The Greater NJ Annual Conference will be taking place at the end of this month, and congregations across the conference are preparing along with their appointed lay members and clergy to vote on several important articles of legislation. During conference there will be holy conferencing to hear supportive and opposing views of the legislation and then there will be a vote to adopt or reject. In some cases, there will be modifications to the legislation before a final vote.
Many individuals will be at conference who are not authorized to vote but are there to experience and support our church. I will be attending the conference as a District Lay Servant team member, and as a Public Theology Advocate. I will not be able to vote, but I will be able to lend support and prayer to our conference as we vote on two very important pieces of justice legislation.
You can read all the 2015 Legislation at 2015 Legislation
In future weeks, I will write more about why I’ve chosen to support this legislation. I have also joined the Reconciling Ministries Network to support the efforts to successfully bring legislation like this to the UMC 2016 Conference. You can learn more about the Reconciling Ministries at www.rmnetwork.org
This week, I leave you with this Open Letter from Gilbert H. Caldwell - A Retired Clergy Member of the Rocky Mountain (Denver) Conference, Asbury Park, New Jersey:
An "Open Letter" to the Reconciling Committee of the UMC of Red Bank, New Jersey, and to United Methodists everywhere
To: The Reconciling Committee of The United Methodist Church of Red Bank, New Jersey, Grace and I continue to enjoy and appreciate our membership in the Church and the important presence of the Committee in the Church. It was the reconciling spirit and presence in the UMC of Red Bank, among other things that caused us to become members of the Church. I write this "Open Letter" to you, the Church and to all of the United Methodists of New Jersey, & beyond.
Bishop John Schol in his letter to "Sister and Brother Members of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference" writes this; "In my experience, it is about how we engage each other in our differences that demonstrates our discipleship maturity." It is in that spirit that I ask this question and share some thoughts.
Is God asking us now, to decide whether or not it is Bible or bias that will determine how we respond to the words in our Book of Discipline; "...the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching"?
It is early in the morning as I begin this "Letter" and the 1984 Book of Discipline is on my desk. Rather than search for the current Discipline, I opened the 1984 version of the Discipline and read these words about Scripture; "United Methodists share with all other Christians the conviction that Scripture is the primary source and guideline for doctrine...From...careful handling of Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, believers apply its truth to the circumstances of their own time and place."
One of the benefits of old age, I am 81, I am able, in light of my own history and the history before I was born, to be aware of the truth of James Russell Lowell's words; "New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth." "Time and place", in my own history, and in my reading of history, reveals that at various times the Bible was "used" to justify bias. And, although the content of Bible/Scripture has not changed, our bias-based interpretations and uses of it have.
My grandfather was born on a slave plantation in 1863 in North Carolina. The name Caldwell, the name of the owners of the plantation became his last name. Although John Wesley and Francis Asbury were against slavery, there were Methodists who believed it was sanctioned by Scripture. Asbury in his 1776 Journal asked, "How will the sons of oppression (slavery) answer for their conduct when the great proprietor of all shall call them to account? (From the April 29, 1918 Syracuse University Master's Thesis of my preacher-father, Rev. G. Haven Caldwell).
Today, most Christians would say that it was bias and not Bible that caused some Methodists to discuss, debate and divide because they believed the owning of slaves and slavery in 1844, was Biblically sanctioned.
In 1939 when three branches of Methodism had a "Unification Conference" in Kansas City, (My father was at that Conference), the racially segregated all-black Central Jurisdiction was formed. Many Methodists believed at that time that Bible-based slavery could no longer be sanctioned, but Bible-based racial segregation could. It is now unthinkable for most United Methodists to believe that slavery, racial segregation, prohibitions against interracial marriage, and denying blacks the right to attend "white only Churches" (I have experienced that denial), are justified by the Bible.
And, I remember that before 1956, there were Methodists who believed that Scripture sanctioned prohibitions again the ordination of women. Also, there was a time when some Methodists believed that clergy who were divorced, according to Scripture, ought be denied opportunities for ministry.
Does anyone reading this remember the 1966 song written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, "Alfie" that was sung by Dionne Warwick, "What's it all about, Alfie?". You may ask, "Gil Caldwell, what is this 'Open Letter' all about?"
My response; It is my way of prayerfully expressing the hope that in the name of "...discipleship maturity", (Bishop Schol), United Methodists in New Jersey and throughout United Methodism, in response, not to bits of Scripture, but to the totality of the Biblical Message, as well as to the "new occasions" of the 21st century, will reverse our current UMC anti-gay language and legislation. May delegates to the Greater New Jersey Conference and every Conference in the United Methodist Church, boldly express that it is the practice of classism, racism, sexism, materialism and militarism that are "incompatible with Christian teaching" and not, "the practice of homosexuality".
I realize that "change" for many Christians suggests a disobeying of God, and a denial of Scripture, I believe that "an unwillingness and inability to change", represents disobedience of God and a denial of Scripture.
It is in and through the changes in Methodism that I have listed above, and the changes in my own life, that have deepened my faith and enabled and empowered me to know, "God is not finished with me yet".
And God is not finished with the United Methodist Church yet! May, "What happens in the Annual Conferences of the UMC not just stay there", but be so bold, brave and bodacious that the nation and the world take note.
It is time for the UMC to "make news", not by its Church Trials, by its actions that express the "Inclusive love of Jesus!"
Hallelujah - Alleluia - Amen!
Gilbert H. Caldwell - A Retired Clergy Member of the Rocky Mountain (Denver) Conference, Asbury Park, New Jersey
(This is written in large font, because of my vision issues. Please, consider making the above, all, or excerpts, "go viral" : - ), in the ways you share this on social media. "The hour cometh, and now is !")
This is a justice concern that crosses age, race, gender, and sexual preference boundaries. It has biblical merit and Methodist historical precedence. God is not finished with us yet!
I continue to ask that you pray for me in the role of Public Theology Advocate as I take a stand for Justice. Respond to this blog, or contact me directly, with your thoughts, ideas, and concerns about social justice in the Pascack Valley region.
In Christ's Peace, Lisa