Reflections on UM-Forward
Editor’s Note: The UM-Forward Summit was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Friday, May 17 to Saturday, May 18. The mission of the summit was to discuss the future of the United Methodist Church, centered on POC+Q+T (Person of Color, Queer, and Transgender) voices. We asked Lee Schriber to share his reflections on participating in this summit.
“We yearn to be a grace-full church that embodies love and relentlessly pursues social justice and equity. Our role is to make a faithful future irresistible; our movement forward is creating and shaping a way of collective flourishing, of intersectional justice, of transformative healing, of liberating love.” - UM-Forward Preamble
A balm of healing for the wounded heart. This is how I describe my experience at the UM-Forward Summit in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Friday, May 17 to Saturday, May 18. I found my spirit transformed from a spirit of hopelessness to hope, the hope that I had been digging deep to find every day since midway through General Conference 2019. The UM-Forward Summit was the space that I needed to be in, to be reminded as a queer person in the UMC that I am not alone and the in-breaking of something new is indeed coming, imminently and immanently. I was poignantly reminded that our connectional church—with all of its flaws—is also beautiful and will continue to be beautiful as we seek to be a denomination of collective flourishing.
I pray every day for the United Methodist Church, I pray that the One who began a good work in our denomination would be faithful to complete it. After each General Conference, it has felt as though yet again that prayer was going unanswered as each General Conference codified and expanded exclusion and indictments of LGBTQ+ peoples and those who would risk their life and livelihood for their queer siblings. Yet, somewhere in the midst of it all the UM-Forward Summit gave me hope—where there was no hope—that this prayer may yet be answered.
As I understand them, the goals of the UM-Forward Summit were to call our denomination to an understanding of the intersectionality of radical solidarity and to convene space for the creation of relationships among those committed to the work of radical solidarity and inclusion—building a foundation of vulnerability in community as we all seek to imagine something new. Radical solidarity is more than tolerance, more than acceptance, more than friendship, and even more than ally-ship. Radical solidarity means standing close enough to the oppressed that you risk being hit by the stones that are being hurled at us.
In a mindset of liberation, if you are not willing to risk your life and livelihood for the sake of the Gospel, a Gospel of liberation, then you are not living out radical solidarity. God calls us to a Gospel of liberation and radical solidarity, and by our baptisms we are made sufficient for all that God calls us to. When we sing “I have decided to follow Jesus,”we must remember that Jesus was an uncompromising radical, oriented wholly around justice and liberation and that Jesus did not accept moderation or centrism. Yet even in the midst of calling for radical upheaval of the powers and principalities of political systems and religious discipline with the rejection of moderation and centrism, we see Jesus as an agent of grace, who regularly created invitational space for those who were not yet ready to get fully on board. The rich young ruler of Matthew 19, with all of his power and privilege, is still invited to be a part of the realm of God. And when he turns away Jesus does not fall back on meanness and curse him, but instead proclaims that “for mortals it is impossible [to be saved], but for God all things are possible.”
I continue to live in the tension of the question: “How much am I willing to be a paradox?” How do I demand full intersectional, anti-colonial, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-patriarchal, anti-racist inclusion, but also create space for people to be brought along on the journey of reconciliation and resurrection. Dr. Althea Spencer of Drew University perhaps put it best in saying “we can be completely inclusive, but if we are not global, we are insular.” How do we continue to create relationships and community as we all build something new together, with all of our differing perspectives?
In closing, I call us—especially my queer siblings—to remember that the waters of our baptism, when mixed with the tears of our oppression, have the power to transform the world and our denomination, and that we are called to be a part—as co-creators with Christ—of the making of all things new that God describes in Revelation 21: 4.
May God, who began a good work in the UMC be faithful to complete it, may we cry and mix our tears with the waters of our baptism, may we be agents of grace, may there be hope where there has been no hope, and may we move forward into the promised land of “collective flourishing, of intersectional justice, of transformative healing, of liberating love.”
Lee J. Schriber serves as the Minister of Discipleship at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in downtown Washington, D.C. He also worships in the Virginia Conference at Arlington Commons Church, a church plant in Arlington. Lee is a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary. He is originally from the Michigan Conference and is openly gay. Lee loves getting to spend time with people, was once a certified barista, and is just as comfortable on the cattle farm he grew up on as he is in the heart of the city.