- by Rev. Gil Caldwell -
The runner in a relay race is my model for my writing. I seek in my writing to pass the baton of a thought, an observation an idea, a conviction and a suggestion for change, to other runners who will run with my baton in ways I never could. However, my experience has been that the batons I have sought to pass on to others have been taken, most of the time, by people who disagree with me, and
are not timid in their writing responses that sometimes demean and dismiss the thoughts, observations, ideas, convictions and suggestions that I have shared. (I learned long ago as a participant in the Civil Rights Movement to "keep on keeping on" in my activism and my writing, regardless of the naysayers).
But my hope in writing this is that there will be those who read this who will allow what I have written to complement and/or encourage them to be bold, brave and bodacious as they "run" with what I share in this essay.
I write this with GREG DELL in my mind, heart and spirit. Most of us know that Greg Dell as Pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago, in 1998 performed a service that publicly celebrated the relationship of two men. Greg was tried and found guilty of "disobedience to the order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church." This happened in 1999, Greg was removed from his appointment to Broadway as punishment. He was re-appointed to Broadway, July 1, 2000 by Bishop Joseph Sprague.
It is becoming clear that the USA and ultimately The United Methodist Church will say "yes" to marriage equality for same sex couples. This week the Dean of the Episcopal, Washington National Cathedral announced that the Cathedral would host same sex marriages. And closer to home, Bishop Sally Dyck in a letter to the clergy and members of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church wrote this in support of the Marriage Equality legislation proposal before the Illinois Legislature:
"While The United Methodist Church holds that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, it also holds the teaching and a long tradition (albeit a struggle every inch of the way) of civil rights. Marriage equality is a civil rights issue: it provides for all what is afforded to some."
I have accepted the fact that The United Methodist Church in response to many
justice issues is a "tail light" rather than a "headlight".
Martin Luther King asked the question; "Why is the church so often a tail
light rather than a headlight?" While the US Supreme Court declared racial
segregation in public schools unconstitutional in 1954, we as the Methodist
Church did not decide that the racially segregated Central Jurisdiction was
unbiblical until 1968. We did not ordain women until 1956, even as equality for
women was moving forward much before that. And it is now clear that while
states and the District of Columbia affirm marriage equality for same sex
couples, and the Supreme Court this coming spring is likely to rule that
denying same sex couples the right to marry is unconstitutional, we in The UMC
are a disconnected caboose on a train that has left the station heading toward full
equality for lgbtq persons and same sex couples.
Where does GREG DELL fit in this essay that is too lengthy? While we as The United Methodist Church are "bringing up the rear" on equality for same sex couples, we could become a model in the ways we belatedly affirm those like GREG DELL who have been punished by the denomination for taking seriously their "call" to ministry and their ordination, by their performing services that celebrate the love shared by those in a same sex relationship.
GREG in his ministry believed and believes that the church "rite" of marriage ought be provided "for all", despite the fact in the United Methodist Church today, it is only "afforded to some".
I am suggesting that The United Methodist Church develop a "Ritual of Apology" that embraces GREG DELL and others. In that Ritual, we as a Church ought say in more than one way, "GREG you were right and we were wrong".
I am discouraged by those who use what they claim is the "authority of Scripture" to justify their prejudices. And, I am also discouraged by those who claim to be "originalists" in their interpretation of the US Constitution as "cover" for their desires to perpetuate injustice and human insensitivity. Therefore, I will not quote the Bible or the Constitution as I conclude. Rather, I will turn to the writings of William Shakespeare!
I will not pretend to be at home in the writings of Shakespeare. I am not sure whether it is the language or the plots or both that confuse me. I have yet to completely understand the characters whose names are, Helena, Lysander, Demetrius, Oberon and Puck in "A Midsummer Nights Dream". But I have found the words spoken by Puck to be helpful and useful as I as a Black, Third generation Methodist have seen the foolishness of racism, sexism and now heterosexism in our denomination. Puck says;
"Lord, what fools these mortals be!"
Our United Methodist Biblical interpretation, Theology, Christology, our ecclesiology nor our polity or General Conference actions or connectionalism, guaranteed appointments, etc. have kept us from being living contradictions of who we claim to be. We acknowledge personally and collectively our sins of comission and omission. But who of us within the denomination are surprised when the "Pucks" beyond the denomination say of us: "What fools these United Methodists be"?
I have taken too long to say that United Methodist "fools" like us
cannot erase our history of once punishing persons because of their race or
gender, and now because of their sexual orientation and same sex commitment.
But, we can as a denomination acknowledge the foolishness of our punitive
response to those among us who like GREG DELL, who long ago understood and went
about doing ministry in ways we are just beginning to affirm.
I believe that to be "a fool for Christ", is to go public with our recognition of how foolish we have been as we have punished some whom we now recognize were right and we were wrong.
. . .
* I have not spoken to Greg or Jade Dell about the above. "Greg and Jade, my hope is that these words informed by my love and respect for Greg and you Jade, are not inappropriate, nor intrusive."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.