In a June 28 online Pride Month worship service hosted by the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), clergy and bishops hailed the righteousness of rioting, accused United Methodism of white supremacy, and called participants to be “born again-again” into wokeness. The message of United Methodism’s unofficial LGBT caucus was meant to encourage victims of white supremacy. But there was no coherent message beyond praising resilience, which is equated with leftist politics.
Speakers contended that white-supremacist “systems” made LGBTQ and Black people resilient—a virtue now fundamental to who they are. Is a virtue that one is forced to develop, that requires no intentional fostering, really a stable anchor for identity? The consequences of this attribute’s expression suggest not.
When UMC Home Missioner Helen Ryde announced “we are gathered to celebrate LGBTQ, which started as a riot led by trans women of color” [an apparent reference to the 1969 Stonewall riots], it became clear that pushing back, even violently, is cause to “celebrate.” None of the represented clergy insisted on nonviolence.
Ryde argued, “At the root of all marginalization and oppression is ‘othering’ other people.” This statement was ironic, as arrows aimed at “oppressive systems” often “other’ and wound people just trying to work and live. Attacking the “system” sometimes means real people, such as the immigrant family running a deli below IRD’s office, get looted and robbed, as they were during recent “anti-racist” riots. Clergy should beware “othering other people” into inanimate systems as its own form of dehumanization. There are often people behind the smashed glass.
Similarly, Ryde called for being “born again-again” into a “new way of seeing” for affirmation of all people in “all their sexual orientations and identities.” So we need take a double-dip in Jesus’ blood for his redemptive work to really sink in.
Once we finally see as God sees, according to Ryde, “our Mother and our Queen” will use us to make “deep systemic changes.” But when Jesus first came, He explicitly defied expectations of political revolution. If our highest calling is to challenge oppressive systems, then Jesus should have prioritized delivering the Jews from the Romans systemically as people then wanted. Systemic evil exists because systems are composed of broken people. Making ourselves saviors of systems tends to distract from our Savior’s personal, real, and eternal work.
Pine United Methodist Church Pastor Jeanelle Nicola Ablola, in her RMN remarks, warned against using resilience as an excuse for ignoring systemic oppression. But still she insisted: “We have no choice but to rise in solidarity because of who we are. We shine when we join movements beyond labels of identities and transcending man-made borders.” Resilience is both inevitable and not enough. So, although the service repeatedly thanked people for their resilience, what exactly was there to praise?
On behalf of the entire United Methodist Church and the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ , RMN’s cast confessed global Christianity’s role in perpetuating the evils of colonialism that, according to retired Virginia Bishop Charlene Kammerer, “has perpetuated the sin of queerphobia and transphobia…especially in the USA.” The American church is essentially one of the most oppressive.
This statement was immediately followed by RMN Conference Coordinator Dennos Akpona recalling his flight from the torture and killings of homosexuals in Nigeria. Is colonialism in Nigeria also responsible for the severe persecution of queer and Christian alike? Jihadist insurgents Boko Haram and Fulani extremists would say otherwise. Even so, Akpona complained the USA church should have protected his identities better, following Kammerer’s claim that United Methodism and Christianity perpetuated harmful phobias against queer and transgender persons.
The sermon closed with song and slides showcasing intersectional injustice: climate action, disability rights, racial justice, economic reform, etc. As the Pastor of Haller Lake UMC Rev. Austin Adkinson concluded, “All of our oppressions are intertwined” with white supremacy.
What to do with all this systemic evil? The Rev. Grace Imathius of First United Methodist Church, Evanston, Illinois insisted we must “grieve to pass into healing. But if there is joy, let us rejoice. If life has brought us confusion, help us sort through the threads. Seeking itself can be an answer.” Such solutions are not tangible, which is perfectly on brand with the call to be “rainbow-chasers.” Our feelings will, presumably, lead us to support leftist polices that abolish systemic oppression.
This triumph of feelings is about the only conclusion to draw from RMN’s service, besides vaguely celebrating resilience. Each speaker began with the disclaimer “speaking from my experience,” meaning that any challenge to their diagnoses of systemic oppression undermines “their identities and truth.” They implored that, if we think differently from them, we should ask God to be “born again again” into a rioting wokeness.