It is no secret that I celebrated my 80th birthday on October 28th. It has been suggested that one has "arrived" when, rather than complaining about our age, we brag about it. I am "bragging.” I write and share this, not because I believe that I have a depth of insight, and capacity to communicate in some unique way. Rather the reverse is true. I have wondered for years, "Why in the name of heaven don't some of my friends who are scholars, thinkers, theologians, and writers in ways that I am not, write and share their writings with the rest of us?" I think they write only after in-depth research, because they want to be certain their writing is deeply grounded. Much to the dismay of some of you, I am not restricted by possessing that kind of scholarly and intellectual maturity.
These words of writer/teacher of writing, Pat Schneider continue to motivate & inspire my writings; "No one has seen the night sky exactly from your trajectory. No one has loved the people and places you have loved. Who will tell that part of the earth's story if you do not?"
We in New Jersey have responded to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy by allowing the words in quotes found in the title of this blog become a mantra for us. We give our Governor, Chris Christie, credit for those words. (It is possibly because of these words that retired basketball player Shaquille O'Neil has endorsed Christie).
The United Methodist Church has been in a storm, or at least under storm clouds, since 1972 when General Conference passed language and legislation that many of us feel is anti-LGBTQ and insensitive to the fact that same-gender-loving persons fall in love with each other and want to acknowledge and celebrate that love in publicly-, legally- and church-supported ways, as those who are not same-gender-loving do.
Some thoughts about The United Methodist Church in these moments:
1. "Some of my best friends" in The United Methodist Church do not agree with my thoughts and actions regarding gay rights and the continuing struggle for equality and justice for African Americans. It has been interesting and informative that some who agree with me totally on one of these topics, disagree with me on the other. I see similarities between the two, not equivalences; they do not.
2. I believe now, more than ever, that the God of the Church has been, is, and will be, intertwined with both the Church and the state, particularly in the United States. The concept/belief in the "separation of church and state" does not preclude history as it unfolds through the actions of the state, being informed by the intent and intentions of God. I believe the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated racial segregation in public schools, had an imprint of my understandings of the intentions of God. And, I believe the state-sponsored movement toward equality for LGBTQ persons and marriage equality for same-gender-loving persons is also God related. The Methodist Church did not invalidate denominational racial segregation until the formation of the United Methodist Church in 1968, and the UMC is a "tail light" as marriage equality slowly, but surely, becomes the law of the land. As imperfect as complete human equality has been in the United States, it seems the Constitution has done and is doing for the nation what the Bible has been slow to do for The United Methodist Church.
3. I suggest that our denominational wrestling with the living legacies caused by sexism, racism, and now, heterosexism, has kept us (maybe deliberately?) from acknowledging, confronting and transforming what could be the most demonic of all of the isms; Classism, caused by economic and educational imbalance and inequality.
The economy and economic practices of the United States and indeed the world need to hear the Biblical message about human Greed, and yet we are wasting so much time, keeping sexism, racism and heterosexism alive while pretending to be about confronting them.
The movies this year that are slavery and race-centered; Lincoln, Django Unchained, 42, The Butler, and 12 Years A Slave reflect the tyranny that economic greed has played in colonialism, slavery and racial segregation.
I conclude by suggesting The United Methodist Church, more than any Church body, must cease minimizing its mission and ministry by relegating LGBTQ persons to "their place", as it once did to women and African Americans. Its major ministry in the 21st century, I believe, ought relate to why in a world that possesses "God's Plenty", there are so many of God's people, who have little or nothing.
"Who will tell that part of the earth's story if The United Methodist Church does not?"
Rev. Gill Caldwell is retired United Methodist clergy living in Asbury Park, NJ. He is former Associate General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race and one of the founders of Black Methodists for Church Renewal. As a long-time MFSA supporter, Gil's ministry of writing challenges the United Methodist Church to be the best it can be.