by Rev. Gilbert Caldwell
"Judicial Council isn't the place to decide such matters (same sex marriage). General Conference is...." (A critical comment about my last blog)
We speak of "Holy Conferencing" in the United Methodist Church. This is my effort at engaging in "Holy Conversation" in response to a comment that was critical.
One of the aspects of the "exceptionalism" of the United States of America is our acceptance of the checks and balances that are represented by the Legislative, Judicial and Executive branches of our national government. We have no checks and balances in United Methodism. We believe that the decisions voted by a majority of the delegates at a General Conference have an almost sacred "rightness" about them and therefore should not be challenged or changed until a General Conference, 4 years later does so.
The United States Supreme Court on May 17, 1954 ruled that the practice of racially segregated public schools (separate but equal) was at variance with the equality provisions of our national Constitution. At the time the Methodist Church had a segregated Central Jurisdiction but it was not eliminated until a majority vote of the 1968 General Conference did so. Most Methodists knew that the Central Jurisdiction was in violation of Biblical declarations of inclusion and our own Methodist statments that expressed the same view, but it took 14 years after the 1954 decision for the voters at a General Conference to declare that a "separate but equal" Central Jurisdiction, was a violation of not only Scripture, but Methodist thought and wisdom!
The Methodist Church could have ordained women before 1956 if a Judicial Council had been able to say prohibitions against women were in violation of our understandings of Scripture, our affirmation of the rights of women as Methodists, and at variance with the movement for equal rights for women in the nation at the time. It is time that we find ways other than a majority vote of General Conference to protect the rights of minorities.
I have been disagreed with and questioned over and over again about my ally/advocacy for the equality rights of LGBTQ persons and same sex couples. Some of those who have disagreed with me have been less-than-kind in the ways they have expressed their disagreement. But, being a former "foot soldier" in the Civil Rights Movement in the south and in the north, I have developed the capacity to "keep on keeping on", no matter what.
Why at the age of 76, this month I will be 77, have I been so passionate about advocacy for the equality rights of LGBTQ persons in church and society? Langston Hughes in one of his poems (The Negro Speaks Of Rivers) has written, "I have known rivers...." I have known, I have experienced, I have been wounded, I have been made angry by the slowness of the Methodist and now the United Methodist Church to embrace in its biblical interpretation, its theology, and its practice, deep and authentic responses to its history of racism at worst and racial insensitivity at best. The gradualism of the denomination I love, in its efforts to repair the damage church-sanctioned slavery and racial segregation has harmed, not only those who are black, but all within the Church. It has left wounds within me that have not yet healed. We believe that black "visibility" at every level of the denomination means that we have been healed. But, with all of the black visibility there is, we have not gotten off of our beds and walked boldly to confront the racism that is so obvious all around us. Rather, some exert great pressure on some Board and Agencies and persons when they "dare" to address the elephant of race that is still in the USA room. And, a so-called racially inclusive United Methodist Church remains silent. Is silence the price we pay for being racially diverse?
I have prayed and hoped that the UMC would not do to my LGBTQ sisters and brothers what it has done to those of us who are black. But if we continue to allow majority votes at a General Conference to separate and segregate them from full equality in the United Methodist Church, it becomes de-je-vu all over again.
It is painful to observe that, that done to those of us because of our race, being done to others because of their sexual orientation and gender status. Of course there are differences between racism and heterosexism, but "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere". I believe if Martin Luther King were alive, he would ask United Methodism; "Did you not learn from your long struggle against racism that justice cannot wait to be enacted by majority votes. Justice take place when Spirit-led women and men are able to say, "History and culture may have condoned discrimination, but that history and culture was wrong. We say to today's Church, 'All God's children got a song'. Let them sing it in order that we all might be healed."
The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell is a retired United Methodist Minister who lives in Asbury Park, N.J. He was active in the Massachusetts unit of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and participated in the civil-rights movement throughout the nation. In 2000, he, with others, organized the RMN Extension ministry United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church (UMOC), an organization committed to the full inclusion of LGBT people in every aspect of church and society. His recent book, Something Within: Works by Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell is available from Church Within A Church.