Maxie Dunnam ~ In Honor of Bishop Gerald Kennedy

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Recently Bishop Minerva Carcaño equated her inviting Frank Schaefer to become a part of the Cal Pac Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, to Bishop Gerald Kennedy welcoming eight ministers from Mississippi to his conference fifty years ago. Some, but not all, of these eight persons had signed a statement, Born of Conviction, which was a witness against racism as well as a plea for the preservation of public education, during the civil rights struggle in Mississippi in the early 1960’s.

I was one of the four persons who wrote the Born of Conviction statement, which was then signed by a total of twenty-eight young pastors in Mississippi. At least twenty of the original signers left Mississippi during the next two years. The Mississippi Annual Conference honored us fifty years after the fact, at the meeting of their Annual Conference in June 2013. Poignantly, we received this honor from Myrlie Evers, wife of Medgar Evers, civil rights advocate killed in the city where we were meeting, also fifty years ago.

Only African-Americans can determine whether the debate about same-sex marriage now is equivalent to the violent struggle against racism that took place in those days. Only African-Americans can make a judgment about the appropriateness of comparing the current disagreement regarding Church discipline with the fight for voting rights and equal access to education we were engaged in back then. Yet apart from a general comparison, I continue to be troubled – albeit in a vague way – by the connection Bishop Carcaño has made between Bishop Kennedy’s welcome of some of us to California and her invitation to Frank Schaefer.

The differences seem clear. None of the 28 who signed the Born of Conviction statement were charged with violating the Discipline of our Church. In fact, in light of Bishop Carcaño’s comparison, it is somewhat ironic that we were trying desperately to support the Discipline, not disregard it. The witness against racism in our Discipline was as clear then as the Church’s present witness against same sex marriage and the ordination of professed practicing homosexual persons. We Mississippi 28 were not violating the covenant of our ordination; we were upholding it.

Personally, the covenant of ordination and the witness of Scripture reinforced one another, and strengthened those of us who signed the statement. We knew we were keeping our ordination vows, and we knew we were acting in keeping with the witness of Scripture. I believe my ministry since has confirmed that same dynamic. When I left Mississippi, I became the founding pastor of a Methodist Church in San Clemente. My commitment was the same. So close to the border of Mexico, our congregation needed to welcome “the stranger” and that was our witness. We expressed it by teaching English as a second language and being sensitive to the suffering of people in Tijuana. Later, we, my wife particularly, expressed it through work with “fair housing” in Anaheim.

Today, in Memphis, I’m seeking to live in the same fashion. I believe public education is the civil rights issue of this 21st century. With the local church of which I am a part, we are investing time, energy, money, and influence seeking to make the case that a child’s zip code should not determine the quality of that child’s educational opportunity. Interestingly, one of the major points of the Born of Conviction statement was our affirmation of the public school system and our opposition to the closing of public schools or the diversion of tax funds to support private or sectarian schools.

The same commitment to Scripture and to the covenant of my ordination that have formed me and guided me in the past, guides me now in my support of the Church’s position on marriage and ordination.

It seems odd to me that Bishop Carcaño would equate her action to that of Bishop Kennedy. None of the people welcomed by Bishop Kennedy had broken their covenant of ordination and the majority of the people welcomed by him had been pressured to leave in large part through the experience of violence or threat of violence. Those circumstances do not seem to resemble the case of Mr. Schaefer.

I have a deeper concern however, than a bishop using the coincidence of geography for political gain. My concern is that at a time when our Church is already strained to the breaking point, a bishop of the Church would make a statement such as Bishop Carcaño made, flippantly dismissing the Book of Discipline as “an imperfect book of human law that violates the very spirit of Jesus the Christ.”

It is no secret that Bishop Carcaño and I hold opposing views on the issue of same sex marriage and the ordination of professed, practicing homosexuals. However, we are both elders in the United Methodist Church, and as elders we willingly made covenant both with our Church and its Discipline, and with each other. Bishop Carcaño then made an additional vow at her consecration as bishop: to uphold the Discipline she claims violates the spirit of Jesus Christ. In light of that, how can we continue to talk about “connection” or “covenant” with any integrity?

 

Click the title to read the full Born of Conviction statement.

 

30 COMMENTS

  1. If Bishop Carcaño has such a problem with the Book of Discipline, how can she hold to her vow to uphold it. Why not just sever ties with the UMC and go someplace she feels fits her stance. We would do a whole lot better if she would leave.
    Connection means nothing in the church at this point.

    • I think Ed Beedle is on target. All of us took a vow to abide by the discipline at our ordination. If the good bishop cannot, in good faith, do so she should either find a way to have it changed or walk away to where she can stand in good conscience.

  2. ecclesiastical disobedience? civil disobedience… both can be just — Martin Luther and John Wesley would certainly agree. Dunnam forgets his privilege of being a white, male and forgets that there are LGBTQ African-Americans within the UMC, and allies as well (such as Bishop Talbert). Both are issues of justice, overlapping and intersecting, if also different. Both involve basic, civil rights for large groups of people.

    • Yep, another and another!!! I was glad to see some UMC pastors buck their homophobic bishop in Oklahoma. I’d love to see even one pastor in the N. Al conference do the same thing in calling out Bishop Debra George Wallace-Phelps. It’s not happening. I think they’re all afraid the Big Bad Bishop will send them to East Podunk. No one seems willing to speak truth to power around here.

  3. I am a 67 year old African American female, born in the great state of Alabama. In 1959 my great grandmother put me on the train, brought me to Chicago because she feared for my safety because I “did not know my place.” I am a member of the United Methodist Church, I disagree with my church on some issues, but I love her dearly. My youngest daughter is a Lesbian, as she said when she came out, why would a Black female choose to be a Lesbian, it’s just one more strike against you. I believe I have the credentials to say, yes, the question of same sex marriage is a civil rights issue both for the church and the secular law. How can you equate adherence to rules as a test of one’s faithfulness to the church? If that is the case, then we need to stop honoring Martin, Mandela and Mahatma. I have great respect for you Rev Dunnam, but I must disagree with you on this one.

  4. I’m going to say that John Lewis, Coretta Scott King and Andrew Young (along with Desmond Tutu and Peter Storey) are pretty reliable “witnesses” as to whether the struggle for racial justice and the struggle for LGBT justice are similar.

    • Of course they are similar. The LGBT crowd has adopted Dr.King’s strategy of non-violent, direct action. However, they have used the strategy to support immorality rather than holy living. That is just plain wrong.

        • Just what “political opportunity” is enhanced by John Lewis’ recognition that bigotry against LGBT persons is similar to bigotry against African Americans? What about the similar recognition by Andrew Young, Coretta Scott King, Peter Storey and Desmond Tutu?

        • Sadly, I cannot “agree to disagree” with you on this topic. I have “a charge to keep” as an elder in The United Methodist Church. I pray that scriptural holiness will prevail, and I will pursue holiness myself and invite others to do so as well.

          • “Scriptural Holiness” is “Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart, With All Your Mind and With All Your Strength” and “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.” I pursue that holiness all the time.

          • We would all be better off if name calling were put aside. Calling our fellow elders “bigots” won’t bring the change you desire and is a poor Christian witness.

          • What word would you use to describe excluding people from the ministry of the church because of who they are?

          • How about brother or sister? If you are an elder under appointment, do you call your congregation nasty names when you have disagreements? If so you won’t have a long career serving churches in any jurisdiction.

            The Discipline doesn’t exclude sexual minorities from elders orders or holy matrimony on the basis of who they are but what they do. Like Pope Francis and the Catholic Church, The United. Methodist Church doesn’t judge gays or lesbians but considers them beloved of God.

            –Steve Vornov

          • No, the BoD lies and says that homosexuality and Christianity is incompatible and uses that to clobber gay people. Amazing how people like you devalue the word “beloved”: even as you engage in blatant acts of bigotry, you pretend you are doing so in the name of love. No wonder so many people have abandoned Christianity.

          • If you look carefully at what I wrote, I did not call anyone a bigot. I pointed out that veterans of the Civil Rights and anti-apartheid movements view the movement for LGBT equality as similar. Aside from an ad hominem attack on John Lewis, no one has responded to that.

          • I don’t know Jay Johnson and certainly don’t know if he is an Elder. I take no responsibility for anything he wrote.

          • Like calling gay people “unholy” and unworthy is a good Christian witness? You people are so used to defaming gay people you don’t think about it or about the number of young people who commit suicide because of your thoughtless hatred.

  5. what an outstanding and iinsightful post by dr. dunnam. clear thinking that calls out those who are disrespecting and dishonoring their vows and the covenant.
    deep thanks
    steve moore

  6. One of the important distinctions that I believe Rev. Dunnam misses is that in the day that he courageously drafted and signed the statement he did, the Discipline stood against discrimination. Now the Discipline has embraced discrimination and supporting it in the way he would like us to is to support the very thing he protested fifty years ago–discrimination. The covenant of the ordained is not and never has been to yeild one’s conscience and integrity to whatever the General Conference may decide every four years. It was and is to stand with each other in commiting our lives to preach the Gospel and serve the sacraments to God’s people and to love all people in the way Christ loved us. Mostly the General Conference gets it right, but when it transgresses moral law by embedding the violation of human dignity into our Discipline, we do not violate our covenant when we refuse to obey it–we preserve covenant.

  7. Thank you Dr. Dunnam. I agree with you and The United Methodist Book of Discipline that Christian people are called to celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage (between a man and a woman). I also object to the ordination of sexually active homosexual people. I am also disturbed by the misuse of Dr. King’s strategies to advance change in the church to promote a life-style that is so clearly contrary to Christian teaching.

    However, the United States is clearly not a theocracy. I can endorse the need for a “civil union” category for couples who want to share their lives and resources in a committed relationship. In retrospect I regret officiating at the weddings of so many couples who showed little interest in a relationship with Christ and His Church. Surely, I counseled these couples, prayed with these couples, and offered Christ to these couples in our pre-marital counseling sessions; but on some occasions, I wish I could have suggested that they consider a civil union as a valid and socially acceptable option. Although I object to the term “marriage equality”, I believe there should be space for a legal, valid “civil union” status to uphold the human and legal rights of non-Christians who choose to be in a lasting relationship with a life-partner.

    I appreciate your Christian witness in the fight for racial justice, and your efforts to maintain a high moral standard in the Church. Sadly BOTH are still necessary today.

    • I don’t think either you or Dunnam have any real morals. Any “morality” that promotes hatred of other groups and contributes to the suicide of young people is not morality at all. The BoD statement that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity is not a baldface lie, it is destructive and hateful.

  8. One of the comments below stated the homosexuality issue is a matter of conscience. And I can agree with that. And I can accept that the proponents of full inclusion are acting with a good conscience. In reading Wesley, one of the things he continually re-iterates is to never ever go against your conscience. My question is, if you as a proponent are asking us to accept that you can not go against your conscience, why aren’t those of us who see things differently not allowed the same courtesy. This struggle within the UMC has been going on for 40 years and the answer from the highest governing authority is continually the same and yet you continually hound away at it. At what point do you stop asking the church to go against its collective conscience? As flawed as it is, the current church structure is what is in existence and to continually go against its decisions is damaging the church. As a person in the pew who has had to distance herself from the church for other reasons and am now trying to find my way back in I find this argument gives me pause because it is a no win proposition as far as the future of the church is concerned. Do any of the proponents who keep pushing this issue ever view it from that perspective or will your consciences allow it? What kind of victory will you have in bringing The United Methodist Church to its knees in the process? No one knows better than me its faults and it has much bigger and deeper spiritual issues than the issue you are currently pushing.
    I have examined my conscience and my response is that it would be a huge mistake for the church to change its stance on homosexuality. And I take that stance from a perspective of tradition. In the “Romance of Orthodoxy” G. K. Chesterton makes a profound statement in regards to the function of tradition; I do not have the exact quote, but it is along the lines that tradition gives a wider view than the one held by the “arrogant oligarchy who happen to be alive.” As I understand it, the church is an ongoing communion of saints alive and dead that has been in existence for over 2000 years why would you want to undermine the work of that many persons.

  9. How dreadful and how
    innumerable are the contests which have arisen about religion! And not only
    among the children of this world, among those who knew not what true religion
    was; but even among the children of God, those who had experienced ‘the kingdom
    of God within them’, who had tasted of ‘righteousness and peace and joy in the
    Holy Ghost’. How many in all ages, instead of joining together against the
    common enemy, have turned their weapons against each other, and so not only
    wasted their precious time but hurt one another’s spirits, weakened each
    other’s hands, and so hindered the great work of their common Master! How many of the weak have hereby been
    offended! How many of the ‘lame turned out of the way’! How many sinners
    confirmed in their disregard for all religion, and their contempt of those that
    profess it! And how many of ‘the excellent ones upon earth’ have been
    constrained to ‘weep in secret places’!

    What would every lover
    of God and his neighbor do, what would he not suffer, to remedy this sore evil?
    To remove contention from the children of God? To restore or preserve peace
    among them? What but a good conscience would he think too dear to part with in
    order to promote this valuable end? And suppose we cannot make ‘these wars
    cease to all the world’, suppose we cannot reconcile all the children of God to
    each other; however, let each do what he can, let him contribute if it be but
    two mites toward it. Happy are they who are able in any degree to promote peace
    and goodwill among men’! Especially among good men; among those that are all
    listed under the banner of ‘the Prince of Peace’; and are therefore peculiarly
    engaged, ‘as much as lies in them, to live peaceably with all men’. John Wesley, “The Lord Our
    Righteousness”

  10. I am deeply disappointed in Maxie Dunnam’s statement. I, too, am one of the 28 then young Methodist Minister’s who’s statement, “Born of Conviction” helped to break the back of segregation in the totally segregated state of Mississippi. This was a step forward in our time. This is exactly what Bishop Minerva Carcano is doing today in supporting gays in their struggle for civil rights. I salute our courageous Bishop. It is time for Methodists to join their brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and The Presbyterian Church (USA). Maxie is a distinguished man, but there were others of the 28 who also distinguished themselves and who thoroughly disagree with Maxie. In a reunion of the 28 several years ago none of them agreed with Maxie in his long known stand opposing gay civil rights. The 28 included men like Jerry Trigg, who went on to become pastor of the largest Methodist Church in the West in Colorado Springs; Buford Dickinson, who became president of our Methodist seminary in Ohio, and Jim Waits. who became Dean of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
    Bishop Carcano is in good company when she chose the Biblical route of the love of God in Christ Jesus. John Wesley, our Methodist founder, did exactly the same thing. Wesley lived and died as a priest in the Church of England. He chose to violate his church’s rules in order to follow where the love of Christ led him. He was forbidden to preach in established churches, so he took his love of Christ into the streets. He later ordained several ministers and ordained Francis Asbury as a bishop. All of this in violation of the church’s rules.
    I tip my hat to Bishop Minerva Carcano. May her tribe increase!!

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