Expanding the witness, deepening the commitment
MIND broadened and deepened its witness for LGBT justice in 2010 and also significantly expanded its organizational capacity. We developed two significant initiatives, the My Brother’s Keeper symposium on hate crimes and the marriage initiative, both of which are carrying over in 2011. Our annual conference presence was once again powerful and pervasive, and our day-to-day work touched more lives than ever before.
Originally conceived at a MIND steering committee meeting in March 2009, the My Brother’s Keeper: People of Faith Confront Hate Crimes project was committed from the very beginning to creating a broad event that would lift up and bring together all victims and communities affected by hate violence. A diverse planning team spent more than a year working together, and the November 20 symposium was co-sponsored by an unprecedented coalition in the New York Annual Conference: the Conference Board of Church and Society, the NY chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, MIND, the NYAC Immigration Task Force, the Conference Commission on Race and Religion and the Conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
One hundred fifty people attended the all-day symposium, including Bishop Jeremiah Park, and the day was packed with moving testimony, insightful analysis, prayerful healing and intense connections made between participants. Rev. Joshua Noblitt gave a meditation reflecting on his experience as a victim of a hate crime; Rev. Dr. Traci West (a MIND steering committee alum) led a panel titled “How is the hate supported in church and society? How is the hate countered?” with Dr. Terry Todd, Rosario Quinones and Fred Brewington. In the afternoon, the Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja gave a powerful performance of their play “What Killed Marcelo Lucero?,” which was followed by a discussion. Discussion time and small group meetings were built into every aspect of the program, and the event was bookended by worship and singing. Perhaps most importantly, people left realizing that the symposium was just the beginning of the work we must do to confront and end hate crimes. The planning team is now working on a video, study guide and resource packet for local congregations as a follow-up to the initial event.
Living more deeply into the inclusive Gospel
Like My Brother’s Keeper, the current marriage initiative grew out of long and searching deliberations. Over nine months, past and present MIND leaders and allies from MFSA wrestled with how to respond to a deepening realization that for MIND, living into the inclusive Gospel means refusing to discriminate now rather than waiting for the day that official UMC policy changes. The marriage initiative is the outcome of this discernment; with it, we aim to make marriage equality a lived reality in the New York Annual Conference.
It is grounded in a “Covenant of Conscience,” which declares that its signers “refuse to discriminate against any of God’s children” and will make marriage available “on an equal basis.” The intent is to build a broad network of clergy, lay people and congregations, who also “pledge to one another [their] spiritual and material support in fulfilling this covenant of conscience.” With the Covenant of Conscience, we articulate the pastoral and prophetic need for the UMC to be a beloved community of equality, justice and love for all God’s children.
The first phase of the project is a gathering period where we are collecting as many signers as possible. During this phase, we are building a network of clergy, laity and congregations. In the second phase, when we’ve developed a strong, broad network, MIND will release the covenant with all the signers and we will publicize the availability of NYAC clergy to perform gay marriages throughout the conference and in the gay community.
Rev. Gregory Dell, who was suspended for a year for marrying a gay couple in 1998 and refused the UMC’s offer to drop the penalty in exchange for a promise from him that he would not do it again, released a November 2010 statement calling on his colleagues in NYAC to sign onto the covenant. Meanwhile, the initiative’s planning team produced an eight-page organizer’s manual for those who will be asking others to sign.
Strength and support at annual conference
While planning for My Brother’s Keeper and the launch of the marriage initiative went on throughout the year, we also organized our annual witness at NYAC’s annual conference meeting in June. Mark Miller was our guest speaker at a standing-room only lunch, and the MIND table was swamped from before we even finished it setting it up to the last day when we broke it down. It was the site of vibrant energy, impassioned conversations on how to move the work of justice forward and lots and lots of t-shirt sales. As in past years, we designated Friday our t-shirt day and the signature purple shirts were visible all over the conference floor. 2010 marked the sixth year that we offered our armband witness during the ordination service, asking everyone present to wear a blue armband. The blue symbolizes tears: tears of joy as we celebrate with those being ordained and tears of sorrow as we mourn with those also called by God but rejected by the church. MIND also participated in the conference’s closing day Momentum of Ministries festival, and hundreds of people stopped by our “welcome home” space to learn more about what MIND does.
While MIND has been instrumental in documenting and publicizing NYAC’s long legislative record in dissent against UMC anti-gay doctrine and policy, 2010 marked the first year when we drafted and introduced our own resolutions. Working with the My Brother’s Keeper coalition, we passed a resolution called “The Christian imperative to respond to hate crimes,” resolving the NYAC churches form coalitions with local groups fighting bigotry and hate violence. Another resolution reaffirmed the conference’s objection to the Book of Discipline’s prohibition of same-sex weddings and recommended a penalty of one day paid leave for any clergy performing such weddings; that, too, passed.
Our most creative effort was a resolution called “Ministry to the Marginalized: Welcoming LGBT people into NYAC.” It called on the conference to take out advertisements in LGBT publications that express the conference’s “heartfelt regret for the harm inflicted on LGBT people through the UMC’s homophobia and discrimination, and…share in these advertisements that NYAC has long been opposed to UMC policy on homosexuality and welcome and invite LGBT people to worship in NYAC churches.” (The ads were to be paid for by voluntary contributions because the Discipline prohibits the use of conference funds to “promote homosexuality.”) The intent was to pass something that could actually make a difference in the lives of LGBT people and to move the conference from words affirming LGBT equality to actions living it.
Ministry to the Marginalized was passed by the legislative section, but when it came to the floor Bishop Park ruled it out of order. His ruling was formally challenged by MIND, which set in motion a process that required him to explain his objection in writing and that brought his ruling to the Judicial Council, the UMC’s highest judicial body. At its October meeting the Council took the position that it would not intervene in a parliamentary ruling, which was disappointing, but there is no obstacle to re-introducing the resolution again in 2011; and since the bishop’s stated objection was minor and easily addressed in a small language change, we intend to do so.
Silence is complicity
The urgent need for efforts like the Ministry to the Marginalized resolution that explicitly defend and welcome LGBT people in the name of the church was brought home by a series of tragic events in the summer and fall. The problem of anti-gay bullying in schools, the crisis of gay teen suicides and hate crimes targeting LGBT people or people perceived to be LGBT were briefly in the national spotlight and with them, some understanding of how destructive religious homophobia is in our society.
In July, Joshua Noblitt, a UMC minister in Atlanta, was attacked at a picnic. His courageous and public response was to choose the path of love instead of the path of fear, and he organized a picnic in the same place he had been attacked. As word spread, reconciling communities throughout the U.S. organized solidarity picnics in response. MIND’s annual picnic was refocused in light of these events, and MIND’s outreach to Noblitt resulted in his participation in My Brother’s Keeper.
Just as organizing for My Brother’s Keeper was swinging into high gear at the beginning of October, three gay men were abducted, tortured and sexually assaulted in a horrific hate crime in the Bronx, one of three attacks in the same week.
All of these developments brought home once again the urgency of our struggle to end the church’s prejudice and discrimination against LGBT people: Homophobia kills, and silence is complicity. Throughout the year MIND continued its efforts, both privately and publicly, to get the conference leadership to publicly embrace NYAC’s longstanding positions opposing the UMC’s discrimination and to explicitly acknowledge the LGBT members of NYAC churches.
Tending the soil
Throughout the year we also continued to work with individual congregations to help them plan their next steps in their welcoming ministries. In February, we took part in the Reconciling Ministries Network Believe Out Loud training. In June five congregations celebrated Gay Pride services and we once again marched in the New York City Gay Pride march.
In between all of the other work, MIND also prioritized the development of a communications infrastructure in 2010 in order to increase its outreach capacity. We launched a website (www.mindny.org) as well as a Facebook page (Methodists in New Directions) and a Twitter presence (@MINDNYAC). We also started a weekly email newsletter, called Do you MIND?? that reaches over 600 people.
Other firsts were including a worship service in our spring organizing meeting and forming a MIND choir under the spirited direction of Nehemiah Luckett.