- Rev. Gil Caldwell -
Despite my "presence" at the Tampa General Conference via live streaming and the writings that I shared in response to General Conference, not until I read the blog of Lois McCullen Parr, "A Call to Biblical Obedience," did I grasp where and how the Spirit was most present at Tampa. The Spirit was clearly present in the Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle.
As I read the blog, I could "see, hear, feel and have my heart, 'strangely warmed" by the description of that last day at General Conference in the LYN Tabernacle. Present with Bishop Talbert, I read, were some of the active and retired Bishops of the Church. And after Bishop Talbert said, "I declare to you that the derogatory language and restrictive laws in the Book of Discipline are immoral and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience" as the centerpiece of his words, Lois Parr wrote, "The LYN Tabernacle crowd rose to its feet, applauding and shouting, 'Amen' and 'Yes'...."
In my old age, tears come to my eyes more frequently and are less restrained by me than when I was younger. I came close to weeping at my computer as I read the words of Bishop Talbert and the description of how those present responded to his words. In my mind's eye, as I "saw" those active and retired Bishops, some of them my friends, all of them known to me, who were present at the event, I lifted up my personal "Amen" and "Yes."
I could not help but believe that Bishop Talbert in his words had a "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...." (Luke 4: 18) moment as he spoke with prophetic and pastoral clarity. The well-known Luke 4 passage with its power is particularly instructive for The United Methodist Church in 2012. We read in verse 22 that after Jesus sat down, "All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth."
The United Methodist Church has said of same-gender loving persons that they with all of us are "persons of sacred worth." But we have cheapened the meaning of those words because of "the derogatory language and restrictive laws in the Book of Discipine."
Sadly, some of the persons who initiated and continue to support that language and those laws do not understand, or do not want to understand, that they represent our United Methodist way of saying what the protestors from Westboro Baptist Church were saying outside the General Conference in more openly vulgar ways.
In verse 25 of the Luke 4 passage, when Jesus offers some specific examples of the reading by saying, "But the truth is....." we read, "When they heard this all in the synagogue were filled with rage." (28). I have not and probably never will understand the "rage" that is provoked in some United Methodists when the full humanity and rights of LGBT persons and same-sex couples are affirmed through words and actions -- actions that sometimes become protests. There is a negative emotional response that often comes forth from some persons in response to gay persons and those of us who are in solidarity with them in our efforts to achieve justice and affirmation that is difficult to understand or explain. The only comparison I can make is that of the ways some Methodists/United Methodists responded to black persons and our efforts to achieve justice and affirmation. There is not much "separation" ("6 Degrees?") between those who have allowed racism and/or heterosexism to shape their rage. Any persons who proclaim the differences without understanding the similarities may have a "blind spot" that requires examination and introspection.
Pentecost did come to Tampa! It was experienced and felt in the Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle.
Let all of United Methodism say, "AMEN & YES!"