by Jarrell Wilson*
There is only word that comes to mind to describe the action of Bishop Dorff concerning the rule of law called for by Reverend John Elford – cowardly. Cowardly is the word that comes to mind, but a word that suits it better is political. Bishops are good politicians, and politicians get elected – plain and simple. That’s not to say that bishops are not well-suited for their jobs, or that the Holy Spirit plays no role in their elections, it is just s simple reminder, bishops are politicians and politicians do what they have to do to stay in power.
I expected Bishop Dorff to see the unconstitutional actions by the Board of Ordained Ministry and the SWTX clergy and restore what was stolen from Mary Ann Kaiser; instead he chose to see a loophole and a way out that let him look like a hero to conservatives in my conference, while not entirely looking like a villain to progressives – because he was just following the rules, the perfect political strategy. If he were running for public office I might even have cheered for that move because it was very cunning and not outright evil, but this isn’t a public office, it is an Episcopal office. I have this really bad habit that I try to break year-after-year, but I never seem to break it, that habit is: expecting more from Christians.
I expect Christians to practice what they preach; to follow Christ; to be bold proclaimers of truth; I expect humility; grace; mercy; and sacrificial love. Every time this habit rises up in me, I feel proud of my Christian heritage and proud of the Bride of Christ, but silly me the Bride of Christ has opened her heart once more to: patriarchy; eisegesis; back-room dealings; power struggles; etc. – instead of embracing the Gospel. Shame on me for expecting more of people that claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. Shame on me for expecting Bishop Dorff to be a voice against oppression, when there is no political gain in it for him to speak out against injustice. Shame on Mary Ann Kaiser, for casting her pearls before swine. Shame on John Elford for taking the people in power to task for the injustices they committed, he should have known better.
The right to due process in our ordination process was stolen from Mary Ann Kaiser, she was called by God and the Church plugged its ears to the voice of the Creator. She began this process of ordination before even she knew she was a lesbian, but she has been painted as a villainous activist seeking to divide a church that is already so divided already it can’t even agree on the character of Jesus.
The late Will Campbell has seen drama like this before in his life, he wrote a book called The Convention about the Southern Baptist Convention, which at the time was on the verge of a split (into the SBC, CBF) History tells us that the SBC did split but in 1988 when Campbell published his book there were only rumors of schism. [Spoiler Alert] He tells the story of a woman who gets elected to be the president of the Convention (which is obviously humorous because the SBC, or the ABC as they were in the book don’t even ordain women), the climax of the story is this sweet old woman moving to the pulpit to give an acceptance speech. She takes the gavel, representing the power of the office of the president, and she sits it back down, walks down the aisle to get her husband and she leaves the convention and the church without looking back.
Progressives, moderates, conservatives have been fighting for the UMC so much I, much like the woman in the story, am beginning to wonder if this denomination is worth fighting for. Even if “my side” wins the fight, will the church be worth it? What kind of example would it be able to set for the world that is just as divided on this issue of justice? Right now – we are just being political; eventually we need to get spiritual again.
*Jarell Wilson is a senior undergraduate student at the University of North Texas. When he isn’t reading his Book of Discipline for fun, or dancing to Beyonce, he’s brainlessly watching Dr Who, Arrested Development, and the West Wing on Netflix. Currently on the ordination track to become an elder, Jarell will start seminary this Fall at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.