Friday, May 25, 2012

Dinner with Jesus and the CEO

by Joe Hopkins

Crossposted at Red Poppy Fields

The communion table is the ultimate Christian dinner table.

Wait, is that a can of Red Bull? (Photo by Tom Gaulke)
A few weeks ago I participated in a workshop at the Chicago Temple called “Resetting the Table”. It opened with a theological reflection from a professor at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in which our 21st century American society was compared to sitting down around a table for dinner. The professor posed 5 questions:
  • Who gets to sit at the table?
  • How are the seats arranged?
  • Do the elements served nourish the body?
  • What bonds are formed around the table?
  • And in whose name is the meal blessed?
Considering that I live in a co-op with seven roommates, these questions have quite direct implications on how I eat my kale and pasta at

The other important consideration is that this symposium took place only two weeks before NATO came to Chicago and in the middle of a national effort to get into shareholder meetings of the country’s largest
companies. And about a week after the United Methodist Church General Conference.

Generally, I like to like to imagine that people get an equal shot to come to the dinner table; that no one has a more important seat than another; that the meal will help keep me healthy; that I become closer to the folks slurping soup around me; and we bless the meal in the name of God, our Creator and Redeemer. I like to think that generally our democratic systems in government, corporations, and churches run this way, too, though maybe in more secular terms for government and in corporations.

But that’s not the way it often works. Here’s an example.

On May 23 the CME Group, also known as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, held its shareholders’ meeting at the iconic Chicago Board of Trade building. To give you an idea of how important that is, Forbes Magazine called CME one of "the four companies that control the 140 companies that own everything.” Corporations are ultimately accountable to the shareholders that own the corporation’s stock, so this was a big deal.

Last year CME Group threatened to leave the state of Illinois unless it received a billion dollars in tax breaks over the next 15 years. Illinois was and is facing record budget deficits, and now the state legislature is looking to cut $1.6 billion dollars of funding for health care for the poorest people in Illinois. Despite this fact, the legislature gave in to the CME’s demands and Illinois residents will pay the ransom for years to

That meal is poison for a state with the third-highest home foreclosure rate in the United States. How were the seats around that decision-making table set? In whose name was that meal blessed?

We live in a world where many, many people only have access to the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table. People of color, people without proper immigration documents, people with felony convictions, people who are attracted to the folks of the same sex, perpetually can’t eat at this dinner table. In fact, very few of us can eat at that dinner table.
Stamp on the hand of a friend who entered

the CME Group shareholder meeting.

Several people I know tried to go to the dinner table at the CME’s shareholder meeting. They had to show that they had shares of stock, and then their hands were stamped to show that they had only one share. When they asked the CEO about how nourishing the elements are for the people of Illinois, they were rebuffed. It was clear in whose name the meal was blessed.

I know that many people are debating the role of public protests this spring. Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement have people talking about it. When is it okay to set up tents in a public park? Is it out of order to keep singing in the middle of General Conference?

Jesus talked a lot about the dinner table, in fact a lot more than he did about homosexuality. And when Jesus talked about the dinner table, he included the despised people who normally would never eat with a CEO or a defense minister. And Jesus even deliberately disobeyed the rules during dinner.

Dear friends, let’s look at our dinner tables. Who gets to eat there? How are the seats arranged? Is the food good to eat? Are we becoming closer together as children of God? Do we take God’s name seriously when we say grace? I think we will find heartbreaking answers to these questions if we answer them honestly.

However, I know that the Spirit of God moves around the dinner table. The doors will burst open, and it won’t even matter what language you speak or what your immigration status is or what crime you were convicted for or who you have sex with. God is so much bigger than all of that.

And when you feel that Spirit whip around in tongues of fire, how will you respond?

Joe Hopkins is currently serving as a US-2 missionary of the United Methodist Church and is working as an organizer in the national office of Interfaith Worker Justice in Chicago. Joe will begin theological study at Chicago Theological Seminary in the fall. He also enjoys running by Lake Michigan, sipping yerba mate, and re-reading Calvin & Hobbes comics.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one

Crossposted at We Your People, Ours the Journey.

by Becca Clark

Monday night was magic.

We had our first Twitter Chat for #DreamUMC, the conversation born out of the strong desire to keep shaping the future of our denomination in the wake of General Conference. You can read the full archive of the chat here, or you can view bullet points of answers to the questions we discussed (and some unofficial demographic info) at the facebook page.

First of all, wow! There were 171 people tweeting, and many many more I know who were "lurking," or as I call it, actively listening. We sent 1,272 tweets, not including retweets. That's a lot of conversation in an hour! Although dominated by younger voices, the conversation spanned generations, came down fairly even on gender representation, included voices of clergy, laity, and folks between the two, and crossed the U.S. pretty well. We have some work to do yet on inviting the voices of persons of color and reaching out to hear our siblings in the movement from around the world. But there is a lot of energy for movement and hope in this body.

Especially as the conversation got started, what was amazing to me was the passion of the participants. Here, ten days after General Conference ended, people were still filled with pain, regret, brokenness, and grief. Here, despite the brokenness and raw pain, people were still filled with vision and hope and excitement for the future of the United Methodist movement. Such deep pain and deep joy, woven together often in the same person, speaks volumes for the vibrancy and heart of the UMC. As the conversation concluded, the call to continue and progress in our work together was overwhelming and joy-filled. I have rarely felt more in the presence of the Holy Spirit doing a new thing, and never while staring at pixels on a screen.

Reflecting on the conversation, I want to try to synthesize what I heard. We asked three questions, and some themes emerged from the responses.

Question 1: What did you learn/take away from General Conference 2012?

In response to this question, this is where I experienced a lot of pain and brokenness. Many tweets lifted up a new or renewed understanding of our division as a denomination, and several spoke directly about lack of trust. One person wrote "Trust issues abound and we have no idea how to heal them." Others spoke of the power imbalance in the denomination, and disillusionment with this power. "Manipulation (from all parties and sides) carries more influence than Holy Conferencing." Many tweets lamented the legislative process, and how it seems to be in the way of the true work of the Spirit and the forward movement of the church. "Movements cannot be legislated," one wrote, and another: "it is wrong to expect reform to happen @ the structural level."

Many people lifted up both the blessing and challenge of being a global church-- or as I've recently had reframed for me (in this excellent post by Wes Magruder), an international church that wants to be a global church. The beauty and diversity of the global Methodist movement breaks down when we try to articulate theology and polity across radically different contexts. As one person put it, "I learned that theology is contextual and structure probably ought to be too."

Still others took away hope from the General Conference. "God is not finished with the UMC!" was a frequent refrain. People celebrated new connections and friendships, and the sense of not being alone, in either the feeling of sorrow or the passion for ministry we share. Many celebrated the desire for change and the opportunity for conversation and hope. Much as we may try to Methodologize (think I made that up) our movement, that doesn't stop the Holy from breaking in. As one person wrote: "even when we think all hope is gone, the Spirit has a tendency to show up and surprise us!"

[caption id="attachment_2169" align="alignright" width="225"] My husband snapped a picture as I got ready for the chat. He informed me that the glasses were a must.[/caption]

Question 2: How has this new knowledge changed your Dream (vision or hope) for the United Methodist Church?

The next time I am feeling discouraged about the state of the world in general or the church in particular, I promise myself that I will read through these answers again, or just ask a fellow dreamer to tell me their dream for the UMC. These answers were beautiful. Still much pain laced through them, but such amazing and faithful dreams.

Broken dreams were named: "I'm struggling to see how a schism will be avoided," one person wrote. In another place, a participant would add "I think it's already happened." Trust issues were raised again: "I now realize that in order to move forward, we need greater trust. Far too many folks became us vs. them."

The need for localized contextual ways of being the church was named and lifted. One person summarized this feeling well: "I have become much more in favor of regionalism/contextualism. Annual conferences and local congregations need to be unbound," while another wrote "I wouldn't have understood it before #GC2012, but I'm all for a US central conference now."

Many, many of these dreams envisioned openness and inclusivity for all people, some naming especially the GLBTQ community, but many leaving a wide-open statement-- regardless of any division. "I am now even more passionate and committed to building relationships across cultures and other barriers...without agenda," one participant wrote. Another said, "I (continue to) dream/hope that the UMC will be UNITED, but in our diversity, not just our name."

The dreams included a deep need for personal transformation and formation as disciples, and the hope that personal transformation would expand out into a transformed way of being and relating to one another. "It has made me more determined to teach Wesleyan theology, more determined to share Wesleyan formation, less fearful," said one tweeter, while another wrote that we need "less 'fixing,' more constructive listening and discerning what a holy life and life together may be."

In this part of the conversation, one person wrote that General Conference convinced them to go all-in and seek ordination, to get deeply into the system and work for change. Another wrote that GC convinced them to abandon the ordination track and fully embrace and claim the power of lay leaders within the church for transformation. It struck me as wonderful that both articulate a sense of transformation and purpose and calling, and it highlights for me that the call to ministry has to do with our gifts and passion, not our titles or position on the laity-clergy spectrum.

Question 3: What's one achievable change that would make the UMC a bit closer to the church you dream about?

Here the conversation was at its most powerful for me, as people's passion was channeled into positive, practical visioning. What I learned is that there are lots of people who see the same way forward I do (I think it has a lot to do with contextualizing our theology and practice, through some form of national or regional central conferences for the U.S.), there are many people who have other or additional creative ideas for transformation. Nothing gives me more hope than passionate people who also can think proactively.

[caption id="attachment_2171" align="alignleft" width="300"] Wordle WordCloud of the Q3 answers (online here)[/caption]

There were many cries for a U.S. Central Conference, something for which I've never heard a huge groundswell of support before. But as I mentioned earlier, the tension of trying to live globally (not internationally) amid massive cultural differences really tied our hands and hearts at this conference. One person put it this way: "A US Central Conference free to set our own standards around the issues that divide the global church. That is it." Another wrote, "Ditto, US central conference. &, quit trying to motivate US church w fear. Motivate w love (good news)."

Many spoke to the need for refocused ministry efforts at the "church" level, and one person emphasized that we need to "expand our idea of 'church' to include non-conventional forms of ministry (campus ministry, non-profits, on tap groups, etc)." Another sumarized this need, saying: "invest in the local church, focus less on ad campaigns and expensive meetings and more on the work of the people."

Still more voices lifted up the need for justice-seeking local ministries: "quit trying to legislate for holiness and rather emphasize social holiness," said one, and another, "go back to some of our roots of leading social change instead of following it."

I was especially heartened by the numbers of people describing a need for deeper theological education and spiritual formation at all levels of the church. One participant wrote of the church's need for "much more serious commitment to Wesleyan theological education. We need more curriculum based on theology AND context." Another put it this way: "new emphasis on practical theology at local & general church level, a theology of 'doing' church-aka being the body of Christ." This theological formation-- from the grassroots up, not the top down!-- impacts our entire way of being as a movement. Said one individual: "Return to Wesleyan tradition. more local autonomy, more Lay leadership, prevailing GRACE, full inclusion, I could go on."

Very practical, short term suggestions called for the elimination of dashboard metrics tools: "Dashboards (obsession only with the quantitative) creates a distorted view of kingdom building that is consumer driven." Others called for term limits for bishops and for delegates to General Conference. And of course, there was a call to reinstate the Conference Cookies.

One participant invited us to dream up "a radically different way to do GC2016. I have no idea what that looks like, but we need to start imagining now."

Many goals were personal and connectional, speaking to the heart of what Methodism is, in my opinion. Some were general: "Encourage more collaboration & working together rather than fighting against each other." Others much more personal: "I'd really like to be in meaningful conversation with our sisters and brothers in Central Conferences." Still others focused on the #DreamUMC conversation itself as a place where change needs to happen: "reach out to my CC friends and people of color to make sure that the tweet chat has a wider range of voices."

One person concluded with a simple goal, "Stop worrying about our fears....just do ministry...." I've found that at any level of ministry, this is the best advice.

Conclusion & Looking Ahead

For many of us, this conversation was only the beginning. As the hour drew to a close, people expressed joy and hope through the process, "It's like a Holy Spirit wave!" one person wrote, and I agree. Another person wrote that Twitter gave them a whole new understanding of Pentecost, and I can't help but see how much of this conversation, and the form in which it is happening, will shape my sermon for that holiday next week. I concluded the time feeling uplifted, hopeful, and heard (which is ironic, since as moderator, I kept most of my opinions to myself-- a challenge for this raging extrovert). And I felt and feel deeply blessed to be part of a church and a movement filled with so many passionate people who love and serve Christ in radical, hope-filled, life-changing ways.

We plan to chat again in two weeks, on Monday May 28th, 9 pm eastern.

And as often as we need to in order to equip ourselves, organize our thoughts, and hold one another up in grace and hope.


Becca Clark is an ordained elder in the New England Annual Conference and on an exciting journey of faith and ministry. She's pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Montpelier, Vermont, and co-founder and president of a local non-profit organization, Just Basics, Inc., bringing together and structuring programs that work with members community to address their basic needs and confront cycles of injustice. Becca is a dreamer, a loving soul, a seeker of justice, a wife, a mom of two, and a friend, and loving nearly every minute of it. Not at all in that order, usually.

Hope in the Midst of Pain

by T.C. Morrow

I went to Tampa with an eye toward hope wherever it might be found. I had a great conversation on one of my flights down, I ran into fellow Wesley Seminary alums that I wasn't expecting to see, and I had the privilege to welcome people arriving to Sunday's Love Your Neighbor worship service with Dr. James Cone preaching. There was great music, fellowship, worship and good news in some of the legislative action, like support for the DREAM Act.

Yet in the midst of such positive points there was a lot of pain.

We must name the wrongs and the harm that have come from keeping the status quo in the Book of Discipline on language describing “homosexuality.” We must lament and we must call out for justice. But we are also an Easter people. From the midst of unfathomable pain comes new life. As I sat in the Tampa airport waiting for my flight home, I read an email stating hope that the time at the General Conference will provide renewed energy for BWARM, the Baltimore-Washington Area Reconciling United Methodists. I know the experience, as exhausting as it was, has given me renewed energy for equipping welcoming spaces for ALL to hear the gospel and to be in life sustaining Christian community. It may be too soon for many, but I kept looking for points of hope throughout my week in Tampa.

Though pained that the General Conference could not agree to state that we the people of the United Methodist Church do not agree about homosexuality, I do find great hope in the fact that Rev. Adam Hamilton and Rev. Michael Slaughter proposed the amendment and spoke to it. I am sure that they have each taken some heat after their speeches on the floor on Thursday and I hold each in prayer.

On Thursday after the General Conference failed to pass the Hamilton amendment and failed to pass removing the “incompatible with Christian teaching” language, a group of advocates for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the United Methodist Church gathered around the communion table on the floor of the General Conference, sang "What Does the Lord Require of You, " and shared communion together. I joined the group and sang and sang. I can't carry a tune, but I can be present. Taking communion in that space, in spite of the votes that had just occurred, was very Spirit-filled for me.

I pray that this witness that occurred at the end of the Thursday morning session, and other events like Dr. Cone’s sermon, the Love Your Neighbor luncheons (videos at and the Friday Altar for All event, may give hope to thousands of gay and lesbian United Methodists, and our allies, across the world who are in deep disappointment. It is okay to be disappointed. It is okay to be hurt. But I pray that none settle into despair. We are an Easter people. Hang onto the moments of hope you had, whether you were in Tampa, watching online or receiving updates on Twitter. Those moments of hope will enliven our own ministries within our local congregations and indeed empower the Common Witness Coalition’s efforts for the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the life and ministry of the United Methodist Church.

T.C. Morrow is a member of BWARM (Baltimore-Washington Area Reconciling United Methodists) and Foundry UMC in Washington, DC. She is a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary and is passionate about interfaith collaboration for social justice.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Moment of Personal Privilege

by Stephanie Gottschalk

Listen to the full message here.

My name is Stephanie Gottschalk, I am 31 years old and a first-time delegate to General Conference, I love you, and I believe in the value of your voice. I came here charged to employ that belief in holy conference.

I came to general conference in order to hear other voices, share my own and to be in Holy Conferencing. While here, I have been captivated by the beautiful visions that I have seen at the 2012 General Conference. We've dreamed dreams of a church that addresses the changing needs of our world. We have talked of a time when our church empowers the voices of the the young and marginal.

I have been captivated by the visions for our future painted by this General Conference. We dream of a church that addresses the changing needs of our world. We talk of a time when our church will empower the young and the marginalized. We all yearn for meaningful change. As a young person I came to this holy conference with you, so that together we could discern the changes that will make these visions real.

I am happy to say that through the many conversations that I have had with other young people, I have discovered this to be true. I have made many friends with people who look like me and don't look like me, from around the world. I have experienced powerful worship services and have had even more powerful holy moments. I have also had deep conversations with people that I have agreed to disagree with.

Yet General Conference has also opened my eyes to a painful reality.

The pain of coming to the table with a heart open to listen and finding closed-door meetings, manipulation of the process, and systematic ageism. I feel betrayed by what I have witnessed. The lack of integrity in a system in which important and SACRED work is done. Fear and mistrust have led to actions which, in turn, breed more fear and mistrust.

I have heard of specific and repeated behaviors dismissing, intimidating and disempowering many, but especially young people.

In committee work, a few young people were ignored when they asked questions. Others have been told they cannot understand legislation because it is too complex. After being kept away from the conversation surrounding restructure, young people were pressured to endorse legislative compromises that they were not invited to help draft.

However, I am most upset that we will be forever be known as the General Conference, which on Wednesday, adopted a restructure plan that takes away all guaranteed youth and young adult voices from it's most central committee.

This isn't right. It isn't right, it isn't just and it isn't holy...

I love you. I love Jesus, and I love the United Methodist Church. I am not saying these truths because I'm disenfranchised or giving up. I'm saying these things because I care and becuase I'm not leaving.

To all of you who have listened, comforted and supported us when we have been hurt, you are our heroes... Thank you.

...But to change this system... we need more.

We need you to be our champions: We need you to stand up for the  underrepresented of our church family when you see things happening that aren't right. We need you to trust us with the gospel that you shared with us; calling out unjust behaviors when you witness them and to consider your own assumptions about the young people you encounter. By doing this work together we can start living into being the holy body of Christ.

Bishop, can you please pray for this body, for those who have been harmed, and especially for those of us who have hurt others here.

Though she ran out of time, she tweeted her suggestions on how to better include young people and make holy conferenceingactuallyhappen.

1. Be intentional about nominating (youth, young laity, young clergy) 4 general boards, agencies, jurisdictional committees.

2. Name behaviors, injustices, absences, and misunderstandings that you witness in others and in the church.

3. Be mindful & aware of your own assumptions & behaviors about others, including young people. Does it build up or tear down?

Please share online & face to face w/others. We truly need young leaders in practice in order to live fully as the church.


Stephanie came to Emanuel UMC in Pittsburgh, PA, as Pastor in 2009. She is a graduate of George Washington University and Wesley Theological Seminary, both located in Washington, D.C. She was also a reserve delegate from Western Pennsylvania to General Conference. You can read more about her here.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Statement on Divestment

This is a statement read from the floor on Wednesday during the divestment debate, in which a statement was passed but too watered down to be effective.

by Sara Ann Swenson

Hello, my name is Sara Ann Swenson, lay delegate from Minnesota. I am 23 years old, and I am here, like you, because I love this church. I also love my friends from school and around the world.

In the United States, people from my generation are missing. People between the ages of 18 and 24 make up only 5 percent of our congregations, according to statistics I recieved just yesterday from the Board of Ordained Ministry.

According to research done by the Barna Group -- some of the reasons people my age aren't here, are that we see the church as small-minded and hypocritical.

We see through you.

While many of you may see Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard as safe, good business investments -- we see the broken bodies, destroyed homes, and weeping families -- many of them fellow Christian families -- that are harmed by our investment choices.

We cannot sing "There is a Balm in Gilead" with any integrity as long as we continue to make these choices.

The petition before us has been gutted of any opportunity to set our hearts and pocketbooks straight in a constructive and meaningful way.

Let's be honest, investing in these companies is investing in war and violence.
If we can't take action, let's at least stop


Sara Ann Swenson, 23, is an M.A. Student at Iliff School of Theology. She hails from Brainerd, Minnesota and is a lay delegate at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference.


Today, the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted down a petition that would have made clear our disagreement on issues of human sexuality. The General Conference (or 60% of the General Conference, anyway) voted to continue institutionalized discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons.

The decision was shattering, all over again, to so many people in our church. Hate speech was uttered on the floor of the conference (the translator of the speech, which was given in French, actually apologized for having to translate what was said). Lies were told. And once again, we tried to block God's all-inclusive love.

You can't block God's love.

During the vote, members of the Love Your Neighbor coalition stood around the bar of the conference, praying. One delegate rose to ask whether he would still be able to vote if he joined those standing, as long as he stayed within the bar. He invited others to join him, and indeed, my little group of three people praying was soon joined by a dozen delegates. We prayed.

After the vote, we broke the bar of the conference, moving to the center communion table where communion was held and songs were sung. Several bishops joined us in the center. A smaller group stayed at the communion table singing, disrupting the next session and finally getting to negotiate with the bishops about agenda items.

It was, to say the least, an emotional day.

I don't know what to say about the decision. It's heartbreaking. But I think it's rooted in a more fundamental problem, one that was on display earlier in the week, when delegates haggled over whether to add a quotation from Romans 8 into our Social Principles. The quote--"Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus"--was opposed by some as being too easy on sinners. Yes. They opposed adding a Bible verse because it--get this--it indicated that God's grace was available to all. One speaker stated baldly that a person's actions can separate them from the love of God.

As United Methodists, we are Wesleyan. And as Wesleyans, we believe in something called prevenient grace. That means God's grace is available to you before you even know it. No. Matter. What.

We voted on the subject and the General Conference did uphold the verse...but only by 56%. A full 44% of the members of the Conference didn't think that God's grace is available to all, no matter what.

And I just don't know how you're going to get people to love their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters if there's not a baseline belief that God's love is for all.
Here is what I am trying to remember, though. Throughout the church, on every continent, in every Annual Conference, there are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people who are in the closet. Who are afraid of showing who they truly are. If our actions today on the conference floor in any way helped those people feel they are loved, that they are not some abomination, that God loves them and so do we, then I'd say--vote result notwithstanding--that it was worth it.

David Hosey is a student at Wesley Seminary and is attending General Conference as a reserve delegate. He blogs at City of...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Come to the Table of Grace

Today was not a good day. But there is still hope.

From UMNS:

Insecurity of Appointment

by Hannah Adair Bonner

In two weeks, I will be one of the first people since the 1950’s to become an ordained Elder in full connection with no expectation of security of appointment. Not wanting to respond reactively, over the past couple days I have been reflecting on what that means. On the one hand, removes distractions from the spiritual element of what will be taking place that day, by taking away the sense that with ordination come rights or protections. On the other hand, it leaves me relying upon the human systems that I struggle to trust in order to receive justice in the carrying out of my calling. In the midst of all that, is God – the God who called me, the God who leads me, the God who loves me, the God under whose protective motherly wing I go for refuge. So in one way, nothing has changed because God is unchangeable and God loves God’s church. In another way, quite a bit has changed.

Recently, I was dialoguing with the male pastor of a large congregation as he explained why there were not many female pastors of large churches in the area. He told me that it was because in the past there had not been a good pool of female candidates. He said the phrase as if he had said it many times before, with little awareness of how inappropriate, hurtful and most of all incorrect that would seem to me. In his mind, he was somehow giving me a compliment that I was different from the women who had come before me, this ‘inadequate pool.’ I pray that is not true. I pray that I can claim a fraction of their courage, of their strength, of their long-suffering witness. The reality that I have watched, heard, and experienced for myself, is that gender justice does not exist and women are not playing on an even playing field. And the church, called to be a prophetic voice against unjustice, often is instead the place where we find the greatest injustice.

I am still processing what all this means for me and for my colleagues. Everyone who is here from my Conference tells me that I have nothing to worry about because I am effective. And I respond, I hope very much that I have something to worry about, because to imply that I have nothing to worry about would mean that I have no prophetic voice. No reason to fear that someone may misuse or distort this legislation to try to silence me. I hope very much that I have something to fear because I hope that I will speak up when I see injustice in our systems. I hope very much that I will help marginalized voices be heard. I hope that I will be obedient to the God who called me and speak up when God prompts me to regardless of the repercussions. I hope that I will not live my life in fear but in courage and boldness and strength - the way that the women who have gone before me have done. They suffered and they struggled and they triumphed over their obstacles at times and at other times were crushed by the rock that they were trying to push up a hill.
With all the things that have come to the floor, with all the emotions involved and all the lives impacted, it pains me that the plenary session did not find the justice issues that the Rev. Wye Hyun Chang and the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm brought up worthy of their time. Regardless of the outcome, it would have meant a great deal to those who will be most affected by it to have the body at large be willing to discuss publicly the potential implications that this legislation could have if only for education and greater accountability. There are still a lot of questions that only time will tell the answers to, and the answers have the possibility of being very painful. As a new generation rises, will they feel they have success in making their prophetic voices heard, or will they be silenced? A system that was first put in place to protect prophetic voices, has now become in some cases one that protects ineffective ministry. As a result, that protection has been taken away in order to encourage more effective ministry. The side effect, however, could be that this legislation could be used not only to cease ineffective ministry, but also misused to silence prophetic voices. This could mean that, once again, my generation will pay the heavier price for those that have gone before them. May God give us all integrity as we move forward so that good may be done rather than harm.


Hannah preparing for ordination in the EPA Conference in May, and serving in a missional appointment to reach young adults in Wilmington, Delaware. She brings a background in justice and reconciliation work, and a commitment to building strong multiethnic communities. After studying at Duke Divinity School, she lived in intentional Christian community at the Isaiah House in Durham, North Carolina; and in 2008, received “Woman of the Year” recognition from the UMW of North Carolina for founding an empowerment program for urban young people at Asbury Temple UMC. Hannah comes from West Chester, Pennsylvania, is proud of her big family of five siblings, and loves connecting with God in nature.

in 140 characters or more

i have been so grateful for the presence of social media inour midst at #gc2012 :)

I “tweeted” this just now from Berkeley, California,Cal-Nevada Conference, USA. For those of you unfamiliar with twitter, it’s asocial networking site that allows people to update a status of 140 charactersor less instantaneously. People young and old alike, from the South, the North,the West, and even the Central Conferences have been using twitter to updateone another, encourage one another, and argue with one another throughout theconference. One of the hallmarks of twitter is the #, or the “hashtag,” used toclassify a “tweet” under a particular topic, which one can then follow. And inorder that we all may become familiar with new language, I will be using#hashtags all through this article.

I had to leave #gc2012 yesterday morning so I could go homeand take finals at #PSRBerkeley (Pacific School of Religion) where I am aboutto finish a Masters of Divinity program, so I am also grateful for the GeneralConference’s decision to take the schedules of students and young people acrossthe globe into account when planning events. Since leaving, I have stayedconnected on Twitter, Facebook, and (when the site isn’t jammed), on the livefeed from And while I LOVE thatsocial media helps me to feel almostas though I were there with my #gc12love family, it is awfully difficult to benuanced in 140 characters, and it’s even harder to challenge flawedepistemology or systemic issues in such a space limit. There have been someproblematic things said on twitter to which I’m eager to respond at greaterlength. I’d like to leave these quotes anonymous, because I don’t want toperpetuate the feelings of entrenchment and embattlement. These are notpersonal attacks; they are intellectual critiques. I also want to make it clearthat I do not speak for everyone using social media. But my reflections comefrom my understanding and experience of the organized progressive movement(Love Your Neighbor) present at #gc2012.

1.     “For a moment there, I thought I was the only voicedefending Africans and conservative Christians from what seems to be anattitude of exclusion coming from those who criticize exclusion...” This post from facebookis an example of one of the most prevalent arguments I have encountered onsocial media during #gc2012: the left is excluding Africans and conservativesfrom having valid opinions #aroundthetable. There is a misconception that the progressivemovement, or “#theinclusionpeople” as someone called us after our #flashmob,stand wholly opposed to our central conference brothers and sisters, and thosefrom US jurisdictions who vote against progressive initiatives. This is simplyfalse. I cannot, of course, speak for everyone in the “twitterverse,” but afterhaving spent ten days in the Love Your Neighbor #tabernacle across the streetfrom the convention center, I will say that Conservatives and CentralConference delegates are always spoken of with the utmost respect, even when wespeak critically. Volunteers signed pledges on Sunday not to commit violencewith our bodies, tongues, or hearts, and I have seen the coalition live up tothis. In fact, the tabernacle has been one of the only places I have heardhonest, open multi-cultural conversation about the problematic nature of the USchurch’s continued colonial relationship with the African and PhilippinesCentral Conferences. Progressive folks are, though not perfectly, trying toreverse patterns of discrimination, militarism, and cultural superiority. Ifully recognize that many faithful conservative folks are doing the same thing;but they are not alone.
2.    “So all white men areracists now? #gc2012”  No. There has been a lotof recognition on social media of how dominated conversation has been by#oldwhitemen, often clergy from the south. But let me be clear: theserecognitions are not tantamount to accusations of individuals acting out ofracist intentions. Here is my understanding: US culture is mired in the sin ofracism. We saw this beautifully and artfully illustrated during the#actofrepentance and during our welcome by Marcus Briggs-Cloud. I believe thatwhite people of faith have great intentions of inclusivity and respect towardspeople of color. But racist culture is insidious. And it sneaks intoconversations that seem innocuous, and vest themselves in the lure of power,and wealth, and ego. And so I believe with the Apostle Paul that even when weintend to do good, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that Ihate.” (Romans 7:15b). Reporting the discrepancies – that while 75% of theworld is of color, yet white is called “majority” at General Conference; that38% of delegates are women while women represent only 11% of speakers (bothfigures reported on the floor) – reporting these discrepancies helps us touncover, unearth the collective sins of racism, sexism, and colonialism.Rhetoric of “post-racial society,” however, leads us away from such propheticwitness. For example, posts like this one: “Theterm "ethnic minority" no longer has meaning in our global church IfU were physically present at #GC2012 U would understand”indicate a sincere lack of understanding of global dynamics of race and power.
3.    “I’m tired of beingpersecuted for preaching the truth of the gospel.”  This is a paraphrase of reaction I have seen not only insocial media, but also on the floor of committees at #gc2012. It employs thelogic of what has been called “reverse discrimination,” a mythical concept ofoppression of those who hold majority positions, power, and wealth simplybecause they stand in opposition to the marginalized. I am not willing to moveon my position that reverse racism is a myth, and here is why. Oppressions –like racism, sexism, heterosexism, and colonialism – require more than justrhetoric. They require power, systems, structures, authority, and wealth.African American folks in this country are oppressed not because the KKKexists, but also because there is a sometimes subtle, sometimes violent,ever-present system that continues to disenfranchise them when it comes toequal pay, equal treatment under the law, and equal opportunities to jobs andservices, as well as rhetoric fromwhite folk and others that continues to demean and dehumanize. Lesbian, Gay,Bisexual, and Transgender folks are oppressed not because Fred Phelps plans toprotest at #gc2012, but also because there are systems that allow the continueddisenfranchisement of and violence towards queer people, including denial ofrights to marry, rights to equal pay and employment non-discrimination, andrights to our personal safety. Put another way: Prejudice is personal judgmentagainst an individual based on an aspect of their identity. When prejudice isacted upon (prejudice + action), the yield is discrimination. Discrimination isthe engagement of action based on prejudice. When discrimination is paired withpower (discrimination + power), the result is oppression. Oppression, in otherwords, occurs when discriminatory acts are codified in policy or in societalmores and culture. Reverse racism, or reverse oppression, is #NotAThing (is amyth) because white folks have, by virtue of the privilege afforded them in USsociety, a great deal of power, and the disenfranchised and marginalized donot. Therefore even if critiques leveled against the privileged are unfair orunsupported by fact, the marginalized cannot oppress the powerful because we donot, largely, have access to the systems oppression that categoricallydisenfranchise and dehumanize. People of privilege can claim they are beingjudged unnecessarily, but in most places, and particularly at #gc2012 whereconversation and, as we have seen, policy is so dominated by the (largelywhite) Southeast and South Central jurisdictions, people of privilege cannotclaim reverse oppression and victimhood. Enacting the kind of justice Jesus andthe prophets called for sometimes means listening to the critiques of themarginalized, and as Tony Campolo told the GBCS dinner on Tuesday night, giving up power.
As I havesaid, I cannot assume that all progressives using social media hold such anuanced stance. And I freely admit that there has been hurtful language andmockery on all sides. But I have seen at this General Conference the ways inwhich power and wealth have been used to systematically disenfranchise women,people of color, the poor, and yes, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, andqueer persons, and I will no longer abide the dismissal of the pain of mypeople. Our protests are not akin, as some have said, to a child throwing atemper tantrum at the dinner table; they are a biblical lament in the style ofthe psalmist. They are not the petulant whines of a sore loser; they are a callto prophetic witness and justice like those of the prophets of the HebrewBible, and of Jesus.
In momentslike these, the word “schism” is often raised. I would like to make it clearthat I am committed to remaining in this church. As an observer in thediscussion of human sexuality in Church and Society B, there was no point atwhich I thought to myself, “I don’t ever want to sit at table, or serve with,or preside with Dr. Eddie Fox.” (I use Dr. Fox as an example because of how farapart we sit politically.) NO, I believe the gospel calls me into radical lovefor those who disagree with me, even “to pray for those who persecute me.”However, I will not be dissuaded from my belief in the call to justice. If Ileave the United Methodist Church it will not be because I was bullied intosilence. It will be because the United Methodist Church has ceased to beWesleyan, cease to be a place I can faithfully preach the gospel of JesusChrist to a people desperate for transformation. If I leave the UnitedMethodist Church, it will be because the church fails to be the church, andthis #IWillNotAbide.
this cross-posted at MOSAIC and in the Love Your Neighbor newsletter at #gc2012. Jamie Michaels is a graduating student at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, a leader in MOSAIC (Methodist Students, seminarians, and young people for an All Inclusive Church), and a candidate for ordination in the Cal-Nevada Annual Conference. 

The Potter, the Clay, and General Conference

by Jordan Harris

General Conference is a ten day long experience of representatives from annual conferences all around this world. Delegates meet, debate, converse, and vote all in the name of God’s will for The United Methodist Church. Thousands of petitions, amendments and proposals are brought before the body to playfully discern what God’s will is. However how can we be sure it is actually God’s will being done, rather than one or two conferences within the denomination?

General Conference reminds me of Paul’s imagery in his letter to the Romans. In chapter nine, Paul is echoing the prophet Isaiah when he says “has the potter no right over the clay?” (Romans 9:21a). Paul, speaking to the church in Rome, is arguing for the righteousness of God here in chapter nine. He is answering the question, “in light of the resurrection of Christ, is God still righteous?” Paul here in chapter nine is calling out the people of the church, by answering the question he posed which was “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”

This Job style question is a full frontal calling out of those who think they know better than God. This type of accountability is one that tends to make most people uneasy, to say the least. Surely we wouldn’t say to a friend, “so you think you know better than God?” Or to a co-worker “God wants us to focus on my part of the job and ignore whatever it is you have to do.” Paul and Isaiah pose this question to people who thought they knew God’s will. The people in exile in Isaiah 64 and the church in Rome in Romans 9. They did this in a loving manner in which to try and hold the audiences accountable to one another and to their common purpose.

Clay is made up of all different kinds of minerals and soil. There are differences about the different make ups of two samples of clay. One might be mostly calcium, iron and water, while the other clay is made up of mud, rocks, and organism. No two clays are exactly the same because of this. There is light clay, dark clay, hard clay, soft clay.

I think that it would be in order to stand at the prophetic pulpit and speak the words of Paul and Isaiah to General Conference, just as a friendly reminder to us. Who are you to tell the potter what to make? It is evident by the UMC plan legislation that we are in the business of trying to figure out what we are to do, but what is ever more evident is us forgetting that we are simply the potter’s clay. We belong to God. He is our common goal.

I enjoy being in dialogue with the people here at General Conference; however humility, that is remembering we are simply the clay is left out of the conversation. We, as United Methodists need to take a stance that we humbly are trying to figure out just want kind of pot God is molding us into.


Jordan Harris is a junior at Eastern University and a bible major working on the candicy process. He is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and a lay delegate to General Conference from the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wading in the Water

Powerful witness, at least for those involved, particularly after staggering defeats today.

Here is the text:

The General Conference has broken Wesley's General Rule by doing harm to young adults, people of color, gay and lesbian people, women and others.
Confusion has taken the place of Holy Conferencing.
Legalism has obscured love.
Fear has silenced faith.
But even though the action of General Conference, and the inaction of our other leadership, has done great harm, we will always be a part of God's church.
We are finished waiting. By waiting, more harm is done.
We are centered in the Gospel.
We are grounded in the Gospel.
We are joyful in the Gospel.
We are committed to following Jesus Christ to embody God's love and justice through the United Methodist Church.
We will work passionately for racial justice.
We will embody full inclusiveness for people of all sexual orientations.
We will celebrate people of all gender identities.
We are global, connectional, and repentant of colonialism.
We will be a people of peace.
We will proclaim the stewardship of creation joyfully.
We will strive for economic justice.
This is what it means to be United Methodist. We are here. We will remain in this church as long as we can preach the Gospel and faithfully make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of us all.

Being Left Behind: How it Feels to Couch Potato Through General Conference

A few months ago, I made the decision to not attend GeneralConference with a class of seminarians, opting instead to finish my finals and my supervised ministryappointment. It seemed wise at the time, but as I sit glued to the live feeds,I realize just how much I wish I were there. And just how glad I am that I’mnot.  Being left behind is a special struggle for me, as I hate being left out of anything and have an unfortunate tendency to think everyone should hear my opinions.  Why else would I blog?

I first tuned into the live stream of General Conferencejust after leaving work on Thursday night, right as Mark Miller called for apoint of personal privilege. I see Mark every week in worship and hearing himsound so injured was heartbreaking, hearing the Bishop silence him made me furious. I didn’t know exactly what was taking place but I knew that it didn’tsound like the work of the people of God. I wanted to be there, standing besidehim, to show the delegates that we who are coming up into ordination carepassionately about this issue. I was glad I wasn’t there because from my couch,it felt like an environment that could kill a young person’s desire to servethe United Methodist Church.  I wasangry. I was confused about what had taken place. I needed a word of hope to remindme that God was very present. I was grateful for Bishop Hoshibata, the bishopin my conference, for speaking about what it meant to be healed. He remindedwhy I keep reaffirming my commitment to the Church.

I still felt the need to act, but I was less inclined to flydown to be in solidarity with the other students from Drew, with the otheryoung people, with other people working for full inclusion. I decided that Icould offer my presence through prayer, so I emailed my fellow seminarians and starteda prayer vigil that will be held until the last day of General Conference.  We are praying for peaceful discussion,loving words, and Christ-centered decisions.

After I sent out the email to the school, I began to hearreports from those at General Conference that healing conversations werehappening and seeds of hope were springing up from many places. Those are themoments I mourn missing. I do not doubt that the Spirit is filling every cornerof General Conference, but it can be easy to miss it all the way fromhome.  On the other hand, I alsoget to walk away when the discussions become too intense.  I can shut Twitter when I don’t feellike hearing everyone’s opinion. I have that luxury, being all the way up inNew Jersey.

Right now, I’m listening to a debate whether or not we willuse language of prevenient grace in our Social Principles and suddenly finalsare very difficult. I don’t recognize the church that I’m studying so hard toserve. I don’t know what our identity is, at this moment. I am deeply restlessbecause decisions are being made that I will have to live out and I can onlystare helplessly at my computer screen, tweet my thoughts, and hope that God’spresence settles both on me and the delegates doing the hard work of Church. Idesperately wish to be a part of the holy conversations –both official andunofficial- taking place in Tampa. I suppose this is the way the process goes,we have to trust that those we have elected will faithfully represent our voice.I’m struggling to believe my voice has a place right now, so I’m going to headto the chapel for prayer and wait for the word of hope that seems to alwaysemerge.

JanessaChastain is finishing (if she can turn off General Conference) her second year atDrew Theological School. She is the incoming president of the Theological Student Association. She cares deeply about her school, her denomination, and how to best follow Christ's call on her life. You can find her blog at The Church Mouseor follow her on twitter at JanessaC

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Religion Gets Political

by Mistead Sai

I am the Young Adult Coordinator for Conferences for the Common Witness Coalition. What I observed in this 2012 General Conference is the politics of religion. The General Conference has democratic formalities. I feel that much of the Conference is structured like the U.S. Congress. My observation at the Conferences Committee meeting is one of lighter and somber tone compared to other committees. It involves petition, second motions, and votes. I do not know how much of it is personal convictions over Christian doctrine and spirit-filled discernment about where God is leading us as the United Methodist Church.

Just recently, I was discussing with someone at the General Conference about the committee deliberations and she told me about the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral." Though I have been in the church since I was young, I had never heard about the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral applies methodological sources to theological conclusions. They are scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. I was amazed to discover that she herself had become a Methodist based on these guiding principles. I wonder if these principles are being applied at the Conferences Committee. I can only hope it is and have faith that Christ will lead us where he wants us to be as church.

Specifically, when it came to the Conferences committee, one of the petitions I can recall was in regards to equitable worldwide connection. The petition tried to make more equitable approach in structure and policy making. Unfortunately, people voted against it and then later struck it down. When one of the delegates motioned that it should be referred to a commission group for further discussion so the authors can explain their case for the petition, it was shot down. I question whether she did not receive the votes based on political agendas of the delegates.

I think as the increasingly global church, we must account for all and seek equality. We should apply those Wesleyan Quadrilateral principles to all matters and make united decisions into those efforts of equity and social justice rather than the politics of it all. This should be the definitive aspect of Wesley thought and the body of the United Methodist Church.


Mistead Sai is a senior Sociology major at the University of Maryland. He plans to work with non-profit organizations when he graduates. He is active with his United Methodist Campus Ministry and seeks to be more involved in church-related volunteering & service and pursuits for social justice in the near future on behalf of his faith.


Who says we don't have fun at General Conference?