Rev. Dr. Gerald Trigg was a minister who not only understood, but lived Biblical Obedience through his support of civil rights and later LGBTQ advocacy. He died at 81 years old this week but he left a life-long ministry of social justice work that speaks well of this United Methodist leader.
In 1963, Rev. Trigg was a young minister serving in The Mississippi Conference. The church was a bastion of segregation at the time and although the official teachings of The UMC via the 1960 version of the Social Creed condemned discrimination based on race, the denomination was largely silent on violence towards people of color. Rev. Trigg joined with other frustrated white pastors who where aghast at the extreme violence in Mississippi that wasn’t being addressed by their Bishop or Conference leaders. In response, Rev. Trigg and three others penned the “Born of Conviction” statement which would be signed by 28 Methodist ministers in the conference.
The statement was meant to remind their fellow Methodists that the church had a clear stand against discrimination based on race and allowed for “freedom of the pulpit” to speak against it. It was released after months of rioting in response to James Meredith becoming the first black student at the Oxford campus of the University of Mississippi. The regional conference of The UMC showed little support for the statement and most of the pastors were threatened, shunned, or otherwise encouraged to leave their churches and the region.
Rev. Trigg would carry this commitment to justice throughout his life of ministry. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, he went on to co-found the Center for Christian-Jewish Dialogue with his colleague, Rabbi Howard Abel Hirsch, whom Rev. Trigg hired to work with him at First UMC in Colorado Springs in the 90s. He also co-founded Ecumenical Social Ministries, received the “Dove of Peace Award” from the Center for Christian-Jewish Dialogue, staunchly apposed anti-gay efforts in Colorado, and was actively engaged in a number of local organizations working for the betterment of the community.
United Methodist leaders have much to learn from the ministry of Rev. Trigg. He became a leader who understood his commitment to the church to be inextricably tied to the well-being of all God’s people. His commitment to justice led him to speak when others were silent. The personal risk he would face for his convictions in 1963 paled in comparison to the violence he witnessed being perpetuated against people of color. He and the other signers of the Born of Conviction document model God’s call to use one’s personal privilege as a platform for speaking out against injustice.
Rev. Trigg believed the most important lens of the Christian faith was love as evidenced in his justice-oriented ministries as well as his teaching and preaching. He shared in 1999,
“It troubled [Jesus] that those who claimed to be his disciples often acted in ways that contradicted his teachings. It is not adherence to a creed, or the claiming of a name, but the doing of the deed of love consistent with the [God]’s will that determines the true disciple. Most of our confusion in this regard stems from persons who practice ‘Bibli-anity’ rather than ‘Christ-ianity.’ Most fail to realize there are competing ideologies in the Bible. Most overlook the fact that Jesus rejected many of the traditional teachings of the Bible, replacing them with the higher ethic which he sought from his followers, an ethic based on the true meanings of the Law’s command to love God and neighbor. True Christians are therefore not Biblicists who seek support for their prejudices and biases from ‘the holy Bible,’ rather, they are persons who seek to pattern their thinking and their living after Jesus of Nazareth.”
May we all be so committed to patterning our thinking and living after Jesus of Nazareth that we ask ourselves where our leaders are failing to speak in the face of violence and commit ourselves to filling that void in faith, conviction, and humility.
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