Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Believing Out Loud Together

So this post is a while in coming (it is one of those semesters): October 9-11, 2010 was the weekend of the first Believe Out Loud Power Summit, a space in which people from across denominations and secular organizers (! what a crazy partnership!) came together to brainstorm, plan, and organize for change, to make the Christian church inclusive of all of God's children, including those of all sexualities and gender identities. It was also the kickoff for Reconciling Ministry Network's Believe Out Loud Together Campaign intended to change the Discipline, our United Methodist book of laws, in 2012 at our General Conference.

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you.
-1 Peter 3:15

In 2008 I didn't realize just how surrounded I was with progressive Methodists, so I was terribly naive and so was stunned at just how horrible a loss we suffered. I was going to a reconciling church, becoming involved in the global UMC, looking "secretly" at seminaries, and I could not believe the strength and maliciousness of the Right. Here I was thinking that the UMC, though not nearly as welcoming at the Unitarian Universalists or many United Church of Christ folks, was close to being there, and yet, at General Conference, we could not even pass a statement saying "we are not of one mind on the issue of sexuality." That is a sad testimony of the state of Christianity and the United Methodist Church.

But at the Power Summit, surrounded by veterans and new folks of the welcoming movement across mainline denominations, I felt so uplifted. It was a renewal, but one that was focused, one with a purpose and tools to accomplish our goal of an inclusive church. Now, I know I am surrounded by a community that will change things in 2012. And we will hold each other accountable. Because we cannot afford to live under the hateful policy of our church.

One of the moments in the conference where we as United Methodists really saw where our denomination is was when they lined up the denominations in terms of how welcoming they are. The UMC was far behind everyone else because now the Episcopalians, the UCC, the Lutherans, the Presbyterians--- all of these mainline churches have welcoming policies. And the UMC policy is still that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. To see the differences in polity were striking.

But we also saw how well organized we are compared to many of the denominations. And Rev. Troy Plummer, the executive director of RMN, pointed out that you can change the legislation top-down all you want but will that really change the church? Rather, we ought to be working from the ground up. And we are.

I am going to school in the Greater New Jersey Conference where the lack of reconciling congregations is absolutely appalling, especially given the seemingly general friendliness and openness of most folks towards the issue of sexuality. But openness and friendliness of individuals is not enough. After all, if you aren't deliberately including, you are excluding people. So one of the most important things as organizers in the church that we have to do is get people to believe OUT LOUD together. Seventy percent of clergy say they are supportive of LGBTQIA issues, but only 7 percent have said anything about it in the pulpit. Right now, for us, we need to be focusing on that 63 percent of people who are supportive but not talking. Part of this means creating a supportive network so people don't feel alone when they speak out, but part of it is holding people accountable. Saying that it is not acceptable for us as Christians to stay silent.

Another piece of this work of believing out loud together, though, for me, is that we have to remember, as Beth Zemsky reminded us, that we have learned about difference and about how to make people into the Other through people we love and trust. So that is why we are going about changing the church through stories (see one of mine here). We are about changing the church through relationships, from the ground up.

As Rev Debra Peevey said, the secular world is hiding behind the church, using the church as an excuse for bigotry. And we let them. But I, for one, am not going to let the church be a place of hatred and exclusion. I am committed to changing the hearts and minds of those in my faith community so that when we say Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds, we mean it.
Reconciling United Methodists at the Power Summit!

To learn more about RMN's campaign and some more details about the Power Summit, check out Audrey Krumbach's refection.

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