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What’s love got to do with Ratification, Ferguson, and Congregations?

The answer for me is, everything. Unlike the amazing Tina Turner, I’m not talking about protecting our hearts so we may reap all the benefits of platonic relationships.  I’m talking about the fact there will always be pain and sadness on this side of the Jordan.  It’s unavoidable, it’s tiring, and honestly, it sucks.

It seems this American summer was just as bitter as it was sweet.  A lot was happening in our national community.  I have to agree with those who don’t believe there was ever a simpler time.  They’re onto something.  I think that’s why Tina, calls love “A second hand emotion” and “sweet old fashioned notion”.  Nostalgia binds us from acknowledging the painful truths of the past by just focusing on a good experienced by a dominant group.

I’m also not trying to fashion love as a fairy powder made from the gracious manes of unicorns (Although, if anyone has found love in this literal form, I want in!).  It’s not the cheap, “everything is going to be alright” attitude that gives me solace about the state of things.  Since oppression is inherently systemic and not just interpersonal, I find that phrase incredibly patronizing.  It’s usually from someone who is well intentioned, but is neither queer nor a person of color.  It’s another way oppressed people are silenced and treated as other.  Nope, I’m not talking about that kind of love.  I’m talking about the difficult, stubborn persistent love that’s in solidarity with the brokenness it sees.

There was a lesbian couple at GA who had been together for at least 30 years.  They came to see if their beloved church would embrace their humanity with love and welcome.  When they asked me if I thought the amendment would pass, I told them we’d most likely have to wait until next GA; the chances of the AI passing were far greater.  I cannot imagine what they experienced when the amendment passed.  As for myself, I bawled like a baby.  Enough church representatives loved God, the church and their LGBTQ neighbors to see they too were made in God’s image.  Frankly, that kind of love blows idealized fairy unicorn powder away.  It is not an easy love; it is not a popular love; the love of true solidarity is hard and often comes at a tangible worldly price.  However, I can honestly say that is one of the moments I was most proud to be a part of our beautifully broken denomination.

Let’s search for the solidarity of love in Ferguson.  What happened to Mike Brown was tragic. No matter what he did, he didn’t deserve to be killed.  His death along with Trayvon Martin’s, represent a fraction of people of color whose murders are given attention.  Just in the time of the news coverage there was another African-American man killed by a police officer in Los Angeles, and 3 trans people (2 of color) brutally murdered in Detroit.  Per usual, the airwaves were pretty much silent.

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(Heads up, this video is powerful, but it’s sincere and intentional language may cause discomfort.)

 

As a kid, my parents would tell my brother and I from as young as 7 years old, to always let a police officer know what movements you are about to make.  Make them slowly.  Tell them what you are reaching for, where it is, and why.  Always stay calm and polite when an officer pulls you over and you did nothing wrong.  Always be calm and kind when you are followed by security or the police.  My parents never said “if”, they always said “when”.  I’ve had those experiences multiple times.  It’s simply a fact of life.  Sometimes I’m angry about it, and sometimes I don’t even bother and just want to continue with my day.  Either way, it’s a perfect example how saying, “everything is going to be alright”, is an inappropriate statement.  It’s not.  Its always a gamble.  My grandparents had lynching, my parents had lynching and police murder, my generation has police murder.  Both manifestations of racism occur with impunity.  I’m sure people are tired of hearing about Ferguson, but I’m tired of having to live it from the day I was born, till the day I die.  People of color do not have the privilege to move on, there is no day off on experiencing racism or any other kind of oppression.

So, what does the solidarity of love look like in the face of this particular manifestation of racism?  One example comes from this amazing older lesbian woman.  She is a member of my partner’s former congregation.  One day she saw a police officer giving an African-American man a traffic ticket on a false charge.  She boldly went up to the officer snatched the ticket out his hand, ripped it up and told the African-American man to continue about his way.

Now, I know this form of solidarity is radical.  She truly loved her neighbor as she loved herself.  She knew, because she was a white woman, that she could use her privilege to embody an act of love.  In my experience, most people will not use their privilege, as a direct tool to love their neighbors.  It’s too radical, too risky.  Like it or not, for change to occur in the form of loving solidarity it must also come from our privileged identities.  Stokely Carmichael, in his world famous speech, Black Power put it another way, “I maintain that every civil rights bill in this country was passed for white people, not for black people… I also know that while I am black I am a human being and therefore have the right to go into any public space. White people didn’t know that.” Imagine if we all actually became aware of our privileges and how they impact others? Our white, lesbian friend did, and it was powerful.

What’s love got to do with Congregations? Rev. Randall Tremba, of Shepardstown Presbyterian Church in West Virginia, one of our newest More Light Congregations, put it beautifully in his sermon awhile back, “Do whatever you can, wherever you can, for whomever you can and don’t worry about things you can’t do anything about…There is no one great thing to be done to fix the world. But there are many small things to be done with great love.” As the world continues to spin, as we organize for ratification of LGBTQ marriage, while we rally in solidarity with people of color, and as we actively wake ourselves and congregations out of the comfort of complacency, I’m putting my trust in the solidarity of love. It seems to me, it’s what’s most at stake in all our mess.

UMC #BiblicalObedience in #Ferguson

Though I’d love to be able to always know precisely all the details of what the Lord calls me to do, many times all I know to do is to “get a move on” as my late father used to say. To get up and be led by the Spirit, which is how Jesus ended up in the wilderness to be tempted, is not at all comfortable. Monday morning I had a prophetic discomfort. Waking up seeing the continued events in Ferguson, Missouri, I knew I was being called by God to go to Ferguson to give my support to the protesters, as they are demanding justice in light of the killing of 18-year old Michael Brown.

Bishop Mel Talbert has urged us to practice “Biblical Obedience.” Though the context of his urging is specifically related to justice and full inclusion within The United Methodist Church for LGBTQ persons I hear his plea more broadly aim. Succinctly put, it requires us, according to Micah 6:8; “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” I’m practicing Biblical Obedience in Ferguson.

This call to Biblical Obedience is not and cannot be solely for the purpose of LGBTQ rights. It must address oppression wherever it’s tenacious tentacles grip the lives of God’s people and Earth itself. This is why we must all work together and use our voices against oppression.

As a womanist scholar I always seek to advance wholeness for people of this global community. This is why we “love struggle.” Like the young protestors marching down W. Florissant, who sing, “We’re young. We’re strong. We’re marching all night long!” our love for the struggle is not because we enjoy suffering but because we know we are wrestling power out of the hands of the oppressor… AND. THAT. WE. SHALL. PREVAIL.

One of the things that keep coming to my mind while I am in Ferguson is “safe space.” I think safe space is important to have whenever possible. But as I am literally walking in front of police armed with tear gas, rifles, billy clubs, and riot shields, I’m convinced that if you are really serious about ministry you must be willing to walk in some pretty unsafe spaces. You must especially do that while looking at those who are seen as your enemy—in this case the police—who are as we all are, imperfect. My struggle goes well beyond individual police but instead to an entire police system that is daily strategizing to deny justice to American citizens. No one can tell me that denying freedom of the press as I have personally witnessed is not a categorical denial of justice. No one can tell me that the killing of an unarmed man or the beating of an unarmed woman ought not unequivocally require a thorough and transparent investigation.

I celebrate the work being done in the Missouri Conference of The United Methodist Church to address this crisis. I am thankful for letters written by Bishop Schnase, Bishop Carcaño, and any other of our bishops. I am nonetheless dismayed that on the day of this writing the United Methodist Council of Bishops has not issued a pastoral letter to speak to this national crisis in Ferguson. I took for granted that this would be done given the several statements they issued related to LGBTQ ordination and marriage. They are silent while the world cries out. The international community has swiftly addressed what is going on, Human Rights Watch has decried Ferguson police tactics, and Amnesty International are present monitoring events. As I do work here in Ferguson I question the integrity of the service of repentance for the church’s racist history.

If you have been asking, “What can I do?” I believe the best answer is to just make the first step. Nothing I am doing in Ferguson was well thought out before my arrival. Andy Oliver, M Barclay, and I are literally thinking on our feet. Just get a move on!

 

 

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Right to Left: Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey, Rev. Andy Oliver, M Barclay in Ferguson.

Rev. Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey is an ordained elder of the Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church serving as Associate Dean for Community Life and Lifelong Learning at Boston University School of Theology. In addition to this work, Dr. Lightsey serves as co-chair of the Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society Group of the American Academy of Religion. An Army veteran and mother whose son served in Iraq, Dr. Lightsey is active in social justice ministries but particularly those focusing on global peace, LGBTQ civil rights, eradicating racism and the engagement of viable reconciliation methodologies. RMN’s history and work is contiguous with her own experiences. She has worked with RMN and supported its several programs and is happy to offer her scholarship and ministry skills to the organization. Pamela hopes to help RMN especially to understand and further support the unique challenges of being a queer person of color.

Presbyqueerian and the Three Churches

Once upon a time there was a Presbyqueerian who lived in the City of Magnificent Intentions with lots of Family.  Even her church was filled with Family. They marched together through magical streets lined with rainbows, telling everyone they were safe and welcome and loved by God.  And they were. Even and especially people who had been clobbered before by the Trolls of the Troubling Texts. Many Family members, including the Presbyqueerian, had long ago slain the Troubling Text Trolls and would just as soon have left them behind and forgotten about them. But the Church in the City of Magnificent Intentions decided one summer to take on troll after troll, text after text, week after week.  Presbyqueerian knew it was important to help take on the trolls, but was not enthusiastic about facing them again — not because they were so scary anymore, but because she was so tired of fighting them. Read more

Ohio Faith Organizing Coordinator

Ohio Faith Organizing Coordinator (Part-time)

POSITION OVERVIEW

More Light Presbyterians seeks a part-time faith organizer based in Ohio to take the lead organizing Presbyterians for an educational campaign on fair treatment of all Ohioans regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. The position is a contract position for 15 hours a week through January 31, 2015.

More Light Presbyterians values education for congregations and clergy to know how to achieve fair treatment and equal opportunity for all Ohioans regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. We know that through active engagement of leaders and congregations in Ohio toward this goal we can:  (a) educate the public that discrimination against LGBT people is still legal; (b) create greater understanding about the need for redress for the harms caused to LGBT people by discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations; and (c) counter oppositional education that uses religious freedom or religious exemptions as a means to discriminate when others seek to secure LGBT-inclusive statewide nondiscrimination protections. Read more

Communications Director job opening at More Light Presbyterians

Communications Director (part-time)

This job is title is “Communications Director” — because that’s the closest approximation we could find — but really this position is about so much more. An ideal candidate (could it be you?) is somebody who’s willing to be bold about what’s possible for MLP’s communications in the future. We want creativity, collaboration and — above all else — somebody who wants to dive in and make this job their own. The movement for LGBTQ inclusion in the church and world is in an exciting place right now. We are in the process of achieving marriage equality in the PC(USA) as we are working on expanding our welcoming congregations. More Light Presbyterians is leading this movement, shaping the conversation and setting the course for the coming years. Everything this position does is vital to this effort.

One thing to note is that MLP doesn’t expect the ideal candidate to have all of the qualifications listed here. (But if you’re a unicorn and you, in fact, do have all of these then by all means please apply immediately if not sooner.) We’re more interested in somebody who has some of these qualifications but is willing to learn the others they’re lacking. We want somebody who’s going to work hard, be a team player and show real passion for our mission. MLP is dedicated to leadership development and if you have some but not all of these qualifications, apply anyway! We can make sure you get the training you need along the way.

Read more

Heteronormativity and the Book of Order

[Disclaimer:  one of the functions of the MLP editorial board is to lift up alternate perspectives around the church. If others have a different take on this or other issues, your comments are also welcome here. ]

As I watched John Wilkinson offer an amendment to the proposed amendment to the Book of Order on marriage at the 221st General Assembly in Detroit, my heart sank. A clean simple statement that marriage involves commitment “between two people” had to be qualified: “between two people, traditionally one man and one woman.”

With the amendment coming from a More Light church pastor, and with this not being my first observation of GA plenary, I immediately recognized the move as strategy. I appreciated the “big tent” intention to include a wide range of views on marriage in the PCUSA. I understood the strategic move to appease some “traditional marriage” advocates in the church in order to ensure passage of the amendment in the presbyteries. Still,  this is deeply problematic language to enshrine in our constitution. Read more

Follow MLP at the 221st General Assembly

More Light Presbyterians will be blogging from the 221st General Assembly in Detroit at:

http://ga221.org

Sacred Work as Old as the Church

Recently I spent an afternoon at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, doing some research for a group who are bringing an overture to General Assembly, the governing body of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

It had been a long time since I’d been in a historical society, but the smell of old paper, the hush of the reading room, the pressing desire to read everything soon seemed familiar again. The historical society is located in the heart of Old City Philadelphia, not far from Independence Hall, Washington Square, and the Liberty Bell, touchstones of our nation’s struggle, so many years ago, to forge a path to independence, liberty, and justice for all. Of course, historians of American history and activists alike agree that this struggle continues for many in the US, even with advances in rights for immigrants, people of color, women and LGBT couples. Read more

Inspired and Inclusive Equality: Going Back to Detroit to GA for Daddy

For the better part of the last thirty years, my father has been a social justice activist serving as a leader within his Christian denomination, most specifically in various leadership roles where he could be an advocate for anti-racism education, universal health care, peace with justice in the middle East, and for full inclusion of our LGBTQ family within the body of Christ. Read more

Love for Those on the Journey

The theme for More Light Sunday on June 1st is, “Life-changing conversations rooted in pride and love.” This year’s More Light Sunday theme gives us an opportunity to reflect on our call to engage in difficult, but life-changing conversations. More than at any time in the history of our work for the welcome and affirmation of LGBTQ people, these conversations offer the possibility to further God’s transforming work in our denomination. Read more