On same-sex marriage in Alabama and the United Methodist Church (COMMENTARY)

Rev. Gil Caldwellby Gil Caldwell

50 years ago when I participated in two phases of the Selma to Montgomery March, I remember wondering when I was there, “Are there some white Alabama Methodists who are marching with us? And what do those who are not think?” 50 years later as I read about and watch the news about same-sex marriage in Alabama, I am asking this question: “What do the United Methodists in Alabama—black and white—who are against same-sex marriage think?” I know there are United Methodists who support marriage equality for same-sex couples in Alabama, but what about those who don’t?

Years ago, I was intrigued by the white journalist John Howard Griffin who chemically made his skin dark in order to appear to be a black man and therefore experience what it was like to be black. I, as an ally and advocate of same-sex couples, seek in this commentary to imagine what is in the minds and hearts of my United Methodist colleagues in Alabama as they disagree with the ruling that made possible same-sex marriage in their state.

Is “tradition” front-and-center in their minds and hearts? Do the words that some say are the 7 last words of the Church (we never did it this way before) shape their attitudes and actions? Is there any similarity between what once was support for “traditional racial segregation,” and their support for “traditional marriage”?

I suggest, as a response to “tradition,” the words of Jesus: “You have heard that it hath been said…; but I say unto you…” Or, the words of James Russell Lowell: “New occasions teach new duties; time makes ancient good uncouth.” Tradition has a tradition of changing, often for the better. This could be true today in Alabama.

Is the concept of “states rights” and majority support in Alabama for marriage being legal only between one man and one woman important to their resistance to same-sex marriage?

The late Governor George Wallace, a Methodist, once on the campus of the University of Alabama defended states rights as he said, “Segregation yesterday, today and forever.” I am sure that a majority of white Methodists supported him. But, as one acknowledges the success today of Alabama football with its racially integrated teams, I imagine a majority of Alabamans—white and black—now support racial integration. Racial integration, when it occurs, has positives never imagined.

This could be true of same-sex marriage as well.

Is the support of “traditional marriage” by United Methodists in Alabama an expression of belief in and an adherence to Scripture? My friends and colleagues who differ with my support for same-sex marriage say to me that I in my belief am being unfaithful to Scripture. It is their interpretation of Scripture that shapes the current language and legislation about same-sex unions and marriages in our Book of Discipline.

I would remind those who cite Scripture as the rationale for their resistance to same-sex marriage to acknowledge the following. Scripture was cited to support prohibitions against the ordination of women, the validation of the enslavement of blacks, support for racial segregation, and resistance to interracial marriage. Scripture has not changed in its content, but I believe we have been Spirit-led to re-interpret those Scriptures that were used to enforce the above. And I do not believe that upon prayerful reflection many of us today regret the re-interpretations.

I have written these words as a response to my desire to imagine and understand what might be the factors that shape the thinking of those of my colleagues in Alabama and elsewhere who differ with my support for same-sex marriage. Full disclosure: some of my best friends are against same-sex marriage. Some of them are colleagues with whom I marched and protested in the Civil Rights Movement. My regret is that some of them have distanced themselves from me because we disagree on marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Our son, Dale G. Caldwell, in his book Intelligent Influence reminds his readers of the importance of determining and assessing what were the influences in our lives and the lives of others that informed and shaped what we think and do. I have found this helpful, as an activist on racial justice matters, to understand those who disagree with me and understand what influenced me to be the activist that I have been. I suggest all of us, regardless of which side of the same-sex marriage divide we are on, begin to reflect upon what influences shaped our attitudes. Although we differ, a recognition that we all are in the process of reviewing why we think the way we do about same-sex marriage would, in time, be a source of unity, change, and reconciliation.

Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday and other great singers have sung, “Stars Fell on Alabama.” May United Methodists, in Alabama and elsewhere, who cannot imagine a United Methodist Church embracing same-sex marriage remember the words of Robert Schuler, the founder of California’s Crystal Cathedral: “Turn your scars into stars.” Of course slogans like this are just slogans, and the demise of the Crystal Cathedral makes us wonder—what happened to the stars of which Robert Schuler spoke?

But, we United Methodists have too long been living with the scars caused by our differences about same-sex marriage. May we allow what has happened in Alabama that made possible same-sex marriage be seen as “stars” falling on Alabama. Stars that will heal the scars that United Methodist language and legislation has imposed on same-sex couples. Their scars are scars that have hurt all of us. It is time that the UMC begin to transform the hurt and harm we have caused for same-sex couples as well as the denomination with our policies. “Can anything good come out of Alabama,” as we saw come out of Nazareth? I believe it can, if we with God’s guidance allow it to come forth.

My hope and my belief is that there will be United Methodists in Alabama and elsewhere who will give witness to the fact that just as the church moved from racism to racial equality, it shall one day move from hetero-sexism (marriage only between a man and woman) to acceptance of the authenticity of the God-given love that same-sex couples express to their partners. I believe their witness can inform and shape the decision-making of the 2016 United Methodist General Conference. There is so much poverty, powerlessness, and pain and anger in the USA and the world that could benefit from the mission and ministry of the United Methodist Church. We dare not spend another General Conference sustaining our present anti-same-sex language and legislation while there is so much need and trouble in the nation and the world. I do not believe that God will be pleased if we do.

Former Pastor of United Methodist Churches in Boston, MA, New Haven, CT, Chester, PA, Denver, CO, and Brooklyn & Harlem, NY. Former District Superintendent in Boston, MA, and West Chester, PA. Has served as staff of the United Methodist Commission on Religion & Race, and adjunct professor at New York Theological Seminary, Harvard Divinity School, and the University of Massachusetts/Amherst.

 

Gil Caldwell is one of the founders of Black Methodists for Church Renewal, United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church, and a member of the Board of The African American Methodist Heritage Center. He is a co-partner in Truth in Progress, a multimedia project exploring the intersections of racism, hetero-sexism and religion.

He is retired with his wife of 57 years, Grace Dungee Caldwell in Asbury Park, NJ.

 

 

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147 Comments on "On same-sex marriage in Alabama and the United Methodist Church (COMMENTARY)"

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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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Ryland
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Under no circumstance should any homosexual be given any leadership position in the church unless they remain celibate and categorically denounce the lifestyle they once led. It is not trying to pick on one particular sin at the expense of others. No known adulterer should be found behind the pulpit either. While indeed we are all sinners there is a difference between claiming a sin is not a sin and struggling to overcome sin in one’s life. We risk the eternal salvation of millions who would look to the Methodist church and see their support for homosexual relationships and assume… Read more »
Kevin
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TD
You are in for a long wait. What do you say we let this thread go and move on?

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

The Fifth Circuit ruling could come any day now. I’m not a drinking man but I’ll say to all of y’all what Elvis Presley said at the beginning of the movie “Jailhouse rock” if it turns out the way it should.

james
Guest

Sodom et all has nothing on what is gaining steam in this country. It is likely the Supreme Court will fall right line. Traditional folks will be hounded and booed and ignored–even persecuted. What is happening is written in the Book. Come Lord Jesus come………………….

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Actually, the sin of Sodom was cruelty to the poor as Ezekiel 16:49 clearly states. That has been something which those who seek to harm LGBTs and vulnerable women do directly. I like the series there – hounded, booed, ignored, even persecuted – as a good example of hyperbole. It may come to when someone with the Christian Fish decal on their car who comes into a convenience store might have their Mastercard simply tossed down on the counter by the disdainful clerk with a pagan symbol tattooed on her neck encircled by her sensuous purple hair. As for that… Read more »
Mark
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Yes, of course….all that stuff about men wanting to have sex with men was just filler. (Perhaps the Biblical writer had had not met the minimum word requirement and was forced to invent something).

Kevin
Guest

I have an engineering degree. I depend upon those who have studied scripture and present clear reasoning to guide me. Call me a sychophant of Wes if you like but he does provide sound arguments. Maybe I will get a SOW t shirt.

Wes Andrews
Guest
I wonder. What if our politicians treated the Constitution the way Gil suggests we treat Scripture? What would happen to our rights and due process? I wonder. What if companies treated their by-laws and those laws and principles that give them boundaries the way progressives treat Scripture? Would our money be safe in banks? Would we be able to trust any product we purchase? Come to think of it. we have seen this occur, and rights ARE violated, and people are injured when government and companies treat their guiding principles as if they are suggestions, or worse just ignore them.
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Founding Mother Abigail Adams once noted, “We have too many high-sounding words, and too few actions which correspond to them.” She was certainly right – she referred to the British “royal colonial” governments of Massachusetts and neighboring states and the Americans who served as their agents, but, really, any government at any time could be so castigated. Wes brings up an important point, but, it’s not one we’ve never heard before in parts of the Bible not generally used to enable corruption. Probably all of the U.S. Presidents from Harry Truman on in the Post-World War II Era and its… Read more »
Mark
Guest

George Shuler, you clearly have a lot of time on your hands as your comments exemplify the arts of deflection, distraction, irrelevance, divagation, misrepresentation, false equivalence, half-truth, evasion and pseudo-intellectualism.

Ergo, your commentary is instructive, just not in the way you intend.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Wes, you’ve never been polite here when it comes your interactions with those with different views.

Wes Andrews
Guest

Well said Paul W. Let’s be polite and engage anyone who really wants a civil discussion.

Paul W.
Guest
Please take Wes’s last post to heart. 40%+ of the comments here are George. 40%+. George has shown over and over that he has no interest in constructive dialogue and simply hurls vitriol and hatred at anyone who appears to be even slightly right of center. We have no evidence that he even identifies as a Christian and he has stated repeatedly that he views all of us as evil right-wingers undeserving of civility. As I said in a different thread, I see George simply as a sad character who believes he is somehow “saving the world” by spewing hatred… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest

Nice effort Mark, TD, Kevin et al., but you are throwing pearls…. George is not interested in discussion. He just wants punching bags….

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
TD says “You must be in front of a mirror lecturing yourself now.” It’s amazing to me how much silly thoughts are due to people assuming things not in evidence and the above is a great example: why in the world would I want to do that? He goes on, “You sure seemed to think you knew what I intended in an earlier exchange — which is something you do with almost everyone you address. You stated that my intention was either “wishful thinking” or “calculated deception”. [/QUOTE] I believe I have made clear that was my opinion of one… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

My dear friend Mark, that’s an interesting observation, and an excellent attempt to distract from your lack of an argument. However, your statement “…not in the way you intend.” appears to indicate you somehow think you know what I “intend.” I was not aware members of the extreme right-wing cadre here possessed mind reading skills. Perhaps you could explain what it is that I “intend” and how you know that. Thank you ever so much.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

So much for the illusion of right-wing civility. None of my detractors can refute the points I make so they attack me personally. So it goes. The armchair warriors are certainly free to do that, but it doesn’t really help their case. By attacking the author of this piece and being unable to refute his points, they fail. My crime in their eyes is to have a different opinion. Nothing they say changes the fact they are losing the war, and thus flail about pathetically here. It’s a sad spectacle.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Barbarino could not have been Barbarino without Horshack.

Kevin
Guest

Surely the written Word does not mean what It says. You can have true knowledge of God.
Sound familiar?

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Sure. That’s what Jesus said to the Pharisees. Thank you.

Wes Andrews
Guest

Genesis 3? hmmmmm……

jim j
Guest

You know, I was thinking about Selma the other day, and I wondered, who wouldn’t want me to marry my goat? Do they not believe in goat marriage because of George Wallace? Are they simply afraid of goat marriage, because ‘we never married goats before”?

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Our knowledge of human sexuality has much advanced since that time. When we reach back to ancient understandings which are not supported by facts, We are no different from the middle ages scholars of medicine the pioneering medical scholar Vesaulius tangled with when they cited Galen, a Roman medical textbook author from hundreds of years previously that was wrong about many things.

Dan
Guest

Leviticus 18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. Gil, read the Bible.

Terry L. Headley
Guest
There is a major difference between racial segregation and homosexuality, bisexuality, etc. and it is that difference that makes comparisons of interracial marriage to same-sex marriage fallacious comparisons – sexual relationships in The Bible were meant for one purpose – procreation. Same sex marriage, by its very nature, cannot be grounded in that capacity. Same sex marriage is, but definition, a perversion of God’s Will. It really is that simple, and to attempt to justify the acceptance of perversion on the grounds that it is like racial equality is a slap in the face of those men and women who… Read more »
Gil Caldwell
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One of the things that I have found important in my ministry, particularly when in the midst of discussion, debate and possible division, is to change the pace and share something unrelated to the ongoing discussion. It is Saturday evening, St. Valentines Day is coming to a close. We have just watched on another Saturday night on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, Bill Gaither’s “Precious Memories”. One of the songs sung by the guest couple was Charles Tindley’s, “Leave it there”. “Take your burden’s to the Lord and leave them there.” Tindley of course is the African American preacher/song writer, for… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest
Gil, your responses are full of kindness. Please note, as you have read here and perhaps in other discussions, your kind tone is rare among those who join you in your belief. Still no one has yet answered the question posed by Mark, TD, and on many occasions, myself.
 I’ll try to use your method, and use a metaphor. This is like a math equation: x + 1 = 3. Mark, TD and myself ask: To what solution do the elements in the equation point? Possible honest answers. “The solution is ‘2’.” “I don’t know.” “I don’t like the equation.”… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
I think the categorization of the right-wing faction within the UMC as “Those who trust in scripture” is at best disingenuous, unless one adds “when it suits their purposes. In legal education, conflicts of laws are an important elective course of study for those who seek a career in appellate practice. Because it is apparent there are times when laws of the various jurisdictions when applied to specific cases as stated are in conflict with one another. So it is with scripture. Christ’s radical hospitality is in obvious conflict with legalism, ignorance, and fear. Each of us can choose to… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest

I wonder if Gil is the kind face to the progressive movement and George is the real face to it? The latter is all about bigotry, anger and vitriol. George, I think, is truly honest about his feelings. He pulls no punches. I appreciate his honesty. His words seem true reflections of the majority of progressives that have shared their views. All that oppose the progressive narrative are to be attacked and ridiculed. It really is all about the Math.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Wes says, ” I wonder if Gil is the kind face to the progressive movement and George is the real face to it? The latter is all about bigotry, anger and vitriol. ” My dear friend Wes here is more than a little confused. Before I ever posted once here I read dozens of his posts which contained excessive “bigotry, anger and vitriol ” directed toward progressives which made me wonder if he has a desk at one of the christofascistic groups like Institute for Religion and Democracy and it’s his job to slime liberals. Often we dislike in others… Read more »
Gil Caldwell
Guest
Wes, my brother in Christ, are we near a point of “diminishing returns” in our disagreements? If we are, I say to you and all who have responded to my Commentary and to each other, let us amidst our disagreements be able to affirm that on some, maybe most matters, we are in agreement. And, we will allow nothing to separate us, even as we continue to disagree. It is God whom I worship and adore, and who embraces me with God-love. It is God who is “original” and not Scripture (“The new math”). If I affirmed the “authority of… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
That’s a very good description of the problem. Each individual knows what is in their own hearts, but the observer hears the vitriol toward our LGBT brothers and sisters and those who affirm them. There is certainly a sure path to power for many by stoking resentment against persons who do not share our prejudices when speaking to those who do. This explains the cavalier eagerness to stoke resentments – to point others to “look out the window” rather than “look in the mirror.” Thus we have some who view themselves and their allies as free from sin and wrongdoing… Read more »
Kevin
Guest

And there you have the answer. A complete disconnect between God and scripture. If you feel that scripture is wrong then simply say that you have knowledge from God that trumps scripture. This is called the prophetic voice. Further discussion and debate is pointless. Now we can see why all the discussions end up taking us in circles.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Depends upon how you define it. Since what we have as a written record is from at least two generation’s after Christ’s crucifixion in the Pauline epistles which predate the gospels which came a generation after that, what it is is not definable under the usual methodologies. If it means Falwellism and Focus on The Genitalia and Operation Oppress You it deserves to die a painful, lingering death. If on the other hand it means unconditional love not bound by political correctness, then it has always lived since time immemorial and will never die.

Mark
Guest

It is interesting that Gil thinks it even possible for Christianity to “die a slow death” under any circumstances. While its influence over a fallen world may wax and wane, if Christianity is true how can it ever completely die? Perhaps Gil has some doubt as to whether it is true.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Mark you could have added that there’s cold hard cash to be had for serving the right-wing power mongers as many a fundamentalist African-American churchman has become aware for operatives seeking to present a diverse public image.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

“Objective foundation” as used by Wes in the 3:46 post simply means political correctness.

The Enlightenment, of which Weslayanism was one aspect, postulated a Brotherhood of Man under a Fatherhood of God. Demands for political correctness are but an expressed desire for a darker polity in which the marginal must fear the gibbet and the stake, lest the ignorant become aware of the power and control exercised over them.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Galileo was placed under house arrest because his discoveries conflicted with conventionality of the time. Today, defenders of conventionality lament they do not possess the resources Galileo’s detractors had. And yet the same dynamic is occurring, albeit with considerably more public pronouncements because people exist in a relatively free state compared to states where the inquisition was one step away from getting its clutches on a convenient victim, and verbal persuasion is one of the few courses of action available to them. If antigay ideology is a sine qua non of the church militant, it will collapse under its own… Read more »
Mark
Guest
Yes, and now we get down to the crux of the matter. Gil has responded most courteously …but it is his honesty that pulls the cover off the real philosophical underpinnings driving his conclusions, and they are based on the spirit of the age, not the written revelation of God or the workings of Holy Spirit (which would not stand in conflict with the written Word). Gil, the Bible has been misinterpreted to condone slavery, and it is being misinterpreted in an even more outrageous to condone marriage redefinition. The entire book of Philemon can logically be seen as an… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest
By your definition, Gil, god can be anything you want god to be at any time. Your understanding of god will never match anyone else’s understanding of god, because there is no objective source from which to discern the character of god. I believe the one true God has given us a crystal clear picture and description of Himself which resides in His love letter to us, Scripture. Scripture is God’s Original Math that has been accepted or rejected for thousands of years, it is not the new math, as you suggest. To say one can know God without Scripture… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Likewise, nothing separates our LGBT brothers and sisters from the Love of God.

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