This post references Decision No. 1111 by the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church.
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been known. And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” First Corinthians 13: 12 and 13
Many of us had hopes for the recent meeting of the Judicial Council that were not fulfilled. Rather than allowing our disappointment that a newly elected Judicial Council seemed to make decisions much like its predecessors, I suggest something else.
I write as always, much like the musician in improvisational Jazz. She/he pays their solo with the hope and expectation that their solo will inspire more creatively profound solos from the musicians who play next. This is my “solo”, hopefully to be followed by far more creative and profound solos from those who read this.
One of the reasons I have attempted to be a consistent and persistent ally/advocate of equal rights and opportunities for LGBT persons and same gender couples in The United Methodist Church is that our present negative legislation is almost a mirror image of previous legislation that once enforced racial segregation and the denial of ordination to women. The United Methodist Church is a living example of the words; “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” I contend that because we have not really acknowledged and admitted the limited and exclusive Biblical interpretation that was ours that justified racial segregation and the denial of ordination to women, we have been reluctant to change our present language; “incompatible with Christian teaching”, vis-a-vis Gay persons.
The May 11, 2000 issue of the General Conference Daily Christian Advocate carries an interview with Bishop Kenneth Carder. The article states (not as an exact quote) “Bishop Carder also said of our differences over gay rights in United Methodism may be the place where the Church can understand God in a different way.” Then this direct quotation from Bishop Carder; “On the issue of homosexuality, we are raising other issues such as the authority of Scripture, the nature of God and the meaning of baptism.”
I believe that neither on racial segregation, our unwillingness to ordain women and now our refusal to ordain same sex loving persons who are open about their sexual orientation, did we then, nor do we now, do what Bishop Carder suggests. Neither then nor now, have we sought to “understand God in a different way”, or honestly review our understandings of “the authority of Scripture, the nature of God and the meaning of baptism”.
Our denomination has engaged in serial (one after another) discrimination, because we have not engaged in, in-depth re-appropriations of what we believe. Therefore there are United Methodists who do not believe they are not out-of-step with Scripture and therefore the Book of Discipline, when some of them still say no to the appointment of an African American Pastor, and/or a woman, even though the Book of Discipline forbids this. Thus when it comes to same gender loving clergy, they repeat the flawed legislation of the past and re-mix it to exclude “Homosexuals”.
The USA has nine Supreme Court Justices who interpret the Constitution; deciding when past or current actions are out of step with their understandings of the Constitution. (On May 17, 2009 we remember their 1954 decision ruling making invalid “separate but equal” public schools). They in doing this,”corrected” an earlier mis-interpretation. In The United Methodist Church every 4 years 1000 delegates make decisions on the meaning of Scripture and insert their interpretation in the Book of Discipline. We have seen over and over again how in the Church and in society, majority decisions often do not protect the rights of minorities. And, all we allow our Judicial Council to do is to play a “Traffic Cop” role, deciding when one decision or action collides with General Conference action, but not when it collides with Scripture or the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church. What might we be as a denomination if our Judicial Council could rule “invalid”, legislation that is counter to a wholistic understanding of Scripture and the “inclusivity” claims of the denomination?
When will we in The United Methodist Church begin to acknowledge that past legislation was faulty because “we (saw) in a mirror dimly”, and that “we (knew) only in part”.
Until we do this, women and African Americans who are ordained clergy will encounter some United Methodists who are still living by the restrictive legislation of the past, and same gender loving candidates for ministry and those who are ordained clergy, will be rejected by our current legislation. We are “open” about the exclusion of self-proclaimed Gay clergy and subtle about those times when women and African American clergy are denied access to some Churches because of gender and race. I believe that African Americans and women who support the restrictive legislation regarding Gay persons, are through their silence or their actions, retroactively, condoning the Book of Discipline that once separated and/or excluded them because of race and/or gender. There is a peculiar irony when those who were once excluded because of race or gender, see no contradiction in their support of persons being excluded because of their sexual orientation. Faith, hope and love do abide, but despite the greatness of love, The United Methodist Church, despite its language about the “sacredness of all persons”, in the past and today, compromises the meaning of love. It did so in the past when love did not become justice for women and Black persons. And today, when love does not become justice for same gender loving persons.
Gilbert H. Caldwell
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