I have, for reasons for conscience and pragmatism moved away from most electoral activist work. I respect those who do this work, but for the most part I’m not comfortable with the incessant compromises one must make to do this kind of activism and have instead decided to focus my energy on direct action with causes and organizations I believe in as well as focus on work in the religious peace community.

But I’m making an exception for one unusual candidate, Ed Shadid. Much of the reason for this exception is that I know him and count him as a friend, and know very well how much his life has changed over the last few years.

Dr. Ed Shadid for OKC Mayor

Dr. Ed Shadid for OKC Mayor

A few years ago, I took a call from Ed. He had just a near death experience during the terrible tornados of May 2010. He told me he was a very busy and successful doctor, but that his experience in the tornado convinced him that he had to make his life about more than professional success. He asked for my help with a campaign for state House (I was active in the Oklahoma Green Party in those days) and so I jumped in and helped him. He was incredibly eager and determined to make a change but ended up losing in a heart-breaking 3-way race.

I learned a lot about Ed during his first campaign, most notably about how he could listen to those who disagreed. I remember a couple of times that he and I had spirited conversations on some topic or another that I didn’t agree with him on. While I didn’t change his mind on the particular topic at hand, I was impressed by the fact that he really heard me and cared what I thought, but also wasn’t afraid to tell me that he thought I was wrong. This is so different than what most politicians are like.

During those days I saw Ed struggle to balance his life in activism and his medical practice, and I frankly assumed that he would probably give up on activism after the race and return to his previous fast pace of lucrative medical practice. Who could blame him? He did his part to make a change. It would have been easy to walk from it all and back to regular life. He told me he wanted to keep working for change, but I just didn’t think he would do it.

But I was wrong. Instead Ed plunged in deeper into activism. He made lots of connections in the activist community, among folks doing good work for important causes. And then he ran for City Council and won.

It would have been easy for Ed to then just sit on his laurels. All he had to do was to show up at City Council chambers and cast his votes and then go back to regular life. But he didn’t do that. Instead he plunged into becoming one of the most active and engaged councilors in OKC City council history. And he dared to take on some sacred cows — things like a poorly thought out mass transit program in Map3 that neglected most of the city, or a stupid law that outlawed raising urban hens. Throughout all of these fights, he kept being shot down by our obstructionist Mayor, Mick Cornett, who is good at looking good on TV and for gaining corporate pork for downtown, but a failure at representing all of OKC.

So Ed decided to run for Mayor, which of course scared the powers that be, unleashing possibly the ugliest smear job in local political history by Mick Cornett’s lackeys at The Oklahoman (aka The Daily Disappointment). And yet Ed stood strong. He didn’t back down.

Ed’s life has changed. He still practices medicine but does a lot less of it so he can focus on a life of activism. This is the kind person I want as my mayor. He frankly has been an inspiration to me and a reminder that we all can make big changes in our life, whether it be his recovery from drug addiction or his bold vocational changes.

So get out and vote for Ed Shadid on March 4th. Vote as if your health and well-being (and that of your family and neighborhood) depend on it, because frankly I think it does depend on it. We need a livable sustainable city that is fair to all. Ed is the person who can help make these changes.


This blog post is a response to A letter to Mennonite Church USA from the Moderator – by Elizabeth Soto Albrecht

I am deeply disappointed and hurt by your statement published on the MCUSA website today. While I share your desire for an active, missional and united Mennonite church, I do not believe that our gay brothers and sisters should be thrown under the bus to achieve this aspiration.

Yes, the Mennonite Church faces many different issues in different places, but the issue of homosexuality is present everywhere, whether we want to believe it or not. Statistics vary (based on the difficulties in getting accurate statistics about something as sensitive as human sexuality) but the best numbers have found say that likely 3.8% of the American Adult population identify themselves as being LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender), with likely many more not being willing to be open about their orientation and/or are not sure about their orientation.

This means that LGBT folks are everywhere. Even in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (where you claim your home church – Laurel Street Mennonite Church doesn’t have this as an issue), there are gay people. The question is — are they welcome in the church or not?

Inclusion is not an ancillary issue, but rather is central to the gospel message. ALL are welcome in the Kingdom of God. Certainly it is good to be (as you said of your home church), “preoccupied with keeping our ministries going and on growing as a church community” but one should not be so preoccupied by these good things to realize that there are people being oppressed by the church.

Here’s one example from the comments of your original post on the MCUSA website

A few years ago, I was looking into buying a house around the corner from Laurel Street. I had emailed the church and asked if they would welcome a gay Christian into their community. I eventually got a reply stating that it might be best if I find another church as Laurel was not engaged with that issue at the moment. Here it is 4 years later, and they are still not engaged with it.

This “one issue” is part of God’s purposeful plan in growing a “church community “.

The reality is that refusing to be “engaged” with this issue is actively choosing to discriminate. It is actively choosing to embrace bigotry and to reject the Kingdom of God.

I don’t want to give up on the Mennonite Church. It was a lifeline to me to discover the Mennonites when I had been floundering, looking for a church community that actually tried to live out the teachings of Jesus. But I can’t help but wonder if my involvement with our homophobic church structure is in fact a form of complicity with evil.

I will keep hoping and praying that we can find a way forward but right now I’m having a hard time having the faith necessary to keep praying these prayers.

I have one parting thought… we know that the suicide and attempted suicide rate for LGBT youth is significantly higher than that of straight youth. This is an issue with life and death consequences, particularly since we know that that institutional policies that push LGBT discrimination often lead to upticks in the suicide rate. Mennonites in the past have been a powerful voice on mental health issues (such as through the Fierce Goodbye documentary). Our national church leadership should not be burying their heads in the sand right now. Inclusion is an issue facing all of the church. The question is, how will we respond?

– James M. Branum
Minister of Peace & Justice, Joy Mennonite Church, Oklahoma City