Dear Marilyn, Fourteen years ago, this coming May, you and I with others were involved in civil disobedience as we protested the anti-gay language and legislation of the United Methodist Church. I was arrested twice; first with members and friends of Soulforce as we marched outside of the meeting of the 2000 General Conference in Cleveland and secondly, with Greg Dell and 28 others as we nonviolently demonstrated among the delegates in the place where they were meeting. I was 66 then, now I am 80.
Our project, Truth in Progress was "birthed" by that experience. We have sought in Truth in Progress, to focus on the intersections of heterosexism, racism and religion. We have done this through our writings to each other, our interviews with a host of persons, our postings on our website, visits to Selma and Stonewall and other locales, and the film documentary that we are completing.
I believe now is the time for me through Truth and Progress, to "speak" as boldly, yet as gently as possible, as I address the United Methodist Church in this time of such great possibility, I fear this moment may be squandered by the current differences and debate in the UMC over the anti-gay language and legislation of the denomination as expressed in the Book of Discipline. The "voice" of the United Methodist Church ought be heard in this time of economic inequality, growing distances between the haves and the have-nots, between the 99% and the 1%, and the greed that is making capitalism an "enemy" rather than an empowering enabler. But, we in the UMC are attracting national and worldwide attention through our charges, trials, suspensions and exiting of clergy who perform same sex marriages. Our pastoral and prophetic "voice" is muffled, as we continue to do this.
My thinking and my commitment in my effort to speak to and through you to the United Methodist Church, Marilyn, is shaped by these words spoken years ago by one of Queen Victoria's Prime Ministers: "We have no permanent allies, no permanent enemies; we only have permanent interests." The "permanent interest" that I suggest to and for the UMC is to, in word, practice and in legislation, be in complete ministry with, to and on behalf of same gender loving persons in their public commitments to each other, and in the living of their lives. This must become the "permanent interest" of all United Methodists, regardless of our interpretations and understandings of Scripture, of God's expression of Self in Jesus Christ and Wesleyan perspectives.
I have written something with this title; "We Know Who Are the Nelson Mandela's in the United Methodist Church. Where are the F. W. de Klerks?" I ask a parallel question in the following:
Is the United Methodist Church going to continue to be in partnership with Uganda in its language and legislation regarding homosexuality, or will it soon partner with South Africa?
On December 23, 2013, the Ugandan Parliament passed legislation that punishes certain acts of homosexuality with life in prison. (At this writing, the President of Uganda has not signed the bill.) South Africa on the other hand, guarantees in its Constitution gay and lesbian rights and same sex marriage. I believe that the message, mission and ministry of the United Methodist Church ought be more in tune with South Africa than Uganda. Yet, a friend of mine has said, "The United Methodist Church on matters of homosexuality, is a Church reflection of the Ugandan Parliament."
Martin Luther King once said, "Strangely enough, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be."
The United Methodist Church "can never be what it ought be" until all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation, race, gender, class, culture, language, place of birth, economic and educational status, etc. are able to be who they are within our denomination.
Marilyn, the response of the denomination to your lesbian sexual orientation has understandably, created distance between you and the United Methodist Church. We have used these terms to describe our relationship to each other; you are my "younger sister"/YS, I am your "elder brother"/EB. I can never be who I "ought to be" as a United Methodist until the UMC says "yes" to you, accepting you as you are. This is why I have written these words.
See Marilyn's response to Gil's letter here.