The Methodist Federation for Social Action’s work has always been about the intersectionality of our faith and justice issues. When MFSA got its start as the Methodist Federation for Social Service in 1907 and drafted and introduced the first Social Principles to the General Conference of 2008, no one could have known the rough and rocky road that trying to keep personal and social holiness intertwined in the Wesleyan tradition would become. The 1908 Book of Discipline ¶59 The Church and Social Problems (pages 480 & 481) you will find that original Social Creed. You will also find these words on those pages: “In this connection we note with satisfaction the organization of the Methodist Federation for Social Service, composed of members and friends of our Church, and of the Methodist Brotherhood. Their objects are ‘to deepen within the Church the sense of social obligation and opportunity, to study social problems from the Christian point of view, to promote social service in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.’ These objects we heartily approve.”
If Holy Week is about being faithful to ones calling and to follow where that faithfulness leads you, even unto death, then MFSA has been doing Holy Week work throughout most of its 106 year existence. By the early 1930s, MFSA was speaking out against race prejudice. When the Methodist Episcopal Churches, North and South began talking about merging back together in the late 30s, MFSA vehemently opposed the formation of a segregated Central Jurisdiction for Black Methodists. It took the Methodist Episcopal Church 40 more years and another merger to realize that separate but equal doesn’t live up to the Gospel standard of “love the Lord your God with all our heart and with all your soul and with all your mind: and, love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27 – The Great Commandment). MFSA continued to speak out for the rights of Women, African-Americans, Labor Movements and Free Speech, even as the organization was itself under attack by the supporters of McCarthyism. Those distancing themselves from anything controversial in those days, pushed MFSA to the near death experience of having its “official” status removed from the Methodist Episcopal Church and being replaced (in 1952) by the Board of Social and Economic Relations (now the Board of Church and Society). But MFSA refused to walk away from its calling and regained strength and membership during the 60s as they continued to be strong advocates for Peace, Civil Rights and Women’s Rights. In 1968 during the merger that created what we now know as the United Methodist Church, MFSA was heavily involved in encouraging delegates to dissolve the segregated Central Jurisdiction and integrate the newly forming United Methodist Church. On the floor of the 1972 General Conference, it was many of the MFSA faithful who were speaking out against codifying societal prejudices into our Book of Discipline by declaring homosexual persons “incompatible with Christian Teaching.” As you can tell, I’m proud of MFSA’s historic faithfulness to our Christian faith, social holiness, and our Gospel call.
This week, while attending the United for Marriage rally at the Supreme Court Building, I was reminded of this Holy Week work we have been about for so long. I was reminded through three remarkable people that I met. They reminded me not only of the intersections between our faith and social witness, but the intersectionality of justice issues and how they often create crosses for people to bear in this society of ours. One couple that I met were married in a marriage equality state. Because of DOMA and current immigration policies, they will not be able to stay together in that state when the one bride’s visa expires. You see they are bi-national. One of the brides will eventually be forced to return to Sweden. While they would both like to remain here in the US, their country of choice, DOMA makes it impossible for the Sweedish bride to apply for citizenship based on a marriage that the federal government can’t and won’t recognize. The American bride will then have to decide if she wants to move to Sweden and seek citizenship there instead of remaining a US citizen. Actually, there’s no choice to be made; their love for each other is greater than their love for a country that continually turns its back on valuing them and the love they share.
Later in the morning, as I was waiting for the rally speakers to start sharing their hopes and dreams for our country, I found myself standing next to a Rabbi from Detroit. Arnie Slbutelberg gave me permission to use his name and share his story. He flew that morning to be at the Supreme Court rally. He was flying home later the same day. Arnie fell in love with a school teacher named Robert. They were married in Canada, but Robert’s work visa will eventually expire and under DOMA and current immigration laws, he too will have to leave. Arnie will have to choose between married life and country, serving the people of his synagogue or faithfully living out his marriage vows. It’s not a choice either Arnie or Robert would like to have to make. Arnie told me his story after I thanked him for making the trip all the way down to DC today. After he told me his story, he said, “I had to be here! This is what it’s all about… people like me!”
When one of the speakers said that marriage equality was constitutional. An anti-marriage equality protester behind me started shouting out, “where is that in the Constitution?” I wanted to shout back, “read our nation’s first foundational document… the Declaration of Independence.” It tells us what the purpose of governance and our Constitution are about: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men (people), deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The Constitution and Bill of Rights that followed, were the next steps in defining how that government would work. They were “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all” people “are created equal.” If “any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure… It is for us living… to be dedicated here to the unfinished work” …so “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Forgive my fractural referencing of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but the point is still well made: we need to vigilantly be about the ongoing, “unfinished work” of maintaining a governance that is focused on all citizens unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
So there we were, a gay Jewish Rabbi and a straight United Methodist clergy person; standing together in front of a building where the very façade reminds us that we need to be about “Equal Justice Under the Law.” There we were, two people of faith, so different and yet with so much in common. There we were in the midst of the holy seasons of Passover and Holy Week, talking about a very different kind of cross. Forgive me Arnie, for my Christo-centric imagery, but it is in Christ that I see the divine and it was through my encounter with you that the image was sparked in my mind. In reflection, I imagine a cross. A cross of injustice, built out of the cross beams of DOMA and current immigration laws. The intersectionality of injustices that stand ready to crucify and sacrifice love for the sake of maintaining the traditions of oppression and marginalization we have known. A story familiar to my faith tradition. That’s when it dawned on me, I already know how the story ends: love lives! Even if the Supreme Court rules in June that they won’t hear these cases at this point and tries to silence the cries for equal justice under the law; we will not and cannot be silent, for the very stones over the doors of their chambers will continue to cry out. If, God forbid, they rule against equality under the law and think that that will kill the issue once and for all. They don’t understand the power of resurrection hope and faithfulness to the breadth and depth of God’s all inclusive love. They also don’t understand the deep yearnings for equality and justice within all people. If they so decide, history will one day remember this court as the “Plessy v. Ferguson” court of the 21st century and future generations will look back with wonder and bewilderment at our inability to live up to our ideals; our faiths that all proclaim that we should treat others as we would want to be treated; and, our work for protecting all of our citizen’s rights. For me, this is the ongoing work of Holy Week and following the path of our calling from God. This is also the ongoing work of MFSA!
Rev. Steve Clunn serves as the Coalition Coordinator for the Methodist Federation for Social Action. Clergy in the Upper New York Annual Conference, Steve's work at MFSA focuses on coordinating United Methodist caucus groups in their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in the life of the Church.
Photo of Bi-National Couple Courtesy of JeeHye Kim Pak. Copyright 2013. Used with permission.