Let Us Be Lifelong Learners: An Open Letter to Bishop Goodpaster

“I was there to hear your borning cry, I’ll be there when you are old. I rejoiced the day you were baptized, to see your life unfold.”

Open Letter UMRThese words rang through the sanctuary, as the lovely couple made their way down the aisle. Surrounded by family and friends, Jim and John exchanged vows, entering into a covenant with each other and with their community to offer their love for one another, grounded in God’s love for them. Their vows expressed their deep commitment for one another, grounded in mutuality, respect, and care. It was one of the most beautiful gestures of worship I have ever experienced.

This ceremony was a breath of fresh air amongst a packed weekend in preparation for the first day of the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) spring session.

A Plague from Both Houses

In the past few years, the NCGA has legalized discrimination in the state of North Carolina.

  • The NCGA has made it harder for people to vote, through restrictive voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and reducing early voting – something used predominantly by people of color.
  • Last year, in their spring session, the NCGA passed a bill, after delaying the vote for weeks, to allow magistrates to recuse themselves from performing their oath if it would interfere with their sincerely held religious beliefs.
  • Finally, in a special session, lasting less than 12 hours, the NCGA passed a law removing the right of local municipalities to self-govern through non-discrimination ordinances and living wage ordinances. This law removed the state process for individuals to file a discrimination claim in the state’s court. All of this in addition to endangering transgender and gender nonconforming people by forcing them to use restrooms and locker rooms that do not match their gender expression.

All these are things I have sincerely held religious beliefs against as a faithful United Methodist.

Ministry in Unseen Places

Bishop Larry Goodpaster

Bishop Larry Goodpaster, file photo

Bishop, on the same day that North Carolina-area bishops publicly spoke against many of the above efforts, I read your blog post A Teaching Moment, which contained both a lament about handling complaints against pastors who practice marriage equality and a celebration of the ministry of St. Stephen UMC’s new mission for the disenfranchised in downtown Lexington.

Bishop, I celebrate the blessing of St. Stephen UMC with you, especially as someone who grew up on the border of Thomasville and Lexington. This new ministry is in my family’s backyard. I also want to participate in your call to provide for the homeless, poor, and others who fall through the cracks of many agencies. The call to be in ministry with was entrenched deeply in me as a young child, in Sunday School at Christ UMC – High Point. I often remember the stories I learned like David and Goliath or Daniel in the Lion’s Den, as inspirations to continue to do the work of justice that God has called me to do.

What I want to write today is a testimony that the ministry of St. Stephen UMC is no less important than the work for LGBTQ equality in our Church and our society.

  • In a report, Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for Being LGBT in America, by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) and the Center for American progress, shows the economic disparities of LGBT people and non-LGBT peers. Did you know “single LGBT adults with children are three times as likely to have incomes near the poverty line as non-lgbt peers.” Or, “married or partnered LGBT adults with children are two times as likely to have incomes near the poverty line as non-lgbt peers.”
  • Or, in a national survey report by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), “[Transgender persons] were nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000/year compared to the general population.”
  • The MAP report claims these economic disparities have much to do with 1) Legal Discrimination 2) Lack of Family Recognition and 3) Hostile Educational Environments and the survey report from NCTE notes that “People of color in general fare worse than white participants across the board, with African American transgender respondents faring worse than all others in many areas examined.”

In the past year, the NCGA has created barriers to the rights for LGBTQ people, perpetuating a cycle of poverty LGBTQ people can not easily escape. Seeking LGBTQ equality is correcting economic injustice.

A Tail Light to Justice

Our beloved Church, like the NCGA, is standing in the way of economic and social justice for all North Carolinians.

In The United Methodist Church, our clergy are not allowed to officiate same-sex ceremonies. The lack of recognition of LGBTQ couples perpetuates the stigma of LGBTQ persons and contributes to the cycle of poverty and homelessness that LGBTQ people face. Imagine if a faithful United Methodist lived in one of the counties in North Carolina where their local magistrate has chosen to recuse themselves from the duties of their office and the United Methodist pastor decided that they would follow the rules of the denomination. Is this pastor still living into mission to be in ministry with? The delayed response from episcopal leaders, which chose to not name those most impacted, inflicts harm and supports systems of oppression and cycles of injustice. I expect more from leaders in our church who guide our mission to be in ministry with!

Your blog post, A Teaching Moment, shared the judicial process for handling a complaint. It also shared so much more. By naming the complaint process as your “least favorite aspect of this office” then claim “experiences like Sunday remind [you] what the mission is all about” implies that Rev. Dr. Val Rosenquist’s actions were not grounded in mission. Whether it was intentional or not, to dismiss the actions of UM clergy who are officiating same-sex ceremonies as any different than offering, as you put, “support and encouragement to others who fall through the cracks of many agencies” is a huge oversight. It is a misunderstanding of the oppression many LGBTQ people face and a denial of the role our denomination plays in perpetuating a cycle of poverty and systematic oppression.

Saturday, Sunday…and Beyond

Like Sunday in Lexington, that wedding on Saturday was a beautiful reminder of how God calls us to be in ministry with all. People joined together in song, worship, prayer, covenanted to be the community of Christ for Jim and John. Experiences like Saturday replenish my soul, so that when Mondays come I can be in the public square demanding for justice – justice for workers, justice for transgender and gender nonconforming people, justice for veterans, justice for people of color. I see a clear connection between God’s calling on my life, my faithfulness to Christ through the United Methodist Church, and standing against unjust laws – in my denomination and in the world.

I invite us, Bishop, to join together in a lifelong journey of learning. I invite us, to see God’s abundance of ministry in our church and world – acts in the public square, the pronouncement of a couple in holy matrimony, ecclesial disobedience, and ministries providing for the poor, homeless, and those who fall through the cracks of many agencies. May it be so!

Seeking justice, loving kindness, walking humbly:

Joey Lopez

(He, Him, His)

Joey LopezJoey Lopez: Passionate about social justice and intersectional advocacy, Joey has worked with people of faith in Chicago, Detroit, and communities across North Carolina organizing and empowering them to claim their voice for justice in the world. Currently, Joey serves on the Board of Directors for Methodist Federation for Social Action, a progressive movement within the UMC focused on issues of peace, poverty, people’s rights, progressive initiatives and justice within the UMC. Joey lives out his calling for justice through his work at More Light Presbyterians.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
editor@circuitwritermedia.com
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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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