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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Methodist network declares 'It's Time'
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2016-01-20

This article shared 6050 times since Wed Jan 20, 2016
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With a population that includes more than 720 communities and 32,000 individuals of all sexual orientations and gender identities, the three-decade-old Reconciling Ministries Network ( RMN ) of United Methodists has another kind of change it wants to create—this one within the church itself.

The national It's Time campaign centers on The United Methodist Church ( UMC ) 2016 general conference, scheduled for May 10-20 in Portland, Oregon, which will consider legislation calling for recognition of LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

The RMN's website asserts, "It's time to end the hurt that's engulfed so many of our families" and "welcome and celebrate everyone who comes to The UMC."

Matthew Berryman has been the executive director of RMN since 2013.

Born and raised in South Carolina, Berryman was a closeted member of the clergy. In the late 2000s, he came out and had to leave the church and his career. He eventually went to law school and, since taking on his role at RMN, has been a guiding force in its work to dismantle what he calls "an oppressive policy and theology in The United Methodist Church."

"The United Methodist Church changes its policy every four years," he told Windy City Times. "There are a number of different policies that relate to LGBTQ identity, dignity and the full sacred worth of the LGBTQ person."

As the LGBTQ advocacy group within the nation's third largest Christian body, RMN began to think about how to position themselves ahead of the conference in order to change the hearts and minds of The UMC's bishops.

"A lot of the stories we see and hear are heartbreaking," Berryman said. "They are from people who have been given the gift of faith and who value spirituality. We don't fight with people we don't love. So this fight really has so much to do with the paradoxical nature of being given so much by a spiritual tradition and, on the other hand, being whacked over the head by it."

Berryman believes the UMC is behind the times in welcoming rather than turning away the very people who wish to embrace it.

"For its long life, the church has been guilty of participating in cultural structures of oppression that it is supposed to be speaking out against," he said. "It takes time for the church to grow into who it is and we are very late to the game. Marriage equality is the law of the land but The United Methodist Church continues to be lukewarm in its expressions about the policy. The clergy are wonderful people but some are very unwilling to take action to make a change. Part of our work is encouraging and inspiring people who are allies to speak out about what they believe."

One of those who did was Rev. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist pastor from Pennsylvania who was defrocked in 2013 after officiating in his own son's same-sex marriage six years earlier. In 2014, he was reinstated after a lengthy, emotionally and physically draining battle.

His story is told in the documentary An Act of Love which often takes center stage alongside a panel discussion at It's Time events.

"Here is a person who was guilty of love," Berryman said. "I can understand it as a gay man, a former clergy person and as the father of a 13-year-old. It's such a great story because it is so relatable. Whoever cannot see the unadulterated beauty of Rev. Schaefer's act has a soul that is diminished already and we should feel bad about it."

Yet there is still a majority of UMC clergy who remain closeted.

"As with other issues like racism and the subjugation of women, the church eventually comes around and makes amends to the people it has abused," Berryman said. "In this case there's no question that there has to be some kind of reparation because the church continues, by virtue of its policy and its own straight and heteronormativity, to collude with oppressive forces in creating causes and conditions for suicidal ideation and a lack of general well-being."

Regarding transgender individuals, Berryman believes the church has a lot of work to do even in terms of recognition.

"Gender as a force in our lives and as a way of being human is poorly understood," he said. "In some echelons there is a particular way of being in the world that has tended to be white, male and cisgender. Just as it has around issues involving sexual orientation, the church has been complicit in the ongoing perpetuation of narratives that have been destructive to people on the basis of their gender and gender expression. Part of the problem of The United Methodist Church is that we don't even mention transgender people. The institution itself has not figured out a way to formally speak about them."

Meanwhile, the It's Time campaign is steadily gathering momentum ahead of the May general conference.

"We have had a great deal of social media success," Berryman said. "We are leveraging key personalities and leaders. We will also have two same-sex marriages that will be very public. I'm hoping we will be able to show An Act of Love in at least 100 churches around the country. Come hell or high water, we will have an effect on The United Methodist Church. No matter what the outcome of the general conference, Reconciling Ministries Network is a force within the religious discourse around LGBTQ inclusion and we are helping to push the church needle forward."

It is this kind of initial success that gives Berryman every reason to be optimistic about the ultimate results of the It's Time campaign.

"I think we will end up seeing things move at the general conference in a way that grants more freedom for LGBTQ people, a better theology for the whole church and for it to be a sign of God's love in the world rather than a participant in oppression," he said.

For more information about the It's Time Campaign, for screening dates and the opportunity to share stories, visit www.rmnetwork.org/newrmn/itstime .


This article shared 6050 times since Wed Jan 20, 2016
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