No Comparison with Bishop Kennedy

The Rev. Frank Schaefer speaks to reporters during a press conference at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer speaks to reporters during a press conference at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

Recently Bishop Minerva Carcaño made news when she invited Frank Schaefer to become a part of the California-Pacific Annual Conference. Schaefer lost his ministerial credentials in mid-December for performing a same-sex union. For her part, Carcaño even went so far as to equate her invitation to Schaefer to the late Bishop Gerald Kennedy (1908-1980) welcoming eight ministers from Mississippi to Cal-Pac 50 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 1960s.

I was one of the four persons who wrote the “Born of Conviction” statement, which was then signed by a total of 28 young pastors in Mississippi. At least 20 of the original signers left Mississippi during the next two years. The Mississippi Annual Conference honored us 50 years after the fact, at the meeting of their Annual Conference in June 2013. Poignantly, we received this honor from Myrlie Evers, wife of civil rights advocate Medgar Evers who was killed 50 years ago in the city where we were meeting.

There is something very troubling about the connection Bishop Carcaño has attempted to make between Bishop Kennedy’s welcome of some of us to California and her invitation to 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. The Mississippi 28 was not violating the covenant of our ordination; we were upholding it.

Personally the covenant of ordination and the witness of Scripture reinforced those of us who signed that statement. We knew we were keeping our ordination vows, and we knew we were acting in keeping with the witness of Scripture. My life-long ministry since has confirmed that same dynamic. When I left Mississippi, I became the founding pastor of our UM congregation in San Clemente, California. 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, my wife and I expressed it through work with “fair housing” in Anaheim.

Living today in Memphis, I live in the same fashion. I believe public education is the civil rights issue of this 21st century. Working through the church of which I am a part, we are investing time, energy, money, and influence 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 the support of 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 resemble the Schaefer case.

I have a deeper concern, however, than a bishop using the coincidence of geography for political gain. When our church is already strained to the breaking point, my concern is that Bishop Carcaño flippantly dismissed 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?

Maxie Dunnam is the former president of Asbury Theological Seminary, world editor of the Upper Room, and senior pastor of Christ UM Church in Memphis. He is one of the founders of The Confessing Movement and the Wesleyan Covenant Network. 


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