An Open Letter From Mel White and the People of Soulforce

Promises Soulforce Intervention in Nebraska, Nov. 16-18.

October 10, 1999

To: Bishop William Boyd Grove, Presiding Officer,
The Trial of the Reverend Jimmy Creech,
November 17-18, 1999, Grand Island, Nebraska
To: Bishop Joel Martinez, the United Methodist Bishop for Nebraska and
To: the good people of the United Methodist Church.

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

We beg you, in the name of Jesus, do not allow the trial of the Rev. Jimmy Creech to convene in Grand Island, Nebraska, November 17, 1999. You may sincerely believe that this is a private legal matter between you and one of your clergy who has broken a law. You may be convinced that this is a case of pastoral discipline that is no one’s business but your own. Unfortunately, the whole world knows what is really happening in Grand Island.

This rare church trial is taking place because Jimmy Creech dared to bless the loving relationship of two gay men. By trying him in this public forum you are saying to the nation that you find their loving relationship so offensive that a clergy who offers them God’s blessing should be persecuted and punished to the full extent of church law. With Methodism’s roots planted deep in John and Charles Wesley’s concern for the outcast, how can you try Jimmy Creech for his concern for gay and lesbian people? You are trying a good man for breaking a bad law and it is that bad law that is on trial, not Jimmy Creech.

This trial is another highly visible assault on America’s sexual minorities that will be broadcast to the nation. Every newspaper and newsmagazine report, every radio and television newscast from Grand Island will inadvertently inflame the debate about homosexuality and homosexuals. Televangelists and religious talk-show hosts will use Grand Island to fill the airwaves (and their directmail, fundraising letters) with more false and inflammatory anti-gay rhetoric. Skinheads, white supremacists, militia, Christian Reconstructionists and other extremist groups will have their anti-homosexual bigotry re-enforced. The news will even trickle down to drunken kids with baseball bats.

Whatever your verdict, this trial will further confuse and divide the church of Christ. It will support discrimination in public policy against homosexuals. It will help ruin lives, divide families, and split churches. And it will justify fear, anger, bigotry and acts of violence against us. If you allow this trial to continue, you will break the heart of Christ, bring shame to His body the church, and commit an act of spiritual violence against God’s gay and lesbian children

One day, in the not-too-distant-future, the body of Christ will finally acknowledge the truth about God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children. Why not do it in Grand Island? According to more than one million members of the American Psychological, Sociological, Medical, Pediatric, Psychiatric, and Social Worker Associations the verdict is in. Homosexuality is neither a sickness nor a sin. In 1994 the American Psychological Association summarized a quarter-of-a-century’s scientific and clinical research on homosexuality with these words:

"The research on homosexuality is very clear. Homosexuality is neither mental illness nor moral depravity. It is simply the way a minority of our population expresses human love and sexuality. Study after study documents the mental health of gay men and lesbians. Studies of judgment, stability, reliability, social and vocation adaptiveness all show that gay men and lesbians function every bit as well as heterosexuals."

Although science is still not clear how we are formed, why not take this moment in Grand Island to admit that God has formed us and loves us exactly as we are. Our sexual orientation is simply another human characteristic like the shape of one’s hands or the color of one’s eyes. Unfortunately, the church is always the last to acknowledge scientific truth. It is tragic that you continue to ignore years of scientific, psychological, historic, and even biblical research in our favor. But you cannot ignore what you know in your hearts about us.

Close your eyes and remember the names and faces of the homosexual and bisexual people of faith who have inspired and informed your life. We are your friends and colleagues in the United Methodist Church. You know from personal experience that we love Christ and serve Christ’s body alongside you as pastors, counselors, teachers, musicians, and church administrators. You know that over the centuries as clergy and laity we have given our lives in faithful, creative, and committed service. Please, in the name of Christ, help end the persecution of sexual minorities by the very church we love and so faithfully serve.

Before you place Jimmy Creech on trial again for demonstrating Christ’s love to the sexual outcasts in your midst, dare to consider how history will remember you and your United Methodist denomination for this unconscionable act. For the past two thousand years, the church has tried its martyrs and its heroes for their courageous and prophetic stance. Please, don’t do it again to Jimmy Creech.

For decades courageous individuals and organizations within United Methodism have stood faithfully for the truth about God’s gay children. You have ignored the witness of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, the Reconciling Churches Program, Affirmation and CORNET. You have closed your hearts to appeals on our behalf from Gregory Dell, Leslie Penrose, Jimmy Creech, Jim Lawson, Don Fado, the more than sixty other clergy who stood with him at the holy union in Sacramento, and other courageous clergy and laity around the nation. You have sacrificed dozens of gay and lesbian clergy, demeaned their relationships and pushed them from their United Methodist ministries. You have studied, discussed, and debated endlessly. You have tabled, postponed and delayed. Now you are about to put on trial another United Methodist clergyman who had the courage to act. Be advised. We have no option but to do our best to prevent this trial from taking place.

We are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered people of faith, our friends and families. Many of us are United Methodists. Some of us aren’t. We are committed to the nonviolent "soul force" principles of Jesus, Gandhi, and King. We come to Grand Island, Nebraska, in the spirit of Christ whose last words to us were: "A new commandment give I unto you, that you love one another." This trial is not an act of love. It is an act of spiritual violence against us. And we are determined to show relentless love in response.

To counter that violence we have invited the Reverend Jimmy Creech (and any United Methodist clergy who care to join him) to conduct a same-gender holy union on the eve of the trial, Tuesday, October 16, 1999, in Grand Island, Nebraska. We are inviting gay and lesbian couples who would like to reaffirm their vows to join in that celebration as well.

On Wednesday, October 17, 1999, if you insist on trying Jimmy Creech, we are committed to a nonviolent "Soulforce Direct Action" to prevent the trial from taking place. The endless discussion and debate about homosexuality and the United Methodist Church is going nowhere. Harvey Cox said, "Not to decide is to decide." This trial makes it clear. You have decided that our loving relationships are not worthy to be blessed by the church.

We aren’t coming to Grand Island to ask you to bless our relationships. God does that already. In fact, our loving relationships are God’s gift to us, evidence of God’s presence in our lives. We are coming to Grand Island to prevent you from another act of spiritual violence that demeans, dishonors and discounts our love for each other. In blessing our relationships, Jimmy Creech and the others have refused to obey unjust laws that were created to deny God’s gifts to us. We pray daily that one day you, too, will add your blessing to what God has already done. Until then, we come asking you to stop these acts of spiritual violence against us.

To bishops Grove and Martinez, to the thirty-five member jury pool, and to every trial participant we must add these words. Between now and November 18, the whole world will be watching you. Ask the Spirit of Truth to lead you. Listen to the still small voice of God. Then, have the courage to take your stand against this tragic trial.

On the morning of November 17 stand with us outside the courtroom. Refuse to add your name to this moment of infamy. Link your arms in our arms. Add your voice to our voices. In so doing, you have the opportunity to make glad the heart of Christ, to help heal his wounded body the church, and to prevent another act of spiritual violence against God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children.

Gandhi says, "It is as much my moral obligation to refuse to cooperate with evil as it is to cooperate with good." In our eyes, this trial is an act of spiritual violence against us and thus evil. We cannot be silent any longer. We beg you to intervene. If you had the opportunity to stand between the assassin and those innocent Evangelical teenagers who died in their Fort Worth Baptist Church, you would have risked your life to save them. If you could have placed your body between those drunken kids and Matthew Shepard before they broke his skull and tied him to the fence to die, you would have done it without a second thought.

You are men and women of courage and commitment. If the trial is not convened we will bless your names and celebrate your courage. If you insist on convening the trial, we are prepared to intervene nonviolently. We cannot stand by in grief and silence any longer. This is your chance to place your body between God’s gay and lesbian children and the untruth that leads to their suffering and death. Please, do not enter that courtroom. Hear Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, "You know the law by heart, but you have forgotten the heart of the law: justice, mercy, and truth."

James Russell Lowell wrote these words. We commend them to you:

"Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side. Some great cause, God’s new messiah, offering each the bloom or blight. And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt the darkness and the light."

May God give us all wisdom to know the right and the courage to do it before our "choice goes by forever."

mel white

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