By Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell, Retired, July, 2001
In a meeting next week, the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church will discuss Docket Item 0409-3: IN RE: Review of a Decision of Law by Bishop Beverly J. Shamana of the California-Nevada Annual Conference on Whether a Resolution Passed by the Annual Conference Related to Retired Clergy’s Willingness to Perform Same Gender Marriages or Holy Unions violates ¶2702.1 of 2004 Book of Discipline. More information on Bishop Beverly J. Shamana's Decision of Law can be found at the United Methodist News Service. You may also want to read Leland Spencer's post, "Bishops: Bravely Bold or Blasphemously Bashful".
If any of the following are appropriate responses to next week's meeting of the Judicial Council as they consider retired clergy who are willing to "perform same-gender marriages or holy unions", please share this.
1. I, as a retired United Methodist clergyman have thought these words of former President Jimmy Carter as he left office, appropriate for those of us in the retired status within The United Methodist Church; "In a few days, I will lay down my official responsibilities in this office to take up once more the only title in our democracy superior to that of President, the title of citizen." (January 14, 1981). We who are now retired were Christians before we were ordained clergy, thus retirement allows us the unrestricted freedom and responsibility of being "Christian".
2. We in United Methodism are in agreement with these words; "We insist that all persons regardless of age, gender, marital status or sexual orientation are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured." We who are retired clergy have the opportunity to affirm and endorse these words in those states where same gender unions and marriages are a "civil right". While The United Methodist Church responds in time, in its legislation to Constitutional-affirmed civil rights for same gender gender couples that are now legal in state after state, retired United Methodist clergy ought have the right to perform unions and marriages in those states where they are legal.
3. At the age of 75, I remember when Methodist Churches and Methodist-related Institutions, accepted and abided by state-sanctioned racial segregation laws Now that same gender unions and marriages are legal in some states, how can The United Methodist Church justify denying retired clergy the right to be in ministry to same gender couples as they make public their commitment to each other? We know the history of Methodist Churches and Institutions abiding by laws that racially segregated. How can we now stand on the sidelines and disregard and ignore the laws in those places where same gender unions and marriages are legal?
4. I find it interesting that in our Book of Discipline we say, "We believe war is incompatible with the teaching and example of Christ", but we do not forbid clergy from participating in war as soldiers and chaplains. And we say, "We consider homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching", yet we forbid clergy from performing same gender civil unions and marriages. Ministry with and to those persons involved in one form of Christian "incompatibility, war, but not with and to those persons who seek same gender commitment? (Is there any significance in "believe" when it comes to war and "consider" when it comes to homosexuality?)
5. On Easter Sunday I could not help but remember that it was Easter Sunday 1964 when Bishop Charles Golden, a Black Bishop in the Methodist Church and Bishop James Mathews, a White Bishop in the Methodist Church, were turned away from Galloway Memorial Methodist Church in Jackson, Mississippi. because the Church had a policy against racial integration. Remembering and writing about that moment in our Church history, in 2009, reminds me of how foolish that attitude and action was. Why in 2009 do we in The United Methodist Church continue to separate, segregate and exclude persons when years ago we acknowledged that separation, segregation and exclusion of persons was "incompatible" with Christian teaching?
6. Our nation's Supreme Court and state Supreme Courts have on matters of race and gender, determined that racial and gender segregation were at variance with the equality provisions of Constitutional intent. More recently, some state Supreme Courts have determined that to deny same gender couples the right to unions and marriages was un-Constitutional. It is clear that just as on matters of race and gender, secular society was ahead of the sacred society we call the Church, the same is true vis-a-vis the rights of same gender couples. In the past I have wished that our Judicial Council or some comparable body could have declared that majority legislation that suppoted slavery and racial segregation and exclusion of women from the ordained ministry, could have ruled that those actions of exclusion were at variance with our larger understanding of John 3:16. A God who wraps Self in the flesh of Jesus because of a Divine love for the world (not some of the world), is about inclusion, rather than exclusion. It is a tragedy of awesome proportions to imagine how much of God's good time we have wasted with our legislation of racial and gender and now sexual orientation, exclusion!
I have wished and prayed for a Judicial Council that could save The United Methodist Church from its propensity for legislated exclusion. The gifted and spirit-filled women and men of our Judicial Council I believe, are called to be more than a Council of "Traffic Cops" who seek to keep the Church from legislative collisions and suggesting how it should following existing stop signs and red lights. 55 years ago, this May 17th, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that previous rulings that declared "separate but equal" public schools valid, were in fact invalid. May our present Judicial Council, sensitive to the current "wind of history" that is affirming same gender love and commitment, guide our great denomination in catching up with a wind that God will continue to energize, with or without the sanction of our denomination.
A friend who was fascinated by the phrase, "retired clergy's willingness to perform same-gender marriages or holy unions" that the Judicial Council is considering in Docket Item 0409-3 sent me these words of Vaclav Havel, that speak of "willingness".
"Hope is a state of mind not of the the world. Hope, in the deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good."
May The United Methodist Church understand that the offered willingness of retired clergy to perform same gender marriages and unions is not shaped by a quest for success, but because there is the belief that the love is God that is expressed in human love, regardless of the nationality, race, gender or sexual orientation of those who seek to share it, is another sign of God's goodness. If United Methodists continue to stand on the sidelines, while our clergy colleagues of other faith traditions perform ministry, we leave a legacy for the future, much like the "legacy of lateness" that those before us left us, on matters of racial integration. Let it not be said of this generation of United Methodists; "The more things change, (among us) the more things remain the same."
Gilbert H. Caldwell