United Methodist’s God-given call to inclusion

Amanda Sowards AP The cross in front of Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church’s sunrise Easter service where more than 700 … Continued

Amanda Sowards


The cross in front of Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church’s sunrise Easter service where more than 700 people gathered at Blount Cultural Park in Montgomery Ala., on Sunday, April 8, 2012.

After all these years, I still feel a sense of excitement created by the United Methodist General Conference. The delegates are meeting in Tampa, and I remain in Asbury Park, NJ. Years ago, my first role at a General Conference was as a page. Since then, I’ve been the clergy delegation leader, legislative committee chair, presenter on the black church, and even activist as I was arrested at the 2000 General Conference in Cleveland.

I am now a retired minister, and I frequently compare myself to the “old men who dream dreams” that Joel “speaks” of in the Hebrew Bible. I come from a long line of ministers who have been a part of the United Methodist Church through many changes and transformations. The United Methodist Church was “born” as a denomination on April 23, 1968 when The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Churches merged to form the new denomination, one of the largest Protestant churches with a membership of 12 million in the USA, Africa, Europe and Asia.

The United Methodist Church will continue to grow as an international denomination, but I will always see it as “America’s Church,” because of its ubiquitous presence throughout the nation. I once heard that there was a United Methodist Church in every county of the USA. In 1968, Bishop Gerald Kennedy was on the cover of TIME and the church was featured in the cover story. The denomination has sought to be a blend of the best of what I call a personal and a social gospel. Our social principles seek to relate our denominational mission and ministry to the current challenges that face humankind.

The United Methodist Church has also faced struggles. My father spent most of his ministry in the racially segregated Central Jurisdiction. The start of my ministry was also marked by racial segregation, as I faced discrimination at Duke Divinity School for being black. Finally, in 1968, the all-black Central Jurisdiction was merged into what is today the United Methodist Church.

It is exactly because of this history that it is hard to comprehend why the United Methodist Church has continued to pass legislation that places limits on clergy in committed same gender relationships. Many clergy throughout the denomination; retired bishops, retired clergy and active clergy are making public declarations of their intent to perform union and marriage ceremonies of same sex couples in those states and the District of Columbia where they are legal. I have failed to understand, why the United Methodist Church, with its history and heritage of affirmation, fairness, and commitment to the God-given human dignity of all persons, has chosen to resist full ministry for same gender couples.

Changing policies that prohibit United Methodist clergy from presiding at union or marriage services for same gender couples is an issue that ought to be a “slam dunk” for the United Methodist Church. Logic, let alone our United Methodist commitment to the ministry of ordained clergy, is torn to shreds when United Methodist clergy are able to bless buildings and animals and homes, etc., but are not allowed to bless the loving commitment of woman to woman and man to man.

The United Methodist Church, as it did on matters of race, is lagging behind governmental actions and the attitudes of persons, particularly young persons, on acceptance and affirmation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons and couples. The military no longer enforces a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for lesbians and gay men in the military, and yet the United Methodist Church expects its Gay clergy to observe a church version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

For those delegates who claim they are maintaining “tradition” as they vote to sustain current United Methodist language and legislation, I remind them that at one time some persons maintained and/or tolerated, colonialism, slavery, the oppression of women, racial segregation, prohibitions against the ordination of women and resistance to interracial marriage, because they represented long-held “traditions.” The breaking of tradition is what established Christianity, Protestantism and the United States.

This old, retired minister continues to dream a dream that our church can learn from its own history of overcoming exclusion to drop the barriers for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The time is now. With youth having visions an elders dreaming dreams, more congregations than ever are seeing that God is calling us to minister to all people – whether marriage, baptism, or membership.

Rev. Gil Caldwell is a retired member of the United Methodist clergy.

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  • sauron

    To Rev. Caldwell’s point about “traditions” there were and are those who treat such traditions as laws. Regarding some of those listed (e.g. oppression of women, racial segragation, interacial marriage, etc.), it is true that some traditions were given the weight of “law” without basis in Scriptures over the years and much evil was/is done in the name of Scripture. Because evil had been done, this does not justify abandoning scriptual doctrine to make up for the past. Scripture is the standard given to us to guide our lives and the governance of the church.

    What should a Christian denonimation do with something that is designated as a “sin” (thus prohibited) in Scripture in both Old and New Testaments? This is the case regarding homosexuality and takes the issue beyond mere “tradition” into a “law”. If you choose to change something sinful into something that is now “blessed” in the name of “love”, then Scripture is no longer the standard and a new “tradition” is created. At some point a fence or boundary needs to be established where it is taught “go this far and no farther”. Otherwise, without an anchor, then the denomination will be lost in a sea of winds blowing where ever people’s “itching ears want to hear”.

    If a pastor is practicing a lifestyle that the standard (i.e. Scripture) says is sinful, then he is violating Paul’s exhortation that Pastors should be “above reproach”. Having the leadership of the denomination continuing to bless such lifestyles means rejecting God’s Word. If the United Methodists choose to stop callling people to live according to God’s standards then it will have truly “lost its saltiness” and will only be good for being stepped on all over.

  • tlusk58

    I was a United Methodist pastor for twenty-five years and gave up my orders when I came to terms with my sexuality. People have used Scripture and Tradition for as long as the church has been around to justify their own prejudice and fear. As a response to your statement on “law” in the Biblical text, there were over 700 laws in Hebrew scripture that Jesus stated he had not come to undo. Everyone of us exclude many of these laws from our practise today because they do not reflect the love of God revealed through Jesus in a modern context. The biblical text came to us from a culture thousands of years gone….scripture tells us that the world is flat, I have yet the find a creditable Christian that still holds to that view. Jesus stated there shall be no divorce…those are his words…how many churches do you know that hold people back lay or clergy who have been through divorce? Paul stated that women should keep quite in church….do you hold to that law? I suspect like many in the United Methodist Church, that you hold to your unjust and unloving attitude toward the gay community not because of your holding true to all the laws in scripture but due to your fear of gay persons. Sometimes when it comes to the Bible we look to the trees of individual laws while missing the forest of God’s relationship of love with God’s people. Christianity is a revealed religion which lives in God’s Kingdom while it waits for that very Kingdom to arrive. The modern world with all of its problems has with God’s help given us new knowledge which is changing the human world in ways we still can’t imagine. A few decades from now many like you will wonder why people back them caused so much harm to God’s gay children…created by God to be who they are just like God created you to be who you are. I worship in a church every Sunday that is growing with a deep committment to the Gospel and its radical hospitality. When lesbian and gay clergy are at the altar it is no big dea

  • Rongoklunk

    Why doesn’t God just show up and thereby prove to all that he actually exists? He could clear up so many difficulties if he just spent a few hours here in the real world. Or just ten minutes if he’s stuck for time.
    He could tell us his views on homosexuals, and why he keeps creating them; and why he lets people abuse them, and sometimes murder them. And why create siamese twins whose heads are stuck together – whose lives will be terrible? Why? And why create any deformed people? Why?
    And why does god keep sending these tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and famines at us? Is he trying to tell us something? Why do thousands die from these acts of God?
    Folks say he’s such a nice god, who loves us and wants nothing but the best for us – his creatures; us, who he made to look like himself.Yet all his acts are barbaric.
    I don’t think we have a loving god watching over us. I think we have a deranged monster watching over us who loves seeing the agony we go through trying not to be killed by one of his little games.
    But of course, the rational reason for all this terror is that there is no god, but just the elements of nature doing its thing. Makes more sense than positing a fella of any kind. It’s a process, a blind process, with no fella necessary.
    Call it mother nature, but some clown will think that’s a little old lady who waters the plants and tells the sun when to shine, when she too is just a metaphor for the weather, like god is a metaphor for the mysterious and unknown.

  • sauron

    In response to your “700 laws in Hebrew scripture” statement, I say that in Jesus’ time the ruling religious authorities (i.e. Pharisees) added many traditions on top of the law that were treated as equal to the law so that they forced the people to live under beyond what the actual Scriptures taught. Jesus called the Pharisees up on what they were doing in Mark 7:1-10
    1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly,[a] holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.[b] And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.[c]) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

    “‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
    7 in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

    8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

    9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)[d]— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

    That is how I was treating the traditions the writer of this blog entry that led t

  • sauron

    (Cont’d from earlier post)
    To tlusk58:
    Regarding your statement about “unjust and unloving attitude toward the gay community”, here is my response.

    Children often tell their parents when they are confronted for some wrongdoing, “You don’t care about me!” or “You don’t really love me”. Sounds a lot like “unjust and unloving attitude toward the gay community” to me.

    Now people (including Christians), being fallible, don’t always have good responses when confronted with something they believe is wrong. Some of these reactions can be attributable to the fear you mentioned. When confronted with a group who is quick to push the hate accusation button just because they don’t see things the same way, reactions can come out of fear or anger instead of loving.

    For me, I believe in Jesus’ approach when confronted with a person living a sinful lifestyle:
    The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
    (John 8:3-11 ESV)

    He did not condemn (i.e. punish) her, but he did tell her to “sin no more”. Now, we aren’t told the circumstances behind how the adultery happened or anything about the man involved, but that didn’t matte


    Too late. They shut your dream down (as was expected.) Gays aren’t welcome as Methodists.

    Now what are you gonna do about it?

  • DigitalQuaker

    Probably continue to struggle with the issue, like most everyone else.

    What are YOU going to do about it?

  • DigitalQuaker

    Sauron, I’ll only say this; when a persons comments are longer than the article he is commenting on, no one will read it.

    Consider brevity