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Observations, Commentary from a Witness at the Trial of Karen Dammann

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  • umcornet
    From the the Church Within A Church movement ... Dear Friends, As chair of the coordinating team of the Church Within A Church movement in the United Methodist
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 2, 2004
      From the the Church Within A Church movement


      Dear Friends,

      As chair of the coordinating team of the Church Within A Church
      movement in the United Methodist Church, I wanted to share this
      response of coordinating team member Gil Caldwell to the church
      trial of the Reverend Karen Dammann for reflection and response.
      (Gil was a testifying witness at the trial.) Gil has given his
      permission for this distribution.

      Gregory Dell, coordinator
      Church Within A Church


      Observations and Commentary of the Rev. Gil Caldwell Pertaining to
      his "Witnessing" at the Church Trial in Bothell

      "How many Church Trials will United Methodism have before it can hear
      people cry?"

      As I sat in the Bothell United Methodist Church, outside the "court
      room" waiting to be called as a witness for the Rev. Karen Dammann,
      I thought of Peter, Paul and Mary singing, "How many ears must a
      (man) have before (he) can hear people cry?"

      I know Jimmy Creech, I know Greg Dell, and I know some other persons
      who have had charges filed against them that resulted in church
      trials. I know some of the bishops who brought the charges and some
      of the bishops who presided at those trials. United Methodism claims
      to be a connectional church, which we are in many positive ways.
      But, even with all the wonderful effective and efficient connectional
      energy that I experienced in Bothell, Washington, church trials
      demonstrate that we are also a disconnected church.

      We who are the daughters and sons of John Wesley, whose founding
      mothers and fathers were members of a "movement" rather than an
      established church, all of us heirs of the Protestant Reformation; we
      must ask ourselves a serious question: Are we confident that
      punishing persons who acknowledged their same-gender loving
      relationships, and punishing clergy who publicly enable these couples
      to confirm their love, represents the will of God?

      As a witness I was told that I could not be present in
      the "courtroom" (fellowship hall) until it was time for me to
      testify. Thus, on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, I got
      acquainted with the people, the sanctuary and the furniture of
      Bothell UMC. The people were wonderful and the Cookie Lady was a
      particular joy. I spent time in the church's magnificent sanctuary,
      listening to the music of Taize', kneeling at the communion rail,
      focusing. Then on Thursday afternoon my moment arrived.

      Once in the witness seat, I saw the presiding Bishop to my left, the
      13 clergy men and women of the trial court "jury" on my right, the
      respondent Rev. Karen Dammann and her counsel at a table in front of
      me, and counsel for the church to their right. In front of all of us
      was the attentive collection of persons who were there to observe
      and listen.

      Our Discipline's 17-page section on Investigations, "Trials, and
      Appeals" begins with paragraph 2701. Centuries from now, when
      archaeologists dig up the remains of the 2000 Book of Discipline
      listing chargeable offenses plus the investigation and trial
      process, they will wonder about the emphases of our ministry. They
      will ponder where the records are of the "justice, reconciliation and
      healing that may be realized in the body of Jesus
      Christ," which we claim is the purpose of "Judicial Proceedings."

      In an effort not to bore the reader with the specifics of my
      testimony I will share in shorthand, what I sought to convey. (not in
      the exact order of my presentation). Dr. James Forbes, the Senior
      Minister of New York's Riverside Church had been in Denver (my home
      city) the week-end before and I found myself repeating to the court
      the words and song that he used to speak on the theme, "The Healing
      of the Nation": "Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me Spirit of
      the Living God, fall afresh on me. Melt me. Mold me... ." I had
      spoken these words many times to myself almost in mantra-like
      fashion, before my time on the witness stand.

      In my testimony I said that at one time African Americans
      were "incompatible" in Methodism, not because of what we had done,
      but because of who were, racially. Thus, most African Americans in
      the church "union" compromise of 1939 were assigned and consigned to
      a racially segregated Central Jurisdiction. I looked at the
      clergywomen of the Trial Court and said that once they were thought
      to be "incompatible" for ordained ministry in Methodism, because of
      their gender. But, with the passage of time, moral and intellectual
      enlightenment, and through the moving of the Holy Spirit, Blacks and
      women became "compatible" in the hearts and minds of church decision-
      makers. Since God is never "finished" with the transformation of
      persons and the church, and Bothell was a wonderful place, I
      suggested that each one of us in the courtroom ask to be used as
      God's instruments of continuing transformation for the church.

      My most remembered moment of "witnessing" at the trial was evoked by
      a question asked of me by the Conference counsel that I
      paraphrase: "Is not the present quarrel in the United Methodist
      Church on homosexuality, much like the disagreements and quarrels
      that husbands and wives have?" I answered yes and, as I looked at Ms.
      Dammann sitting in front of me, I spoke these words: "But most of the
      husbands and wives that I know seek not to hurt, injure, punish and
      cast out, their children or other relatives while the argument is
      taking place."

      I returned to Denver on Friday while the trial continued, eager and
      persistent to learn the verdict. When I heard on Saturday that the
      verdict had been issued with 11 not guilty votes and two undecided, I
      was pleased beyond imagination. Yet, I knew that some persons in the
      denomination could not fathom that the Holy Spirit was present
      throughout the proceedings and that the clergy of the trial court
      issued their "surprise" decision in response to Divine interaction.

      However, my experience has taught me that it is in the unexpected
      and the surprises that I felt most powerfully the presence of God.
      Sometimes in our African American cultural journey we say; "God may
      not come when you want God, but God always comes on time."

      Delegates in Pittsburgh would do well to recall 2003. The year was
      much like 1954 when the U S Supreme Court reversed an earlier Court
      ruling that declared "separate but equal" schools were legally
      legitimate. In 2003 the U. S. Supreme Court determined that legal
      authorities had no right to violate the right to privacy, nor the
      practices of same-gender persons in their bedrooms. Also, the
      Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the equality
      provisions in their state Constitution applied to all people rather
      than some people.

      Will United Methodists further our internal chaos by maintaining our
      present excluding and punitive legislation? Or, will we move to new
      community by agreeing to disagree as we sit together at table? The
      authenticity of our table fellowship is valid only as all of us have
      a place. Excluding some from sharing their stories, compromises the
      power and possibilities of table fellowship. Again the courts of our
      land are beginning to edge toward decreeing "democratic inclusivity"
      while we in the church lag behind. The Massachusetts Legislature
      affirmed same-gender unions after their Supreme Judicial Court said
      yes to equality of access to marriage for all. What now are we going
      to say and decide in United Methodism?

      Is it any wonder that Martin Luther King asked the question, "Why is
      the church always a taillight rather than a headlight?"

      Many know the story of the smart aleck young man and the wise old
      man. The young man with bird in hand went to the old man and asked,"
      Is the bird alive or dead?" If the old man said dead, the young man
      would release the bird and it would fly away. If the answer was
      alive, the young man planned to crush and kill the bird and show its
      mangled and dead body to the old man. After pausing and pondering
      the question asked of him, the old man finally said, "Whatever you
      will my son, whatever you will."

      Alan Paton, in one of his novels written before the ending of
      apartheid, puts these words into the mouth of a black South African
      preacher. "By the time they get around to loving us, we shall have
      gotten around to hating them."

      We have spent too many years crushing and killing our sisters and
      brothers, even as we continue to debate. I call us to pray that in
      the Pittsburgh General Conference, those who are the decision makers
      will open their hearts, minds and hands to allow for life rather than
      continuing death in the church. So many want to love our church, but
      it seems committed to making us hurt, and in time some will hate it.

      We have wounded too many persons. I pray that healing will begin in

      Gil Caldwell
      Denver, Colorado

      Gil Caldwell was an activist with Dr. Martin Luther King in the
      historic civil rights movement. He is a retired pastor, having
      served the church in several annual conferences and national
      agencies. He is currently a member of the national Coordinating Team
      of the Church Within A Church movement in the United Methodist

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