November 7, 1999
Bishops Grove and Martinez
The Jury Pool and All Trial Participants
All Clergy and Laity of the United Methodist Church
Re: The Trial of Jimmy Creech Grand Island, Nebraska, November 17-18, 1999
Brothers and Sisters, Greetings,
There are rumors circulating on the Internet that our Soulforce delegation is coming to Grand Island "to disrupt" or even "to prevent" the trial of Jimmy Creech. I’m sorry that my own ill-chosen words helped launch those rumors. Let me try to explain our Soulforce mission more clearly.
Please understand at the outset that every Soulforce delegate has signed a pledge against violence, as Dr. King would say, "of the heart, the tongue, and the fist." For us "to disrupt" or "to prevent" the trial would be an act of violence. You can trust our Soulforce delegates to be loving and respectful even when we disagree with you. We are sisters and brothers, children of the same Creator. Like you, we are people of faith. Many of us are United Methodists. Reconciliation is our only goal. You do not need to fear our presence in any way.
It is equally true that we do not want this second trial of Jimmy Creech to take place. That choice, however, is yours, not ours. And though you have no legal authority from the United Methodist Church "to prevent" the trial, you have the moral authority "to prevent" it by refusing to walk up those eleven steps into the sanctuary of the Trinity UMC. We know this would take an act of moral courage, the same kind of courage Jimmy Creech has shown, and we beg you to consider it.
You may sincerely believe that this trial is a private affair between Jimmy Creech and the United Methodist Church. Because of a recent ruling of your Judicial Council, in co-officiating in the Holy Union of a gay couple, Jimmy Creech has committed a chargeable offense. We assume that you would prefer not to judge a colleague for his act of conscience, but you feel responsible as a member of the UMC to do your duty if even it is unpleasant.
Consider another possibility. Could it be that refusing to participate in this trial is that rare opportunity for you to perform your own historic act of conscience? Gandhi says "it is as much our moral obligation to refuse to cooperate with evil as it is to cooperate with good." Jimmy Creech has broken an unjust law. Could it be possible that by trying Jimmy you are aiding and abetting the evil consequences of that unjust law and that by refusing to try him you would be taking an historic stand for justice?
We believe that the trial is an act of violence against all God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children. We also see the trial as an act of spiritual violence against Jimmy Creech and all other UMC ministers who are persuaded by their conscience to add their blessing to the same-gender relationships that God has already blessed. You don’t mean to participate in an "act of violence." And I may fail in this attempt to explain why your decision to try Jimmy Creech will have violent consequences in the lives of my sisters and brothers, but I must try.
I’m sure you felt anger and grief when you saw pictures of Fred Phelps carrying his "GOD HATES FAGS" sign at the funeral of Matthew Shepard. For Phelps to misrepresent God and the Scriptures to support his own bigotry was clearly an act of spiritual violence. And though your motives are entirely different from Fred Phelps we are convinced that this trial is just another "GOD HATES FAGS" sign that the media will broadcast to the nation. Only this time, the sign is not carried by an obviously disturbed man but by the United Methodist Church, an historic, well-respected denomination with a history of social concern. Few people are confused when Phelps carries the sign. You risk confusing millions when that sign is in your hands.
Whatever your verdict, this trial will declare that you believe that our loving, faithful, same-gender relationships are condemned by God and by the United Methodist Church. Therefore, the heterosexual majority looking on will conclude that our loving, faithful, same-gender relationships should also be condemned by our friends and families, our pastors, deacons, and elders, by our employers and landlords, and by drunken thugs carrying baseball bats, knives, and guns.
Whatever your verdict, the trial will declare to America’s gay and lesbian minority that you believe that the love we feel for each other is sick and sinful; that what seems natural to us is unnatural in God’s eyes; that we should hide our relationships or forfeit them altogether; and that we should attempt instead to satisfy our God-given need for same-gender intimacy and affection through occasional promiscuous sex rather than loving, committed relationships.
Worse, though you don’t mean to say it, this trial will reinforce the terrible untruth that God doesn’t love the GLBT individuals that God has created. That message cripples the souls of our sisters and brothers and plunges all too many of them into years of self-hatred, worthless "reparative" therapies, loneliness, suffering, and even death. Or it causes many others to leave the church, give up their faith, and end their spiritual journeys altogether.
Whatever your verdict, this trial will declare that people like Jimmy Creech who believe that our loving, committed relationships are ordained and blessed by God are no longer welcome in the United Methodist Church. And it will make unmistakably clear that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people of faith, as well as our friends and families are not really welcome either.
To help prevent these acts of spiritual violence, we are hoping and praying that just one of you (if not all of you) will refuse to walk up those steps on Wednesday morning, November 17, 1999. We will continue to respect you and consider you our brothers and sisters if you decide that we are wrong (and we might be). We certainly will not prevent you from entering Trinity UMC if you decide against us. But, in our sincere effort to help you re-examine your decision one last time before walking through those doors into the courtroom, our Soulforce delegation is drawing three lines in the sand (or on the sidewalk) around the church on Fifth Avenue and Elm Street that you must cross before you can start the trial.
The first line is invisible. It is the line that conscience draws around Trinity UMC. What is your heart saying about this trial and your participation in it? When you silence all of the conflicting voices (including ours) what is the still small voice of God whispering to you about the Trial of Jimmy Creech? If you have any doubt about entering that sanctuary turned tribunal, don’t do it. As a member and employee of the United Methodist Church you are responsible to perform faithfully the tasks assigned you, but in Christ you are urged to place the authority of the Holy Spirit above all earthly powers. Have you heard God’s voice in this matter? If God has told you to try Jimmy Creech then we will not stand in your way; but if you decide that the Holy Spirit is leading you to support Jimmy in his stand for sexual minorities and against this act of spiritual violence, then do not cross the line.
The second line is also invisible. It is the line that the Christian community draws around Trinity UMC. There are literally thousands of loyal UMC members praying for you. There are tens of thousands of GLBT people of faith and our friends and families who are praying that you will not try Jimmy Creech. Do you know anyone who is praying that this trial will take place?
Those who are praying that the trial won’t take place have at least three concerns. First, we are concerned about the present and what this trial will say to the watching world about Christ and His body the church (let alone about the UMC). Second, we are concerned that you are ignoring lessons learned from the past that organized religion has placed on trial all the wrong people and lived to regret it. Third, we are concerned that you are ignoring the future, what history will say about this trial when the UMC finally realizes that same-sex orientation is another mysterious gift from God to be accepted, celebrated, and lived with integrity. If you have considered the past, the present, and the future implications of this trial and still decide to try Jimmy Creech, we will not stand in your way; but if you decide that you cannot add your name to this historic event, then do not cross the line.
The third invisible line is the line that Christ draws around Trinity UMC. We all agree that He is risen and among us, but where will He be standing on Wednesday morning, Nov. 17? We picture him standing outside Trinity UMC with us. Where do you picture him? Would he enter those doors to place Jimmy Creech on trial? Or would he be outside protesting this event? Jesus was violent just once in His life when he drove the moneychangers from the temple. To Jesus, God’s house was a house of prayer for the outcasts. His dream was and is the same for your church and for mine. Would He use that sacred space that was ordained as a place of prayer for the outcast to try Jimmy Creech, the outcast’s friend? It’s very popular these days to ask "What would Jesus do?" It’s a lot harder to do it.
Because we are convinced that Jesus would not enter Trinity UMC to place Jimmy Creech on trial for blessing a relationship that God has already blessed, we are going to make visible with our bodies that line that Jesus draws.
On Tuesday evening, November 16, at 7PM at the Holiday Inn on Locust in Grand Island, Nebraska, we are going to experience the exact same Holy Union that has led to this tragic and traumatic trial. Our "renewal of vows as a witness" will be co-officiated by the Rev. Jimmy Creech and will include the same two gay men who took their vows that night, the same liturgy and music, even the same flowers and unity candle. You are invited to see for yourself what Jimmy Creech has done. Wouldn’t seeing that Holy Union service help you know whether or not your law is just and whether or not enforcing the law an act of justice? We are inviting the media to be present as well. Unfortunately, we will be holding this sacred service in a banquet room because no church in Grand Island would give us sanctuary for this event.
After that Holy Union service our Soulforce delegation is moving to those same eleven steps that you must climb to try Jimmy Creech. To show our genuine concern that this trial must not take place, we will hold a candlelight worship and vigil on the steps. Then in shifts, we will continue that vigil of concern throughout the entire night.
On Wednesday morning, November 17, as the sun rises, the entire Soulforce delegation will gather on the steps again to make visible the line we feel that Jesus has drawn. Exactly one hour before the trial is scheduled to begin two of our delegates will lock arms at the bottom of the stairway. The Chief of Police in Grand Island has advised that after locking their arms for one minute blocking the entrance symbolically (there will still be room for you to pass), that couple will be arrested. Immediately, another couple will take their place.
For one hour the symbolic civil disobedience and the arrests will continue. Our Soulforce action will be in total silence. We respect your decision either way and will not shame, coerce, or intimidate you if you make your way up the stairs. However, if you lock arms with us in our symbolic act and refuse to take those eleven steps into history, we will celebrate your courage and bless your name.
You may join us in being arrested or just join the line of those who stand with us in solidarity. A city official will issue a $48 fine. Once you’ve paid your fine, you will be released on the spot. There will be no trip to jail. The arrest will not appear on any official record but the record you carry in your heart. After you have paid your fine, please join us for our continuing vigil on the steps.
If the trial is convened we will continue our candlelight vigil until it is adjourned. If Jimmy Creech is found guilty, our last Soulforce act will be to put on black armbands that demonstrate our grief and signal a period of mourning for the United Methodist Church. We will pray one last prayer that truth will finally conquer untruth in your midst. Then we will carry our candles from Trinity United Methodist Church in a slow, silent procession that symbolizes to us the Holy Spirit’s departure from that place. How can Christ remain where any of God’s children are no longer welcome? And though we would grieve the departure of the Holy Spirit from the United Methodist Church, we would also clearly demonstrate not resignation but resolve to continue to work for full acceptance by the UMC of God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children and for your blessing of our gay and lesbian relationships.
One last time we beg you to exercise your individual moral right to help us prevent this trial. Lock arms with us. Be arrested or stand in solidarity with us. Write your check for bail. Save the cancelled check. And one day when the United Methodist Church discovers what science, history, and personal experience have already taught us that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people are God’s children, too; one day when the UMC can celebrate with us our love for each other and God’s blessing on that love; one day when we are welcomed home to the churches of our childhood and granted all the sacraments of the church once again, you can take out that cancelled check and show it to your lesbian granddaughter or gay grandson and say proudly, "I’m glad I didn’t go up those steps." We are betting our souls on the fact that one day, Christ himself will answer, "I’m glad, too."
and the People of Soulforce