Resistance Is Holy
As I sit in the aftermath of both the Our Movement Forward summit in Minneapolis (in which I participated) and the UMNext meeting in Kansas, I am filled with a mix of feelings. I am deeply moved by the number of people who so clearly reject the punitive nature of the Traditional Plan, but I am also disappointed because this is an astonishingly low bar. Our system mirrors the American Empire and is made more in that image than in God’s. Our system relies on a representative democracy, similar to our American electoral system, which is a fatal flaw. In matters of justice, love, and compassion, we cannot accept majority rule as a faithful form of discernment. Whatever the future holds for Methodism in America, it must look wildly different than the cumbersome and often immoral system we have chained ourselves to.
At the #OMFsummit, I saw a beautiful vision of what church could be. It was a place of such love and overwhelming welcome. I lament that the church does not always look and feel that way. When those who live at the margins can give voice and shape to a movement, beauty abounds. To be marginalized is to know Jesus so intimately that there are scarcely words for it. It is an experience that no books or theologians can teach you. To be POC+Q+T in the United Methodist Church is to be in almost constant rage or pain. We have unfairly borne the brunt of changing hearts and minds through experience. Somehow, it is up to me, a Black man, to teach other white Methodists about the evils of racism, despite how traumatic and harmful those conversations might be to me. This type of rhetoric asks something of marginalized people that our institution has no right to ask. The United Methodist Industrial Complex has done a poor job in its treatment of POC+Q+T members. Our institution has no right to expect us to do the long, hard, time-consuming work of changing the minds of others, while we wait patiently for them to cease harming us. I truly understand that many people who espouse this type of rhetoric mean well but good intent is not enough; outcome matters. Debating the worthiness and sacredness of the marginalized is an incredibly privileged and inherently harmful strategy. There is nothing to debate. The burden of changing hearts and minds must not be unfairly placed on the oppressed. POC+Q+T Methodists have no obligation to educate those who cause them harm.
I believe the Holy Bible is a document of liberation. Jesus was a constant witness of radical solidarity with the marginalized. Right now, in America POC+Q+T lives are being attacked. Whether or not the world causes harm to us has never been debatable; it has always been a matter of fact. Just this week I have seen countless videos of police abuse or killing of Black people. Even when the camera is rolling and all the world can see the brutality waged against us, the United Methodist Church is deafeningly silent. When trans women (particularly of color) are harassed, brutalized, and murdered in our streets the UMC’s complicity is so easy to see. Our denomination contributes to the rhetoric of anti queerness that often undergirds violence and even policy across our nation. Reproductive rights are under assault and in many states, Christians and churches are not only silent but willing participants in this evil. Yet, we are told time and time again that we must be willing to compromise in order to stay together. There should be no compromise with evil and immorality. Our refusal to name the great evils of our time are a key piece of our continued complacency. Unity is no excuse to cause harm.
I was asked recently why POC+Q+T Methodists can’t just agree to disagree and move on? I found the question to be astonishing and in poor taste. The truth is that POC+Q+T United Methodists have done absolutely nothing wrong. Their only offense is being who/what God made them. I have yet to see any Q/T Methodist advocating for a movement where traditionalists and centrists are not welcome. Not once have I heard marginalized members of our body seek to exclude or cast out those who can't affirm our identities. This is more than about agreeing to disagree. We have fallen into a trap of false equivalency that attempts to equalize the blame for our current predicament but that is dishonest at best and malicious at worst. How can you compromise with people who see you as lesser than? Being outcast for your conservative and at times oppressive views are not the same as being marginalized. As long as there are mechanisms that institutionalize our homophobia we can never just agree to disagree.
A core value that I hold deeply is that everyone deserves to be heard. Holding firmly to this principle has allowed me to make bonds with people I am in deep disagreement with. This is a deliberate choice that I make, and it should not be imposed on others as the norm. Believing that every person has a right to be heard does not mean that every person has a right to have their voices amplified, nor does it mean that their voices are not harmful. Traditionalism, however well-intentioned, is not always a good thing and I believe the Bible supports this. When Paul was persecuting Christians he was being traditional. He was sincere and well-meaning. In his mind, he was enacting justice on behalf of God, instead of violence on those who believed differently. We all know what and who Paul becomes, but very rarely do we stop and take note of all the harm he caused prior to his conversion. All the evangelism in the world cannot undo the immense harm and pain that Paul was a key part of. He could have opened churches in every corner of the planet but that would not un-kill and un-persecute those he captured. Harm for the sake of doctrine can never be a faithful exchange.
For my traditionalist siblings in Christ who feel as if you cannot support full inclusion due to deeply held scriptural beliefs, I am not writing to change your minds. Instead, I only pray that you would not support the harm our system inflicts. Jesus makes it clear that God will always take the side of the oppressed and no one can deny the oppression of POC+Q+T people in America or within United Methodism. Do No Harm is the tenant of Methodism that I hold on to most deeply. Everything I do or believe is held up against this principle. The life of Jesus Christ has convinced me that when the rules are wrong, we must break the rules. The Bible is a document of liberation and When it is used to harm, kill, discriminate, or other, it is in direct opposition to its intent. Jesus was not a centrist or a moderate, in fact, Jesus was a radical. Jesus was/is a liberator. Through Christ, we are set free from sin and unbound from the ways of the world. Those of us who fight for liberation are following in Christ's example and we will not submit to immoral compromises. The bar must be full liberation at a minimum. This is the only way forward.
p.s. He prefers Pastor Malachi in conversation.
Here is a poetic reflection by Pastor Malachi after attending Our Movement Forward summit and UMNext:
Resistance is Justice
So if you must fall, fall forward
Resistance is Holy
Because oppression must not have its day
Too much has been taken from the have nots
We hardly have anything left
But faith . . .
I believe in a revolutionary
Who was murdered by the system
While his mother watched and he was unarmed
You would think he was black
Because what’s more black than being murdered while unarmed?
What’s more queer than living in a world that wounds you deeply
Solely for the crime of being?
So if we fall, let us fall forward in the fight for freedom
Because like the tree planted by the water
We will not be moved.