“No one is shunned,” announced Rev. Alex Da Silva Souto, a queer native Brazilian Methodist pastor in Connecticut, about halfway through the first-ever Zoom service for LMX.
They and Althea Spencer-Miller, a Drew University professor who studied in the West Indies and Jamaica, then began listing just some of the identities beyond LGBTQ+ that LMX is intended to reach.
“Subalterns, outliers, speak!” Spencer-Miller said.
“Wounded leaders,” said Da Silva Souto. “Mama bears… sis with an s, cis with a c … and if you have no idea what I’m talking about, most excellent. We want to walk with you, too.”
It was one of many moments (along with an opening built around a Prince quote) during LMX’s first-ever service that makes it clear: this is definitely NOT your parents’ Methodist church. Or any church, perhaps.
LMX stands for Liberation Methodist Connexion, and some organizers speculate it may be the world’s first-ever explicitly LGBTQ-affirming Methodist denomination. Its core is a group of more than 30 spiritual leaders nationwide, including at least a half-dozen from Iowa and Illinois.
But while LGBTQ+ inclusion was the original inspiration for the LMX, its launch Nov. 29 — now available to anyone through YouTube — shows a roundly intersectional identity, with speakers that represent a wide array of genders, ages, ethnicities, races, identities, orientations, sizes, and even belief systems.
The denomination’s website goes even farther, mentioning different relationship styles, hairstyles, body art, drug use, and education level.
Intersectional in all ways, but united around social justice, is the professed goal of LMX. And yet, in its material and through all of the featured speakers so far, LMX never loses sight that historic racial oppression, and prejudice against transgender people in particular, are the areas that are most divisive among many religions.
“POC and Q+T-centered” is how Sue Laurie, a white cisgender lesbian who began fighting for LGBTQ inclusion in the early 1990s, described LMX during her presentation Nov. 29.
“We love our neighbor, including the earth,” she says. “It makes us strange, and it will change everything.”
Laurie is among several Illinoisans and Iowans who are part of the core group. Pastor Sean McRoberts, formerly pastor of Iowa City’s St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, and their wife Colleen are also among the group. McRoberts came out as nonbinary to their church shortly before the ban, and left the traditional Methodist church just after it.
“A lot of the people we will connect with have already been lost to existing congregations,” they say. “They’re people who have realized that the welcome sign isn’t meant for them.”
McRoberts says it’s essential that LMX stands for more than just affirming LGBTQ+ people.
“The sin of white supremacy runs through American religion as well,” they said. “We know that none of us are free until all of us are free. And to me, that means the work we’re doing is not about any one person or group, but about overcoming and dismantling the systems of oppression that keep us divided and weakened.”
Among the intersectional representatives during LMX’s first service was Marcus Briggs Cloud, an indigenous Muscogee person, who asked viewers to research the original Native American lands on which they live.
Another, J Mase III, shared about the Black Trans Prayer Bible, a collection of prayers and meditations from transgender people of color. Rev. Kai Greer, from New York, offered a statement that gave a nod to non-Christian traditions, referring to this “mystical and sacred space” that “transcends time and place.”
Laurie, whose decades of LGBTQ activism in the Methodist Church is recognized with numerous awards, helped capture just how different the LMX outreach is than others before it.
She and her partner, rejected by the Methodist Church in the early 1990s for student housing provided to straight couples, insisted on joining the church anyway. They went on to help change the policy of their Methodist university within years and in 2016, Laurie was ordained in a mock ceremony after being denied ordination for 21 years.
But when Laurie spoke as part of the LMX’s debut service, she didn’t dwell on her own pioneering. She was repentant. Laurie apologized over and over — for focusing on “blending in,” for being part of “slowing progress.” for “compromising to join the complacency of the whole.”
“I just wanted to feel welcome at church,” she said.
Laurie went on to honor “repairers of the breach” — a phrase she said jumped out at her during a Biblical reading from the book of Isaiah by Ravi Roelfs, the speaker who preceded her. Just weeks before, Laurie said, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber mentioned the phrase while leading the Poor People’s Campaign against social injustice. Repairers of the Breach is actually the name of another nonprofit Barber runs committed to healing injustice.
“Repairers of the breach are at work before I am even aware, and deeper than I know, offering love and justice in abundant supply,” Laurie said.
She and the McRoberts are among several Iowans and Illinoisans helping to get LMX started. Others include:
— Rev. M. Barclay, executive director and co-founder of enfleshed, an Iowa City-based nonprofit organization
— Elisa Gatz, a member of Wesley United Methodist Church in Sterling, Ill.
— Adrian Hill: a member of the First United Methodist Church in West Dundee, Ill., who is also lead custodian at Barrington United Methodist Church.
— Ann Hunt, part of the Chicago-based Church Within a Church Movement
— Rev. Alka Lyall, pastor of Chicago’s Broadway Methodist Church
— Will Ranney from Wartburg College in Waverly, IA.
To participate in the New Year’s Eve Vigil, currently scheduled for 9 p.m. Dec. 31 to 2 a.m. Jan. 1, watch LMX’s Facebook page. You can see the Nov. 29 service, plus a presentation afterwards, here.
(cover photo is of Common Hymnal, an intersectional group devoted to “praise and protest,” that performed during LMX’s Zoom service)