A changed heart

The history described, of a written conversation with a friend about United Methodist and Biblical language about same sex unions and marriages is factual. A recent conversation with that friend, has led me to write this “imaginary letter” that he might in time write to me. This represents my effort to imagine what it is like to “walk in his skin” as he changes his views about marriage equality.

November 5, 2013

Dear Gil,

You and I have not been in e-mail conversation recently. We first met each other many years ago as colleagues in the United Methodist Church. We had not seen each other, nor talked for a number of years. But, then you and I had began to engage in written conversation in what we both called the “midnight hour”. I compared our conversations like that Nicodemus had with Jesus when “he came to Jesus by night” (John 3: 1). You of course knew that story, but you told me about a song soul singer Wilson Pickett used to sing; “In the midnight hour”. We were amused as we found common meaning in a Biblical story and the words of a secular song.

We began our written conversations again, because you and I differed on the rightness of United Methodist language and legislation in our Book of Discipline that declares “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”.We were more specific in our differences as I support the language and legislation against same sex unions or marriages and the prohibition against UM clergy performing such unions or marriages, and you do not.

We described our written conversations as “midnight hour” conversations, because you told me that some of your gay rights colleagues would not be happy if they knew you were in conversation with me because my support of the Book of Discipline language was well known. And, I told you that some of my anti-gay rights colleagues would not be overly pleased with my “conversation” with you, because you are a well known advocate of gay rights in church and society. Even in the church, despite the Biblical story of “leaving your gift at the altar and going to be reconciled with someone with whom you disagree”, we are cautious about being in “conversation with the enemy”. The enemy being one who has a position on gay rights that differs from our own. We became “midnight hour” conversationalists as we wrote back and forth re; gay rights, including marriage equality in church and society.

We stopped writing each other after about 6 months of correspondence because all we could agree on was, “agreeing to disagree.” But I write this, in the spirit of “midnight conversation”, because I want to share with you that I am beginning to re-evaluate my support for the Book of Discipline language and I wanted to mention my process of re-evaluation to you. I cannot identify any one moment or experience that is responsible for my “beginning to change”. But, much to my surprise, my long-standing belief in “fairness” is now challenging my attitudes and assumptions, supported by United Methodist policy, that marriage equality for same sex couples is wrong.

I was impacted, challenged and pushed to re-think as I read about the decision of the General Council of Finance and Administration’s decision to offer benefits to the same sex spouses of United Methodist  Church employees. And this morning’s New York Times in its story; Bill Advances to Outlaw Discrimination Against Gays says this in its first paragraph: “A measure that would outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity overcame a significant obstacle in the Senate on Monday as seven Republicans crossed party lines and voted to begin debate on the bill.”

The GCFA decision and the discussion before yesterday’s decision in the U.S.Senate and the “change” that is beginning to take place within me, all prompted me to re-visit the Jesus/Nicodemus story in the 3rd Chapter of John. And for reasons that I cannot explain the words in John 3:16 in that story; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” confronted my anti-same sex marriage opinions and attitudes as never before.My belief in the “him” named Jesus, is beginning to allow my heart, spirit and mind, to recognize that my belief in “fairness” compels me to transform my negative attitudes and assumptions about same sex unions and marriages.

“God is good all the time. All the time, God is good.”

Your brother in Christ,

A changed heart

Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell is a a founding partner of Truth in Progress, retired United Methodist minister, a veteran of the Black Civil Rights Movement, a founding member of Black Methodists for Church Renewal, and an outspoken advocate for the civil rights of LGBT people. Originally appeared on RMNBlog reprinted with permission.

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