Rev. Gil Caldwell’s Letter to UMC Bishops

(Please forward this to your Bishop and others)

To: Robin Hynicka, Don Fado, Lois Parr
From: Gil Caldwell

red-door-2Robin, Don and Lois, the three of you and others have responded positively to my relating the black human rights journey  to the current discussion/debate and decision-making now taking place at Lake Junaluska among our United Methodist Bishops re; Bishop Melvin Talbert and the UM response to marriage equality for same sex couples.

Some persons, unlike you, have shared with me that they are offended by and/or disagree with my relating racial struggles; personal and collective, to the current debate about the rights of lgbtq persons and same sex couples in the United Methodist Church. They do not understand that I believe that if I am unable or unwilling to relate my racial justice struggles to the justice struggles of lgbtq persons and same sex couples, then I should not expect those who are not black, to relate to black justice struggles. I cannot understand why any persons of color or women of any color, Bishops or not, would not understand that their silence, or their actions to deny equality to same sex couples, compromises their efforts to counter words and actions that are sexist and/or racist. If we do not acknowledge the existence of heterosexism, why do we expect persons to acknowledge the existence of racism and sexism?

Bishop Mel Talbert and I have not talked in-depth about the above, but I believe he and I are not far apart as we remember our journeys as African Americans in the south; he in Louisiana and I in North Carolina and Texas. The current debate in our denomination, among the Bishops this week at Lake Junaluska, and within the denomination about same sex marriage equality, cannot be separated from the justice struggles of African Americans, particularly in the south. I, of course do not suggest equivalence between these two struggles or any justice struggles. We as people of faith, must never allow the quality or quantity of our opposition to injustice be shaped by a comparison of struggles. Rather, whenever God’s people are the victims of injustice because of their race, sexual orientation, gender or anything else, the practice of “the sound of silence” is not an option for us.

Tonight PBS had another episode of THE AFRICAN AMERICANS; MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (“Making a Way Out of No Way (1897-1940)”. It reminded me of why the Bishops meeting at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina seeking to justify our United Methodist anti-same sex marriage language and legislation, and how to respond to Bishop Melvin Talbert, has evoked and provoked within me deep feelings.The irony of the Bishops meeting in a United Methodist locale that once racially segregated African Americans and are now discussing how they might punish a Bishop and UM clergy who in their ministry feel compelled to NOT allow same sex couples to be denied and segregated from the ministry of marriage is beyond my understanding.

Pope Francis, for the moment, has “opened the doors” of the Catholic Church because he has dared to say and do what other Popes have not said and done. Of course there will not be immediate change in Catholic policies and practice because of what he had dared to say publicly. But the world is watching and waiting to observe what next in the Catholic Church, simply because he dared to speak.

Do the United Methodist Bishops meeting in the place where they are meeting, understand that they too can speak and act in ways that “open the doors” of the United Methodist Church? The waters and trees and winds and soil at Lake Junaluska bear witness to the racial segregation that was once practiced there, but no more. Will those same waters and trees and winds and soil be witnesses to a United Methodist Council of Bishops who gently, but prophetically, begin to create a United Methodist TABLE that has equal room and access for everybody? Lake Junaluska, once a place that catered to the racial bigotry that was so rooted in the history and culture of the region and Jurisdiction. Lake; Junaluska 2013, a place where United Methodists Bishops from around the world, can respond to the words of Martin Luther King; “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.”

They can begin that change, if they have the will. Soul singer Sam Cooke sang this that reflects my journey. My hope and prayer is that it will reflect our United Methodist journey as well;

“I was born by the river in a little old tent, and just like the river I’ve been running ever since. It’s been a long time, but i know change is gonna come.”

Gil Caldwell
Asbury Park, New Jersey (Named for Bishop Francis Asbury)
November 12, 2013

rev-gilbert-caldwellThe Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell is a retired United Methodist Minister who lives in Asbury Park, N.J. He was active in the Massachusetts unit of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and participated in the civil-rights movement throughout the nation. In 2000, he, with others, organized the RMN Extension ministry United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church (UMOC), an organization committed to the full inclusion of LGBT people in every aspect of church and society. His recent book, Something Within: Works by Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell is available from Church Within A Church.

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