Archive for December, 2013

Thinking Out Loud on the Day After the Day before Christmas

Monday, December 30th, 2013

Thoughts from Gil Caldwell on an important day in the Advent calendar:

I did not think that I would get to my computer today. After all, today is Christmas! But we have a tradition in my household of tuning the TV to the image of a burning log in a fireplace — with the familiar and beautiful Christmas music in the background — and it was the music as well as the flickering flames in the fireplace on TV that pushed me to come to my computer to do what I do so often: write something and then share blind copies of what I have written with others, unsolicited.

My mind is focused on the United Methodist Church. This question has been circulating within me for some time, and for some reason on Christmas Day, 2013, I share it with others. The question…

Is it possible for the United Methodist Church, considering the words and tone of the words of Pope Francis, as well as the worldwide outpouring of appreciation for Nelson Mandela and the "new" South Africa he helped to create, to call timeout on charges, trials, and withdrawal of ministerial credentials from those who perform same sex marriages? There is something about the advancing movement to legalize same sex marriages in the nation, the unrestrained joy and love that same sex couples express in response to the legalization of their right to marry, and the need for the UMC to address the pressing economic concerns/income inequality, etc. that exist in the USA and the world, that makes our public, much publicized, official UNWELCOME MAT for same sex couples, demeaning and diminishing when juxtaposed to our history and heritage of social and justice ministry as a denomination. (A long sentence written on Christmas Day requests of the reader, a large degree of Christmas joy and patience).

Some United Methodists say that those of us who support marriage equality for same sex couples should leave the UMC and become UCCs, Episcopalians, Presbyterians or Unitarian Universalists. And, I have resisted suggesting that those who want us to leave the UMC, should leave and become Southern Baptists, Catholics or Mormons. But, leaving the UMC, regardless of our differences is not what the Spirit of Christmas is nudging me to write on this "Day After the Day before Christmas".

I believe that the "Love (that) Came Down at Christmas" compels us as a denomination to acknowledge that "Love is not a second hand emotion", (Tina Turner's. "What's Love Got To Do With It?"), And, furthermore, no language or legislation in a Book of Discipline can trump love. Pope Francis is saying this, and I believe it was the mutual love of a new South Africa, that created a bond between Nelson Mandela and those who opposed him. What will it take for us to create a "new" United Methodist Church, not in structure or organization, but in Love?

229 year ago, Methodists began the process of organizing the Methodist Episcopal Church on December 24, 1784, in what is called the "Christmas Conference". Could the United Methodist Church gather in December of 2014, 230 years after the original "Christmas Conference", in order, in the name of God, to "get our act"; our mission and ministry, together?

Gilbert Haven Caldwell
Asbury Park, New Jersey

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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.

PRESS RELEASE: Schaefer Defrocked, UMC Inflicts More Pain on LGBTQ Members

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – December 19, 2013 – Thirty days following the penalty handed down by a trial court in the Eastern Pennsylvania (regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church, Rev. Frank Schaefer has been defrocked by the Board of Ordained Ministry of that same Conference. Schaefer was found guilty in a church trial this past November of celebrating the wedding of his son, Tim, and another man more than five years ago. Schafer was instructed to report if he would uphold church doctrine and not officiate at future same-gender unions. In a press conference on Tuesday, Schaefer made clear his intention to continue his ministry and not voluntarily surrender his clergy credentials.

“Today is a sad day in the life of The United Methodist Church,” states Chett Pritchett, executive director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA). “In these Advent days, we hear about God’s love made incarnate and God delighting in justice and joy, yet in stark contrast The United Methodist Church continues to say to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people and those who are in ministry with them that injustice rules the day.”

Beginning in 1972, the United Methodist Book of Discipline has included discriminatory language against gay and lesbian persons. Discrimination was further codified with an ordination ban in 1984 and a union/marriage ban in 1996. For over 40 years, MFSA has worked with a growing coalition of organizations seeking to overturn such discriminatory policies and work for justice within The United Methodist Church.

“This action by both the trial court and the Board of Ordained Ministry is indicative of the deep pain caused by the discriminatory language in our Book of Discipline, the homophobia and heterosexism that is pervasive in our Church, and the inability of church leaders to lead from their hearts and embrace the fullness of Christ’s charge to ‘love one another,’” Pritchett states. “True leadership requires willingness to be vulnerable and seek a way forward that encourages vital ministry with those who find themselves on the margins of the Church without engaging in acts of retribution. Church trials accomplish nothing but perpetuation of pain inflicted on LGBTQ people and those who minister with them. It’s time to stop the trials!”

Since 1907, the Methodist Federation for Social Action has worked to mobilize, lead, and sustain a progressive movement, energizing people to be agents of God’s justice, peace, and reconciliation. As an independent, faith-based organization, MFSA leads both Church and society on issues of peace, poverty, people’s rights, progressive issues, and justice within The United Methodist Church.

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Robben Island and Madiba: A Reflection

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Robben Island isn’t likely to be described as one of those “thin places” – a point in which heaven and earth are closely bound, a place of spiritual oneness. Just a few miles off the coast of Cape Town, Robben Island’s two square miles the island has been a leper colony and a prison for political detainees, specifically those who were strident opponents of South Africa’s apartheid laws.

You see, Nelson Mandela was not the first political prisoner on Robben Island. The island had been used as a prison during colonial rule and later as a leper colony. Beginning in 1961, however, the island became a penitentiary for political prisoners, mainly members of the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) and the African National Congress (ANC), some of whom were raised and educated in the Methodist tradition.

The son of a Methodist preacher, Robert Sobukwe was imprisoned on Robben Island after leading a protest against the Pass Act, which restricted movement of blacks in South Africa. Before his imprisonment, Sobukwe had been educated at a Methodist college, taught African studies at the University of Witwatersrand, and was an ardent supporter in the movement for African nationalism. It is believed that these views led to his solitary confinement on Robben Island, having been marked as more radical than typical PAC and ANC activists.  

I had to opportunity to visit Robben Island as part of a Volunteer-In-Mission experience in 2007. There I saw first-hand the solitary confinement unit of Robert Sobukwe. I also saw the lime quarry where other prisoners were forced to work on a daily basis. One of those prisoners, Nelson Mandela, grew up in the Methodist tradition, as well. Mandela was imprisoned in 1964 after being a conspirator in a militant sect of the ANC which conducted acts of sabotage to government structures while maintaining minimal civilian casualties. While imprisoned Mandela encouraged young activists in prison to work across racial barriers to work with white anti-apartheid activists. Such encouragement is a part of a clear path to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which investigated the crimes of both apartheid leadership and the ANC – crimes which Mandela himself planned and executed.

Robben Island is a thin place for me. Its rocky coastline and rough waters provided a place of incarceration just miles from Cape Town. But it was also on this island that ideas were incubated, ideas that transformed a torn nation and a model for modern reconciliation on a macro-level. Martin Luther spoke of the human as being saint and sinner at the same time and Nelson Mandela became a beloved leader in South African – and the world – because he embodied a humanity that could both encourage transformation and be transformed.

At the heart of our Methodist tradition is this deep belief that both personal and social transformation is possible. I’d like to think that his Methodist education helped Mandela inwardly digest those concepts. As we find ourselves in the season of Advent, we hear Scripture calling us to envision the world differently: a place of justice and hope. For me, Robben Island is that thin place between heaven and earth– that called me into a deeper relationship with the God of justice and hope. It is also a place that challenges my privilege and forces me to question my motivations for seeking justice in a world where I participate in the dominant narrative.

Robben Island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Madiba is no longer with us. But transformation, challenge, and hope live on.

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Chett Pritchett is Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. He is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and Wesley Theological Seminary, and is a member at Dumbarton UMC in Washington, DC.

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