I am a retired United Methodist Pastor. I served churches for 37 years. I am married and we have 7 children, the oldest 37, the youngest 23. As far as I know, 5 of our children are heterosexual, and 2 are gay. The love that was shared among us all before 2 of our boys came out to us is still shared with the same intensity as it ever was.
Concerning that love and acceptance nothing has changed. I am truly grateful for that, but not surprised. Much of the history of that love and devotion was nurtured in The United Methodist Church. The God we have come to know is a God of love, a God who reaches out to all people equally, no matter what; a God whose back is never turned on anyone. Ever. We call it Grace: Love with no strings attached. I was reared in the context of that Grace, learned about it in Sunday School and in my home; preached it for 37 years, have sought to live it out in the home, have taught it to our children, and in all the churches I have served have held it up as among the highest values of life that one can embrace.
I have officiated in the marriage ceremonies of 2 our heterosexual children, and will do so again in July of this year for a third. Our 2 gay sons asked if I would participate in their holy unions, and with the same feeling of honor and joy that I had felt when asked that question by the others, I said without the slightest hesitation, “Of course.”
In April of 1996, in the General Conference in Denver, I felt as if everything had come apart at the seams. Legislation was passed which said that it would be a chargeable offense if I were to “conduct” any ceremonies that celebrated “homosexual unions”. I shouldn’t have been shocked, for since the early 70s legislation had become increasingly discriminatory and exclusionary in regard to gays and lesbians. But I was shocked. Either this was an aberration of what The United Methodist Church really believed, or all that I had learned and had been taught in my denomination all my life was a sham and a farce. But my experience had said it was indeed not a sham and a farce. I had seen what a transforming difference it had made in my life and in the lives of my children.
But, suddenly, 2 of our children had become second class citizens! Regardless of words elsewhere in the Discipline that seemed to suggest otherwise, 2 of my children were not accepted in the church for who they were. They were being excluded. They were being judged as unworthy, along with all other gays and lesbians.
In those words now included in the Discipline, my denomination had shown itself to be unfaithful to the God it had taught me about all my life. Instead of a God of Grace, there now had been placed before us the picture of a narrow, vengeful God of Judgment.
In September of 1996 I participated in the celebration of a “homosexual union”. Two young men, deeply in love, in the presence of family and relatives on both sides, and in the presence of more than 200 celebrants, sealed a covenant relationship that for them was a life long commitment. It was a beautiful service, full of all the values I had been taught in The United Methodist Church throughout my life, values I had taught throughout 37 years of ministry. To turn my back on those values would be to deny who I am, who God is, who my 2 gay children are. I could not do that then, and will not do that, ever.... whatever the consequences may be.
That is why I signed the Statement of Commitment.
Russ Hawkins, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rocky Mountain Annual Conference
now living in Kansas City, MO
April 1, 1998
The picture of Russell Hawkins is courtesy of Russell Hawkins.