Thursday, August 6, 2009

Open Doors, Hearts, Minds: Continued Hypocrisy of Churches of Main Street USA

And this, too, leaps off the page as I read Stockley's Ruled by Race (pp. 334-335):

As always, some local whites, who out of conscience or religious faith took a stand in favor of integration, paid dearly. Pine Bluff Methodist minister Edward W. Harris incurred the almost total wrath of the First Methodist Church when he preached that the doors of the church should be open to blacks. Secure in the knowledge that he had support of his bishop in anticipation of “Race Relations Sunday” in February 1964, Harris preached a sermon in which he called upon his church

“to change those community patterns in which racial segregation appears, including education, housing, voting, employment and the use of public facilities . . . . To exempt the church from the same requirements is to be guilty of absurdity as well as sin.”

Instead of support from his bishop in the Methodist Church, the official response was total silence. His wife remembers,

“The congregation heard his words . . . and reacted swiftly and furiously. . . . Parishioners who had previously been close and generous to us turned quickly against us, and some did not hesitate to say why.”

. . . The Methodist hierarchy showed its contempt for them by transferring Harris in May to Ferguson Methodist Church in St. Louis with only a week’s notice. Curiously, after six years, Harris was transferred back to Little Rock to serve another church where he “discovered a written policy still on the book in 1970: ‘No Blacks.’ . . . Shocked at the continuance of such a policy, he stayed only two years.”

He preached that the doors of the church should be open. No wonder what the United Methodist Church insists on doing to gay human beings today—even as it professes to have repented of its history of racism and to have learned from that history—seems so much like déjà vu to me now. And no wonder that this “repentance” of the sin of slamming the door in black faces and hounding decent white ministers who called the church to accountability sounds so hollow, when those claiming to repent of it want to repeat precisely the same pattern when it comes to gay human beings.

And when it's the descendants of those in the United Methodist Church who made the lives of Rev. Harris's family a living hell--because he preached that the doors of the church should be open--who are doing the same today to Methodists who want to open the church doors to gays. While claiming that they are doing so to protect African Christians from being discriminated against in the United Methodist communion . . . .