Friends, I am grieving today because the United Methodist Church’s governing body approved a plan that intends to drive progressive Christians from the denomination by strengthening prohibitions against gay clergy and same sex weddings. I am angry about the harm this causes. I am ashamed and embarrassed that our United Parish of Auburndale bears the name of both the United Church of Christ–which affirms the sacred worth of LGBTQIA+ people–AND the name United Methodist, which now most certainly does not. Many will no doubt consider whether such an abusive marriage should remain between UCC and UMC.
BUT even as I grieve, I don’t do so as one without hope. That conference was not the real United Methodist Church but rather a narrow-minded convention of mostly conservative delegates. They do not reflect a majority of Methodists (whom I no longer consider “United”) who are people of deep love. We can now begin conversations about affiliating with such people. Will we remain both United Church of Christ and United Methodist? We need to make that decision eventually. But the more important question to ask is whether we remain convinced that God calls whomever God chooses to ministry and marriage. My answer to that question is an emphatic yes!
For those with questions about how such a thing could happen “in this day and age,” I gently remind you that the feeling many Methodists have today is akin to the feeling a majority of Americans felt the day after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. We were shocked and saddened, wondering how such a thing could happen in this day and age, but we also realized deep within that an ideological divide had opened and been exploited for years. The fear is the same beneath national politics and Church politics , both in the U.S. and globally.
Still I think it is helpful to understand why this particular tragedy has befallen the United Methodist Church.
WHAT DID THE CONFERENCE ACTUALLY APPROVE?
Alex Shanks offered this helpful, concise, overview.
1). Wespath petitions passed. Exiting churches must pay their fair share of pension liability. Exiting clergy retain their pension but it is converted to limit further liability to the conference.
2). Current language around sexuality and restrictions on same-sex weddings and ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals is retained.
3). The Traditional Plan passed except for the main petition. This means there will be no required certification by annual conferences and bishops that they will follow the Discipline and no method for annual conferences to leave the denomination.
4). Eight parts of the Traditional Plan passed and have previously been ruled constitutional by the Judicial Council. The Judicial Council will consider their constitutionality again in April but are not likely to reverse their decision. This means that the definition of self-avowed practicing homosexual now includes those who are in a same-sex marriage. Bishops cannot commission or ordain lesbian or gay pastors or consecrate them as bishops. Boards of ordained ministry must do a full examination of clergy candidates including whether they are a self-avowed practicing homosexual. Pastors who perform weddings and are convicted by trial will have minimum penalties of suspension (1st offense) and surrender of credentials (2nd offense). Bishops can only dismiss complaints for reasons of law or fact. Just Resolutions must acknowledge all harm done and be agreed to by the person bringing the complaint. The church can appeal a decision for egregious errors of law.
5). One part of the Traditional Plan passed but it may or may not be constitutional and awaits the decision of the Judicial Council. It would require all members of the board of ordained ministry to certify they will follow the Discipline.
6). An amended exit plan for churches passed but it may or may not be constitutional. It would allow for local churches to exit with their property and assets if 2/3 of the members vote to do so and they care for pension liabilities and one year of apportionments.
So now we wait for the results of the Judicial Council. Legislation is not official church law until January 1, 2020. We will elect delegates to the 2020 General Conference at annual conference in June.
I am grateful for the tireless work of theologian Tex Sample, whose 2000 book “The Loyal Opposition: Struggling with the Church on Homosexuality” has been a helpful resource for me. He posted the following on February 27th:
I am livid. The hypocrisy of the African delegates when they argue marriage as between a man and a woman and live in a context of polygamy, which is practiced widely across Africa by many in the churches there, with one bishop who is in a polygamous relationship, as reported on good authority.
I do understand that if polygamy were ended today, it would throw millions of African women into literally “a no man’s land” and deepen the poverty and desperation so many of them already face. So I understand that such a sudden and disastrous change would be wrong.
And the reactionary church leadership in the U.S. who won’t even talk about polygamy but are quick to condemn and ready to dismiss those in Christian LGBTQIA+ marriages.
I know dozens of Christian marriages between gay and lesbian couples. Some of them are among the best marriages I know. But for the Christian Right neither morality, Christian devotion, committed discipleship, or fidelity count in their minds. They give five allusions and references to same sex practices in the biblical text an absolute authority that these texts cannot sustain. See my article in the book Defending Same Sex Marriage, edited by Traci West.
Today, I am thinking about “the church in the catacombs” where we do what is right even if it must be done in secret. I feel absolutely no moral or theological obligation to the “power take all” mentality and strategies of the radicalizing right in our churches. They got their way, now let them enforce it. They are losing this battle in the wider culture and doing great damage to the witness of the church.
We struggle against the principalities and powers in the church. RESIST!!!
Tex suggests conservatives have given a few Biblical texts “absolute authority that these texts cannot sustain.” The texts often used by conservatives are Genesis chapter 19, Leviticus 19:22 and 20:13, Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 6:9-10, Romans 1:26-27, and First Timothy 1:9-10. Added to these are dubious interpretations of the creation stories in Genesis and hackneyed presumption that Jesus, quoting Genesis, insisted on marriage as one man and one woman. By highlighting polygamy, Tex is illustrating conservative hypocrisy. One man and one woman? An African bishop and many African delegates do not insist on marriage between one man and one woman! So the reason for the recent split is deeper than reliance on some Biblical standard.
RIGHT WING HOSTILE TAKE OVER
Homosexuality is nothing more than a “wedge issue” employed by right-wing operatives seeking to dislodge the Mainstream, liberal, religious voice from American politics. If you can get your hands on the 2003 book “United Methodism at Risk: A Wake-Up Call” by Leon Howell, you can appreciate the nefarious work of conservative, Washington based think tank, The Institute for Religion and Democracy, whose stated mission is:
The Institute on Religion and Democracy is a faith-based alliance of Christians who monitor, comment, and report on issues affecting the Church. We seek to reform the Church’s role in public life, protect religious freedom, and support democracy at home and abroad.
The United Methodist Church is the largest piece of the puzzle to fall into place. And as my friend Jeremy Smith writes in his blog “Hacking Christianity,” conservatives at this latest General Conference simply used African delegates (an investigation has been called into the rumored practice of paying them for votes) to approve the elimination of rules preventing congregations and pastors from taking church property from the denomination when they exit. Some may genuinely wish to exit in order to be free of homosexual clergy, but most are caught up in a larger scheme orchestrated by groups like the IRD.
HOPE in the MIDST of a FLOOD
I rely on the promise spoken of God by the prophet Isaiah who said,
“When you go through deep water, I will be with you.” –Isaiah 43:2
Growing up in hurricane lowlands of Louisiana I am acquainted with seasons of flooding which are always followed by dry seasons of repair. This is a time of repair for folks betrayed by those who supported the “Traditionalist Plan” without fully appreciating how it would harm LGBTQIA+ people and salt the ground for anything good to grow in the name of “Methodism” for years to come. And that is a shame, of course, because both the true Methodist tradition and LGBTQIA+ pastors and prophets are tremendously fertile gifts “in this day and age.” So we weather this change and then we work with the soil until Love prevails.
Grace and Peace,
Major 2018 Activities:
- Second Year with Boston Area Gleaners – Our first recipient of the UPA Community Transformation Grant –
In 2017, the United Parish of Auburndale launched its partnership with Boston Area Gleaners, the grant recipient, a not-for-profit agency engaged in gleaning surplus local farm crops to those in need. Our grant has been used to help fund a new Volunteer Coordinator position at Gleaners. By all accounts, Jack has been an incredible asset to the Gleaners team and has helped to increase awareness of the program and increase volunteer sign-up and participation. As a result, Gleaners has been able to achieve significant increases in pounds of rescued crops in 2017 and 2018. Amazing! We are grateful for those of you who gleaned this year in September and on individual trips (over 20 of us!) and we encourage those of you who have thought about it to get involved in 2019.
- Appalachia Service Project Trip – in June 2018, 10 youth and 10 adults from the UPA embarked on a one-week trip to Tennessee to repair and rebuild 3 homes through the Appalachia Servi
ce Project program. Sleeping on the floor of a local elementary school, our group, along with about 60 folks from New Jersey spent a week of hard work, introspection, and fun.
- Maine Seacoast Mission trip – in August 2018 UPA parishioners attended a week- long mission trip to assist Maine Seacoast Mission with making repairs to homes in need in Downeast Maine.
- Bristol Lodge Cooking – Monthly – Led by Toni and Jim Miller with assistance from their core team of “chefs”, including Beth Whittum, Kathy Beckwith, Kevin and Karen Newman, Julie Redmond, Christine and Morgan Gallivan, Rebecca Doloff, Sonia Parker, Rich Franz, Eunice Kim, Nancy Clark and many others.
- Bristol Lodge Serving – In 2017 Outreach initiated a new effort to not only prepare meals for Bristol Lodge, but to also commit to serving those meals to deepen the relationship we have developed with the Bristol Lodge community. We continued this in 2018 and have had a solid core group of volunteers each month, and others who join when they can. Some “regulars” include Toni and Jim Miller, Kristin McGovern, Julie and Brian Redmond, Marilyn and Granville Harris, Bill Hoch, Eunice and John Kim, Sonia Parker, Sue and PJ Membrino, Sherri Chi, Christine and Morgan Gallivan, Doug Robinson Johnson and others.
- Rise Against Hunger – in November we undertook a new initiative, a meal packing event for international hunger relief. Generously funded by the Loudin/Epstein family in honor of Nick Epstein, over forty people participated in the fast-paced, high-energy activity in Parish Hall. We are planning to partner with this group again on the Sunday before Thanksgiving this year.
- REACH Mitten Tree – December – Annual event organized by Kristin McGovern to collect gifts for families who are victims of domestic violence. Much appreciated help as always from Toni and Jim Miller, the UPA Youth (for assembling the gift “mittens” in lightning speed) and for all of you who participated in the gift giving.
Est. total gifts given: 90 Est. total value of gifts: $3500+
- Service Sundays for Youth Group – during the winter/spring we organized service project activities during Sunday school once a month, including sorting for Nu Day Syria and partnering with Hope & Comfort, a Massachusetts organization which provides hygiene products through schools to youth living in poverty.
Looking forward in 2019:
- Continuing to base our work on the principles of Toxic Charity (if you haven’t read it, we encourage you to find a copy in the UPA library and check it out), we will explore our relationships with the agencies we support.
- We will work together in our final year of partnership with Gleaners to deepen the relationship and find ways to assist them in broadening their reach, as well as engage more of our own UPA community in activities.
- We will solicit applications for a new three-year Community Transformation Grant to partner with a new group starting in 2020.
- We will explore ways that we can effectively use the proceeds from the sale of 87/89 Grove St, earmarked for Outreach, in ways that will further drive our mission.
- We will continue to communicate to the UPA community the opportunities to get involved and keep the community up to date on our progress.
- Engagement –
- We will continue to offer and encourage participation in opportunities to lend a hand or get involved – not only with Boston Area Gleaners and Bristol Lodge, but with all of the organizations that we support.
- We will be encouraging increased participation in service trips in June and August, focusing on refugee support this work and continuing with the Maine Seacoast Mission.
- We will continue the Service Sundays program with the Board of Christian Education to offer monthly opportunities for youth to engage in service projects
In 2018 the United Parish of Auburndale raised $2,668 for JUSTICE for OUR NEIGHBORS of Woburn, MA.
If you or someone you know is in need of free immigrant legal legal aid offered by Justice for our Neighbors in the United States of America, follow this link: http://njfon.org/our-services/legal-clinics/
“My name is Joao. I left Brazil more than 10 years ago. I had no choice but to leave behind my young son. It took me many many years and over $10,000 to navigate the US immigration system and finally obtain permanent residence. Worried about my son back in Brazil, I met with the attorney at JFON and she explained that I could sponsor my son for a green card too. JFon handled all the papers and filed my son’s case. JFON handled the case for free. After the receipt notice arrived I called JFON crying. I could not believe that the process had started. I am very grateful that God has placed JFON Woburn in my path. It will be another 2-3 years before I am actually reunited with my son. But the process has begun and for that I am very grateful.”
In Brazil, Karla lived in a favela managed by a gang. Karla was raped and had no where to turn for help. The situation in her neighborhood was worse every single day. She often witnessed murder and violent attacks. The police do not even enter this neighborhood in fear. Karla became pregnant as a result of the rape. Karla was afraid to raise a baby in that violent environment. She decided to go with her cousin to America. She took her life savings and then borrowed more. She bought a ticket to Mexico. Then she walked many miles in the desert heat to reach the US immigration check point at the US Mexico border. She waited in line for hours to apply for Poltical asylum at the border. She was detained by immigration at the border for many weeks. Finally, she was released and allowed to continue her journey to Massachusetts. Here she met her family already living here. They invited her to our church and then to JFON Woburn. Seven months pregnant, Karla has JFON to help her find a way to stay in the US.
Cyntia did everything right. She entered the USA with a visa and never violated her status. She fell in love and married a U.S. Citizen. They had a baby. Immigration approved her for a conditional green card. It is valid for two years. All was well but her husband began drinking too much and became abusive. As an immigrant that spoke very little English, she did not know where to go for help. Her husband became more and more violent. He often said that he would get her deported if she reported his abuse. Cynthia came to JFON and the attorney explained that she can leave her husband and go to a safe place without being deported. JFON is helping her.
Josef is an 18 year old from Haiti. He has lawful permanent resident status since age 8. He has lived in the USA his entire life. Josef attends high school full time and also works part time at a local convenience store. Five days before his 18th birthday, his father kicked him out of the home. DCF declined to become involved because he had aged out of the system a few days after he was put out on the street. He has not seen his mother in many years and she lives in Haiti. Since he left Haiti at age 8, he has not returned or visited Haiti. JFON Woburn helped him file an I-90 extension of his Lawful Permanent Resident Status. We also registered him for the selective service and filed his application for US Naturalization on an expedited basis due to his homeless status. JFON Volunteers are also trying to help Josef find a stable housing situation. Via the local church, Josef received a generous donation of over $400 for Immigration filing fees as well as food via the church’s soup kitchen and clothing.
JFON Lowell met recently with two minor children from Uganda. Both had entered the USA on performer visas as part of a dance troop. Both children lost parents due to violence in Uganda and were taken in by a UMC Lowell church member who has been named Legal Guardian of the two young men. JFON Lowell will be assisting these young boys with processing as Special Immigrant Juveniles which will make them eligible for US Permanent Residence after a very long process.
JFON Woburn met recently with a Boston University Divinity School student from Congo. We assisted him with applying for U.S. Naturalization.
JFON Woburn connected Jordana with a local law firm that was able to assist her with filing a wage and hour claim against a former employer. This young woman was physically battered by her former employer and forced to work 12 hour days as a housekeeper. The family recently settled for $15,000.00 and Jordana is now able to start fresh here in Woburn, MA.
Eleven volunteers traveled to Sholan Farms in Leominster, MA, on Sunday, harvesting 14,000 pounds of McIntosh apples for Boston Area Gleaners.