Thursday, May 3, 2012

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. 

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