by Rev. Monte Marshall
With the recent action by the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference to hinder Mary Ann Barclay’s pursuit of ordination as a deacon in The United Methodist Church, I’m not only grieving for Mary Ann and all other LGBTQ persons who are struggling to open the church’s eyes to God’s work in their lives, I’m also feeling the weight of the dark side of our United Methodist heritage:
- I’m remembering those of our Methodist forbearers who defended slavery as a matter of “biblical obedience” and “orthodox” practice, in contradiction to John Wesley’s abolitionist position, and then split the church in 1845 over the issue. This memory tears at my heart still. When will we learn humility? When will we learn—even from the scriptures—to view with suspicion any appeal to “biblical authority” and “orthodox” practice that justifies oppressive discrimination, and blinds us to the work of God’s Spirit in people’s lives and in the world?
- I’m remembering those of our Methodist forbearers who appealed to the Bible to justify racial segregation, both within the church and the larger society. I remember the turmoil generated in my home church in 1970 when Bishop Eugene Slater made the first cross-racial appointment in the Southwest Texas Annual Conference, assigning an African-American to serve an all-white congregation as associate pastor. Many people left that congregation over this “violation” of “biblical principles” and cultural norms. When will we learn to lead the way toward justice rather than being dragged kicking and screaming into the new thing that God is doing?
- I’m remembering those of our Methodist forbearers who fought successfully over many decades to deny full clergy rights to women simply because of their gender. Those who stood in the way “justified” their position with appeals to scripture and tradition. Even though women were finally allowed to vote in the United States in 1920, The Methodist Church did not extend full clergy rights to women until 1956. When will we learn to stand with the oppressed and the marginalized from the beginning of their struggle for justice, rather than arriving so late to the cause?
And the struggle continues. I’m feeling the pain that accompanies the struggle, and the weight of the dark side of our United Methodist heritage.
But I’m hopeful.
Despite intense resistance, our church has changed in the past, and we can change again! Past appeals to “biblical authority” and “orthodox” practice that justified oppressive discrimination based on race and gender, have now largely fallen silent as many have managed over time to find agreement on new possibilities for biblical interpretation that are far more compassionate and just.
I’m trusting today that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was right: The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. I’m trusting today that God is at work in The United Methodist Church and beyond, to achieve this end—all setbacks to the contrary notwithstanding!
My prayer is for God’s mercy in our resistance, and God’s power to effect change—albeit change at a faster pace! And I’m thanking God today for Mary Ann Barclay and others like her who are courageously pursuing God’s calling in their lives despite the obstacles. When will we learn?
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