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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Gun Violence Prevention Advocacy Toolkit

If you can't print this off to use please email me (Bill-Mefford@comcast.net) and I can send it to you.
Urging Congress to Do Their Job
Pass Gun Violence Prevention Legislation
July 4th Recess Letter Drop
Advocacy Toolkit

 Table of Contents
1) Introduction and Background Information
2) Instructions for Letter Drop
3) Sample letter to your Representative to Pass Gun Violence Prevention Legislation
4) Social Media
5) Primary Objectives of Letter Drop

Introduction and Background Information

After the historic and unprecedented Democratic sit-in on the House floor Wednesday June 22 to urge the House to take up what it has long ignored – preventing gun violence – it is now up to us, people of faith, to take this message to our Representatives.

This is a perfect time for you to let your Representative know that ignoring the epidemic of gun violence will not protect public safety. Every day 91 people in the United States are killed by a gun. Yet, the House and Senate continue to act as if this is not happening because of the stifling grip of the gun lobby.

What is more, according to Everytown for Gun Safety gun violence is becoming increasingly used as part of hate crimes directed towards members of the LGBTQ community as we saw in Orlando. Consider these facts:
·         Data from the National Crime Victimization Survey indicates that between 2010 and 2014, there were an estimated 43,000 hate crimes committed in the United States that involved guns.
·         More than half (52 percent) of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation are violent.
·         Between 2004 and 2012, the percentage of hate crimes involving violence increased from 78 percent to 90 percent.
·         In studies going back decades, assaults involving guns have proven to be five times more likely to end in the death of the victim than those involving knives, and the difference is even greater with high-caliber guns. (Taken from http://everytownresearch.org/the-orlando-shooting-hate-crimes-and-terrorism-in-the-u-s-and-the-connection-to-weak-gun-laws/)

Simple measures can greatly reduce many of the mass shootings to which we have become accustomed. No one law will stop every incident of gun deaths, but we can go a long way toward having a safer community, a safer nation, a safer world. Simply put, universal background checks saves lives. In states that require a background check for all handgun sales, there are:
·         46 percent fewer women shot to death by intimate partners,
·         48 percent fewer law enforcement shot to death with handguns,
·         48 percent fewer people killed by firearms suicide,
·         48 percent less gun trafficking, and
·         52 percent fewer mass shootings.
Eighteen states and Washington, DC go beyond federal law and require background checks on all handgun sales. Six states have passed background check laws since the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, including Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. Nevada and Maine will vote on background checks in 2016. (Taken from http://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-and-background-checks-in-minnesota/)

Therefore, we must take this unique time to urge members of Congress that gun violence can be drastically reduced and they must take leadership in making this happen.

Instructions for Letter Drop

Use this toolkit with your congregation, faith group, or coalition and invite them to join with you in making a powerful impact.

Materials Needed: A sign on letter adapted from the below template (you can edit it), sign on sheet, clipboards, pens, small table (optional)
1.      See the sample letter on the next page (which can be edited). With others from your congregation or organization, read through and modify the letter to best describe what you want your Representative to do to address preventing gun violence. List yourself or another point person’s contact information at the top of the letter or on a cover sheet so you can receive the reply from the member of Congress.
2.      Find your member of Congress and the address of their local office closest to you. Visit www.house.gov to find your Representative.
3.      Work with others in your congregation or community group to get signatures on the letter in a high-traffic area after a worship service or event. You can send it around adult education classes, Bible/book studies, youth groups, and college classes in addition to your entire congregation. Ask the members you know are willing to sign first – people are more likely to sign something when they already see other names. We are encouraging groups to not drop it off until you are able to 10-15 signatures. The more you are able to gather, the more powerful it will be!
4.      Make sure an announcement is made about the letter in the congregation bulletin, from the pulpit, and through social media. The most effective way to get folks to sign is through personal invitation. You and others should personally invite folks to sign the letter! Before you turn in the signatures, make sure to scan them or take a photo with your phone in order to capture the contact information for your future organizing efforts.
5.      Call your Representative’s local office to either schedule a meeting with the Representative or a staff person, or even to simply find out the hours when they are open, so you can drop off the letters. When you get to the office here is a possible script: "Hi, my name is [NAME] and I am a member of [Congregation/Group] in [City]. Many of our members signed this letter to urge Representative [NAME] to pass gun violence prevention legislation on July 5th when the current recess is over. Will you please make sure the Representative and appropriate staff see this letter?"
6.      When you and a friend (or friends) take your letter by your Representatives’ office take a selfie and tweet it out using the hashtag #LetterDrop. (You can also use hashtags like #StopGunViolence or #NoBillNoBreak as well.) That way we can see all who participate and those of us in DC can collect the pics and use them in advocacy to get the House and Senate moving. So, please tweet or send us your pictures!
7.      Share this toolkit with key leaders from 3-4 other congregations in your area and urge them to do this as well. This will make an impact with a number of faith communities engaged. Make sure they also post pictures on social media! Email them this message and then call them for the best effect. Nothing beats a phone call to get folks moving!

Sample Letter Urging Congress to Pass Gun Violence Prevention Legislation

Dear Representative                        ,

As members of (name of faith community)          we are deeply concerned about the lack of progress by the Congress in addressing the epidemic of gun violence. As the days, months, and years go by without any action taken, more mass shootings occur and the needless loss of life continues. We are writing to demand that action be taken to quell the terrible epidemic of gun violence our society is suffering.

Virginia Tech, Tucson, Oak Creek, Aurora, Santa Clara, Fort Hood, Newtown, San Bernadino, and now Orlando. The number of cities with mass shootings spreads across the states in our nation and fills our hearts with tremendous sorrow for the tragic and unnecessary loss of life. We are also angry that these tragedies continue without any congressional leadership being taken. No more time can be wasted. Gun violence is taking an unacceptable toll on our society, in mass killings and in the constant day-to-day of senseless deaths. It is long past time for action.

Not only are we concerned about gun violence, but it must also be mentioned that we are concerned about the rhetoric in this debate that scapegoats our Muslim sisters and brothers. Violence committed by people of any religious, ethnic, or racial profile for any intention is devastating – focus on the secretive, error-filled terrorist watch list as a substitute for meaningful gun safety legislation is a distraction.  The vast majority of mass shootings in the U.S. have been committed by white males whose intentions to do violence would not have qualified them for inclusion on this list.

We need you to take action to ensure that:
  • Every person who buys a gun no matter where that takes place should pass a background check. No longer should we allow for a gun show loophole.
  • High-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines should not be available to civilians. There is no legitimate self-defense or sporting purpose for these military-style, high-capacity weapons and magazines whose only purpose is to kill large numbers of people in a short amount of time. We need an effective assault weapons ban now.

Public support for these measures is overwhelming. The time for merely offering thoughts and prayers without necessary action is over. Compromises that scapegoat a narrowly defined group of people for scrutiny is an unacceptable distraction for a problem shared by our whole society.  We need you to take action. We look forward to working with you to enact these common-sense measures to reduce gun violence. Our prayers are with you, our support is behind you. It is time for you to lead.

Sincerely,



Social Media

Social media is a great way to spread the word about these issues and to get your friends, family, and other community members involved. Using popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we encourage you to post a picture of your letters and/or your meetings with your Representative using #LetterDrop. If you are not able to meet with your Representative take a picture holding up the signed letter with #LetterDrop, and you might also use the hashtags, #NoBillNoBreak or #StopGunViolence. And, as always, encourage your friends and family to share on social media and join the movement!


July 4 Recess
Letter Drop Primary Objectives

We want everyone everywhere, regardless of what district you are in to take part in the Letter Drop during the July 4 recess. But these are the primary focus – if we can get numerous houses of worship participating in the letter drop in these districts then we can make a tremendous impact. So, if you are in one of these districts please make sure your congregation participates and you actively recruit other congregations to participate as well. If you are not in this district please participate as well! But if you know a faith leader in one of these districts please pass on this toolkit and have them participate as well.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)
Janesville Office 
20 South Main Street, Suite 10
Janesville, WI 53545
(608) 752-4050
Kenosha Office
5031 7th Avenue
Kenosha, WI 53140
(262) 654-1901
Racine Office
216 6th Street
Racine, WI 53403
(262) 637-0510

Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)
Bakersfield Office
4100 Empire Drive
Suite 150
Bakersfield, CA 93309
(661) 327-361

Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA)
Hammond Office
1514 Martens Drive, Suite 10
Hammond, LA 70401
(985) 340-2185
Houma Office
8026 Main Street, Suite 700
Houma, LA 70360
(985) 879-2300
Mandeville Office
21454 Koop Drive Suite 2C
Mandeville, LA 70471
(985) 893-9064
Metairie Office
110 Veterans Boulevard Suite 500
Metairie, LA 70005
(504) 837-1259

Conference Chairman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)
Colville
555 South Main Street
Colville, WA 99114
509-684-3481
Spokane
10 North Post Street, Suite 625
Spokane, WA 99201
509-353-2374
Walla Walla
26 E. Main Street, Suite 2
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-529-9358

Policy Committee Chairman Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN)
Muncie Office
107 W. Charles St.
Muncie, IN 47305
765-747-5566
Richmond Office
Richmond Municipal Building
50 N. 5th Street
Richmond, IN 47374
765-962-2883
Shelbyville Office
2 Public Square
Shelbyville, IN 46176
317-421-0704

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

SHAME

It is yet another day of shame for the U.S. Senate, the day after the Senate voted down common sense legislation assured of doing only one thing: saving lives from the American epidemic of gun violence. There is rumor that the Senate will consider “compromise” legislation still to come, but Republican leadership will only allow approved by the NRA. Your Senate, designed to represent you, will only represent you if the NRA allows them to.

So, this post is meant for one thing: we must hold politicians accountable who hold the priorities of the NRA as more important than public safety. We called yesterday in the hope they would listen to values of hope and reason and those below didn’t listen. So, I have included contact information for all those who voted no on one or both of the amendments (described below). I really urge you to make this call . Politicians are two year olds, they need to know immediately there are consequences to their actions. Here is a sample script:

Hi, my name is                                   , I was deeply disappointed to learn that Senator                               voted against the Murphy and Feinstein amendments and with the NRA. As a person of faith, I want my leaders to work to end gun violence.”

Please make these calls and let’s build up our power to be equal to that of the NRA. It is the only way we will ever stop this ungodly epidemic.

Senator Feinstein’s amendment would have closed the terror gap by enabling the Department of Justice to block gun sales to suspected terrorists.
Under current law, the FBI has no authority to block gun sales to suspected terrorist.
People on the terrorist watch lists purchased guns more than 2,000 times over the past 11 years.
The overwhelming majority of terrorist incidents in the U.S. involve guns.
The Orlando shooting is the fourth American mass shooting to be investigated by the FBI as an act of terrorism this year.
Under this proposal, which could have stopped the Orlando shooter from buying guns, DOJ would be able, but not required, to deny gun sales if they have a reasonable suspicion that a person is known or suspected to be involved in terrorism.

Senator Murphy’s amendment would have kept guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people by requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales.
Under current law, felons, domestic abusers, and other potentially dangerous people are prohibited from having guns, but they can easily get one by purchasing a gun from an unlicensed seller—with no background check, no questions asked.
Murphy’s amendment would have closed that loophole by requiring criminal background checks on all sales—with reasonable exceptions for family, hunting, and emergency self-defense.
In 18 states and the District of Columbia, criminal background checks are already required on all handgun sales.

In states that require background checks, there are 46 percent fewer women shot to death by intimate partners, 48 percent fewer gun suicides, and 48 percent fewer law enforcement killed with handguns.

List of Senators to Call:
Alexander, Lamar - (R – TN)
(202) 224-4944

Ayotte, Kelly - (R - NH) VOTED AGAINST STRENGTHENING BACKGROUND CHECKS
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-3324

Barrasso, John - (R - WY)              
(202) 224-6441

Blunt, Roy - (R - MO)     
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-5721

Boozman, John - (R - AR)             
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-4843

Burr, Richard - (R - NC)  
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-3154

Capito, Shelley Moore - (R - WV)             
(202) 224-6472

Cassidy, Bill - (R - LA)      
(202) 224-5824

Coats, Daniel - (R - IN)   
(202) 224-5623

Cochran, Thad - (R - MS)              
(202) 224-5054

Collins, Susan M. - (R - ME)         
(202) 224-2523

Corker, Bob - (R - TN)    
(202) 224-3344

Cornyn, John - (R - TX)  
(202) 224-2934

Cotton, Tom - (R - AR)   
(202) 224-2353

Crapo, Mike - (R - ID)     
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-6142

Cruz, Ted - (R - TX)          
(202) 224-5922

Daines, Steve - (R - MT)               
(202) 224-2651

Enzi, Michael B. - (R - WY)            
(202) 224-3424

Ernst, Joni - (R - IA)         
(202) 224-3254

Fischer, Deb - (R - NE)   
(202) 224-6551

Flake, Jeff - (R - AZ)        
(202) 224-4521

Gardner, Cory - (R - CO)               
(202) 224-5941

Graham, Lindsey - (R - SC)           
(202) 224-5972

Grassley, Chuck - (R - IA)             
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-3744

Hatch, Orrin G. - (R - UT)              
(202) 224-5251

Heitkamp, Heidi - (D - ND)           
(202) 224-2043

Heller, Dean - (R - NV)  
(202) 224-6244

Hoeven, John - (R - ND)               
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-2551

Inhofe, James M. - (R - OK)        
(202) 224-4721

Isakson, Johnny - (R - GA)           
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-3643

Johnson, Ron - (R - WI) 
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-5323

Lankford, James - (R - OK)           
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-5754

Lee, Mike - (R - UT)        
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-5444

Manchin, Joe, III - (D - WV) VOTED AGAINST STRENGTHENING BACKGROUND CHECKS
(202) 224-3954

McCain, John - (R - AZ) 
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-2235
Contact: www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact-form

McConnell, Mitch - (R - KY)         
(202) 224-2541

Moran, Jerry - (R - KS)   
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-6521

Murkowski, Lisa - (R - AK)            
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-6665

Paul, Rand - (R - KY)       
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-4343

Perdue, David - (R - GA)               
(202) 224-3521

Portman, Rob - (R - OH)               
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-3353

Risch, James E. - (R - ID)               
(202) 224-2752

Roberts, Pat - (R - KS)    
(202) 224-4774

Rounds, Mike - (R - SD)
(202) 224-5842

Rubio, Marco - (R - FL)  
UP FOR ELECTION (and considering running again)
(202) 224-3041

Sasse, Ben - (R - NE)      
(202) 224-4224

Scott, Tim - (R - SC)         
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-6121

Sessions, Jeff - (R - AL) 
(202) 224-4124

Shelby, Richard C. - (R - AL)         
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-5744

Sullivan, Daniel - (R - AK)              
(202) 224-3004

Tester, Jon - (D - MT) VOTED AGAINST STRENGTHENING BACKGROUND CHECKS
(202) 224-2644

Thune, John - (R - SD)   
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-2321

Tillis, Thom - (R - NC)     
(202) 224-6342

Toomey, Patrick J. - (R - PA)       
UP FOR ELECTION
(202) 224-4254

Vitter, David - (R - LA)   
(202) 224-4623

Wicker, Roger F. - (R - MS)          
(202) 224-6253

Friday, June 17, 2016

ACTION: Call Your Senators NOW to STOP Gun Violence

The time for endless Facebook fights over whether the need to enact common sense gun violence prevention legislation is a secret United Nations ploy to take away peoples’ guns is over. We do not have time to argue with the paranoid, NRA-obsessed believers in unlimited access to guns for all people at all times.

We have until Monday to urge our Senators to support two important measures that will save lives and pass historic gun violence prevention legislation. And we have to overcome the power of the NRA. That is why it is absolutely imperative that you call both your Senators AND share this with others and urge everyone in your networks to make calls as well.

So, call the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121, ask for your Senator (you will have to call twice since you have two Senators!), and then here is a script:

“Hi, my name is                                                 , and as a person of faith I believe it is time to save lives and end gun violence. On Monday, I urge Senator                                       to vote in favor of the Murphy and Feinstein amendments and against the Cornyn and Grassley amendments.”

Just a brief background, here is what the amendments will do:
  • YES on the Feinstein amendment – this is the “terror gap bill” which will prevent those on the terrorist watch list from buying guns. If people have been wrongly named to this list they will have access to remove their names from it. Amazingly, the NRA has prevented this common sense legislation for years.
  • YES on the Murphy amendment – this important amendment closes gun show loophole and expands background checks to ALL gun sales. Where universal background checks have passed and been implemented, guns have been prevented from being used to commit crimes.This saves lives.
  • NO on the Cornyn bill – this is the NRA-approved terror gap bill in which the Attorney General can delay a known terrorist from buying a gun for three days. The Attorney General must show probable cause that that person is planning on committing a terrorist crime and they are responsible for that person to get counsel and a hearing within 3 days or their name goes off and they are able to buy guns. This is an extremely high bar and places enormous pressure on the AG’s office to do a lot of work within a very short period of time. This should be defeated.
  • NO on the Grassley bill – Does NOT expand background checks and expands ability of people to actually get more guns. It targets the mentally ill and gets rid of the expiration date on federal prohibition by a judge who has ruled someone is a danger to themselves or others, so that people can more quickly have ability to acquire arms. The NRA approves this bill, reason enough to oppose it.

In addition, next week, as soon as we are done in the Senate, we must turn our attention to the House and start calling there. The script there is:

“Hi, my name is                                                 , and as a person of faith I believe it is time to save lives and end gun violence. Therefore, I urge Representative                                             to vote in favor of measures that close the terror gap and expand universal background checks on all gun sales.”

More messaging will come soon. We must begin with the Senate. 

And we need you to engage on social media! Urge others to make calls on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtags, #DisarmHate and #Enough.


It is time for all of us to take action. NOW. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sharing the Responsibility for Homophobia

After watching the tiresome Facebook backlash on who bears responsibility for the horrendous massacre in Orlando I think it is legitimate to ask about the culpability of the church, specifically the United Methodist Church. Considering that the shooting was specifically aimed at the LGBTQ community, and considering there has been a great deal of harm felt by the LGBTQ community at the hands of the faith community, and especially recently the United Methodist Church, I want to ask the serious question is there any biblical basis for holding someone or some group indirectly responsible for such a tragedy.

In looking at this I am immediately drawn to the passage in Amos, the fourth chapter. Amos is relentless is his condemnation of God’s people for their failure to care for the poor, several times accusing them of so dehumanizing the poor that they were willing to sell them for a pair of sandals.

In one very memorable passage that has always stuck with me Amos turns his considerable ire towards the affluent wives and he says,

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, ‘Bring us some drinks!’ The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness; ‘The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks.’ (Amos 4:1-2)

Ouch! Man, the dude is totally hacking on the women! And Amos didn’t just call the women cows, he called them Bashan cows which were known for their plumpness; they were fat cows! The name calling takes me back to junior high, but Amos is making a point here. Amos is dressing down the women for the way they benefit from the ongoing oppression of the poor and are so indifferent to the plight of their suffering that even as the poor suffer the Bashan cows demand their husbands further gouge their self-indulgence by bringing them drinks!

To apply this to the current epidemic of ongoing mass shootings in the United States, I think it is more than appropriate to say that those who are most culpable for the gun carnage other than the shooter himself are the gun manufacturers. Even today (as I write this) one day after the shooting, stock prices for gun companies have gone up. This follows the trend after most mass shootings when gun manufacturers and their paid employees – the gun lobbyists like the NRA – convince gun owners that attacks on the 2nd Amendment are imminent and so they all run out and buy more guns. It truly is sickening how gun manufacturers are prospering as people mourn and grieve the losses of their loved ones. But this happens after every mass shooting.

So, the benefit of the mass shootings are clearly the gun companies, the lobby groups like the NRA who do their political bidding, and, of course, the politicians who receive money from the gun manufacturers that was raised due to the baseless fear spread among ravenous gun owners. The politicians do nothing and get paid for it. What a gig.

But to go to the question I began with. Is there any biblical basis from this passage to be able to hold the UMC culpable for the targeting of the LGBTQ community in Orlando? I think a possible clue comes to us in Elizabeth Achtemeier’s excellent commentary on the Minor Prophets. On this passage in Amos she points out that though Amos is directing his tirade against the wives, he uses male pronouns, making his real anger directed at those most directly responsible for the oppression, while his accusations are also directed at the wives whom Achtemeier asserts are symbols of the wealth and luxury that exists due to the oppression. While Amos’ blame is leveled at those directly engaged in the oppression of the poor, his deep-seated anger is also directed at the religious leaders who give cover for it, those who he considers the symbols for affluence in the midst of suffering; the wives. It is the benefit of the wives and the religious cover that helps to uphold corrupt societal systems where the poor are dehumanized and viewed as less than, if they are viewed at all.

I believe this legitimates the belief, held by many inside and outside the United Methodist Church that the UMC as an institution has aided and abetted a culture of homophobia in the United States and throughout the world, most explicitly seen in the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando this past weekend.

As I said previously, while those most responsible are the shooter and the gun manufacturers, gun lobby, and the politicians in their pockets, the UMC shares an indirect piece of responsibility simply for the symbolic nature of their embrace of homophobia. A couple of examples will bear this out.

One is the failure of the General Conference to readopt a resolution first adopted in 2008, which simply urged United Methodists to oppose homophobia and eradicate forms of sexism. I, for one, do not hold a lot of stock in resolutions to do much of anything (and I have written quite a few!). Resolutions do not create action or stop tragic events from happening. Resolutions do show institutional priorities though. Even though the resolution opposing homophobia had nothing whatsoever to do with affirming or opposing marriage equality for the LGBTQ community, it failed to pass. Sometimes when we do not say something we say more than we did if we had chosen to speak.

Another example occurred during the North Georgia Annual Conference last week. In the midst of a debate on a resolution affirming at-risk youth, specifically LGBTQ youth who statistically are most at risk of violence and suicide, the conference voted to take out any reference to LGBTQ youth. Again, this resolution had absolutely nothing to do with marriage equality. But to take out LGBTQ youth, when those youth are most at-risk, is an enormous statement: the North Georgia Annual Conference decided that LGBTQ youth are not worth advocating for. This is homophobia in clear illustration.

These are just two of the symbols that send enormously powerful messages: LGBTQ people are less than. And I have not even brought up the fact that the UMC does not recognize the basic human and civil rights of LGBTQ people: their right to marry and their right to serve in any capacity in the church.

In addition, we need to answer what Amos asks: who benefits from this continued dehumanization of LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church? First and foremost, we have to say that the primary benefactors are the conservative advocacy groups in the United Methodist Church who receive high levels of funding and seem to take an unhealthy joy at the continued marginalization of LGBTQ people. In addition, I do think it is worth pointing out that regardless of whether LGBTQ people stay or leave the church those in the uppermost positions of the church will remain in power, with the same compensation and the same status positions.

The harsh accusations in Amos ultimately give way to God’s promise. Amos is known for his punitive pronouncements leveled against the people of Israel. But he is also known for another powerful image as he calls for Israel to uphold the rights and dignity of all people and to “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (5:24). Interestingly, preceding this beautiful image in chapter 5, Amos, who constantly uses repetitive language to drive home specific themes throughout his message, repeatedly says, “Seek good, not evil.” The choice is continuously put before Israel to decide if they will answer faithfully to God’s desire to treat all people with the basic dignity and humanity in which they were created.


The same choice is put to us, United Methodists. Seek good, not evil. Do not adopt the messages of those who seek evil; those who deny LGBTQ people the right to love who they love and the right to be who God has created them to be. Do not use church law as a veil for embracing homophobia, thereby repudiating LGBTQ peoples’ dignity and humanity. Do not embrace homophobia, but also, do not ignore it either. Instead, acknowledge it, repent of it, and embrace all of God’s children. As we do, maybe even we, the Church, will see justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a never failing stream. Lord knows, we live in a dry and parched land right now. We need a little justice. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

It's Time for New Leaders

I am a recovering homophobe. As an evangelical, straight, white male from Texas (originally from Tennessee), I grew up in a culture and church where homosexuality was vilified and a sure sign of weakness. Homosexuals were, in many ways, evil personified. If you wanted to hack on your friends (or enemies) you called them a “fag,” “limp-wrist,” “homo,” and many more names which I won’t write here.

What is more, I was a homophobe not just because of my culture. Being a homophobe was blessed by the church. Homosexuality was regularly listed as a sin alongside such sins as murder, idolatry, and incest. Noticeably missing from this list of the “worst of the worst” sins church leaders warned us about were sins like affluence, greed, and laziness – sins me and my wealthy, white suburban friends suffered from more than any others. Regardless, such an open and blatant demonizing of people created in me a normalization of LGBTQ marginalization. LGBTQ people remained “them,” the other, the alien with whom I shared nothing in common. “They” needed salvation and my job was to tell “them” that Jesus could save “them.” And of course, saving “them” meant making “them straight.”

God is straight. Jesus is straight. Adam and Eve were straight. I am straight. The world is right and in good order when it is straight.

But something happened to me on my happy “straight” path to the “straight” Heaven I dreamed of. I met people who were not “straight.” I met people in college were gay and bisexual and they were angry at the church for hating them, marginalizing them, and even at the people – like me – who never committed openly hateful acts against the LGBTQ community, but who benefitted from a society and especially a church that systematically lessens the value of LGBTQ people.

I met people in my seminary – my southern evangelical seminary – who were gay and lesbian and they hated themselves because they were taught to hate themselves due to their sins of the flesh. My seminary regularly brought in speakers who taught that homosexuality was something to be “delivered” from, furthering the self-hate and the communal hate as well. When a small group of us hosted conversations between seminary students and a gay Christian – yes, both at the same time – several students dropped out of the seminary because the school was “too liberal.” The speakers teaching that homosexuality was something to be “delivered” from continued to come to the seminary though.

God’s prevenient grace continued to woo me regardless. God continued to bring people into my life to show me that my culturally-ascribed, culturally-skewed ways of understanding sexuality as well as the way I viewed and treated LGBTQ people was actually what was sinful – not them or their relationships. The homophobia I struggle with persists. Thank God, God’s grace persists as well. You don’t give up a key part of who you are with a single decision or a single prayer. That is cheap grace. I am broken when I think about how my sins of commission and omission have furthered the isolation and alienation of such a loving and vibrant part of the Body of Christ.

I am also determined to live faithfully according to the grace I have been given. This means I will, by the power of the Holy Spirit, seek to do no further harm against my LGBTQ sisters and brothers. This means I will also not participate or support a system that daily does harm against my LGBTQ sisters and brothers. It’s a simple matter of faithfulness. It’s a matter of me working out my salvation.

So, when I see people in leadership in the United Methodist Church like Bishop Jones and Bishop Lowry, and I know there are others propped up in the United Methodist Church by such well-funded groups like Good News, the Confessing Movement and IRD, who propose that they will “uphold the Book of Discipline” which includes bringing LGBTQ clergy up on charges, holding trials, and then defrocking clergy for simply being who God has created them to be, I will not support these leaders or their church.

I need a church more powerful than the homophobia which holds us captive.


When I look at the actions taken by supposed church “leaders” who vow to uphold church law no matter who it harms and then, when I see and hear the words of Rev. Anna Blaedel from Iowa who boldly shares who she is and simply calls for the church to recognize her and her gifts for ministry (which are abundant), I know which church I want to be a part of. Moreover, I know which church I need to be a part of. I know which leaders I will follow. I will follow Rev. Anna Blaedel.

The Bishops and the well-funded conservative groups who want to exclude, lesson and marginalize people can have their church. It is what they have been working for for years. But let’s not miss what kind of a church they are wanting. It’s a church that lacks the power to transform. Their church will scratch itchy ears and tell its members what they want to hear, making them comfortable, but not holy. If society is homophobic – and I think most of us have to admit that it is – then you need a church that will address our homophobia and provide preaching and discipleship that invites us to repentance and sanctification.

This is why the United Methodist Church, when it follows the leadership of people like Bishops Jones and Lowry and continues to harm people has a form of godliness without the power of God. Until the United Methodist Church recognizes and honors all people who wish to serve and to fully participate in its means of grace, then the United Methodist Church will be a club devoted to the lowest common denominator in society and that lowest common denominator is a church dedicated to harming some and excusing the sin of homophobia in the rest. If I want to follow Jesus – and I do – I cannot be a part of this institution. The welfare of my soul is at stake.

The choice has never been so stark, thanks to the brave people like Anna Blaedel who remind us what real leadership is.

I do not think it is too much to ask to want to be a part of the Body of Christ – the WHOLE Body of Christ. I want my church to represent the entire Body of Christ and not just the part of it that makes me comfortable.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Rebuilding the Progressive Methodist Movement

It seems every few days I hear yet another story of someone being harmed by the current status quo in the United Methodist Church, particularly since the hard theological and political right turn the church took at General Conference. Continuing to exclude people from leadership and from even a recognition of their basic rights afforded them in the United States, is not just untenable, it is dehumanizing. It is heart-breaking to think of the constant invalidation people are forced to experience and the fact that the vehicle for the dehumanization is the church so many have served faithfully in for years. That the church, which is intended to be the hands and feet of Christ serving and loving the world, is causing so much harm is no less than infuriating.

The question I am hearing being asked repeatedly is, “What do we progressives do?” I would like to suggest a few things we progressives who remain in the United Methodist Church, for the moment at least, can and should do. First, I think we as progressives must acknowledge that as we look around our beloved United Methodist Church, we are indeed strangers in a strange land. Though conservatives may see what happened at General Conference as a “rebirth,” the plain fact is that a conservative takeover has begun and it is unlikely to swerve off this course any time soon, if ever. I for one do not think all aspects of conservatism are bad. For instance, I would say that the movement at General Conference to highlight the importance of the creeds is positive. The creeds link us historically and ecumenically. I do not believe for one minute that creeds necessarily have to create exclusion just because many of those who hold to the importance of creeds practice this. Inclusiveness, innovations, and creedal importance are not mutually exclusive in the life of the church.

At the same time, I do urge a word of caution to my brothers and sisters who care so strongly about orthodoxy. Orthodoxy at its strongest is open and invitational and not a weapon to beat down others who disagree with you. Orthodoxy is not something to be guarded, but something that is contextual and transformative. I have felt of late a growing elitism among my conservative friends; something of a “Wesley’s Elite Guard” who have formed themselves for the sake of defending a culturally-shaped 20th Century understanding and (worse yet) application of the teachings of Wesley. Conservative Wesleyan elites are emboldened since the United Methodist Church has decided that it is ok to sacrifice people for the sake of pursuing doctrinal purity. It has become not only ok to hurt and harm others, it seems to be a way to show that you are faithful if you are a leader. It is so plainly Pharisaical to me it is laughable.

As part of the realization that we are strangers in a strange land I hope we will see the many opportunities that exist, such as the chance to lose our addiction to our over-dependence on the institution for leadership. It is time for new leaders. I have heard more than times than I care to count that because progressives have control of some of the positions within the institutional structure then we have nothing to worry about. That kind of thinking is just plain lazy. Attaining titles and positions means that you have agendas. Having agendas means that you have institutional territory to protect. And protecting institutional territory means any progressive values that might have brought you to that position and title has been tossed overboard for the sake of protecting your territory. My fellow progressives, our “leaders” are not always our friends. It is time for new leaders, and preferably, those who do not carry the heavy baggage of impressive titles. Let’s quit looking up the food chain for ideas and leadership and look to each other and especially to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Recognition that we are strangers in a strange land is the first step. We just don’t belong here anymore. That hurts and I know we must grieve that realization. But the recognition that we are strangers in a strange land can be that which unleashes our dreams and visions for a new expression for what the Body of Christ can be. Dreams and visions are what must come next.

Thus, secondly, I suggest we progressives dream. I am all for leaving or splitting the United Methodist Church, but leaving one denomination with a top-heavy, hierarchical, arcane, 20th Century system that sacrifices individuals for the sake and preservation of the institutional machine for creating or joining another facsimile of what we just left is D-U-M-B, stupid. No thank you. For those of us who remain – again, for the moment – let’s use this time to dream. What is most important in our Christian life together? What do we want to change? What do we want to build? What do we want to leave behind – what has inhibited us as United Methodists currently from faithfully following Jesus and witnessing to the world of God’s love for ALL people? I for one do not believe that conservatives have hindered a progressive vision of God’s Kingdom; I do believe our dependence on the institution has had more to render us impotent than anything else. Regardless, I believe if we leave the UMC and just end up with a version that is equally laden with the structural and institutional trappings that we left, but only smaller in scale, then we would have failed this tremendous opportunity that is before us.

Thirdly, and implicitly when we dream and envision, we must do this in community. Dreams and visions are not individualistic, so we must thoughtfully but proactively create new networks for these kinds of conversations to take place. And networks are created through one on one conversations with those we suspect might share our dreams and visions. I am not talking about starting new organizations or institutions – God forbid! We have too damn many of those right now. I am also not talking about building a coalition to gear up for the fight at the next General Conference – enough of fighting for control of a dead institution! Geez, if the conservative elites want the carcass, let’s let them have it. I want to live into God’s Kingdom of justice and love for ALL people. It’s time for new connections.

Networks of progressives with similar dreams and visions for what the future holds, for what God is calling us to build and to change are innately dynamic, flexible and most importantly, organic. Our dreams will become reality only as they are nurtured and challenged in community with others who share the same passion and similar visions we have.

The work I did for over the last ten years was entirely based on one simple truth: connect people with similar passions and visions and ask those connected, what can we change together, what can we build? Then continue to build teams through sharing (and acting on) your passion and vision. From this simple basis, powerful networks were built that changed policies and transformed peoples’ lives. This work continues. More importantly, the invitation to this process continues. The question I have now is, who wants to work on creating networks for dreaming of what a renewed progressive vision can and should be building and changing? You interested? Let’s dream and share our dreams and visions with one another! I am dead serious. We can do this. The only ones in our way are ourselves. Let’s set up calls, let’s use social media, and let’s find ways to meet face to face. I am all in on this and I want you to be as well.

These are just some suggestions. Lord knows there are smarter people than me out there who need to be a part of this. Let’s just steer clear of those currently invested in maintaining the status quo and let’s invite all we can to the table, especially those who have been rejected by that table in the past. An open table with particular access to the rejected and marginalized. Is there anything more Christian or more Wesleyan, or hell, more progressive than in inviting ALL to the table to dream and move forward?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Leavin' Behind the 'Love It or Leave It' United Methodist Church

In any relationship when two people vehemently disagree about something for a long period of time ultimately entrenchment happens and the argument is no longer about the issue they disagreed about in the beginning, it’s just an open wound; a highly sensitive and often tread-upon point of contention where battles are fought incessantly. For the United Methodist Church this battle has been the issue of sexuality. As one among many United Methodists, I am tired of the battles simply because of the futility. Neither side is really influenced by the arguments of the other anymore and as the battles are fought, an obscene amount of money and resources is wasted, and all the while we are distracted from what we should be about. Most importantly to me, as we fight these battles, the hurt among LGBTQ people is only magnified. Hurting people and keeping an ineffective, top-heavy hierarchy in place is hardly worth all of the endless fighting. So, let's just stop it. 

It should come as no surprise then that I favor splitting the United Methodist Church. I suggest we follow the example of Paul and Barnabas, genuinely bless one another, and go our separate ways. I think for everyone, splitting will be tough but necessary. As someone with dear friends on both sides, I have to know not only what I opting for in this separation, but also what I am leaving behind and why.

I have heard from many conservatives – again, many of whom I dearly love – that as long as the Book of Discipline defines homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching” then we either must abide by it or leave the church to find another denomination where LGBTQ people are more accepted and welcomed into leadership. I am willing to say that these words are said by most conservatives (definitely not all) with sincerity and good intentions. Well-intentioned or not, it sounds to me a lot like “Love it or leave it.”

Again, I would say most conservatives in the United Methodist Church would not hold to the harshness of this tone, but it comes down to the sentiment, “You are either in or you’re out. Yes, we have some nice parting gifts for you on your way out, but if you stay, abide by our rules. If you don’t like the rules, feel free to leave.”

It reminds me of something I learned in seminary (yes, Asbury Seminary no less!) and have used in countless trainings I led for the past ten years in my work to advocate for just and humane immigration reform. This idea originated with Paul Hiebert, but also has been used by Michael Frost, Alan Hirsch, and Darrell Guder in their books on the missional church movement. It is the concept of the boxed set versus the centered set. For me, this helps define not only what I am opting for – an inclusive, Christ-centered Body passionately pursuing Jesus – but also what I am leaving behind.

The image for the boxed set is a rectangle. The focus of the boxed set approach to evangelism, to issues like immigration, or to ordering church life are the sides. They are the boundaries within which we live and share life together. They define who we are for those who are both inside those lines and those who are outside. It is relatively easy to decipher (at least most of the time) who is in the box and who is out. There are agreed upon truths that must be agreed and adhered to in order to enter into the boxed set, but they are usually fairly evident. Boxed sets are popular because they are easily articulated and do not present a lot of nuance. This is why boxed set people are a little mystified and even frustrated when those of us do not abide by the “you’re in or you’re out” approach. It just makes sense to them.

I have tried to describe this approach without harsh judgment though I clearly disagree with it. I again truly believe that most boxed set folks are good folks passionately pursuing their faith with the deepest sincerity. The problem is the focus – it’s on the sides. This devolves easily – and sadly, quite often – into legalism. Around immigration, it devolves often into blatant racism and a harsh enforcement-only approach that separates families and creates tremendous fear and terror in immigrant communities.

Now, boxed set folks are not necessarily boxed set on all issues. I know many conservatives who approach the issues of evangelism and church order with a boxed set approach while addressing issues like immigration with more of a centered set approach. I want to suggest that very few of us are entirely boxed set people or entirely centered set people. But I do believe that centered set is certainly a more faithful way to live out the gospel. Here’s why.

The centered set has no lines but rather, has a dot in the middle representing Christ with other dots scattered across the page, like the stars in the sky, representing all of humankind. The goal is not to see which star is closest to the center. The goal is to see how the stars in the sky are orbiting around the center. Are we moving closer or farther away? As ambassadors of Christ, our mission is to come alongside those stars and love them, nurture them, and walk with them as we, in community, seek to come closer to the center who is Jesus.

It’s a beautiful picture isn’t it? Its chaos and disorder to many boxed set folks, but they do raise a good question – how do we define life together? Who exactly is “in?” I would suggest that the underlying need to “define life” or to “set boundaries” is the wrong focus to have. This most often emanates from trying to revive a dying, irrelevant institution desperately in need of staying in business than in helping move people closer to Jesus. But to answer their question directly, I would say that the thing that defines us is that the center remains the center. The one absolute; perhaps the only absolute is that Jesus is Lord.

Now, I know full well that there will be some in the centered set who do not want to hold to even that. That’s fine by me. I feel no need to kick them out or file a complaint or hold a damn trial for the world to see (which is utterly shameful) in order for them to be forced to accept my absolute. It is not up to me to define for them how they view, comprehend or implement in their daily walk the lordship of Jesus. If they are moving towards the center, what is it to me what theological or doctrinal views they have? I frankly, my dear, don’t give a damn. There are simply too many people who are yearning for someone to walk alongside them and love and nurture them as they desire for something more meaningful for me to waste time on forcing someone else to abide by what I believe.

So, to my fellow somewhat disorderly, sometimes confused, but crazy-in-love-with-Jesus progressive friends, let’s celebrate our centered-setness. Let’s stop feeling like we are less than a fully devoted follower of Jesus just because we don’t lift 6 verses in the Bible on sexuality above the rest of the canon. That simply does not define our faithfulness and those who claim it does are frankly foolish. Just because the words of the Book of Discipline aren’t written on our hearts, or tattooed on our lower backs (gross, I know), doesn’t mean we are not serious about discipleship.

Better yet, when our boxed set friends tell us how that they are proven right because the fastest growing churches in the United Methodist Church are conservative and hence, take a boxed set approach to matters of sexuality, please feel more than free to tell ‘em, “Hey dude, congrats on being popular! I know that feels good, and perhaps you even feel justified in believing that defining who is in and who is not in is the way to grow. A lot of movements are built that way in the early stages. But I just prefer to be serious about loving people where they are and then moving together towards Jesus than in being popular.” Bless ‘em and move on. God knows it is time to move on.

The truth is the boxed set approach is popular. Nuance, context, and a long-slow arc of discipleship just isn’t popular. Fellow progressives, let’s quit trying to be what we are not. We are meant to be small bands of Jesus followers coming alongside people, particularly people experiencing injustice, and then following after Jesus together. The long, slow arc of the universe bends, but it bends towards justice and love. And that is what we are on. We were meant to be small bands of sold-out freedom fighters, loving the poor and marginalized incarnationally, and organizing and advocating for change. Somewhere along the way we got sold that we should have a big shiny institution with all of the titles and positions that reflect the pride of the world. But it is the institution – not conservatives – that is keeping us from being effective change agents. Let’s rid ourselves of the captivity of institutional relevance and move on.

You see, I believe Jesus himself was a centered set guy. Yes, he said he did not come to replace the law, but to fulfill it. And in doing so he repeatedly taught (“you have heard it said…but I say to you”) and he practiced (“where are those who condemn you? Then neither do I condemn you”). In fulfilling the law Jesus set aside the power of the law to condemn and he freed us to accept that love and then do all we can to share it. Jesus clearly did not focus on the sides of the box. He focused on God and on people. And he drove the boxed set people of his time nuts. Our focus should be the same. The only thing that matters is loving Jesus and loving people. That is our mission. Man, literally nothing else matters. So, let’s quit apologizing for who we are. Bless the boxed set folks and move on.


It is indeed time for new dreams, new connections, and new leaders.