Presiding Bishop Yvette Flunder of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries has had a few things on her mind lately, and she is planning on sharing her concerns with the Diocese of Chicago when she gives the keynote speech at its annual convention on November 18-19 at the Westin hotel in Lombard.
“I am talking a lot among the churches that I serve about revisiting Pentecost, primarily because so many people have emerged from very conservative theological backgrounds —MethoBaptiCostal traditions,” says Flunder, founder of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ, a thriving, primarily black, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender congregation in Oakland, California. “We have a certain culture specific to churches we have come from, and the idea is to have some conversation about how we can have synergy among us with regard to the ways our cultures and silos separate us so drastically.”
To Flunder, who holds a master’s degree from the Pacific School of Religion and a doctorate of ministry from the San Francisco Theological Seminary, many of the tensions in American society stem from too narrow a concept of God. “It’s indicative of why we demean First Nation people in terms of their spirituality, or Muslims in terms of theirs, or indigenous Africans in terms of theirs; it’s because we cannot see the bigness of God,” she says.
“Pentecost is about being empowered to get beyond the strictures created by these silos and find our way to one another beyond race, gender, empire or nationality. It is about moving to a place where we can see the entire family of God as one family.”
Flunder, an accomplished gospel singer who has recorded with the late Walter Hawkins, the City of Refuge Choir and Chanticleer, sometimes mixes singing into her presentations. She says convention goers may hear a song or two. But they will certainly hear her speak about the need for people of faith to stop searching for scapegoats and begin to work together.
“There is this tendency to blame everything on the impending second coming of Jesus and it is what I call apocalyptic eschatology,” she says. “It’s always, ‘Any day now.’” It’s always ‘The four horses of the apocalypse and the gays,’ as though these things are going to bring impending doom. But if the Kingdom of God is to come, it will be because the people of God usher it in. It is problematic to cede our responsibility to a cataclysm.”
Flunder, a member of the Religion Council of the Human Rights Campaign and the National Black Justice Coalition, has been active in the struggle against HIV/AIDS since the mid-1980s, She and her church founded the Ark of Refuge, Inc., a non-profit agency that provides housing, direct services, education and training for persons affected by HIV/AIDS. In 2014, Flunder gave the keynote address at the White House’s 2014 observance of World AIDS Day.
She rejoices, she says, that HIV/AIDS is now a “chronic but manageable disease,” but says social and religious attitudes still hinder the fight against the disease.
We could end HIV in our lifetimes,” Flunder says. “It could go the way of polio and diphtheria, but we can’t change it as long as we have this stigma associated with it.”
For more information about the 2016 Diocesan Convention, visit the diocese’s website.