Observations, Commentary from a Witness at the Trial of Karen Dammann
- From the the Church Within A Church movement
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
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
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
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 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