Thursday, April 17, 2008

An Open Letter to Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker: Only One Table

Dear Bishop Whitaker,

In conclusion, I want to thank you for listening to my testimony in this week of preparation for General Conference. Thank you for your public appeal for commentary on your essay “The Church and Homosexuality.” My comments are a response to your invitation to hear the reflections of the Christian community regarding your essay.
I do not speak as a United Methodist. I do speak, however, as someone whose life and vocation have been strongly influenced by the Wesleyan tradition, and who has served in a leadership capacity at two United Methodist institutions. I speak as well out of an experience of gross injustice at a United Methodist institution under your pastoral charge.
In discerning God’s will in our lives, we must speak from where we are placed—by biological inheritance, by economic structures beyond our control, by social and ecclesial structures, and so on. For many of us, including those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered, the place to which the churches relegate us is a place of second-class citizenship. We are invited to partake of crumbs at the lesser table while other believers feast at the great table.
Being placed in marginal positions, being subject to injustice, certainly does not automatically make us holy. The experience of repeated injustice can cause us to be bitter and angry. If we do not learn to let our justifiable anger at injustice enter the depths of our soul, and be transformed there into a passion for justice for all God’s creatures—and, in particular, for all subject to injustice—our anger can eat us up.
For some of us, finding ways to speak out about our injustice, to make links between the injustice we have experienced and that experienced by other communities subject to historical marginalization, is a way of trying to respond redemptively to the place offered us. We hope, in recounting our painful experiences, to offer the church in return the opportunity to transform injustice into mercy. We hope to make the passage from bitterness to redemptive love for all in our own lives, by offering our reflections as honestly as possible to the Christian community.
Thank you for taking these reflections into your heart prior to the upcoming General Conference. I hope to have provoked you to give consideration to at least one overriding concern: this is the recognition that, in order to be effective and compelling as it challenges social injustice everywhere in the world, the church cannot itself practice injustice. Acts of injustice within the church and its institutions radically undercut the church’s effectiveness, as it offers the world the redemptive love of Christ, in which justice and mercy meet.
I read yesterday an interesting reflection on the fact that, in the past two weeks, two prominent men representing the contemporary church have been in the United States. As Hilary Rosen’s Huffington Post article entitled “I Am a Papal Party Pooper” notes, just prior to the current visit of Pope Benedict XVI to our country, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was among us (see
The article reflects on the very different message these two men offer gay and lesbian human beings. On the one hand, Benedict offers a teaching centered on the proposition that gay and lesbian human beings are intrinsically disordered in our very natures. Many of us who are gay and lesbian Catholics have rejected that teaching, since we do not experience ourselves as disordered. To the contrary, we experience our nature, including our sexual orientation, as part of the inestimable artisanship of the Creator God, who has chosen to fill the world with many different types of human beings, to mirror the tremendous diversity within the Creator’s own nature.
We reject the tag of “intrinsic disorder” as well because, in dehumanizing us, it implicitly justifies discrimination against us. Just as in the United Methodist Church and some of its institutions, in my church, the Catholic Church, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered human beings are subject to many forms of discrimination. In the Catholic Church as in the United Methodist Church, we are bidden to sit at the lesser table where crumbs are handed out, and not the one great table the church offers to all believers.
Archbishop Tutu offers a radically different word to gay and lesbian believers. He speaks to our hearts and to our experiences of injustice and exclusion. He speaks prophetically. In listening to him, we hear the church offering us the redemptive love of Christ—an unconditional love that encompasses all of creation. Out of his own struggle with draconian structures of racial injustice, he has come to name homophobia as a new form of apartheid. He tells the church that if it offers a homophobic God to the world, the world will not find the message of redemption in the image of God offered to the world.
Archbishop Tutu challenges the church to stand against savage injustice towards gay and lesbian believers, just as it has stood against slavery, segregation/apartheid, and the subordination of women to men.
Which of the two speaks for the future of Christianity? For those of who are LGBT, the answer is plain: we cannot see the face of God in the word the Pope offers us; we do see the face of God in the word Archbishop Tutu offers us.
These two radically different words spoken by the contemporary church: they call for believers to take sides, to be engaged, to discern what currents within contemporary culture point to God’s redemptive yes to all of creation.
We who are believers now look back and confess our previous lack of justice and mercy in upholding slavery, segregation, subordination of women. We will, many of us believe, one day look back as well and confess our lack of justice and mercy towards gay and lesbian persons. As Mr. Obama, in challenging the deeply entrenched homophobia of his African-American community, has reminded us, equality is a moral imperative.
To remain credible, the church must respond to that moral imperative. Moral imperatives demand a response . . . .
As you go to General Conference, where once again, God will set this particular moral imperative before United Methodists and will ask for a response, please remember the guidelines for ethical treatment of gay employees I offer in my “Open Letter to the United Methodist Churches” cited in yesterday’s blog. These arise out of my experience at a United Methodist university under your pastoral charge. They are as follows:
1. United Methodist institutions that claim to deplore discrimination against gay employees MUST have non-discrimination policies enshrined in the documents that constitute the institution’s official statements of policy.
2. Official policy statements forbidding discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation are particularly needed in areas in which local laws afford NO legal protection to gay employees, and permit at-will firing without any stated reason on the part of the employer.
3. When United Methodist institutions hire openly gay employees with the full acknowledgment and approval of the governing board of the institution, and when those employees are summarily dismissed without even having received an evaluation of their work, the governing board has an exceedingly strong responsibility to investigate what has happened in the dismissal.
4. United Methodist institutions should not hire openly gay employees who are also couples if the institution is intent on treating the gay couple differently from other married couples in the same institution.
And please remember, as well, the prophetic words of Bishop Kenneth Carder in his Episcopal Address to General Conference, 2004 entitled “The New Creation and the Church’s Mission”:
When we welcome the stranger, extend hospitality to the marginalized, embrace with agape love the despised and rejected, we are pointing toward Christ’s redeemed and reconciled community.... When we live the oneness of the human family that Christ makes possible, we are providing a foretaste of the heavenly banquet when people will come from the north and the south, the east and west and sit at table with Abraham and Sarah, Joseph and Mary, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mary McLeod Bethune, Oscar Romero and Mother Theresa, Desmond Tutu and Albertine Sisulu.

When God’s new heaven and new earth come to completion, justice will permeate all relationships, institutions, and policies. Biblical justice is defined primarily as extending God’s loving righteousness throughout the whole of human existence, enabling the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized, ‘the least of these’ to have access to God’s table of abundance and to flourish as God’s beloved children.

Thank you for listening, Bishop Whitaker. Blessings on your ministry at General Conference. Please feel free to copy and share these reflections with other delegates, as the Spirit moves you. I am happy to have them shared with anyone at all who is concerned to listen to the experience of one gay believer.


Mychals Prayer said...

Here's a bit of support for our Methodist brothers and sisters from the Catholic side of the aisle.

When the Pope visits Ground Zero, he will be greeted by a vigil honoring the late FDNY chaplain, Father Mychal Judge, the first official casualty of the 9/11 attacks.

Mychal was considered a living saint by many even prior to his heroic death. His extraordinary works of compassion have been compared to Mother Teresa (see )

But ironically, Fr. Mychal Judge would be barred from the priesthood today because he was openly gay, though celibate. He often asked, “Is there so much love in the world that we can afford to discriminate against any kind of love ?!”

We have no illusions that this pope is going to change. Rather, we are bearing witness to two truths -- that God created and loves gay people, and that the pope does not speak for the whole Church, the Ecclesia, on these matters.

Indeed, two-thirds of U.S. Catholics-in-the-pews reject the pope’s views and support either civil unions or full marriage rights, according to numerous surveys.

As Fr. Mychal also said, "Don't let the (institutional) church get in the way of your relationship with God."

I'll add something once written by Mother Teresa --
"People are often unreasonable and irrational; forgive them anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous; be happy anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It never was between you and them anyway".

William D. Lindsey said...

Mychals Prayer, thanks for this moving reminder of the witness of Mychal Judge. I highly recommend, too, the film "Saint of 9/11," focusing on his life. I appreciate very much the link to the SaintMychalJudge blog, which is new to me, and look forward to visiting it.