Jeanne Knepper delivered these remarks at the AMAR Coalition Press Conference on Wednesday, May 3, 2000
The United Methodist Church has encoded a set of Special Prohibitions in its Discipline and polity. These prohibitions, aimed at Lesbians and Gay men, derive from a pinched understanding of Scripture and a narrow grasp of Christian teaching.
AMAR's first legislative priority for the General Conference is that it remove the language "Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching," from the United Methodist Social Principles Statement.
The statement suggests that all Christian teaching about homosexuality can be found in a handful of disputed verses, bypassing the great Biblical themes of compassion, justice, inclusion, and commitment to the welfare of the marginalized. Besides distorting Biblical witness, it ignores the testimonies of science and the witness of so many faithful Christians, Gay and straight alike, including many delegates to this General Conference. There is not a single Christian teaching about homosexuality - there are many teachings, and they differ widely. If it were only inaccurate, there would be reason enough to delete this language. It is not, however, a simple question of accuracy. This statement in the Social Principles can be directly linked to horrible violence against the spirits and lives of Lesbians, Gay men, Bisexuals and Transgendered people. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publication states, "Religion presents another risk factor in Gay youth suicide because of the depiction of homosexuality as a sin and the reliance of families on the church for understanding homosexuality.... Family religious beliefs can be a primary reason for parents forcing youth to leave home if a homosexual orientation is seen as incompatible with Christian teachings [The very language we use]. These beliefs can also create unresolvable internal conflicts for Gay youth.... They may feel wicked and condemned to hell and attempt suicide in despair of ever obtaining redemption." Thirty percent of all teen suicides are committed by Lesbian and Gay youth.
Ninety percent of adult Gay men and Lesbians have been harassed, assaulted or murdered because of their sexual orientation Forty percent of the people who harass Gay men or Lesbians make specific references to religion, God or the Bible during their assaults. United Methodists must take their share of responsibility for nurturing this climate of violence - a climate the church nurtures with this incompatibility language.
Beyond this, we ask The United Methodist Church to remove the Special Prohibitions - United Methodism's Gay "Jim Crow" laws--that flow from this mistaken representation of Christian teaching. It is discriminatory and wrong for the church to maintain laws that bar gay men and lesbians from following their calls into ministry or from sharing their life commitments with their faith communities. We ask United Methodism to break away from its pattern of discrimination and celebrate the lives, loves and calls of its faithful Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered members.
Gary David Comstock, Violence Against Lesbians and Gay
Men. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.
Gary Remafedi, MD. Death by Denial: Studies of Suicide in Gay and Lesbian Teenagers. Boston: Allyson Publications, 1994.
It was a difficult thing to listen to our brother Bishop Rev. Dr. Arthur F. Kulah. Kulah maligned us during worship on Wednesday. For those who did not hear him, Bishop Kulah argued that the church is called to make disciples who will obey the authority of the Bible, but that homosexuals, at Satan's behest, choose to disobey that authority, setting themselves outside of Christianity. When the Church pays attention to them [our] demands, it abuses the authority of the Bible, which speaks unequivocally against homosexuality. "To ordain homosexuals," Bishop Kulah proclaimed, "is to ruin the hearts and lives of the church and hence the world."
We've heard this argument before, directed at us, and, with small changes, at our black brothers and sisters, at our clergy woman sisters, at people who have been enslaved, shut out or judged "indecent" [Bishop Kulah's words] for some God-given aspect of their identity.
We hope that Bishop Kulah, and those who would agree with his analysis, will go on to think long and hard about his own conclusion: When you obey God, you would love the unlovable. When you obey God, you would forgive the unforgivable. When you obey God, as King put it, you would not judge people on the color of their skin [or, we add, the direction of their sexual orientation] but by the content of their character.
Meanwhile, we listen hard for a pastoral word of love, welcome, or support from those who preach to us at General Conference. How long, oh Lord?
Web Spinner's Note: Bishop Kulah's sermon is available in HTML format on the Confessing
Movements web site and in PDF Format on the official General Conference web site.
The AMAR coalition is here! We're hard at work to help the United Methodist Church become welcoming-in policy and practice-of gay, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) persons and their families. The coalition groups are involved in significant strategies and witnesses at General Conference. This column will appear daily in the publications of the coalition member groups to keep you informed of our progress to influence legislation.
On Tuesday, the coalition hosted a luncheon to introduce itself to the press. Over 50 people attended the briefing, including religious and secular reporters, and coalition volunteers and supporters. The meeting highlighted the newest member of the coalition: United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church. Gil Caldwell, pastor of Park Hill UMC in Denver, and Dan Vera, Field Coordinator of RCP, spearheaded the formation of this group, which already includes over 60 persons of color from around the world who have signed a statement calling the church to end the injurious policies toward GLBT persons.
Pastor Caldwell thanked the coalition for its formation and for reaching out to include people of color who too often have been ignored by liberal movements within the church. He related the African American community's struggle for inclusion to the GLBT struggle. Yet, Rev. Caldwell also noted the irony of some African Americans who use scripture as a basis for discrimination just as it has been used against them to justify racism. The time has come, he said, to answer the question: What would Jesus do?
"Those who are theologically sophisticated may think that question is too simple," Pastor Caldwell said. "But we as a church need to ask the question. What in fact would this Jesus of history do? I believe that our statement speaks to that in a very real way."
Other coalition coordinating team members also
addressed the press. The coalition consists of the
following groups-Affirmation: United Methodists for
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns,
Methodist Federation for Social Action, The
Reconciling Congregation Program and United Methodists
of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church. The statement
released by the United Methodists of Color group is
available for signing by clergy and laity of color in
the Dorothy Fuldheim Room at the Sheraton Hotel.
Yesterday's Bishop Arthur Kulah statement that the global church does not accept homosexuality - that it's a United States issue - brought many responses at the AMAR press conference on Wednesday.
Truly we know this is our church and there are Bishops who weep at the pain that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) people, and their families and friends feel from the Church. "One white person does not speak for all the white race," said Jeanne Knepper, Co-spokesperson for Affirmation at an AMAR press conference, "as one black person or bishop does not speak for all the black race."
At the same press event, Marilyn Alexander of Reconciling Congregation Program said there are "LGBT people in [other] countries and we're concerned for these people. Sometime they face death just for who they are. The global church must realize it is a life and death issue, not just a theological issue."
AMAR is serious about remaining in connection according to Rev. Greg Dell. The division of the United Methodist Church by nations or as a domination is much like a family that fights but stays together. Many people of color, whites, gay and straight are already disappearing from the church. "We have lost folks. We hurt them. We push them out," said Dell.
Dan Vera and Rev. Gil Caldwell of the United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church refer to their statement as a living document. People who sign their names to it are invited to define themselves. The statement is in the spirit of inclusiveness. "It gives voice to where silence has been," said Vera.
Rev. Caldwell spoke of black Bishop Tutu seeing the global church in a different way from Bishop Kulah. "Bishop Tutu sees a connection to homosexuality and the struggle of South Africa," viewed Caldwell. Rev. Caldwell's example was based on the response of his own community within the civil rights of the 60's. "Back on April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out against the Viet Nam War," continued Caldwell, "Black civil right leaders asked King why we were dealing with this issue? Because there is a connection." Dan Vera added, "There are common stories, common singing, common scenes in what to do in the work in the church."
Nestor Gerente, a Filipino signer of the document, said that outside the U.S. the homosexual issue is not a priority over other items. "[There's a perception that] allowing civil same-gender marriage threatens heterosexual relationships. That somehow if this is allowed that people may choose homosexuality. But it's not a choice."
We are United Methodist men and women, who love God and know that we are loved by God. We are United Methodists who celebrate the God-given gifts of our ethnicity, our gender, and our sexuality. We are United Methodists who not only acknowledge the historic racism of the church, but also the subtler present day forms of racism and division in our midst. We know this to be true, for we have experienced it as people of color in the church we love. Indeed, our love for the promise of the church has placed us on the forefront of moving the United Methodist Church to a more inclusive place. We are people who have experienced the biblical story of the anawim, "those who have been silenced." Our struggle has been to claim our voice and to transform the church we love into a place where the silenced are heard. We affirm that it has been through this struggle, when the church has lived out the gospel of love and inclusion, that the realm of God's justice has been made manifest.
We remember all too well those voices who said racism was not present in the church. We remember those voices who wielded scripture as a support for division and inequality. We remember the voices who pled patience to inequality by claiming that justice was gradual. We remember the time when silence in the presence of racism was the church's greatest sin.
As persons of color and diverse ethnic backgrounds, we can never forget our long history of struggling to not be erased by a beloved church where silence and spiritual dismemberment were theologically institutionalized. Scripture is the Word of Life, but we intuitively know the history of its use as the Word of Death, to support the sins of colonialism, slavery, racism, and sexism.
We all know Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered [GLBT] people. Seen or unseen, they are vital members of our communities. For many of us, they have been our invisible neighbors, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, cherished members in the community of life. Indeed, we recognize that throughout history, our church and our communities have benefited from the gifts of GLBT people. But in return for their gifts, we have given these brothers and sisters silence or scorn. When they have asked for their name and acknowledgment of their place as worthy members in the family of God, they have been answered with continued overt or subtle forms of spiritual and physical violence.
We can not and will not deny that we recognize in the experiences of our GLBT brothers and sisters the resonance of our own journeys as people of color in the church. We see the truth in the words of Coretta Scott King when she says that the struggles for inclusion of GLBT people are part of the "continuing justice movement" for which Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life, a movement that "thrives on unity and inclusion, not division and exclusion."
We are called to bear witness to the need for our beloved church to do good by its GLBT brothers and sisters. Remembering the voices that told us to be silent or passive, to give up our culture and history in order to be accepted by the dominant white society and church, we reject the idea that GLBT people need to reshape themselves or be "cured" in order to fit in to the dominant heterosexual society and church. Our own experience of silence and erasure has taught us that abandoning identity is spiritual violence.
Remembering the voices who have told us to wait on justice, we dispute the notion that issues of race and nationality are so overwhelming that to fight for another issue of injustice is to water down the movement. For the storehouses of God's justice do not run low, and we must recognize the interconnectedness of all forms of oppression if we are ever to achieve the Kingdom. The realm of God is at hand.
We acknowledge that there may be differences of opinion among us, but this does not require that we wait on justice.
We will not wait on racism.
We will not wait on sexism.
We will not wait on neo-colonialism.
We will not wait on heterosexism.
Inaction is impossible. For in the current climate, where difference is often answered with death, the church is either an instrument of peace, or an instrument of violence. The United Methodist Church must act boldly to end further injury to the Body of Christ.
In the spirit of Justice that has historically called us to move towards wholeness, we prayerfully call the church to accountability.
As of 1 May was signed by: 20 African-Americans, 1 Chinese American, 1 Cuban, 1 Dominican Republic, 7 Filipino descent, 10 Japanese descent, 3 Korean descent, 1 Mexican, 3 Native American, 2 Peruana-American, 3 Puerto Rican, 1 Tongan American
This statement can be read and signed at the AMAR
Hospitality and Resource Room at the Dorothy Fuldheim
Ballroom of the Sheraton City Centre Hotel directly
across the street from the Convention Center. Open
9:00am until 7:00pm daily. [You can also e-mail Dan Vera at email@example.com.]
You are invited to a daily RCP Communion Service on
the Mall outside the front of the Convention Center.
The daily services are at 12:30 PM.
The Affirmation general membership meeting will be 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm Sunday May 7 at the AMAR Hospitality/Resource/Meditation (Dorothy Fuldheim) Room at the Sheraton Cleveland City Center Hotel. The first meeting of the newly elected council will follow.