In an open letter to Christians in Africa, the Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell pleads for an end to use of the Bible as a justification for discrimination against LGBTI people, just as it was used to justify racism and slavery. Caldwell is an African-American former civil rights activist with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a retired United Methodist minister.
An African-American pastor’s letter to African Christians
Dear African United Methodists and All Christians in Africa,
My name is Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell, I was born 81 years ago in the state of North Carolina in the USA. I was born at a time when we who are black in the USA were segregated because of our race. There were Methodist Churches, Colleges and Seminaries that I could not attend because of my race.
My black sisters in brothers in Africa, you in Africa and those of us in the USA and the America’s were colonized, enslaved, racially segregated, lynched, and mistreated by some Christians because they believed that these verses in Scripture meant that we who are black were cursed by “Noah’s Curse.” This is the Scripture from Genesis 9: 24-27 from the Good News Bible that was misinterpreted to punish blacks in Africa and blacks in the Americas:
“When Noah sobered up and learned what his youngest son had done to him, he said, ‘A curse on Canaan! He will be a slave to his brothers. Give praise to the Lord, the God of Shem! Canaan will be the slave of Shem. May God cause Japheth to increase! May his descendants live with the people of Shem! Canaan will be the slave of Japheth.”
My grandfather who was born on a slave plantation, a devout Christian, explained to me why this Scripture was used to punish blacks. He said that in order to colonize and enslave blacks, some Christians said, “The exposure of Noah’s drunken nakedness was the ‘blackest of sins’ and thus it applied to the sinfulness of blacks.” How many millions of black people in Africa, the USA, the America’s and the world have been punished because of their race, because of the misinterpretation and misuse of this Scripture?
My sisters and brothers, the God in whom I believe, who in Jesus expressed the love that is of and in God, does not sanction the misuse of Scripture to punish blacks, and/or homosexuals who are loving relationships with a person of the same sex. In the USA, we call our sisters and brothers who are homosexual, Same-Gender-Loving (SGL) persons. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said; “I will not follow a God who is a homophobic” (One who hates homosexuals).
I do not believe we who are black would follow a God who sanctions the misuse of Scripture to punish blacks. That kind of God would be an anti-black racist! And, I believe that when all of us prayerfully reflect on our brothers and sisters who are same gender loving, the use of Scripture to punish, segregate and separate and hurt and harm them, is an ABOMINATION before God!
Many of us in the USA and I am sure in Africa believe the major issues facing the Church in the world are economic and educational poverty. The greed that makes it possible for some in the world to have much, much, more than they need in income and possessions, and the many to have much, much less in income and possessions, is a disappointment to God.
I, as an African-American Christian, grieve as I witness the impact Ebola has had in Africa. I have shed tears as I have read of the deaths caused by terrorism, and the capturing of girls in Africa. It is time that Christians around the world unite to confront the evils of economic and educational inequality, rather than in the 21st century engaging in policies and practices that harm and hurt homosexuals and those of us who are their supporters.
In 1985, I was one of the many persons arrested outside the South African Embassy protesting apartheid. My first trip to Africa was in 1971 to participate in an African and African-American gathering of church leaders in Tanzania. During that visit I was able to visit Kenya and Ethiopia. While in Ethiopia as we stayed at the Ghion Imperial Hotel in Addis Ababa, I looked out of my window one morning and saw Emperior Haile Selassie feeding his horses at a nearby stable! Africa for many African-Americans is our “Motherland.”Many of us who are Christian participate in Kwaanza celebrations as a way to remember a bit of the culture and principles that have an African origin.
Since that first trip to Africa in 1971, I have returned to visit Liberia to visit Methodist Missions, to Zimbabwe with my wife of 57 years, to volunteer at Africa University, to South Africa, and to a meeting in Kenya of Methodists from around the world at the World Methodist Conference.
My African United Methodists colleagues, next year, we United Methodists will hold our General Conference in the USA. In the past as the Conference has voted to punish LGBT persons, same-gender-loving couples, and clergy who perform marriage and union services for same-gender-loving couples. One of the things that was said over and over again:
“We cannot change this language and legislation because the African delegates would be offended.”
I do not believe African United Methodists want to be identified by their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews as Christians who voted to punish homosexuals and those of us who are their allies, while issues of poverty, powerlessness and terrorism exist unchecked in Africa, the USA and the world.
One prominent Baptist leader in the USA says that if we acknowledge that our use of the Bible to forbid same-sex marriage is in error, this will mean, “…the loss of confidence in the Bible.” But we who are black and Christian have not lost confidence in the Bible, even though some Christians have misused the Bible to colonize, enslave and racially segregate us because we are black.”
Therefore, let us who are black United Methodists in Africa, the USA and the world, with our sisters and brothers of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, express our confidence in a loving God who expressed that love in Jesus, by changing our anti-homosexual language and legislation in our United Methodist Book of Discipline.
Unfortunately, some have used the Bible, to hurt and harm Jews, women, blacks and even left-handed people, and we have learned that was wrong! The Bible has not changed, but our interpretations and use of it have.
More and young people around the world are turning their backs on Christians and our Bible, because we have misused the Bible to punish LGBTQ persons rather than to love them and urge them, in the name of God, to love themselves. Let us as United Methodists and all Christians, preach, teach and give witness to God’s love, and cease misusing the Bible to punish rather than embrace, love and affirm.
There is one song that our 10-year-old granddaughter loves to sing with me, even though she says to me, “Papa Cane” (Because I use a cane) you don’t sing too good.” It is:
“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
“Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong.
“Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.
“Yes, Jesus loves me, for the Bible tells me so.”
May the United Methodist General Conference of 2016 proclaim the love of Jesus; a love that belongs to ALL of us, and not just some of us!
Your brother who is proud of his Christian faith and his African ancestry, Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell
A former United Methodist Pastor, District Superintendent, and Staff member of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. A “foot soldier” who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King received his Ph.D and Rev. Gilbert Caldwell his M.Div degree, from Boston University School of Theology. They first met at the school in 1958.
- Stop Twisting Scripture to Justify Hate — Methodist Preacher (Kuchu Times)
- Rev. Gil Caldwell, a ‘foot soldier’ for civil rights, turns his eye to LGBT rights (Washington Post)
- African-American plea to summit: Shun anti-gay bigotry (76crimes.com)
- African-American plea: Uganda wasn’t freed to jail gays (76crimes.com)
- Civil Rights worker seeks an end to anti-gay hatred in Africa (76crimes.com)
- African-American pastors’ Africa tour seeks end to anti-gay bias (76crimes.com)
- Scott Lively, US anti-gay evangelist to stand trial (76crimes.com)