As a part of the “Follow Your Heartbreak” series at Northaven Church this morning, Rev. Bill McElvaney has announced his intention to preside at same sex weddings. The full text of this remarks is below.
Rev. McElvaney is a retired United Methodist Elder, and emeritus pastor of Northaven Church. In addition to a successful pastoral career, he also served for many years as professor of preaching at Perkins School of Theology, and as President of St. Paul School of Theology.
In 2013, he was award the “Distinguished Alumni Award” from Perkins School of Theology.
Click here for a pdf of this statement
January 19, 2014
How could there not be widespread heartbreak in the United Methodist Church? For more than forty years the UMC has wandered in the wilderness of exclusion, treating gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons as second-class citizens, unworthy to receive pastoral blessings for marriage, although clergy are authorized to bless animals and athletic events. According to official church policy, GLBT persons are not eligible for ordination and are treated as threats to church unity because of “loving the wrong neighbor.”
Recently a United Methodist pastor in good standing in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference was brought to trial, an action permissible in the United Methodist Book of Discipline. He was charged with disobedience and relieved of his ministerial orders for officiating at his son’s wedding to his same sex partner (not the first time that a similar trial resulted in the same results . . . remember Jimmy Creech?) These inhumane actions by the UMC, favoring law over love, the Book of Discipline over the Book of Discipleship—that is, the New Testament—cruelty over compassion, constitute the Methodist version of Inquisition in the 20th and 21st centuries.
How indebted I am to GLBT persons at Northaven for serving as my mentors, helping me to understand more clearly the ABC’s of your social reality, or in plain language, what’s it like to walk in your shoes. You and the grace of God have emboldened me to speak out from heartbreak for inclusion in the UMC. Your mentoring encouraged me to tell the story of Northaven’s becoming a reconciling congregation from my point of view in my book, Becoming a Justice Seeking Congregation. To be a friend is to become an advocate, one who by word and deed translates heartbreak into pastoral and prophetic action.
So today I’m making an announcement that heartbreak has led me to initiate another step of advocacy and solidarity with the GLBT community. Namely, I would consider it a privilege to officiate at a same sex wedding even though the marriage is not legal under civil law in Texas. In making this declaration I do not assume that all GLBT persons want to get married. I fully support those who have opted for a special marriage weekend in states where your marriage is legal. Makes sense to me and sounds like fun and festivity. That said, there might be some who would desire to explore the possibility of a religious service utilizing appropriate biblical and theological language.
Rest assured that I will not take any action that would bring harm to Northaven or to Eric. This means that a service of same sex celebration would need to happen beyond Northaven property. I’m not entirely at peace with this arrangement because it suggests that I accept the church’s authority to make this demand. I would hold my nose and gladly officiate elsewhere in order to be hand in hand with those seeking a religious oriented event. Eric has been in conversation with more than one neighborhood congregation who would likely welcome a Methodist-performed service in their facility, a witness that says, “Look, a Methodist minister can do this service at a church of another tradition, why not in the UMC?”
There is growing action among U.M. clergy to follow the lead of Bishop Mel Talbert in acting as though the exclusionary provisions of the Book of Discipline will not be recognized or obeyed. There is no way the UMC can bring charges and trials against hundreds of clergy– too time consuming, too expensive. I realize that as a retired clergy I have less to lose than clergy under active appointment. Even so there’s no way to know where leading a same sex service of marriage beyond Northaven premises might lead. Charges against me? A trial? Loss of ministerial credentials and pension?
Who knows? No telling where this might lead. But isn’t this uncertainty characteristic of God’s calling us to be faithful to the Gospel of inclusion? What I do know is that all of these vulnerabilities pale in comparison to standing fully, and if necessary, sacrificially with the Gospel of inclusion and with those denied equality and respect. I welcome other Texas U.M. clergy, active or retired, to consider a new action in moving the UMC to greater inclusiveness. Each clergy person must make his or her own decision as to how best to work and witness for a church of unconditional love.
This is much more than an issue to be addressed. It’s all about acceptance as human beings, about not having one’s worth voted on by peers who believe a few scriptural passages formed by the apostle Paul are more authoritative than the numerous persuasive and powerful texts lifting up God’s radical love through Jesus Christ. According to biblical scholars whom I consider to be best informed, Paul’s generation had no knowledge or awareness of long-term consensual same sex loving relationships. For Christians serious New Testament inquiry and authority begin and end with Jesus, not with Paul.
When through the grace of God and our faithfulness, as well as others, the UMC becomes the church it is meant to be, emphasizing love over law, there will be reconciliation possible within our church, transformative truth and power to engage the world, joy in heaven and on earth, angels dancing and most of all, healing for the heartbreak of God.
Please also read Eric Folkerth’s statement from today.
Also, a complete list of media coverage of Bill’s announcement.