Monday, November 18, 2013

The Witch Trials Continue

It’s a searing reminder that even though we have nearly achieved full inclusion in the life and all the rites of the Episcopal Church, there are still many Christians who have to keep quiet about their identity and their loved ones or lose their faith community. Frank Shaefer, a Methodist minister, today stands trial in Pennsylvania for marrying his gay son.

Seventeen years ago, my sister, a lay reader in the Church of England, preached not at our wedding but at an MCC church the day after our holy union and returned to England to find she was no longer welcome in the parish she served. So many allies like Shaefer and my sister Sue have had their lives devastated because of their acts of courage on our behalf. I am reminded of Jesus’ words, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."

We are grateful for the nearly forty years of prayer and activism that has made the Episcopal Church a (relatively) safe place and in many places an openly welcoming one. It has not been an easy journey, as I discuss in my book A Thorn in the Flesh, and this trial will make many of us remember the Trial of Bishop Righter in 1996. At that point the court decided that there was no "core" doctrine that prevented the ordination of gay or lesbian individuals.

But the Methodist Church does have specific rules, and "Conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies" are still chargeable offences. Any optimism that things might be changing seems to have been demolished by Friday’s statement from the Methodist Council of Bishops actually urging two of their members to take action against Bishop Melvin Talbert for celebrating the wedding of two gay men. 
There are many more within the Methodist Church who are taking the risk, who are engaging in civil disobedience in order to create a church where all people are welcome. You can read some of their stories here. Last Saturday, November 9, Bill Gatewood, and Rich Taylor had their union blessed by 36 Methodist ministers in Philadelphia – the city of brotherly love. Will their bishop take action against all of them?
We salute the courage of our brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church and hope that our journey will be a source of hope for them. Please pray for Pastor Frank Shaefer, on trial today, that his witness and the witness of so many more may bear great fruit.
The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall is the President of Board of Directors, Integrity USA