In an open letter to Christians belonging to the United Methodist Church in Africa, the Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell pleads for a vote to end church-authorized discrimination against LGBTI people. Caldwell is an African-American former civil rights activist with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a retired United Methodist minister. He hopes discussion of the issue will re-shape the denomination’s conversation as it prepares for its General Conference in May 2016. The United Methodist Church is one of the world’s largest Protestant denominations.
An “Open Letter” to African United Methodist delegates, laypersons, clergy and bishops who will be attending the United Methodist General Conference in the U.S.A. in the spring of 2016
Some of my colleagues whom I deeply respect, but with whom I disagree, are again expecting you to support the anti-gay legislation and language of the United Methodist Church that results from this phrase in our United Methodist Book of Discipline: “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” These colleagues in the past have urged and encouraged you to support the anti-gay language and legislation of our denomination as an act of evangelical and traditional faith. They believe that to do this is to express a commitment to Scripture. And they are expecting you in 2016 to vote as you have in the past.
I, and many United Methodists, pray and hope that “In the name of Jesus” you will vote to express and affirm “The love of Jesus” by voting to urge the United Methodist Church to affirm that the love that same-gender-loving persons have for each other can be an expression of the love that God has revealed in Jesus.
Why do I as a soon-to-be 82-year-old African-American United Methodist clergyman suggest this?
I have seen how God’s love as expressed through Jesus has overcome the anti-black/black phobia language, legislation and action of the Methodist Church in what is now the United Methodist Church. My United Methodist brothers and sisters in Africa, you know that there was a time in Methodism when slavery/the enslavement of blacks, as well as the segregation of blacks, was seen by some Methodists as being supported by Scripture. Let me remind you of our Methodist, anti-black history.
The African Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Zion denominations were formed by blacks who could no longer accept the anti-black practices of the Methodist Church. The debates about the slavery of blacks were so intense that some white Methodists who believed in slavery left the Methodist Church in 1844 to form the Methodist Episcopal Church South. And, in 1939 at a “Unification Conference” called to unite three branches of Methodism, the racially segregated Central Jurisdiction was formed in order to include, yet segregate, most of the black Methodist clergy, lay people, and their churches.
The United Methodist Church was founded in 1968, and it in its language and legislation displaced language and legislation that had justified the enslavement and segregation of blacks as being approved by the Bible/Scripture. But, in 1972, the United Methodist Church that had rid itself of anti-black language and legislation, introduced language and legislation that was anti-lesbian and anti-gay persons.
How can any of us who are African or African-American vote to separate and segregate LGBT persons in the United Methodist Church as we were once separated and segregated in the Methodist Church?
I was honored to be one of the African-American clergymen who appeared in the film, “Love Heals Homophobia.” Thanks to Linda Miles, I was invited to participate in the filming by Ed Breeding of this magnificent film. [The trailer for that film is available on YouTube.] And, she has introduced me to “76 Crimes” where some of my writings have appeared. I participated in all of the national Civil Rights Movement demonstrations led by Martin Luther King, from a Prayer Pilgrimage in Washington, D.C., in 1957, the Selma-to-Montgomery March in 1965 and, after his assassination, the Poor Peoples Campaign in Washington in 1968. I have seen first-hand how Martin Luther King and other persons of faith have, through an expression of
love that became justice, transformed racial justice in the United States for the better.
Many of us who are African-Americans describe the continent of Africa as our Motherland. I first visited the African continent in 1971, and since then have made six visits.
I was arrested protesting the racism of apartheid outside the South African Embassy in Washington in 1985. I cannot imagine that United Methodist delegates from Africa to the 2016 United Methodist General Conference would again support a form of United Methodist Church apartheid against our brothers and sisters who are gay and lesbian “in the name of Jesus and of Scripture.”
During the height of apartheid, a black South African preacher said this: “My fear is that by the time white persons get around to loving those of us who are black, we shall have gotten around to hating them.” It is time that we who are persons of faith who are heterosexual and not homosexual begin to imagine, “What if I were lesbian and gay?” We would have known the fear caused by the
verbal and physical violence that some inflict upon homosexuals “in the names of Scripture and Jesus.” We would wonder, “Why do Christians who are heterosexual hate those of us who are homosexual so much?”
Our Scriptures say, “God so loved the world that he sent Jesus….” We United Methodists believe the words of Wesley, “The world is my Parish.” May that understanding of God in Jesus, shape the voting of the African delegates to the 2016 United Methodist General Conference and the voting of all of the delegates. Amen and Amen!
Rev. Gilbert “Gil” H. Caldwell
Asbury Park, New Jersey, USA
- Christian plea to Africa: Stop using Bible as tool for hate (76crimes.com)
- 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)