality.

The economy and economic practices of the United States and indeed the world need to hear the Biblical message about human Greed, and yet we are wasting so much time, keeping sexism, racism and heterosexism alive while pretending to be about confronting them.

The movies this year that are slavery and race-centered; Lincoln, Django Unchained, 42, The Butler, and 12 Years A Slave reflect the tyranny that economic greed has played in colonialism, slavery and racial segregation.

I conclude by suggesting The United Methodist Church, more than any Church body, must cease minimizing its mission and ministry by relegating LGBTQ persons to "their place", as it once did to women and African Americans. Its major ministry in the 21st century, I believe, ought relate to why in a world that possesses "God's Plenty", there are so many of God's people, who have little or nothing.

"Who will tell that part of the earth's story if The United Methodist Church does not?"

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Rev. 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.

Gratitude and Support: An Open Letter to Bishop Mary Ann Swenson

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Dear Bishop Swenson,                                                                                

On Friday, October 25th, the Board of Directors of the Methodist Federation for Social Action received and shared your statement written in dissent of the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops.  Your support of Bishop Melvin Talbert, who engaged in pastoral ministry by performing the blessing of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince’s marriage in Alabama, gave us hope and strength for our work ahead.

We give our heartfelt thanks and offer our support of the truth you shared in saying that “faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus and his new commandments given to us in the Scriptures – trumps following the letter of the law in our Discipline.  We fully embrace your call of encouragement to your “colleague bishops to follow the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, to ignore these unjust laws of our Discipline, and to permit United Methodist clergy who find it in their consciences and in their duties to fulfill the pastoral needs of those in their flock to celebrate ceremonies of Christian marriage for same-gender couples to do so.”  We recognize that Jesus denied ministry to no one and we urge The United Methodist Church to follow this example as a primary way of showing God’s love and grace which is the way to make disciples of Jesus Christ and transform the world.

We want to acknowledge both Bishop Talbert’s and your courage in being both prophetic and pastoral shepherds to our denomination.  We fully recognize the history of bishops being ostracized for such actions. We pray that the Council of Bishops will provide greater support and grace to you than others have received in the past. We give thanks for Bishop Mel Wheatley and other church leaders, clergy and lay, who have been a gift of blessing and witness to our United Methodist Church. We agree with you that “the language in our Discipline is wrong.” We join you in your urging that “no LGBTQ person should have to wait any longer to experience the full love of God in Christian community at a United Methodist church.”

Bishop Swenson, we know that you will face many messages of condemnation and anger as a result of your faithfulness. Please know that we, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, are holding you in our prayers and offer our deepest gratitude and support for your words and willingness to extend pastoral care and love to all United Methodists

In grace and peace,

Chett Pritchett, Executive Director

Rev. Vicki Woods, Co-President

Rev. Christina Wright, Co-President                            

on behalf of the directors and staff present at the October 2013 Board of Directors meeting in Atlanta, GA.

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