By Gilbert Haven Caldwell, Jr.*
The United Methodist News Service story titled: "GC 2012 To include call to repentance" begins with these words; "Historically, the treatment of indigenous people by Chrisian churches - including Methodists has been good, bad and ugly."
Our Methodist history is replete with illustrations of using Scripture
to endorse church sanctioned slavery, racial segregaion, prohibitions
against the ordination of women, against divorced clergy, and the use of
alcohol, only to later rescind those prohibitions and/or discuss them
in a footnote in the Book of Discipline. There are among us persons who
believe that the United Methodist Church would "sell its soul" and
disappear if we engaged in the simple act of saying officlally what the
world already knows. We are divided in our understandings of what the
Lord expects of us as we respond to the reality and presence of same
gender loving persons who are clergy. We forget that once there were
Methodists who believed that we would sell our soul, if we declared
slavery wrong, eliminated racial segregation and ordained women. They
The April 27th service at General Conference; "ACT OF REPENTANCE for INDIGENOUS PEOPLE", could be the most important event taking place at the 2012 General Conference. We in the Church, "including Methodists", continue to engage in acts of comission and omission at one moment in history, that call for a Service of Repentance at a later moment in history. As General Conference takes seriously the implications of this service, hopefully it will take seriously these words in the resolution submitted by the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligous Concerns:
"WHEREAS, a call to repentance is followed by confession, and confession is followed by a call for a change for the better as a
result of remorse or contrition for one's sins,...."
There is that much quoted statement made by those in opposition to the death penalty, "Why do we keep on killing people to prove that killing people is wrong?"
A paraphrase of that in response to the consistency of United Methodists having Repentance Services for our "bad and ugly" treatment of groups of persons might be; "Why do we continue to have services of repentance from generation to generation, without daring to confront and transform our tendency to use scripture out of context as a way to justify our actions that make repentance neccesary?"
I have been re-reading recently some of the material related to the ordination of women in Methodism. (I believe that remembering that history would be helpful in the resolution of our current divisive dilemma in the UMC on homosexuality). We read that Paul's words in First Corinthians were "taken out of context" that women should be silent in the church. Somewhere I read that Paul had several women who were his "closet comrades" in spreading the Good News. How many "bad and ugly" acts has the denomination committed, and then later admitted that they were done because Scripture was "taken out of context"?
My prayer from afar is that the Service: "Act of
Repentance for Indigeous People" on April 27th at General Conference
will be a PENTECOST SERVICE! If the delegates present, remember those
sad moments in the past when the Good News of the Gospel was distorted
through the treatment of Native Americans and indigenous people, that
may well serve to shape the decisions they make in 2012. Our General
Conferences must cease making decisons that will later call for Services
of Repentance. Tampa in 2012, could be the site of our 21st century,
"United Methodist Pentecost".
* Gilbert Haven Caldwell, Jr. is a retired Elder of the Rocky Mountain Conference