Response To A Lakeview Bully

Yesterday at church I learned of an incident that happened earlier in the week that is nothing less than bullying. An individual placed handmade fliers making false accusations about Broadway United Methodist Church. In the flier, the bully suggests that people should let Alderman Tom Tunney know how they feel about what Broadway is doing in the community. This is what I wrote this morning:

Dear Alderman Tunney,

I am writing to offer a voice of support for the important work that Broadway United Methodist Church and other community organizations are doing to help homeless youth in Lakeview. I understand that this has become a point of controversy because people are misplacing blame for the recent spate of violence in the neighborhood on the presence of the youth who have nowhere to go. Individuals are responsible for this, so it is not right to blame an entire population of people.

Organizations like Center on Halsted, Night Ministry, and the Youth Lounge at Broadway United Methodist Church are critical to serving these youth who are struggling to survive. They are members of our community, and we have a responsibility to help them. Shutting down the social services that benefit them is not going to solve the problem of violence in our neighborhood. Indeed, I believe it might just contribute to the problem.

It would be a grave mistake for the leaders in the neighborhood to stop supporting these organizations. I hope that you don’t give in to the pressure of a vocal few who are filled with anger, fear, and hatred, and are simply looking for a scapegoat to place some blame for the ills in our community. The problem is larger than this, and requires solutions that are longer term and address its root.

Recently, an individual placed hand-made fliers on windshields in the Lakeview neighborhood that contained false accusations about Broadway United Methodist Church supporting drugs, prostitution, and violence in the neighborhood. Individual acts like this add fuel to the already burning fire of fear and hatred that is misdirected at the innocent people that Broadway UMC, The Center on Halsted, and the Night Ministry are trying to help. I hope that as a community we can have respectful public dialog. Acts like this do not facilitate that. I realize that people on all sides of this fight have contributed to the unhealthy dynamic. I hope that leaders like you will not respond to disrespectful rhetoric like this, but rather will lead the community in respectful civil discourse.

Don’t be distracted by hate and vitriol. And please don’t succumb to the pressure of those who seek to shut out the most vulnerable members of our community.


Sarah Conner-Smith – Uptown resident, member of Broadway United Methodist Church

My Stewardship Testimony

Recently, I shared the following story with my church, which illustrates all of the reasons why I make financial contributions.

When I was a child, my family attended a Lutheran church, one of the largest and wealthiest in the Twin Cities. It was a big, beautiful building downtown, with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, absolutely breathtaking. A beautiful building located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the area, where there sizable Native American population.

My grandfather had been a founding member of the church, and my parents were upstanding members of the community. They were involved in the Christian education program for adults and kids, and we had many friends in the congregation. I learned the meaning of spiritual community there. I was getting ready to begin Confirmation classes, and the church began to go down a road that forced my family to make a difficult choice. It is illustrated by this story:

One beautiful spring day, we were having a pot luck in the parking lot. There were lots of people and lots of food. Some folks from the neighborhood lined up with the rest of us, grabbed some plates, and got ready to get some food. They were hungry.

I remember being surprised and ashamed to see someone with authority tell them that the food wasn’t for them, that they were not members of the community and therefore were not welcome. The message that sent to me as a child and member of the community was that those people were not like us. They didn’t look like us, they were in need, of a different economic status, and we didn’t want them there to make us feel uncomfortable.

My mom took me aside later that day and was very clear with me: What that church member did was wrong, and that was not what Jesus would have done. Those people are members of the surrounding community, and should have been welcomed by us and offered food.

Shortly after that time, my parents made the difficult decision to leave the church. They made sure to let me know that the church was no longer representing their theological views, and they wanted to raise me with different values. They could no longer support or be a part of a community that was teaching exclusivity, not welcoming.

Growing into adulthood, I have struggled with claiming my place in the Christian church. I have hung out with Quakers, Buddhists, and all kinds of Christians, and I still hang out with Yogis and Yoginis. Finding a church home that feels like a good fit has been difficult. The important thing to me is that my parents instilled in me the values that Jesus taught, those of generosity, sharing, community, love, forgiveness, justice, and healing.

When I found Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago, I knew I had found my church home here. At BUMC, all are welcome. This is a community that walks the walk of social justice, generosity, and love.

So a few Sundays ago, I offered up this story as testimony, telling the story of why I financially support Broadway. I give because the transgender and gay homeless youth in the Lakeview need our Youth Lounge program. I give because the Lakeview Pantry needs our donations of food. I give because the community needs the Wednesday Night Live adult education classes. I give because Broadway offers much needed support to members of our community who suffer from depression and mental illness. I give because Broadway is unwavering it its support of LGBT civil rights.

I give because I need Broadway, too. This church walks the walk of my theology.

I encourage other members of Broadway to share their stories about why they give, in whatever ways they give: Time, Talent, or Treasure.

Prayer of Confession

Today at church the Prayer of Confession really spoke to me. I have been meditating on it all day, and I thought I would just share it here:

We confess that we have doubted ourselves and you, Lord. We believe what other say about us before acknowledging what your Word says. We tend to the pain, rather than seeking your healing. We have let the stock market, bank accounts, and the economy take hold of us, always looking to appear the best. We have neglected and have rejected relationship with friends, family, coworkers, church, and community. We preoccupy ourselves with devices to distract us. WE have distanced ourselves from the needs of the world. We have worried ourselves with earthly matters, with what cars we drive, what schools we attend, what clothes we wear, and how we appear to others. Forgive us, God, for our focus on the things of this world. Show us your ways and lead us in the path of life that we might see you and proclaim, “my Lord and my God!”


I don’t know what’s worse…

I went to a new church today. Nice place. But I don’t know what’s worse: Standing around awkwardly not talking to anyone and not knowing what to do with my hands, or having my time monopolized by the sweet church lady who was so obviously trying to connect with a younger person and convince me to come back. Its almost like going out on a date with someone who is, you know, a little desparate.

Nice people, though. I think I’ll go back and try again. Hopefully I’ll be able to meet some others next time.

The Conversion of Venus

Michelle over at Metacentricities recently blogged about the conversion of Venus Magazine to an ex-gay publication. I really had to do a double-take when I read this. The website has the testimony of its publisher, who started the magazine thirteen years ago as a voice for the black lgbt community which is so often invisible in main-stream lgbt media.

I don’t subscribe to any lgbt magazines, but I pick them up occasionally when there is an article that interests me. In the past I have bought a copy of Venus, and I was always appreciative of the presence of that voice among all of the others in the lgbt community. Being a white lesbian with a black wife living in Oakland, I know how important this visible presence is.

I must say that this conversion saddens me for many reasons. First of all, I view converting to “ex-gay” as a self-hating act. So many lgbt folks have a hard time coming out in the first place because of all of the negative messages that we are bombarded with about what it means to be lgbt. We are taught to hate ourselves, to surpress who we are, to be something we are not. And it hurts.

Also, she is doing this from an Evangelical Christian platform. As a Christian, I feel this is sinful. Jesus preached about love, compassion, and community. He taught that the Kingdom of God is within each one of us, and God created us as S/He intended. The “ex-gay” movement is manipulating the words of Jesus to strike fear and self-hatred into the hearts of all lgbt people. As Woody Allen so insightfully stated, “If Jesus Christ came back today and saw what was being done in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”

To hear about someone who had once embraced who she was, who had once even loved who she was, who fought for the rights of others like herself, who very publicly provided a voice and image for the black lgbt community, I can’t help but feel this is anything but tragic. Not to mention the fact that she is now using Venus as a vehicle for her Christian testimony and that of others who have converted to “ex-gay” in order to “convert” other lgbt folks.

Finally, there is already so much hatred of lgbt folks in the African American, and specifically African American Christian community, which is a tragedy in itself. I am pleased that there is a movement to work to change this, and that there are communities like my church, First Congregational Church of Oakland and our sister church in San Francisco, City of Refuge that are not only open and affirming but also addressing the needs of the black gay community. Thank God for this good news!