December 4, 1999
Two weeks have past since the trial in Grand Island, Nebraska. While I still need more time to assess the significance and consequences of the guilty verdict and the penalty, both for me personally and for the movement toward justice and community of which all of us are a part, there are a few things I am clear about and want to share with you now.
First, I am immensely grateful for the support you gave to me, and for the witness that you made in various ways around the country on behalf of justice and to affirm the dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.
I wish I had some adequate and personal way to say to each of you, "Thank you!" Your support strengthened and empowered me. I never felt alone. I was always clear that I was only one small part of a larger faithful community journeying together in this movement of God in history. You are for me the sign of our Easter faith, confirming our hope that justice, compassion and truth will prevail over bigotry, injustice and death.
The role that Soulforce played in exposing the truth about the trial was extremely important. The Church wanted to reduce the trial to simply holding me accountable as a law breaker. You folks made that reduction impossible. You made it clear that the trial was about the oppression and persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons by The United Methodist Church. This was a gift to the movement. You opened the door and shown light into the Church’s closet of shame. You did this with your very bodies, with dignity, integrity and courage. No one else was willing to take the direct action that you took. What you did was historic!
The trial brought to an end a twenty-nine year relationship that I have had with The United Methodist Church as an ordained minister. The ordination that was taken from me by the jury was given to me by The United Methodist Church. It belong to the Church and the Church had a right to take it back. It was not mine to claim; it is not an entitlement. That is the basic meaning of ordained ministry.
However, the ordination that preceded it and cannot be reclaimed by The United Methodist Church is the one that came with my baptism, and the one confirmed by my call to ministry. These belong to me still, and no institution, jury or person has the authority or power to take them away. I will continue to honor and live out this ordination in all that I do.
This is not to say that what the Church revoked was unimportant to me. There is nothing I love more than being a pastor of a congregation. I know that I cannot be a United Methodist pastor now. I will not dwell on it, but be assured that I grieve what has been taken from me.
But, I grieve more for those who are being rejected, oppressed and persecuted by The United Methodist Church because of who they are and because of who they love. The ordination that has been taken from me is one that The United Methodist Church has routinely denied and withdrawn from Gay people long before it was officially required to do so in 1984. Many gifted persons called by God have been denied ordination because of their sexual orientation. Others have been denied fellowship, if not membership in the UMC. Many have been spiritually and psychologically abused by vicious judgment and condemnation. I am only a casualty of the Church’s bigotry against bisexual, lesbian, gay and transgender persons. They are the true victims and martyrs. I have been punished only for what I’ve done. They are punished for who they are and who they love. The difference is profound. My loss and pain trifles in comparison.
I also grieve for The United Methodist Church. It has wounded and crippled itself with bigotry, legalism and fear. Until these impediments are purged from its soul, The United Methodist Church cannot speak authentically of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Every act and testimony toward that end will be smudged with the evil of its prejudice and persecution of Gay people. We may be witnessing its death, at least the death of the Church we have loved and served. We can mourn the Church that dies; but, we cannot hold on to it and keep it alive if it’s soul is dead. Instead, we must look for the new reality of God’s presence in the world, the new expression and experience of Christ’s body.
I believe it is important to understand my trial, along with Greg’s trial and the judicial process against the Sacramento 68 in the California-Nevada Annual Conference, as resistance within the Church to the movement of God toward Jesus’ vision of an inclusive and just community. The trial resisted but did not end the movement. Rather, it helped to bring clarity and definition to it. It was not axial, but only another movement in the redemptive process of God. It could be seen as a defeat, The UMC’s further fall from grace, or it can be seen as a painful event that opens up new possibilities for change toward the new thing God is doing. I believe it is the latter. I believe there is no way that God’s movement toward justice, freedom, dignity and community can be successfully resisted and denied.
I don’t feel defeated. I am now among the laity of The United Methodist Church, called to the same ministry I’ve always been called to honor, called to "resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves." Called "[a]ccording to the grace given to [me, to] remain [a] faithful member of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representative in the world." (from the baptismal covenant of the United Methodist Church) It makes no sense to me to leave one habitation of the Christian Church for another, just so I can have the institutional favor and privilege of ordination. When I was ordained, it was my privilege to serve the laity. It is now my honor to serve with the laity.
In practical terms, I intend to become a member of a local United Methodist Church. I intend to complete the book I’ve started. It will include the 2000 General Conference, so I have at least another year of work on it ahead of me. I will continue to accept speaking invitations. And, I intend to support the work of Soulforce, the Coalition (MFSA, RCP, IATC and Affirmation) in its effort to affect change at the General Conference, and to support the Reconciling United Methodists in North Carolina. And as time passes, I know God will call me to other ministries I’ve not imagined.
God bless you! The journey continues, and we continue together!
Love and peace,