Tag Archives: Activism

Breaking: Methodist trial dismissed

Bishop Martin McLee

Bishop Martin McLee

In perhaps the biggest Methodist LGBT news since the 1972 enactment of the “incompatibility clause,”* Bishop Martin McLee has just announced a complete dismissal of the ecclesiastical charges against Rev. Thomas Ogletree. Rev. Ogletree was on trial for conducting a wedding service for his gay son. What is more, Bishop McClee stated, “I call for and commit to cessation of trials” arising under the Book of Discipline provisions related to LGBT persons. This is the highest act of Methodist ecclesiastical disobedience to date, but it follows the recent actions of retired Bishop Melvin Talbert, who personally conducted the wedding of two gay men, and the actions of sitting Bishop Minerva Carcaño, who offered defrocked pastor Frank Schaefer an appointment within her jurisdiction. Four other bishops have publicly registered their dissent from Book of Discipline trial proceedings.

Though it is always dicey to predict the significance of an event without the benefit of historical hindsight, this Methodist news may parallel the breakthroughs in sister denominations, including the 1996 failed heresy trial of Episcopal Bishop Walter Righter, and the legislative reversals of the Lutherans in 2009 and the Presbyterians in 2011. Certainly, there will be many jurisdictions, perhaps most, where the Book of Discipline provisions will still be enforced, but this announcement from Bishop McLee suggests a break in the dam, and the more progressive Methodist Annual Conferences on the West coast, Midwest, and East coast may soon surge through the breach.

*Pertinent provisions from the Methodist Book of Discipline

  • We do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice to be incompatible with Christian teaching. (1972)
  • Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church. (1984)
  • Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches. (1996)

UPDATE: Religion Dispatches has published my essay, which elaborates on this historic breakthrough.

Methodists Make History, Or, an Argument for Ecclesiastical Disobedience

UMC General Conference (GC2012): Daily Report April 27

Before we get to the day’s news, we begin with a bit of history.

In 1975, The first Methodist gay caucus meeting took place at Wheadon UMC Church of Evanston, Illinois near the Northwestern University campus.  Steve Webster*, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was the principal organizer.  Steve had been featured in a New York Times article earlier when his attempt to enroll in seminary was rejected because he was an out gay.

“This is not the end of my ministry, but more of a beginning,” he said to the New York Times.

Webster would fulfill his promise and pursue a life of ministry, but not in the manner he expected. Ordination in the UMC would remain beyond his grasp, and Webster’s ministry would be as a lifelong advocate for gays within the Methodist Church. It started when Webster and Richard Cash organized the first national gathering of gay Methodists. For a mailing list, Webster used the return addresses from the numerous letters of support he had received in response to the New York Times article.

“I got ahold of one of those old mimeograph stencils and rolled it into my Smith-Corona typewriter and carefully typed up a flyer about the meeting,” Webster would later reminisce.

Their efforts bore fruit in the summer of 1975 when nearly twenty gay Methodists gathered at Wheadon Church. That meeting was the birth of The United Methodist Gay Caucus, soon to be renamed Affirmation, and The Reconciling Congregation Project (RCP) would be a later outgrowth in the 1980′s. At a second meeting that year in Kansas City, others joined the group. Their primary activities in 1975 were to prepare for a ministry of presence at the 1976 UMC General Conference in Portland.

Love Your Neighbor LogoOne positive development at GC 1976 would be networking with like-minded groups. Common worship services were conducted with the Women’s Caucus, the Young Adult Caucus, and the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA).  That tradition of cooperative, collective action by progressives continues.  At GC2012, the “Common Witness Coalition” includes Affirmation and Reconciling Ministries Network—the spiritual heirs of that first meeting in 1975—and the Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, the National Federation of Asian-American United Methodists, and the Native American International Caucus.

They jointly publish a paper newsletter—Neighbor News– distributed at GC2012 and also online—click here.

Yesterday, the Coalition sprang to action in an impromptu demonstration.  Three hundred demonstrators lined the hallways as the plenary hall emptied.  The day before, the schedule included time for “Holy Conversations” regarding human sexuality, spread over a number of meeting rooms.  In some of the rooms, holy conversation did, indeed, take place.  In others, however, gays were bullied and derided.

“After the holy conversations yesterday, there were a number of people who felt abused in what we believed was intended to be a truly holy conversation space,” said Marla Marcum of Lexington, Mass., a volunteer coordinator for the Love Your Neighbor–Common Witness Coalition that organized the demonstration. “But for whatever reason, in many, many of the rooms, that was not borne out, and delegates and observers were bullied and … (some were) met with derision and scorn.”

For full treatment of the failed conversations and the ensuing demonstration, check out the blog post by Tim Tanton on the UMC News Service website.

As a positive note, there were two “firsts” in the honored laity speakers on Tuesday.  Betty Spiwe Katiyo was the first African laity address presenter and Amory Peck, the lay leader of the Pacific Northwest Conference, was the first lesbian—though she doubts everyone knew that–and she regrets that she wasn’t able to use her speech to note that fact.

I was sad that I could not say that openly. But the Laity Address is about bringing people together. Of course gays and lesbians are active in the church, but there is fearfulness in being open about it. I wish we could lift the silence because the silence is crushing.


*Steve Webster is present at GC2012.  For Conference attendees, stop by the Coalition tabernacle and look him up and ask about the early history.

A Jew and a Methodist …

I’m borrowing this line from Ariel Vegosen, a Jewish woman attending the UMC Conference in Tampa (GC2012).  She states, “I am here as a Jewish ally to support divestment and to support my Methodist brothers and sisters as they make this important and historic decision.”

With American support for Israel an unquestioned historical and political reality, one must be brave or foolish to raise concern for Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.  Yet, that is what Vegosen is doing, and she is at the Conference to encourage those who promote divestment from US companies perceived to sustain the illegal and immoral occupation of Palestinian lands.

Of course, divestment was a means of financial protest that contributed to the fall of South African apartheid a generation ago.

Two years ago at the Presbyterian General Assembly, I spent a couple of hours at the Cokesbury bookstore signing copies of my novel, A Wretched Man.  Two other authors were present at the same time, Gustav Niebuhr from the famous Niebuhr family, and Mark Braverman.  Like Vegosen, Braverman is a Jew who attended a Christian convention to advocate for Christians to denounce Israeli policies detrimental to the Palestinians.  Braverman’s book is entitled, Fatal Embrace, Christians, Jews and the search for peace in the Holy Land.

A couple of voices crying in the wilderness worth listening to.  Click on their names above to hear their voices.