Commentary: Where do we go from here – chaos or community?

Rev. Gil Caldwell

Rev. Gil Caldwell

Forty years ago, 1973, I was asked by the Section on Curriculum Resources of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship to write a booklet for students that was titled, “Can Blacks Be Christian?”

The Board had gathered a group of black young people to listen to their comments about their understandings and affirmations of the Christian faith as expressedby the United Methodist Church. This was a time when black athletes at the Olympic Games in Mexico City had received their winning medals and as they received them, they raised their fists in a Black Power salute. This was also a time when Malcolm X and the nation of Islam was raising questions about Christianity, a religious faith where some of its adherents had been supportive of slavery, and in 1973 there were United Methodists who supported racial segregation. I suggested that a picture of Malcolm X be placed in the booklet over which I wrote the words; “Malcolm X and many of his friends encouraged blacks to forsake Christianity and become Black Muslims.”

One of the young men in the group raised the question; “Can blacks be Christian?”, and that became the title of the booklet.

Today, as the Council of Bishops meets at Lake Junaluska, I am sure that there are United Methodists who are asking  “Can ______ be United Methodist?”

We could fill in the blank with, gays and lesbians, same sex couples, clergy who are committed to perform marriage ceremonies for same sex couples, and all of who disagree with the long-standing anti-gay language and legislation in our United Methodist Book of Discipline.

But, on the other hand, we could also place on that line those United Methodists who support the language of the current Book of Discipline, wondering if they can stay within a denomination where there continues to be such great disagreement  about what it means to be faithful to the church and God’s call for us.

As I think about this, I remember how my Methodist-preacher father quietly disagreed with the creation of the racially-segregated Central Jurisdiction at the 1939 “Unification  Conference” in Kansas City. He was at that Conference, and when I began to talk to him about my own “call to ministry” he sharedhis disappointment with me. He, and then I, could not understand how Methodists who had separated because of their disagreements about the legitimacy of slavery would “unite” and establish a racially segregated Central Jurisdiction separate from the geographical Jurisdictions that were created.

In the title of his last book, The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. asked a question: “Where Do We Go From Here; Chaos or Community?” If we replaced “We” with “United Methodists”, what would be our answer to the question?

Similarly, many of us have found meaning today in Robert Raines book; “Living the Questions”. For the people called United Methodist, how do we “live” the question of “What is the future of the United Methodist Church?”

Is there anything we can learn from our racial history: slavery, racial segregation and then today’s desegregation/integration? I do not believe we have spent enough time exploring the theological/Christological, Biblical interpretative, missional and other learnings that have been uniquely ours as we have sought to create within
United Methodism  “a beloved (racially just) community”. It should be obvious that historic, cultural and Bible-sanctioned relegation of blacks to second class status has given way to a commitment to racial inclusion in the United Methodist Church.
If persons have been able to shake off the anti-black animus that they inherited from their forebears, is that not possible for those who have anti-gay animus? And for those who believe they are not anti-gay, but who support current United Methodist
language and legislation, could they, out of a sense of Christ-centered “fairness” accept equality and equal access of LGBTQ persons, and same sex couples at every level of the denomination?

And yet, we can not deny that there are United Methodists who are still wrestling with racism, but who accept the equal presence of people of color. And, there are United Methodists who are still wrestling with their sexism, but who accept the
equal presence of women in the denomination. There are clergy who are women whom I know, who can share their awareness and experiences of subtle and not-so-subtle sexism. And there are people of color who could share the same about the existence of racism in the denomination. But, women and people of color now, are to be found on every part of the denomination. Is acceptance of LBGTQ persons and same-sex marriage in the denomination possible if we provide an old-fashioned “mourner’s bench” for those who can accept, but not affirm?

Martin Luther King once said: “A law may not make a man love me, but it will discourage him from lynching me.” There are those who view our current legislation as laws which violates the dignity of  same gender loving persons. Could we not rescind our current legislation as a way to end the legal violation of persons because of their sexual orientation, even as some United Methodists continue to explore the Biblical texts that they use to support their views about, “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”?

But as I re-read what I have just written above, I seem to be promoting; “Love the sinner (the GLBTQ person/the same sex couple) and hate the sin.” I am not.

Rather I write to pose the question: “Could the United Methodist Church that was “birthed” by a priestof the Church of England, become in the USA,  like the Episcopal Church?” It is a member of the Anglican Church, but it takes seriously ministry in a nation, the USA, that is shaped by a U.S. Constitution that views as equals, those whom the United Methodist Church does not. As I’ve written elsewhere, I as an African-American have experienced equality and equal access because of the Constitution before I experienced equality and equal access in the Methodist/United Methodist Church because of the way some interpreted the Bible.

15 states and the District of Columbia have said “yes” to marriage equality while the United Methodist Church at every official level, says “no”.

Where does the United Methodist Church go from here; chaos or community?

 

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
editor@circuitwritermedia.com
.


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
editor@circuitwritermedia.com
.

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12 Comments on "Commentary: Where do we go from here – chaos or community?"

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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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Tom Harkins
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Jay, you recall the old saying, "Two wrongs don't make a right"? I agree the Church as a whole has been remiss in how it has dealt with divorce and adultery, but that hardly warrants refusing to take a stand on another point that is so clear biblically. Also, I don't think the Church has generally been lax as to condemning adultery as wrong in itself, being perhaps more reticent on condemning all divorce and remarriages as falling in that category (see the exceptions by both Jesus and Paul). Finally, I don't think anyone is arguing that homosexuality is "unforgiveable,"… Read more »
Gil Caldwell
Guest
I spoke today at a District Learning Event on Martin Luther King and John Wesley. I shared this quotation from Fred Craddock’s book titled PREACHING, that I believe if agreed upon, would help us move beyond our current divide on Gay Rights/Same Sex Marriage, etc.: From his “Interpretation; Between Text and Listener” “…the church has a closed canon but serves a living and leading God…For reasons historical, practical, and theological the canon is closed and will not be opened. However, as long as interpretation continues, the canon remains theologically open because new hearings of the Word are possible. A closed… Read more »
Jay
Guest

Tom Harkins, above: It seems very telling to me that while "Thou shalt not commit adultery" is one of the Ten Commandments, homosexuality is not. The UMC seems pretty comfortable with adultery. Certainly, by countenancing divorce and remarriage, the Church is comfortable with serial monogamy. Yet it fails to impose the same restrictions on heterosexuals that it does on homosexuals. The BOD does not forbid divorce and remarriage by clergy, yet it insists that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity, a statement that is manifestly untrue. Thank God for Bishop Talbert and Rev. Caldwell.

Lon Hudson
Guest
First, what is marriage? Is there a real universal definition that under which all people can agree? Secondly, what is the definition of marriage within Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity or any other religion? Are there similarities? Differences? Many words have changed meaning over the years. I remember when "gay" meant happy, carefree; "cool" meant a temperature range. How do we define a relationship that includes concepts like: our reproduction, teaching our young, companionship, partnership, caring for each other when sick,caring for each other when elderly, etc.? At what point did we change "marriage"'s definition to be merely companionship? If that… Read more »
Tom Harkins
Guest
Not being familiar with Hauerwas, I nonetheless suspect from the above that he meant that "inalienable rights" is a philosophical construct, as opposed to being taught by scripture. However, I would say that this does not necessarily mean it is a BAD construct. Also, though not a specific teaching of scripture, the concept may be inherent in what IS taught. Loving your neighbor as yourself, and doing unto others what you would have them do unto you, imply that there is inherent worth in each person and a "right to be treated in certain ways," if you will. Indeed, the… Read more »
Morris Floyd
Guest
I was also interested in the quotation from Stanley Hauerwas. Unfamiliar with him, as I am sure Gil is not, I looked up Prof. Hauerwas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanley_Hauerwas). He's a formidable figure with whom to disagree, and yet one must. If the notion of inalienable rights "opposes everything that Christians believe about what it means to be a creature," then I think he and I must be reading different Bibles. (It's not that unusual, I get that feeling with a lot of other Christians, as well.) But I note that, in this short passage at least, he describes this as philosophical error,… Read more »
Jay
Guest
Thank you Rev. Caldwell for your excellent commentary. As to "former local licensed pastor" above: yes, many member of this denomination did think it was sinful to be black, or at least that God had cursed the Black race and that any attempt to ameliorate discrimination against black people was sinful. As far as "sinful behavior," there are lots of sins and a lot of disagreement as to whether homosexual practices by a committed gay couple is sinful. Curious that we do not have Book of Discipline clause saying "murder is incompatible with Christianity," but so hated are gay people… Read more »
former local license
Guest

The last time I looked, it wasn't a sin to be Black, or any other color. Comparing the LGBT movement to the Civil Rights Movement is, in my opinion, idiotic. Sinful behavior, as described in scripture, is still sinful behavior no matter how it's rationalized.

TJ Williams
Guest

Rev. Caldwell,

My last reply included a quote from Stanley Hauerwas on the last line, and the way it was formatted made it look like it was signed by him. Sorry for that confusion. And thank you for your reply!

Tom Harkins
Guest
Special contributor, you seem to say that if some church members were wrong about race relations, they must also be wrong about sex relations. I don't follow that. Paul taught in scripture that the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles was broken down by the cross, and the same would be true of the wall between whites and blacks, by direct correlation. However, that same Paul, the "Apostle of Grace," clearly stated homosexuality and lesbianism were wrong. So, the two "differences" cannot be correlated to each other. The question is, "What says the scripture?" That's the answer to… Read more »
TJ Williams
Guest
"it [The Episcopal Church" takes seriously ministry in a nation, the USA, that is shaped by a U.S. Constitution that views as equals, those whom the United Methodist Church does not." This is the problem. When we're basing our ideals for the church upon the American constitution & ideas about individual rights and not scripture, we know that the battle was lost long ago. We must not forget that the Episcopal church also took seriously ministry in a nation, the USA, that was shaped by a U.S. Constitution that viewed people as property for many years. "America is the only… Read more »
Gil Caldwell
Guest
One of the joys of writing a commentary is when there is an opportunity for persons to respond/reply to the commentary. I am particularly fascinated by the reply of Stan Hauerwas. I do not understand his enthusiastic resistance to the concept of "inalienable rights". I have found meaning in Psalm 139: 14, "I will praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." (KJV). That "making" was before I was baptized, before I became "members of one another". Stan, I don't quite understand what you mean. And about Bible and Constitution. I and my African ancestors were freed from slavery,… Read more »
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