Mel White’s Letter to Rev. Greg Jackson, Senior Pastor of Bothell United Methodist Church

The Rev. Greg Jackson, Senior Pastor
Bothell United Methodist Church
18515 92nd Avenue NE
Bothell, Washington 98011

February 19, 2004

Dear Rev. Jackson,
I am writing to express my sincere sympathy for the dilemma you face regarding the trial of the Rev. Karen Dammann, March 17, 2004. Using Bothell UMC for a trial that will make headlines across the U.S. and even around the world must cause you deep personal anguish. I can’t even imagine the mass of contradictory advice you must be receiving from every side of this volatile issue. I write, not to advise, let alone to condemn, but to share from my perspective the tragic consequences of the use of Bothell UMC for this unconscionable trial and to offer other options.

Unfortunately, whether the Rev. Karen Dammann is exonerated or found guilty, Bothell UMC will never again be seen as a safe place for sexual or gender minorities, their friends and families. Worse, your Church will become a symbol to millions of us, a symbol of the Christian Church making outcasts instead of welcoming them in Jesus’ name. I’m sure that you and your people are hoping that “this too will pass,” that when the trial is over you can get back to bearing Christian witness by word and deed, that the people of Greater Seattle and the nation will forgive and forget.

It just doesn’t happen that way. Dallas will always carry the stain of President Kennedy’s death. The Lorraine Motel in Memphis or the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles will always be remembered as the sites of great American tragedies. We see the trial of the Rev. Karen Dammann as a public act of spiritual violence against our sister by Christian clergy called to follow Christ’s commandment to love one another. Instead, on March 17, they gather in your sanctuary to enforce the intolerance and bigotry as now enshrined in United Methodist doctrine. Even if they acquit the Rev. Dammann, great damage will be done. The Co-Chair of our United Methodist Soulforce Team explained our feelings this way in his deeply moving letter to Bishops Galvan and Grove, to the Jury Pool and to all Trial Participants.

“The church law under which Karen is charged,” Steven Webster writes, “is an unjust assault on the equality, humanity and sacred worth of Karen and all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. Her crime or ‘chargeable offense’ is nothing other than her honest declaration that she has formed a family with a partner deemed by the church to be of the ‘wrong gender.’ On trial with her are millions of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender persons who live in relationships of covenantal faithfulness, build homes, raise children and contribute to their churches and communities.”

I don’t know your personal beliefs about the anti-homosexual teachings and actions of the United Methodist Church, but I have heard that you were reticent to allow Bothell UMC to be the scene of this crime against Karen’s humanity. I just hope that when the media who converge on Bothell ask you why you allowed it that you won’t say, “I had no choice. I was just following orders.”

In fact, you do have an option, and not just an option, you have an opportunity that few clergy have in a lifetime. You have the opportunity to perform a courageous and prophetic act of Ecclesial Disobedience in the spirit of Jesus, Luther, Wesley, Bonhoeffer, Romero, and Martin Luther King, Jr. You can love the United Methodist Church enough to say “No!” to the terrible mistake its leaders are making. You can say to the world: “I will not allow my sanctuary (a safe place, a place of welcome, a place where love and grace triumph) to be transformed even temporarily into a courtroom where one of God’s own children stands trial for the singular reason of accepting her sexual orientation as God’s gift and celebrating that gift publicly.” You and your people have never had (nor may ever have again) the opportunity to bear witness to the love of Christ on such a grand scale as the opportunity you have on March 17, 2004.

Imagine the Christian witness you would perform if you and your people simply refuse to allow your sanctuary to be desecrated by the trial. Your “pray-in” or “sit-in” or “blockade” would be an act of relentless nonviolent resistance to injustice in the spirit of Jesus, Gandhi and King. In explaining to the media why you have taken this stand, you will have an opportunity to define, better yet to live out the Gospel in a rare and wonderful way. Some of the young people in your church are probably wearing bracelets asking “What Would Jesus Do?” Ask yourself, what would Jesus ask of you at this time? Even if you are still unsure about your personal views on sexual orientation, by refusing to allow your Church to be used in this way, you would be able to proclaim that “Whatever your views, all God’s children are welcome at Bothell UMC.” I envy you your predicament. It isn’t often that a follower of Christ is given an opportunity to share such a prophetic witness.

Volunteers from Soulforce offer our services to support your prophetic act. At this moment, we are preparing to conduct a Civil Disobedience (we prefer “This Obedience”) to blockade your church, to keep the bishop and the jury pool from even entering it on March 17. We see this trial as an opportunity to live out the life of Christ before the people of Greater Seattle and the nation by simply saying with our bodies that we cannot allow a Christian Church to be misused in this way. We will stand in the Spirit of Christ for justice and mercy and truth even if it means arrest and time in jail.

Whatever your decision, we welcome members of your staff and congregation, as we sincerely welcome you, to train with us in the principles of relentless nonviolent resistance on Tuesday night, March 16, and to stand with us on Wednesday, March 17. Remember, you and your people can protest with us without also risking arrest. At the UMC trial of Jimmy Creech in 1999, we thought Soulforce volunteers would stand alone in blocking Bishop Grove and the jury pool from entering the sanctuary in Grand Island. In fact, at the last very last minute UMC pastors and their wives from all across Nebraska stood with us (and choose to be arrested with us) as well. We are determined to conduct ourselves in the spirit of love and reconciliation and will do everything in our power to avoid causing you or your congregation embarrassment, fear, or anger. We will coordinate our Direct Action with your staff, the bishops, and your local police department. But we cannot let this trial take place without doing our best to stop it.

I would be honored to discuss this matter with you by phone or email. I would fly to Seattle and visit with you at Bothell UMC to discuss this with you anytime between now and March 16. Because we have the good of your Church and of Christ’s church in mind, we are open to all options, but we will not be persuaded to stand-by in a silent protest vigil while this trial takes place. The trial itself is a monumental act of injustice and must be protested even before it begins.

Sincerely,

Mel White, Executive Director
Soulforce

Copies also emailed to members of the staff of Bothell United Methodist Church

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