Dear Gil, Your letter about the future of the UMC was timely. A friend of mine here in Montana just asked me yesterday if I’d seen all the national news coverage about the minister whose credentials were taken away for presiding at his gay son’s wedding. She was kind of wondering why the story was getting such attention. Good question. My thoughts were more along the lines of what an embarrassment this should be for United Methodists. What does it say that the church still conducts trials of its pastors doing what they genuinely see as their calling in the year 2014? Furthermore, how has the conversation about homosexuality gone on for 42 years and there still be those who say that they must continue to discuss the “issue” to find reconciliation?
This kind of talk about unity over injustice makes my blood boil. It goes against the very core values that I learned from studying and absorbing Jesus’ teachings. Ironically, it is those teachings that have led me away from the church and to a life of peace outside of it. The song that is taught to children and sung at church youth camps everywhere, “They will know we are Christians by our love…” is sadly laughable. (My words have now sent others’ blood to boiling for whole other reasons.) It is a travesty to what we have been taught by Jesus -a man of love, compassion, and righteous anger at injustice towards those disregarded by religious leaders. He wept at the sight of sorrow. He did not rejoice when people were maligned, as LGBT people have been General Conference after General Conference since 1972.
If the millions of members truly knew what was going on at the top by 1,000 decision-making delegates, would they tolerate it? What does it take for people to get the word that this is what their denomination stands for? How far behind society and other faith communities does the United Methodist Church need to be before it wakes up? More to the point, why has such a log-jam gone on for so long?
As I stood in the balcony and watched the 2000 General Conference delegates yet again vote for the words “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and against ordaining “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” (ancient phrasing still affirmed) and same-sex unions let alone legal marriage, I knew without a doubt that it would be at least 20 years before any change would happen. Now we’re 14 years into that 20. Why did I think that? Because just before the vote the delegates witnessed a woman in such despair that she was standing on the balcony railing unable to keep herself from uttering an anguished plea to stop the pain that the church inflicts on LGBT people. Men carefully held onto her legs and safely guided her down from the precipice while delegates below tried to be ready if she fell. To see such pain and still blatantly continue to affirm the source of it, what could possibly be worse? How could a simple majority not decisively vote to end the suffering? It was after their vote that the second group that you were a part of was arrested from the stage where you stood between the delegates and the bishops, taken away by officers of the Cleveland police. Later, as I signed the papers for each of the 28 of you to get out on bail, the clerk said to me, “The Klan was here a few months ago. No one arrested them.” I believe Jesus would have wept at this sorrow.
My dear Elder Brother, the pain continues but doesn’t seem to matter to leaders who think conversation and unity trumps it. However, what I have learned from you and our time in Selma, is that there is an irreversible force when hundreds and then thousands of people start walking. When their feet say, “NO MORE.” Even Bloody Sunday did not deter them. You regrouped over days and kept going. I marvel at the pictures of the long line of people walking from Selma to Montgomery, the images of the people on their front porches watching the procession. The national news made a big difference; it showed people the rabid beatings, the hateful resistance to equality, and the awesome power of people who will not be turned back.
Wouldn’t it be grand if national attention could cause that kind of shock now? Do you think there is little to no response because the United Methodist Church has set the bar so low that no one expects more from it? I’d hate for that to be true.
The better question, though, is this, “How can that unstoppable force of NO MORE rise up in the United Methodist Church?”
Wondering, asking, waiting—
You can read Gil's initial letter to Marilyn here.
Marilyn is an author and video biographer living in Helena, MT. Prior to moving to Helena, she served as the executive director for Reconciling Ministries Network, the national grassroots organization working to change anti-LGBTQ policy and practice of the United Methodist Church. She has a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Theology where she later worked as the executive director of development, public affairs, and alumni/ae relations. She chose not to be ordained but to use her organizing and fundraising skills in non-profit management and activism. Her books include We Were Baptized Too and Truth in Progress: Letters in Mixed Company. Though an active life long member from infancy to adulthood, Marilyn is no longer involved with the UMC. However her love and respect remain for her dear friends and family members who are.