November 11, 2004
Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel
14137 Windy Haven Road
Smithburg, MD 21783
Dear Bishop Yeakel,
We write you concerning the upcoming trial of Beth Stroud with respect for both you and for Beth. We know of your courageous stand at the General Conference of 1996 as one of the “Denver 15” Bishops who expressed conscientious dissent from the anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) policies of the United Methodist Church (UMC), and we are aware that you and the other Bishops who joined you paid a price for that stand. We also deeply respect the integrity, courage and truthfulness of Beth Stroud for insisting that this painful trial will be open to the public. We appeal to you and all clergy participants in the trial to heed the voice of conscience and refuse to cooperate with church practices and policies that inflict spiritual violence. If this trial goes forward, Soulforce intends to be present at the trial in solidarity with Beth, her congregation, her friends and family.
We want to alert you, in all candor, that we oppose this trial as an act of spiritual violence against all LGBT persons. It is an act of spiritual violence even if somehow it is possible to acquit Beth. It is spiritual violence because it signals to all LGBT persons, their families and friends that the United Methodist Church considers their most intimate family life, their same gender committed relationships (and, yes, their same gender marriages) to be “chargeable offenses,” “incompatible with Christian teaching” and (according to the official action of the 2004 General Conference) “immorality.” LGBT persons are subjected to spiritual violence when the UMC indicts them in this way, erecting barriers to their spiritual journeys within the Church, even ending their spiritual journeys altogether, and contributing to a generally hostile religious and cultural environment affecting all LGBT persons, their families and loved ones.
We view Beth Stroud’s witness in submitting to this trial as an act of voluntary redemptive suffering. This is a courageous, voluntary act that seeks to expose the violence of the Church and the suffering of LGBT persons in such a way that hearts might be changed, the Church healed, and anti-LGBT violence ended. We hope that hearts will be changed in a way that moves the participants in this trial to refuse to go forward with this act of spiritual violence, and to put an end to such trials once and for all.
We found it moving that Beth, in her sermon of April 27, 2003, compared her relationship to her Annual Conference with her relationship to her family. She shared with us all that it was difficult to come out to her family. Indeed, most LGBT people in our culture find it difficult, if not impossible to come out to their families. It is not at all unheard of for families to reject and cast out their LGBT members, often leaving even their LGBT children homeless. The United Methodist Social Principles have recognized and named as wrong this cultural pattern of rejection by families. In the same sentence the Social Principles implores both families and churches not “to reject or condemn” their lesbian or gay members. Alas, our Book of Discipline is not always consistent with itself – and so it seems to mandate these clergy trials that enact before the world the church’s self-contradictory rejection of LGBT persons. New provisions in the 2004 Discipline defining the chargeable offense of “immorality” may soon lead to trials and expulsions from the church family of lay members as well.
It might have been technically correct that you cited in this case the Judicial Council decision that requires members of a Committee of Investigation who are “unwilling to uphold The Discipline for reasons of conscience or otherwise” to step aside. But surely Luther was fundamentally correct when he famously said “to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.” The Judicial Council and the United Methodist Church cannot be right as long as they require people to go against conscience. Therefore, we appeal to you, Bishop, and all the members of the Trial Court to search your consciences and simply refuse to go forward with this trial. As Gandhi said, “It is as much my duty to refuse to cooperate with evil as it is to cooperate with good.”
Steven E. Webster, Co-chair, Soulforce United Methodist Team
The Rev. Marylee Fithian, Co-chair, Soulforce United Methodist Team
Jimmy Creech, Chairperson, Soulforce Board of Directors
Bishop Peter Weaver
Bishop Marcus Matthews