2012 election made statement for inclusivity

By Gilbert Caldwell, Special Contributor…

The Nov. 6 election expressed how we in the United States intend “to live our lives together.” I use this language because in the Episcopal Greetings in the Book of Discipline it is said, “This is the most current statement of how United Methodists agree to live their lives together.”

Gilbert Caldwell

How do we as United Methodists in the U.S. allow the decision of the electorate to complement and contribute to the ways we agree to live our lives together?

Some thoughts:

1. The UMC as we came into being in 1968 reflected and was committed to embracing the rich and diverse racial demographics present in the “new” denomination. We understood in 1968 what some in the nation are just beginning to understand in 2012. We, without arrogance, can say to those who are just discovering the richness of our nation’s racial diversity, “We United Methodists have been there and done that.” But, after claiming that we were early for racial diversity, we must ask, “What difference has this racial diversity made in our ‘life together’?”

2. The Democratic Party has been re-shaped and “born again” because of its embrace of racial diversity. And, its success in the election proves that a majority of voters endorse a political party that values the history, heritage and hope of persons who in the minds of some are not traditional Americans. The re-election of the nation’s first African American president is only one of the steps the Democratic Party has made that have been endorsed by a majority of voters. What do we as UMs identify as steps “forward” that the UMC has made because of the racial diversity of which we boast?

3. We as a denomination must ask: “What place and role do younger people have as we ‘live together’?” Regardless of one’s party affiliation or presidential choice, we all must have been impressed by the participation of younger people in the Nov. 6 election. Is there a parallel as we make decisions in the United Methodist Church? If not, why not?

4. Some of us contend that one reason the United Methodist Church birthed in 1968 has not become all it might is a legislative action the General Conference took in 1972. The denomination, after deciding to merge the racially-segregated Central Jurisdiction in 1968, decided in 1972 that the practice of homosexuality is at variance with Christian teaching.

Thus, after structurally embracing African Americans who had been previously structurally segregated, the General Conference focused on gays and lesbians as a class who should be singled out and limited because of their sexual orientation.

5. The Nov. 6 election proved that INCLUSION rather than EXCLUSION represents the future of the Democratic Party and of the nation in the 21st century. Martin Luther King asked, “Why is the church (so often) the tail light rather than the headlight” on inclusion and justice? My hope is that the UMC will not wait until General Conference 2016 to discover ways it can “live together” in and for the 21st century, rather than acting as though a replication of centuries past is what God expects.

The right ‘learnings’

On Oct. 28, I turned 79. In August 2000, while I was pastor of Park Hill UMC in Denver, CT scans and MRIs determined I had a brain tumor. Two operations followed and as a result I prematurely retired at the 2001 session of the Rocky Mountain Conference.

Over the years I have thought of myself, because of my racial journey as an African-American southerner (North Carolina and Texas) whose ministry was lived out in the Northeastern and for a short time in the Western Jurisdiction, as a manifestation of Henri Nouwen’s “Wounded Healer.” I have sought to allow the wounds that are mine because of race to guide me to be a healer of wounds present within the denomination I love. I have tried to be forthright, but gentle, and sometimes have had to be provocative. My small efforts alongside the more profound efforts of others have, I believe, made a difference. But, lo and behold, after the UMC stepped up to the plate and hit homeruns on matters of racial inclusivity, it has since 1972 struck out because of our position regarding homosexuality.

Since the 2000 General Conference in Cleveland, I have sought to be an outspoken voice on matters of justice for LGBTQ persons and same-sex couples, and the right of UMC clergy to perform same-sex unions and marriages. I believe more than ever the words of Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

My prayer is that the “learnings” we may derive from the recent election will encourage all of us as United Methodists to understand that, both for the nation and the denomination, we must not be held back by efforts to replicate the past. It is neither liberalism nor conservatism that must guide us. Rather, it is the God whom Charles Tindley wrote about in “Stand by Me.”

My wife Grace and I, as we have remained in our condo in Asbury Park, N.J., a block from the Atlantic Ocean, have been comforted by the first stanza of that hymn: “When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea, thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.”

Grace and I have daily offered prayers for those who have known deaths and devastation from Hurricane Sandy. Our inconveniences are insignificant compared to what others have experienced. We have discovered after 55 years of marriage that, regardless of storms, a sense of the omnipresence of God is always a source of comfort and strength. May the United States of America and the United Methodist Church accept change, not as something to fear, but as a gift from God.

The Rev. Caldwell is a retired UM elder, one of the founders of Black Methodists for Church Renewal and a former staff member of the General Commission on Religion and Race.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
kevin@circuitwritermedia.com
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Join the conversation....

  1. t. carpenter says:

    Rev. Caldwell,

    I appreciate all that you have brought to this discussion in your gentleness and sincere desire for everyone to know the blessings of the church. Please receive the following as offered in the same spirit.

    In order for the position to be taken that homosexual behavior is acceptable to God, it seems that one must disregard the plain meaning of countless scripture and the teaching of the church.

    I would be willing to enter into a discussion to try and understand your position.

    I wish for you God's blessings, and I am thankful for your survival after such a life threatening illness.

    Peace in Christ,
    T. Carpenter

  2. bsstuckey says:

    Rev Caldwell,

    It saddens me deeply that you have felt it necessary to politicize the UMC. I am not sure how appropriate it is to make political statements that are clearly your own opinion and not particularly backed up by historical or statistical fact.

    The Democrat Party has kept an increasing number of the poor of all races on foodstamps and without jobs. Black unemployment under Obama is well over 10%. Liberal Democrats, by definition, want us dependent on government and not ourselves. Democrats want to take our choices away and put bureaucrats in charge of our lives. How does this help the black, or any other, community? In addition, blacks are nearly tied with whites as the most aborted race in this country and who supports abortion? The Democrat Party.

    You failed to talk about how many elected minorites are part of the Republican party – Jindal, Love, Thomas, Keys, Rubio, Cruz to name a few. It is misleading and disingenuous to claim that anyone who opposes the 1st black President is racist. It is about ideas, not race. And everyone should be able to criticize the President without having a nasty label slapped on him. The way the word "racist" is so cavalierly tossed around these days diminishes true incidents of racism and prejudice that blacks have fought so hard to conquer. Demonizing Republicans, even by insinuation, is dangerous business and should not be condoned by anyone representing the UMC.

    Finally, John Wesley was a Bible based pastor. The Bible clearly prohibits homosexuality. I have grown so weary of – and here we have more demonization and misrepresentation – claims that those who follow Scripture and do not condone homosexuality and same sex marriage are not inclusive. This is ridiculous. It is the behavior not the person that is not compatible with the Bible. All are welcome in the UMC and we are all sinners in one regard or another. .

    I would like to see more unity and inclusiveness in the UMC. But demonizing certain groups who do not believe as you do is not the way to promote that goal. "Inclusiveness" is not going to happen when people with differing opinions have no tolerance for others. Thanks for your attention.

    Blessings for your day,
    B Stuckey
    Houston

  3. Rev. Caldwell,

    Respectfully – over 50 million people voted against President Obama. The conclusions you draw lack any pretense of objectivity and are simply unsupportable by the facts. With the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate all remaining as they were before the election, the only thing that won was incumbency and entrenchment – not inclusivity.

  4. I respond to Rev. Gil Caldwell with gratitude for speaking Truth. I especially appreciate his quotation from Dr. King that the church is often the “tail light rather than the headlight.” In this Advent season of anticipating light, I write in agreement with Rev. Caldwell. If we doubt that Jesus is political, read again the story of his birth and powerful Herod’s response.
    In the community and Reconciling Ministries Network congregation where I have the privilege to serve, we proclaim each week that God calls each one of us “beloved child.” We name what the Bible does: that we are God’s good creation. Each of us: lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, straight, transgender, male, female, intersex, gender fluid, queer, not sure. Every week there is someone present who hears this for the first time, who is in need of healing balm from the wounds of a church that told them they would be separated from God forever unless they changed who they are.
    Everyone needs to change something about the way they behave – we call this “sin” in religious tradition. But sexuality is far more than “behavior” – it is a fundamental part of who we are. And who we are is a creation of God. People who are heterosexual, just like persons who are homosexual, make choices to abuse other people or treat other people without care and mutual love. And people who are heterosexual, just like persons who are homosexual, make choices to life-long commitments and treat people they love with love, respect, and care.
    You can’t take God away from people who identify as LGBTQ: we already have God in our lives. Our relationships with God and God’s people are richer for it. What we can do, as “church,” is choose to harm or not to harm. Language that tells people they are of “sacred worth” and then tells them that they are “not compatible with Christian teaching” is language that does harm; it is spiritual violence.
    Scripture tells us that “nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8). It was the United Methodist Church that taught me this, that taught me a language for God’s love. I grew up sitting between parents who modeled that faithful people could disagree and worship God together. It was the church of my childhood where I learned the stories of a man named Jesus who spoke truth to power and paid a price. It was the church of my childhood where a community taught me how to pray and read scripture, how to bring each other food, how to bind wounds, how to sing “God is real.”
    This I know to be true, as Dr. King said: “the moral arc of the universe is long, and it bends toward justice.” I believe that God was the first to weep when our fractured church in May voted again against language that represents the full inclusion of all persons, language that speaks the truth about who we already are. I, too, am weeping, holding fast to the words of that other prophet I love, Annie Lamott: “our tears water the ground on which we stand.”

    Rev. Lois McCullen Parr, Pastor, Broadway UMC, Chicago

  5. Rev. Caldwell:

    Thank you for your lifelong commitment to social justice. I appreciate your capacity to see the interconnectedness of all life. We do not live dichotomous lives, people of faith in one realm, voting members of the American democratic politic on another. We bring that reality with us into the Church. Thus, feminist Carol Hanisch's statement, the "personal is political" is not only true but with perhaps a slight twist: All of life is political. Because politics has to do with power and authority it seems to me a matter of opportune critical reflection that you bring your analysis of the recent presidential election to bare upon the United Methodist Church. One had but to watch or review the Democratic and Republican conventions to see the stark contrast in diversity. Change has been made and any political party that does not recognize the need for presenting itself as agents of change that embraces inclusivity is seen as irrelevant and out of touch and therefore incapable of winning an election. While surely the GOP has some persons of color (minorities) within its ranks the numbers are so few, even GOP pundits are currently admitting the need in its future strategizing to "reach out" and "bring more Latinos, African Americans, etc" into its fold. Among other things, diversity (of culture, of age, of sexual identities, of ideology, of socio-politcal perspectives) are what helped the Democrats win the presidential election. And yet its diversity did not weaken its capacity to have a solid political platform. In contrast, the primary sources that inform the UMC polity are bible, reason, scripture and tradition, perhaps what some would call our "platform". Can our current "platform" help us grow as a denomination and as Christians? Not on the matter of sexual identity.

    When it comes to we lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer members of the UMC, not only did the election make clear the majority of Americans were willing to embrace policies related to our human rights (including marriage rights) but we were well aware that the grueling and ugly rhetoric against us as persons of sacred worth being articulated in the public political sphere fell from the lips of bible thumping "religious" leaders. In my context, the African American community, some clergy made the tragic mistake of thinking they could lead African Americans away from voting simply because the President declared his acceptance of marriage rights for same-sex couples. That they thought African Americans whose ancestors had suffered oppression, been declared animals, been made to pay poll taxes, lost their lives trying to vote – that they thought they could convince African Americans not to vote because the "President's policies sided with the sin of homosexuality" was ludicrous! And yet they tried. In another area, within the very public debates and on the floor of our General Conference 2012, those who believe in scripture as the "literal, unadulterated Word of God" often made clear their perspectives of us: we were "demon possessed" "beast" "monsters who abuse children." This how the nonsensical statement that "homosexual behavior" is "incompatible with Christian teaching" is translated among far too many UMCs.

    As an African American, I have never had the luxury of not being discriminated. As a woman, as a lesbian, as an African American,this is my lot on a weekly basis. It is a pity that the church is not a respite for me, and others, from the horrors of bigotry. The UMC doesn't need to win elections, but can it win and maintain the allegiance of its adherents? We declare that it is losing members because it is losing its capacity to love ALL the people and to demonstrate that love by an inclusive, relevant, and grace-filled polity that does not discriminate against ANY of its members. Others declare it is losing members because it refuses to obey "biblical standards" and to "uphold a standard" against "homosexuality." Well, Rev. Caldwell, you are correct: the UMC is in danger of replicating its history of discrimination.Though no "election," not even the voting of General Conference will make that "living together" happen, they certainly do provide teachable moments, good and bad. Thus, I have joined Bishop Talbert's call for "biblical disobedience."

    Pamela R. Lightsey, PhD

  6. Rev. Caldwell,
    I read your words of wisdom and challenge with much appreciation. Your faithful and longstanding commitment to justice and equality has been a beacon for many. As a life long Methodist/United Methodist and a member of a family that traces its commitment to Methodism back several generations, I have been greatly benefited. As a youth, it was through the teachings and programs of The Methodist Youth Fellowship that I was first challenged to grapple with issues of justice. There I began learning about racism/white privilege, militarism, poverty, violence, and the vulnerability of women and children in the United States and around the world. Later, through the programs and work of United Methodist Women, that education continued, and my world, my understanding and my commitment grew. United Methodist Women gave me a vehicle for addressing the issues that mattered to me, and for that education and that opportunity I am deeply grateful.

    Now, however, I find the United Methodist denomination has stagnated. I am aware of the history of discrimination that has plagued the denomination over the years, and although I have been given the opportunity to expand my horizons, that is no longer my experience. It grieves me to see the denomination as stagnant, fearful and unwilling to move beyond the need to preserve the power held by some. No longer am I experiencing a clarion call to inclusivity; rather I have experienced hostility, fear, and anger in some situations that is codified in the current denominational statements. Rather than being challenged to understand and celebrate difference, on this issue we are encouraged to fear and exclude. Too many of my friends now find Methodism irrelevant to their lives, and all to often, not affirming of their committed relationships. Many talented people are unable or unwilling to live our their call in the United Methodist denomination. I, too, support Bishop Talbert's call for ' biblical disobedience' and am appreciative of Rev. Caldwell's words of wisdom.

    Inelle C. Bagwell

  7. Let us celebrate and rejoice the wondrous creation of the Lord which has brought us the REALITY of a world that is rich with multi-ethnic and cultural diversity! It has brought us a wonderful array of variety in, language, cuisine, customs and the creative arts! It has stimulated curiosity and the yearning to discover, to learn, and to experience.

    Let us acknowledge the REALITY that love can flourish with dignity, respect, and genuine integrity in varied relationships. Let us truly be a church with "open hearts, open minds, and open doors" on our faith journeys as followers of Christ.

    As a Christian and a Methodist, I retain the right to follow where the Lord Jesus Christ leads me.

    Jose Bulatao, Jr.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 

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