Thursday, August 30, 2007

Remembering Katrina, Taking Action

You too can take action and help in the recovery process. Sign the petition to pass Senator Dodd's Gulf Coast Recovery Bill of 2007 (S1668) at When The Saints.

A Prayer for Labor Day

Living God, You set our hearts on fire with Your love and justice.

The flames of Your presence transformed simple people like Moses, Miriam and the Israelites from laborers for Pharaoh into laborers for justice.

Send Your refiner’s fire into our world, until all fear, selfishness, greed, and hatred are burned into ashes.

Let Your flames fuel compassion, courage, forgiveness, love, and unity within us.

Teach us to trust You, knowing that Your fire will not consume us, but will make us into a new creation.


* Adapted from a prayer written by Rev. Rebekah Jordan, former intern at the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Love That Will Finally Speak Its Name

The forthcoming edition of Newsweek (Sept. 3rd) features a courageous story of coming out. Written by 88 year old Loraine Barr, the feature tells the painful story of the closet and the joy of coming out...even if 88 years in the making.

Her courage in telling her truth despite years of fear is a stark contrast to this week's homophobic insistence of Idaho senator, Larry Craig. In a press statement regarding his arrest in Minneapolis, Craig emphasized his heterosexuality above his innocence in engaging in disorderly conduct. Apparently, for Craig the shame is not in engaging in lewd behavior but in even being thought of as gay. Within the course of a brief public statement broadcast this morning on NPR, Craig asserted three separate times, "I am not gay."

Regardless of Senator Craig's innocence or guilt in this matter and regardless of his own sexual orientation, his adamant denial of being perceived as gay only exacerbates our culture's heterosexist and homophobic attitudes which place being "gay" as the worst possible slur on one's character.

Of course, Senator Craig's denials are part of this same culture of shame that sends people into hiding, rather than affirm their love for others. He too is a victim of this shame, the same shame that kept Ms. Barr and her beloved partner closeted for so long from even their closest friends and relatives.

The closet is no place to live. It forces us to live in fear, limits our choices and harms our souls. What will it take for us as a society to begin to unlock the doors of compulsory heterosexuality so that all can feel free to love whom we are called to love?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Global Parish

John Wesley's oft quoted declaration, "The world is my parish," seemed quite literal to me as I crossed paths with a CWM parishioner in the hinterlands of Northern Wales last week!

Driving out the long and winding road to Beaumaris Castle on the isle of Anglesley last week I spotted a parishioner from CWM hiking down the side of the road. As we approached from behind I excitedly told my partner, "Hey, that's Elizabeth!!" As we zoomed past I look around for confirmation and sure enough it was true!! We turned around the car and pulled over to offer her a ride.

We had a joyful and surprising reunion, took pictures to ensure that people would believe us and parted ways again as I headed back to Oxford to continue my studies.

I suppose a pastor can never quite leave the parish!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Our Wesleyan Tradition

Returning from the Oxford Institute for Methodist Theological Studies, I am ever more appreciative of our Wesleyan heritage that takes seriously the inextricable link between personal and social holiness.

During the ten day Institute, Methodist pastors, laity and scholars from around the globe gathered for a time of academic "holy conferencing." Tackling the issues of globalization, poverty, cultural diversity and economic justice, the Institute grappled with the Church's mission for this present age. While the group gathered was diverse representing a wide range of language, culture, politics and theology, there was a shared commitment to be engaged in a ministry that at its core is deeply interested in justice for those at the margins.

It was interesting to note, that as I described my work in the United States advocating for full inclusion for LGBT persons, others from around the globe found it difficult to fathom our country's seeming obsession with sexuality. While the issue is far from settled in other places, the nature of the dialogue is less polemical, less acrid, less consuming.

A British Methodist pastor remarked that while her churches were "content to be quiet on the issue of sexuality, a brawl was sure to break out if non fair-trade coffee were found in the church cupboard!"

The Institute was a wonderful snap shot of our diverse Wesleyan community, united not by doctrine or creed, but by a heart committed to a life of personal and social holiness.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Judicial Council Set to Rule on Issues of Inclusiveness

The UM News Service reported this week on the slate of issues to be discussed at the upcoming fall session of the Judicial Council. At the top of the list are a host of cases dealing with issues of inclusion, including two rulings on the eligibility of transgender pastors for ordination and appointment.

The ruling of Bishop Schol of the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference on the eligibility of transgender pastors has been sent to the Judicial Council. Bishop Schol's ruling is in fact a correct interpretation of the Book of Discipline. There is nothing in our denominational polity that prohibits transgender persons from ordained ministry. Of course, the Book of Discipline has never been an impediment to the current Judicial Council. They most notably strayed from the Discipline in 2005 when they affirmed the right of a local pastor to deny membership to a gay man even when it was clear that this ruling violated both Article IV of the Constitution and Paragraph 214 of the Discipline. That ruling, Decision 1032, set off a chain of protest across the denomination, including a unanimous pastoral letter sent from the Council of Bishops.

Our denomination has been clear since 1956 when women were granted full rights as ordained clergy that gender is not an impediment to ordination. As one parishioner so eloquently stated, it would be tragic for our Church to turn back the clock of social and ecclesial progress by fifty years to re-instate prohibitions based on gender identity.

In addition to the rulings on issues of transgender persons, the Judicial Council will also rule on a series of questions pertaining to the rights of gay and lesbian persons in the Church. It is interesting to note that the Judicial Council will take up two matters on which they have previously ruled.

The first "do-over" comes on the question of whether or not "status" as it appears in Article IV of the Constitution includes "heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and transgender status of single persons and persons who avow they are in committed, loving relationships." This was first ruled on in Decision 102o in which the Council affirmed that "status" in the Constition did indeed include heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and transgender status.

The second "do-over" comes on the question of whether or not conferences can extend domestic partnership benefits for lay conference employees. Again, this was previously decided in a case brought by the West Michigan Annual Conference (Decision 1030) in which the Judicial Council stated that each conference has the responsibility to make sure no church funds are being used to promote homosexuality as stated in Paragraph 612.19 of the Book of Disicpline. It is hard to imagine that providing just and equal benefits to employees for health care and pension could be construed as "promoting the acceptance of homosexuality." If, however, the Council reverses their previous decision or expands upon it to prohbit such benefits, we must as a denomination consider what it means for us as the Body of Christ to deny persons adequate health care based on their sexual orientation. Of course, any ruling to prohibit benefits to lay employees would also violate Paragraph 162H of the Book of Discipline which clearly affirms the civil rights of all persons regardless of sexual orientation.

The question in both of these cases will be whether the Judicial Council prudently follows precedent and the Constitution or whether they use these as opportunities to further scale back the inclusiveness provisions in our current church law. Given their track record on these issues and the current penchant to allow ideology to trump church law, we have good reason to be concerned.

The 2008 General Conference will no doubt continue the debate as the Church wrestles how it will incarnate the Body of Christ for the world. Will we choose inclusion, love and grace or will we be bullied by fear and misunderstanding choosing instead exclusion, judgment and discrimination?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Faith, Hope, Love

I'm just back from a weekend revival with the Reconciling Ministries Network at their 9th Reconciling Convocation, "Faith, Hope, Love", held in Nashville, TN. What a wonderful weekend!

With close to 500 Reconciling United Methodists from across the connection, we celebrated our vision of a fully inclusive church through worship, prayer, Bible study and preaching. From the witty scholarship of Dr. A.J. Levine to the rousing preaching of Rev. Dr. Gayle Carlton Felton, one couldn't help but be moved by the weekend's events.

Yet, for me the most amazing part of the weekend was not the planned presentations nor the communal worship. My Reconciling highlight happened at the margins of the conference as I re-connected with an old friend from Latin America.

Hace muchos anos, I lived in Latin America, spending time in southern Mexico, El Salvador and Nicaragua as a student and missionary (VIM) for the General Board of Global Ministries. Most of my time there was spent working with conservative Protestant churches, many of whom were not open and welcoming to LGBT persons. Although we worked together across cultural, linguistic and theological divides on a variety of justice ministries, sexuality was taboo and never once broached during my time in mission. While I suppose my friends may have suspected where I stood on this issue, we dared not talk about it.

You can imagine my surprise then, when from across the Convocation room this weekend I spotted a friend I met in 1994 while living in Mexico. Standing there in the doorway, I could hardly believe my eyes! An old friend from that Mexican church with whom I once sang coritos and went to vigilias, stood before me as a fellow participant of the Reconciling Convocation! My shock quickly turned to joy as I ran across the ballroom.

"Soy yo. Soy misionera!"

Rusty Spanish coupled with such surprise rendered me almost speechless.

Immediately a look of both shock and fear flashed before both of our eyes as we were outed to one another.

"?Que estas haciendo aqui?" we both cried.

"?Vos?" I said.

"?Y vos?" he said.

It did not take more than a few seconds for our fear to transform into sheer joy as we re-connected across the years. We spent the next few days in hurried and broken Spanish (mine, of course) trying to catch up a decade's worth of living.

It is amazing the unspoken fear the Church creates, silencing, closeting and dividing its members. I wonder what our lives would have been like if we had dared cross that religious and cultural taboo years before. What did we lose in our relationship by hiding parts of ourselves from one another for so long?