In the mid-nineteenth century, James Russell Lowell wrote the following words to a hymn that you and I have sung since childhood. Martin Luther King, Jr. was especially fond of quoting the last stanza in speeches that empowered another civil rights movement.
Let Lowell’s prophetic words help you decide about your personal response to the trial of the Rev. Karen Dammann, March 17, 2004. Whatever the verdict, this trial breaks the heart of God, demeans and dehumanizes millions of sexual and gender minorities, shames the entire Christian church and drives our sisters and brothers forever from its doors.
Once to every man and woman comes the moment to decide
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side.
You are in the final stages of deciding how you will respond personally to Karen’s trial. You can acquiesce to the injustice by your silence. You can support the injustice by allowing yourself to be included on the jury pool. Or you can take your stand against the trial which history will condemn as an act of spiritual violence, not just against Karen Dammann, but against all God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children.
Some great cause, God’s new messiah, offering each the bloom or blight;
And the chance goes by forever ‘Twixt that darkness and that light.
To refuse to support the trial, in fact, to take your stand against it is the opportunity of a lifetime. And though the decision may cost you, you will bring joy to tens of thousands of lesbian and gay United Methodists, their friends and families, hope to thousands of closeted UMC clergy and lay leaders, and you will know in your heart that you have exercised your prophetic voice whatever the cost.
By the light of burning martyrs, Jesus bleeding feet I track,
Toiling up new Calvaries ever with the cross that turns not back.
When an outcast is being condemned by church leaders, there is no need to ask ‘What would Jesus do?’ Jesus demanded justice and mercy for the outcast. This trial is a tragic example of the United Methodist Church making outcasts out of gay and lesbian people instead of welcoming them in Christ’s name.
New occasions teach new duties. Time makes ancient good uncouth.
They must upward still and onward, who would keep a breast of Truth.
One day, in spite of these last gasp efforts to enforce centuries-old intolerance based on ignorance and fear, the Book of Discipline will be changed. Until that day, in spite of your concerns about ‘unity’ in the UMC, how will you respond to a trial that United Methodist history will remember with sadness and shame?
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ‘tis truth alone is strong;
Though her part may be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong.
During the darkest nights of his own quest for justice, Dr. King used these words to bring hope to his people. On March 17, the Truth is on trial, not just the truth that homosexuality is simply another of God’s mysterious gifts and that homosexuals (like Karen Dammann) love and serve Christ’s church with creativity, courage and commitment; but the Truth of Christ that commanded us to love God and to love each other at all costs, and never to make outcasts of those we do not like or understand.
Yet that scaffold sways the future. And behind the dim unknown
Standeth God with in the shadow keeping watch above his own.
In 1999 we watched Jimmy Creech be defrocked by the United Methodist Church for taking his prophetic stand for God’s gay children. Before the trial began, Soulforce volunteers (Methodists and non-Methodists alike) were joined by UMC clergy and their families from across Nebraska to block the entrance of the UMC church in Grand Island.
When Bishop Grove and the jury pool approached our nonviolent blockade, we refused to move. The police stepped in and in a deeply moving, totally nonviolent act of Ecclesial “This Obedience” seventy-five of us were arrested, fined, and released.
“We are only doing our duty,” a member of the jury pool whispered as we were led away. Those words echo through the centuries from scenes of horror, heartbreak, and holocaust. We who love and serve Christ know that our duty is NOT to march in step with intolerance (no matter how well intended) but to stop and take our stand for justice, mercy, and truth.
We ask you NOT to stay away or sit in the audience, let alone to serve in the jury pool for Karen’s trial. We ask you to join us in an act of nonviolent Ecclesial “This Obedience” on March 17, to put your body on the line at the Bothell UMC.
Help us try to stop this trial before it brings more dishonor to Christ and to the United Methodist Church. Even if we fail, we will send a message to the UMC, to the IRD, and to the entire nation that religion-based spiritual violence against sexual and gender minorities STOPS HERE. Will you at least consider taking part by attending our training in relentless nonviolent resistance with Jimmy Creech and other UMC justice heroes, March 16, 6PM in Bothell, Washington?
Mel White, Executive Director
And the entire UMC Soulforce Team
PS: Check our web page for complete details. Or call or email for more information.
SOULFORCE, PO Box 3195, Lynchburg, VA. 24503 (434) 384-7696