i’ve been complicit & it’s past time to turn the table the patriarchy built

I write this post not to absolve myself of the sins I have made against God’s beloved children by not being in radical solidary to everyone pushed to the margins by the patriarchy. I write this post to confess my sins and to encourage others like myself (white, straight, middle class cisgender) to start this painful, humbling process of self-examination. I am still learning and hope that people continue to lovingly educate and provide feedback as I move forward to the person that God has called me to be.

When I was in elementary school one of the ways we learned the multiplication tables was by speed tests. We did these individually and by the game inaptly called “around the world.” This game consisted of everyone sitting in a small circle while one person would stand, the teacher would say 3×4, the person who answered correctly (12) would win and move to the next person. If you got around the “world” you would win a Jolly Rancher.

As a white cisgender girl, I excelled at this game. I bounded around the circle leaving all in my wake. No thought to why we were learning by competition, but did noticed the boys in the circle annoyed with how well I was doing as a girl.

In college, I took a course on ethnomathematics and how math is taught and learned that this method was built around the success of white cisgender men and how they learned. I studied how gender impacted math education, then I further studied how race did. Competition being the root of learning the multiplication tables to how we learn higher level mathematics without knowing the big picture first, giving a group of white boys the means to succeed more than the rest of us. I noticed who was in my high-level mathematics courses in college, we were mostly white and the woman who were my peers had fathers who were engineers and had taken the time with their daughter’s education.

What would it have looked like if my teachers had taught the multiplication tables differently, not an on the spot competition, but embracing that not everyone can spit out 12 as quickly and that it created an unhealthy space? I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had just been a little slower so a shy or quiet peer could have had a better chance for that Jolly Rancher. We were fighting over one spot for a prize, the being set apart, when we could have been collectively learning together.

Mathematics was the entry point to opening my eyes to privilege and understanding how I could move within those systems both knowingly and unknowingly. I have been complicit.

Studying something, learning something, is no use unless you apply and live it. I confess that I have not understood the weight of my college learnings until recently. I believe that sin is not living up to one’s full potential, and I have not been living that way.

In understanding how to game the system, I have forgotten the spaces I try to be is not the table of Jesus, it’s the table that the patriarchy built with limited seating and only a few spots for people who do not fit the mold. The table that the patriarchy built is not the full breath of humanity and was intentionally composed to limit all God’s beloved from breaking bread together (as we fight for that one Jolly Rancher instead). It has pitted those who do not fit the patriarchal model against each other. It comes up in siloed systems where justice seekers are not intersectional and working together for our collective liberation.

I have been sinfully slow in realizing that I have wasted too many decades attempting to get a seat at the wrong table when the table that Jesus set for us is open to all. I have not been expansive enough regarding gender, I have not educated myself enough on racism and poverty, and I have siloed myself. As hard as I thought I was fighting the patriarchy, I was doing so from the lens of a straight, white cisgender woman embedded in a system rooted in scarcity when God has taught us there is more than enough. The patriarchy preaches the falsehood of not enough space at the table when Jesus lived abundance and multiplied the loaves and fishes.

Recently, I have been examining myself and what is next for myself in ministry and have been heartbroken with how my United Methodist Church has been. It has been glaring to me that as I have started to re-engage with church activism that I have been fighting to get to the wrong table. Last week I attended a webinar on radical solidarity and found myself in tears realizing that I have caused harm. Saying I’m sorry will never be enough, I needed to recalibrate my course, my actions, my words, and where I invest my energy. As my wise friend, Will (Ed) Green said a few days ago, “Christ has set the table already for us.” That’s the table I yearn to be at.

Our Movement Forward Summit in Minneapolis was a venue to create and encourage dialogue centered on PoC+Q+T voices this past weekend. It allowed space for a white straight cisgender woman to sit and learn, to be in awe of all the collective wisdom from our speakers and those who shared, and to see the table that Jesus has already set for us. We were reminded of the Audre Lorde quote of “[the] master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” It’s time to do what Jesus called us to do, to break every yoke and to turn the table the patriarchy built. UM-Forward is doing just this, turning towards Jesus’ table that has room for us all to not just be together, but to be in radical solidarity together.

Most of all, Our Movement Forward Summit and UM-Forward has woken me up to my complicity and reminded me of my calling to be rooted in social justice that is fueled by grace to be an ally, advocate, and agitator who walks with others as they recognize and grasp their God-given agency. (Even as I type this, I realize it’s time to reflect and rework my framing. Discernment is for life.)

I do know this in the core of my being, I am done with tables composed of the same players by the master’s tools where space is only created by open letters or Twitter outrage. I am done with spaces where PoC+Q+T voices are not centered because when they are we enter the holy ground where the Spirit dances in delight. I am done with the excuse that clergy can only be the primary leaders ignoring the knowledge and wisdom of laity who live their faith outside church walls. I am done with theological institutions preaching scarcity and not living abundant life.

Justice is not quick, hearts and minds changing is painful and necessary, yet I remain committed to this process and the work needed. The table the patriarchy build is heavy to turn and we have many strong, capable hands ready to turn it. It’s time. Come join us, there is room for you, and we will delight that you are with us in embracing abundance.

first #deaconessing confession: i almost didn’t get commissioned

On May 18th I was consecrated into the Order of Deaconess & Home Missioner of The United Methodist Church at the United Methodist Women’s Assembly in Columbus, OH. It was a joyous service that took place during opening worship where there were women on stilts with streamers, a sea of 6,000 United Methodist Women worshiping God, and in the crowd where my parents who had flown in from Seattle and two of my very best friends. My friends streamed the service from D.C. to Arizona to Seattle and even up in Alaska. It was a big deal. After 9 years of discernment in the church that I love, I found a home as Bishop Gregory V. Palmer laid his hands upon my head praying, “Irene DeMaris, I consecrate you to a lifetime of Jesus-like service under the authority of the church.”

I walked off that stage as a proud United Methodist Deaconess committed to a lifetime of love, justice, and service. It further strengthened my calling to bring forth the Kin-dom of God in the here and now in the world and within my chosen denomination.

The next step for a newly minted Deaconess or Home Missioner is to be commissioned by the bishop in the conference we live in. Most people are not aware of my Order, so just getting commissioned can be difficult, but my good friend and fellow Foundry United Methodist member, T.C. Morrow was on it with a call and a few emails to conference staff. I knew my commissioning was going to be hard as soon as they told me it was going to be during the Service of Ordination & Commissioning, since I was aware of the grumblings surrounding two of the clergy candidates up for a vote for commissioning and full-connection due to the fact they are in loving, stable marriages (as LGBTQIA+ folks). Even harder still is in my limited time in D.C., T.C. and her wife have become a good friends who have supported my calling, shown me grace, and made sure in all this mess my becoming a deaconess did not get lost in the shuffle.

How does one hold the tension of embracing her own calling while holding sorrow that those equally called are being denied? That’s how I entered annual conference as a friend and as a white cisgender straight woman who will never be discriminated over who I love.

The Board of Ordained Ministry had deemed T.C. and another friend fit for ministry, embracing their time, talent, skills, graces, and gifts for the work they are called to do. Then the bishop chose to uphold the Book of Discipline laws that deny full inclusion for those who are called to ordained ministry. Not following an unjust law is not unprecedented. I was livid and the atmosphere of the annual conference shifted to one of deep lament. One doesn’t need to spend more than a few minutes with either individual to know they are called by the grace of God for ordained ministry.

On Thursday at 11am I found myself in the hallway sobbing and unknowing if I could be commissioned at the 7pm service that day. I knew I would be face-to-face with the person whose actions the day before did further harm to my fellow siblings in Christ. I do not think that my bishop is a bad person, or isn’t in her heart of hearts progressive. She may have been backed into a corner, but I’m not here today making excuses for a bishop. I will say this. We talked about being one under the cross all week and not enough about why. Jesus spoke truth to power and laid it all on the line; we are not called to easy lives as followers of Jesus and sometimes we have to make risks. A prophetic voice was yearned for and it was denied. We were not one at the cross.

I made a few phone calls to see if I actually had to be commissioned. I technically did not. I knew bulletins weren’t being widely distributed, people didn’t really know me since I am new to the conference, and I was terrified something would come out of my mouth to the bishop and I would lose my job.

Between my good friend who sat with me, a phone call with the Executives at my Order, and messaging with another deaconess, I realized, this was something I needed to do. The liturgy mentioned Foundry and my faith community deserved some joy this year after two years of sorrow at annual conference. I needed my annual conference to know who I was and who I belonged to so that I could be more effective in ministry. I needed my bishop to know that in spite of the Spirit being denied, I would not let an unjust rule of law impact my calling.

Before the service I took a short nap and spent time in prayer lamenting the church I choose to stay in. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide me through it all.

She works in magnificent ways. As I hugged T.C. before the service I knew deep in my soul that this was the right thing. Then as I processed with my two friends who were representing Foundry United Methodist Church and my place of ministry, Wesley Theology Seminary, among a very different sea of people than in Columbus, the Spirit took over.

Joy was found in finding pink heeled footing in the questions Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling asked me. When she asked the first question, “Do you sincerely believe that you have been led by the Spirit of God to engage in this work and to assume its responsibilities?” I was able to find my voice and say “I do” from deep in my soul.

The moment was mine and the Holy Spirit worked through Bishop Easterling as I faced my new annual conference, I finally felt at home. I would see the group from Foundry to my left and that’s what mattered to me. Did I preemptively leave the stage and then bounce back in my heels? Yes. Did I ham it up? Yes. The Spirit needed joy and I was happy to oblige.

For a moment such as this, I found strength and hope in the Spirit and as God is my witness, the Spirit was working in my bishop. Can we be angry? Yes. Can we be hurt? Yes. But the Spirit abounds in grace. Grace that lives through us all. I hear that people are attacking our bishop and saying cruel things, that’s not what God wants. That is not the work of Jesus, that is what divides us at the cross.

The work is long and difficult, but the Kin-dom of God is worth it. Mourn, cry, lament, throw a cheap pair of heels. When you are ready, the movement for justice will be ready for you and it will be open wide for Bishop Easterling because I saw God in her and I know that she wants the Kin-dom as badly as I do.

“standing down is not an option”

I haven’t written for a long time. Truth be told, I just didn’t have it in me. Post-election was, has been, rough. The spew of hatred and bigotry that has come to light in this election made it clear, that it wasn’t going to be a good four years moving forward. Some people could bounce back and fight, but that’s not me. The election hit my gut and heart hard because I truly believed that if Hillary Clinton could have won, our country could move forward in many streams of social justice (perhaps pulling my lagging church with the culture). In the time of advent, of waiting, of hoping, I stayed in the darkness not wanting to come out. I needed to rest, listen, reflect, and strengthen my foundation for justice because it’s going to be a long four years.

I’m not alone. Many of my friends are overwhelmed at what is yet to come, the unknowing more fearful than if we actually had a grasp on what our President-elect is thinking. I had to sit a bit; licking my wounds because without healing I would burn out.

But I knew I couldn’t remain sitting, 2017 meant it was time to get up and fight. I have been daunted with the fact that I am a cis-gendered white straight woman because I want to be the best ally, co-conspirator I can be. Where do I turn my attention? How can I show love and compassion, yet challenge those privileged as I? Yet, to even ponder is privilege and that is no excuse to do nothing.

Last night, for New Year’s Eve, instead of going out, drinking bubbly, and dancing; I went to Repairers of the Breach’s Watch Night Service. I heard person after person share their story on why we need a moral revival in this country, that justice was needed, that it was Biblically based, and that we needed to wake up as a nation. I needed this. Hope was restored and it refueled my soul.

At the end, the Rev. Dr. William Barber preached and at the end he said, “Standing down is not an option.” It isn’t. We all stood and yelled it back because sitting is no longer an option. It is morally imperative that we stand for justice, that we stand for the oppressed.

So I began 2017 standing and will continue the fight for justice for all people because that is what humanity is called to do. “Standing down is not an option” in this new year.

synthesized? the resistant theologian + heartache, hope, & action

Yesterday, a little more than 24 hours after my Master of Divinity Synthesis, I got a text message while walking Seward Park: “Irene, shit is going down.” Now this particular message could have gone several ways, so I found myself on the phone hearing the news from the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference (BWAC). Before General Conference, the BWAC’s Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM)[1] and the New York Annual Conference both declared they would not ask questions about sexual orientation.

“Both the New York and Baltimore-Washington Boards have decided to not inquire about the sexual orientation of their candidates. We believe that we can do so within the current strictures of the Book of Discipline and that it is the right thing to do. We invite other Boards within our connection to claim their authority on this matter as well. It’s time. It’s past time.”[2]

During the clergy session at the BWAC, they vote on candidates for commissioning and full-connection. The BOOM had fully recommended these individuals as possessing the gifts and graces for ministry. It’s usually a courtesy vote, but for one candidate it wasn’t. TC Marrow was (I pray still is) up for commissioning as a Deacon. During the clergy session, it was not her gifts and graces up for discussion, it was her sexuality because TC Marrow is married to her partner, who happens to be a woman. To be commissioned she needed 2/3 of the vote of the clergy, she was 19, or 20, votes shy. It is heartbreaking. A “progressive” annual conference whose body (BOOM) exists to discern who is to be commissioned and ordained couldn’t prevent this act of spiritual violence upon a beloved child of God, made in the image of God. Denying her calling, the affirmation of her calling by BOOM, and the countless others who have nurtured and supported TC Marrow’s journey of discernment.

Where does this tie in with my synthesis? How do I make sense of this heartbreak and more news of this sort over the next month of annual conference and jurisdictional season? The pastoral leader that I am, and evolving to live into, is a public (and highly practical) theologian rooted in social justice that is fueled by grace to be an ally, advocate, and agitator who walks with others as they recognize and grasp their God-given agency. Because I am United Methodist, I cannot walk away from the injustice TC Marrow and others like her experience. Because I am a public theologian I cannot be silent.

My theological framework of my Holy Trinity: God, Creation, and Spirit lead me to mutuality and relationship between God and Creation. Where this mutuality of the Spirit leads humanity to set an open table[3], for all to experience the wonderful love of the Divine. When one person hurts, collectively as creation, we all hurt through the mutuality of the relational Spirit. As we deny the calling of TC Marrow, she is denied access to our open table by our institution. But, as the institution denies her, the Spirit acts through people like myself decry this injustice and will seek justice. The Spirit moves us towards mutuality and action.

The Spirit also moves us towards the journey of lived grace. Grace that is abundant! I stated in my presentation, this is why I am still United Methodist; grace is as integral to my faith as air is to my body. This is something I had to fall back on as I reminded myself to breath and unclench my fists as I walked in anger after the phone call. Grace, Wesleyan grace, is how I was raised and how I model my life. Wesleyan grace is in my life, in my faith, and in my way in the world. I am Wesleyan at my core, and so are the millions of other progressive Wesleyans like me fighting for the full inclusion of LGBTQ+, that’s why we cannot and will not leave and/or give up. God’s freely given gift of grace is abundant and open for all.

My personal Creed of Grace is:

Grace leads to relationship with the Divine.
Grace leads to walking with.
Grace leads to living like Jesus.
Grace leads to seeking justice to bring forth the Kin-dom of God in the world, now.
Grace leads to public theology.
Grace leads to systemic agitation.
Grace leads to unconditional love because the root of grace is God’s love of Creation.

As I distill and further synthesize my time at Seattle University’s School of Theology & Ministry, I fall into my Creed of Grace. As much as the definition of my pastoral theological guides me, I am fueled by grace, grace that moves me towards the mutuality of Divine and Creation.

Grace leads to relationship with the Divine: Grace opens up the metaphorical and literal communion table. This relationship with the Divine is something that we choose and define as we make our journey of grace during our lives. Moving forward, I will continue to ally, advocate, and agitate that the table is open, no one can block someone’s access to relationship with the Divine.

Grace leads to walking with: Just as God walks with us, we must walk with others whether it is in the midst of joy, love, and/or suffering. To be a presence of lived faith, that walks with and listens until they are restored. This allows us to advocated and journey while seeking justice. Moving forward, I will continue to ally, advocate, and agitate as I walk with those seeking justice.

Grace leads to living like Jesus: Just as Jesus did and taught us the Beatitudes, we must walk with the Blessed. He actively sought justice for all and grace fueled his ministry in our world. Moving forward, I will model my ministry as I ally, advocate, and agitate just as Jesus did.

Grace leads to seeking justice to bring forth the Kin-dom of God in the world, now: “Learn to do good; seek justice; rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”[4] Isaiah wasn’t waiting around on the Kin-dom, Jesus wasn’t waiting around on the Kin-dom, and we certainly shouldn’t be waiting on around for the Kin-dom to cometh. Moving forward, I will continue to ally, advocate, and agitate to bring forth the Kin-dom of God, now, not tomorrow.

Grace leads to public theology: Theology is faith-seeking understanding, and our understanding of God cannot be just within the church, it needs to be outside in the public sphere where injustice meets us at every corner. We must undo the systemic bonds of society that oppress, we cannot be confined in our church building and/or institutions. Moving forward, I will work to undo the systematic bonds of society to embolden the oppressed to be free in the public sphere through my lived faith of being an ally, advocate, and agitator.

Grace leads to systemic agitation: Jesus turned the tables, but before that supreme agitation, he challenged the system of his time. Just as Jesus shook the core of church and society, I am called to do as well. Grace leads us to action, actions that I have already participated in, planned, and will continue to do. Moving forward, I will ally, advocate, and agitate in ways that bring systemic change, it may not be table flipping, it will be slow and steady building mutuality and trust.

Grace leads to unconditional love because the root of grace is God’s love of Creation: Love of our neighbor, love our ourselves, love of creation, and the love of God. Moving forward, I will love through being an ally, advocate, and agitator, but love through seeing everyone as God’s beloved.

My theology of grace leads us to love, is something that I have to cling onto today. I fall back into the arms of the Spirit as I despair on the state of the church that I love with my whole being, yet despise the oppression we choose to sweep under the rug. Synthesizing my faith, impacted greatly by my Master of Divinity, leads me back to who I am as a pastoral leader: I am a public (and highly practical) theologian rooted in social justice that is fueled by grace to be an ally, advocate, and agitator who walks with others as they recognize and grasp their God-given agency.

Today as I sit reflecting in anger, others are grasping their God-given agency to shake up the church. As I wrote this reflection, Patrick James Dupont who was up for commissioning in the Upper New York Annual Conference withdrew his name for ordination as a radical act of solidarity for TC Marrow[5]. Patrick James Dupont is living grace; he is showing himself as an ally, advocate, and agitator. God’s grace is abundant and God is good. I have hope for the future, and have enough grace to be sustained in seeking justice.

[1]The United Methodist Church (UMC) really likes initials and acronyms to a fault.
[2] bwcumc.org/an-open-letter-to-boards-of-ordained-ministry/
[3]John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed that conversion could happen anywhere so the UMC’s theology of Communion is one where the table is open to all. The one requirement is that you are open to the experience, or to experience God’s love.
[4]Isaiah 1:17, NRSV.

grieving after general conference

Before leaving for Portland I was listening to Beyoncé’s Lemonade non-stop. I kept thinking, started a blog, about brokenness and working through it all to something stronger. Queen Bey (and fellow United Methodist) names her own stages of grief:

  • Intuition
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Apathy
  • Emptiness
  • Accountability
  • Reformation
  • Forgiveness
  • Resurrection
  • Hope
  • Redemption

I have been thinking about how can the church arise from grief and brokenness, and end up strong, in formation… since high school and I don’t have any answers.

This morning after having a minor freakout over countdown cards and measuring tape, I realized that I needed space. Thank God it was my soul sister friend who is amazing and asked me if I was grieving and what I was grieving. I texted back:

My innocence? I was never naive. I saw and heard the most unchristian things… And thought bad things.

I posted a status on Facebook and heard from multiple friends from Florida to Portland giving support through memes and wedding photos. The timing of GC with finishing my M.Div hasn’t been ideal, yet, I am supported in my grief. So here I am, trying to finish my Master of Divinity, while feeling the stings of witnessing and feeling spiritual abuse, but holding the hope of new and old friends.

I stand at the precipice of grief unexpectedly. I’ve already done this during the degree and I went through the stages, and from that brokenness became stronger. Now I need to move through the stages again. This time, blasting Lemonade.

pink heels & real conversation part 2

As highlighted before in Part 1, my pink heels remind me of my God-given agency, the freedom and freewill that I live through my Wesleyan lens of grace-centric faith.

I started Thursday morning in my stylish, yet comfortable black heels which matched my business suit. The day was going to be rough, so I was going to be professional (not that I am not usually professional, but business suit means business especially in ministry). As I headed into plenary, I was stopped several times asking where were the pink heels.

Most questions came from coalition partners and friends, but as I was heading to my seat after some quick meeting, a random man stopped me and asked, where are your pink heels today? I had been walking by this particular person all week and we had never exchanged words, but the power of the pink heels is magical.

I said that I was running around and needed more comfortable shoes because I was running around more, and literally these are the heels I can run in (you saw my talent in balancing in heels, applies to more than yoga-like moves). But it gave me pause.

As we inched closer and closer to the time where the RCRC would be debated, I got nervous. Finally since we were heading back to our hotel room during our lunch break, I decided game on, the heels were back. When I came back into plenary and walked past the man, I said, the heels are back and it’s because RCRC and abortion were going to come up.

After the vote and my anger tears, the man came up and asked about my heels. It lead to a real conversation about abortion, the RCRC, theology, discussion and deep listening, and the Spirit was present. This young adult man, father of three girls, clergy member is pro-life, but yet understands the need for RCRC. We disagree on abortion restrictions, both approach the topic Biblically rooted, and have a great love of Christianity. Although a relatively brief conversation, we talked about the need of similar conversations on the actual plenary floor, for honesty, integrity, and most of all, REAL CONVERSATION about women’s bodies.

My passion came through and I was heard, and I heard his cares, concern, and compassion. I shared about leaving the ordination process and how I wanted to speak prophetically. He actually said that it was really too bad and that people like me were needed, but he understood. We chatted about a few other things too (it was a long afternoon break).

Somehow, in the midst of debate and tears, frustration and anger, my pink heels lead me to hope. That people who disagree with me can have real conversations, discussions not debates. We saw each other’s humanity and started from a place of mutuality.

If I hadn’t put on my pink heels yesterday, maybe I would be in a different place now… but yet again the Divine has shown me hope, possibility, and wonder in the most mysterious way. Thank you so much to my new friend who embodied this for me. I will hold our conversation close for a long time.

pink heels & real conversation part 1

The past few days has been rough for me at General Conference. I have learned some tough lessons, but yet remain committed to social justice and The United Methodist Church. I’m pretty exhausted and a little cranky (sorry Sara & Kevin), though there are some bright spots.

Yesterday was my denim jumper with pink heels day. I stomped around and meant business, made some impressions with said heels. Now why pink heels.

I am not getting ordained and for years I put power in a clerical collar. When I decided not to get ordained, I realized I had my own power, my own God-given agency and didn’t need a collar for that. I have my bright pink heels that embody the fierceness of my agency… instead of a clerical collar.

The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) did not come up on Wednesday after the Bishops’ took some steps to lead the church forward. Human sexuality has been put on hold legislatively until a special General Conference, and we weren’t sure where abortion was going to fall. On Wednesday night it was obvious today, Thursday, was the big day for the RCRC vote and perhaps the Social Principle on Abortion would go on the floor even though there had been a deal struck in sub-committee between the two camps, somewhere Responsible Parenthood is in limbo. Needless to say, I woke up this morning knowing it was vital to have my game face on.

The morning brought great conversations for working in coalition moving forward, support for the work I have been doing, and the knowledge that we were most likely going to lose our RCRC membership as a church. What I wasn’t prepared for were my angry tears. Originally I wasn’t wearing my pink heels, but they went on before RCRC was to go before the body. I needed my pink heels to remind me of my agency.

We got word that the elected abortion/diversity sub-committee chair for Church & Society 2 was not going to be the person introducing the legislation removing the church from the RCRC. Although totally appropriate of the chair to do, that was a political move and in my opinion lacked integrity. It set the tone of the legislation and also gave the woman presenting extra time for speaking for the legislation (so against the RCRC) instead of providing a neutral tone. Again she called herself a feminist, but her actions do not align with the accepted definition of feminism.

Instead of honesty and actual facts, lies about the RCRC were shared on the floor by those supporting us leaving the RCRC. Thank God for Becca and her speech against using the talking points I helped prepare for that moment. Truth was spoken, but damage was done. Points of clarification, order, and whatnot were used, and we put up a good fight. But at the end, we lost our seat at the table of the RCRC.

I am angry. Women and girls in the church deserve better. This is just another attempt of men controlling the bodies of women behind thin veils of theology that does not recognize freewill and God-given agency given to ALL human beings including women. It’s about more than abortion. Abortion is a symptom of a larger issue, women having a say over our bodies. RCRC advocates for reproductive health, choice, and justice which isn’t all about abortion, it’s about women’s health both physical and spiritual. It’s about trusting women to be moral agents, to live into grace and make the decision which is best for ourselves and our families.

If I wasn’t awake before, I am more so now. I am in it for another four years. I am committed to ministry through being an advocate, a progressive faith voice, being and acting prophetically about reproductive health, choice, and justice issues. My pink heels aren’t going anywhere, and neither am I. 

So bring it those who attempt to strip women of our gift from God. You will not take me away from the table and I am going to get a lot louder believe you me. 

umw for the win with responsible parenthood

This piece was originally written for the Love Your Neighbor Coalition newsletter for General Conference 2016. 

My favorite piece of legislation that impact’s women’s reproductive health is the updated resolution of Responsible Parenthood crafted by United Methodist Women. Unlike much of the legislation that impact’s reproductive issues, this resolution theologically articulates parenthood in a post-modern world in a way that can move the church forward in a variety of ways.

One thing that I love about this renewed resolution is that it is proactive; so much of what we do is a reaction so it is refreshing to see legislation thinking of the future. We need this resolution because provides the framework for a holistic and comprehensive model into what responsible parenthood looks like. It breaks down into five parts:

  • Biblical Basis for Families speaks of abundant life, and how the source of this is family: “The decision to have children is a decision to participate with God in the process of creation.” (DCA CS2 327) The decision to not have a child is just as important as there are many other ways to participate relationally with creation and that’s where contraception comes into play.
  • Contraception is next: “Use of family planning and access to contraception around the world has had a dramatic impact on empowering women, on women’s economic development, and overall public health. Maternal and infant moralities have been reduced. By controlling the number and spacing of their children, women have greater opportunities for education and economic participation, resulting in an enhanced quality of life for everyone.” (DCA CS2 328)
  • Barriers to Responsible Choice covers gender, financial, arranged marriage, spousal disproval, and lack of access and/or legal restrictions.
  • Challenging Pregnancies and how we can start thinking about ending a pregnancy under a different Biblical basis: “The creation of a child is an incremental process whose beginnings stretch back to the creation of earth’s first life, and whose milestones include conception, implantation, quickening, viability, and live birth. The Bible affirms breath as the mark of a living human person. While respecting developing life at every stage, we reject the simplistic belief that the moment when egg and sperm unite is the sole marker of human existence.” (DCA CS2 328)
  • It ends with mandates, which provide a call to action for education at the family level, local church level, and greater United Methodist connection.

This resolution is inclusive as it brings in the whole connection and doesn’t just focus on one country. Responsible parenthood is not only just about women, it’s about men too, and it’s about our larger faith community. It encourages dialogue and goes beyond face service to action, to seek justice and live out our Social Principle values. Those who are calling for the deletion of this resolution are citing their theological differences over abortion. The way to realistically approach responsible parenthood is to take into consideration rape, child brides, safety of the mother, socio-economics, and many other contextual factors. Removing this resolution based solely off issues with abortion writes off many other brilliant parts of the responsible parenthood framework.

What this resolution does not implicitly address is adoption, IVF treatments, and LGBTQ issues in terms of parenthood beyond inclusive language. It’s broad, yet there are other pieces of legislations that better and more specifically address these important issues regarding parenthood.

I fully support readopting the Responsible Parenthood resolution and it is my hope that you too will support this valuable and radical piece of legislation. As a young adult woman considering responsible parenthood in her future, I hope that The United Methodist Church will rally behind this legislation so that current and future parents have the love and support of our faith community.

ode to (dr not ms) benz

Almost two years ago, I was fortunate to go to a Western Methodist Justice Movement conference in Lake Tahoe. It was around the time where I was figuring out my calling and honing in on my specific area of social justice, and I was looking to connect. All the pieces came together and I was able to go on scholarship. Those scholarships and financial contributions changed my life in so many ways, and that’s when I met Benz.

Benz to put it lightly is a total badass. I want to be like Benz when I grow up in so many ways. She has dedicated her life to seeking justice through her work with unions and organizing as one of the founders of Methodists in New Directions fighting for inclusion. She isn’t afraid to use her voice for justice and because of women like her, I have models to look to when my voice goes quiet.

The first day of General Conference plenary, Benz was one of the only women to speak on the floor. She represented the concerns of the infamous Rule 44, was persistent, respectful, and spoke out because it was needed. Then this morning (because Rule 44 still hadn’t been voted on), she added an amendment which addressed something important.

Rule 44 (for a wonderful post about it, visit Hacking Christianity) essentially creates a voice for all the delegates and breaks people into small groups with moderators (being so simplistic here). Benz motioned (correctly) to add language around creating those small groups as sacred and safe space, where people could speak frankly and honestly without the threat of charges being made against them. This is a totally valid concern. It needed, and needs, to be addressed.

Since she has been speaking and tweeting (@drbenz3), she caught the attention of someone and a tweet was aimed at her: So Dorothee Benz doesn’t want  delegates to file complaints vs  clergy who admit breaking covenant. She cannot silence us, & won’t

Please note lack of period at the end. Beyond that. The author of said tweet is a white, cisgendered man, heterosexual… he has all the privileges that centuries upon centuries of patriarchy has built for him on the backs of those who have been marginalized.

I have privilege and need to be a better ally too. Benz lives justice, Benz embodies justice, Benz follows the radical model of Jesus, and Benz is a beloved child and reflection of God.

When I saw that tweet, I froze. I was angry (I am angry), but I didn’t know what to do. The oppressor is claiming to be oppressed. The church has not been inclusive, therefore we have marginalized our LGBTQIA sisters and brothers, and those who do not fit a gender binary. The very thought that Benz is oppressing a white, heterosexual, cisgendered man is ridiculous.

The picture is property of Snarky Pastor and is of said pastor, Benz, and Carol at a Black Lives Matter protest in New York City, December 2014. 

worships well with others?

I remember the first Easter after taking Christology. It was hard, I struggled with all the historic and traditional theology and language used during the service. I could not claim the words because I had yet to define them for myself.

For a few years, I could not sing all the words in songs during worship. When I changed faith communities, I found my spiritual home at Valley & Mountain, where we strive to be inclusive and work hard to do so. I would say that we are usually successful in this endeavor.

As a seminarian at an intentionally ecumenical seminarian, words matter, but yet, I have learned that words can mean different things to different classmates and faith communities. I value inclusive language, but I am starting to value people’s different accessibility to the Divine.

A few weeks ago, I went to my friend, Edward’s church, Kingdom Family Worship Center. This pentecostal church stretches me in so many ways, to the dancing in worship, different style of worship, and being so participatory. It’s not a place where I immediately feel comfortable, I am uncomfortable and I know I stick out as a white woman, but yet, I am utterly welcomed. The language isn’t always inclusive, but yet, that’s not what the church is conveying.

Even though I am finding I am able to worship now without fully inclusive language, I need to accept my privilege. As a cis-gendered female, heterosexual and white, I have the luxury to roll with the language. I have listened to my close friends who the language hits hard and wonder why inclusive language isn’t being used here, in the context of General Conference where we are a big tent. I also wonder why I am not being effected as much as a card carrying (bought one from Hillary) woman, fierce feminist, and LGBTQAI ally or co-conspiritor.

My question has become this (please notice, I do a lot of questioning): If General Conference was truly conveying hospitality and inclusiveness, can we let inclusive language slide a little because we trust the intent? But how can we trust intent when our policy or polity excludes? As an ally, I need to remember my privilege in this and switch to my co-conspirator lens and be vocal for those who the United Methodist Church is not inclusive to.