by: Gilbert Caldwell on March 16th, 2017 | No Comments »
Gilbert Caldwell of Asbury Park, New Jersey – a longtime Methodist pastor and activist in many progressive causes – offers a thoughtful and personal response to Rabbi Michael Lerner’s recent article on Tikkun.org, found at this link:
and to Rebecca Solnit’s article “Grounds for Hope” in the Winter 2017 issue of Tikkun Quarterly.
My re-reading of “Grounds For Hope” by Rebecca Solnit in the Winter 2017 issue of Tikkun has caused me to respond from a personal standpoint, as a clergyman in the United Methodist Church, and with reference to what Rabbi Lerner has written in his article “Overcoming Trump-ism.”
Solnit begins her article: “Your opponents would love to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act, that you can’t win.” But, she writes; “Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away … hope is about the future, grounds for hope lie in the records and recollections of the past.”
Personal – 60 years ago (1957) this coming November 30th, Grace and I got married in her Methodist Church in Greensboro, NC. I was a third-year student at Boston University School of Theology (where I would meet Martin Luther King for the first time in May of 1958). I wanted to impress Grace by getting reservations at a Honeymoon Lodge in the Poconos.
Upon arrival I went to the front desk with reservations in hand and was told, “You can’t stay here. If we allowed Negroes to stay here, our guests would not be pleased.” After discussion, debate and then with great disappointment, I left returned to the car and told Grace what had happened, and with tears of anger and hurt, we drove to New York City where we knew we would not be refused.
It was in New York City that hope surfaced for Grace and myself. We were in a hotel near the old Birdland Jazz Club. We went there, heard the magnificent music of jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughn, and I became a lover of jazz. It was because of that that I discovered the relationship between the creativity, improvisation, and call and response of jazz to spirituality. The result; Duke Ellington and his orchestra, pianists Billy Taylor and John Hicks and Grammy winning jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves have been invited and performed in churches in Boston, Harlem, and Denver where I was once pastor. Solnit reminds us, “The Branches Are Hope; the Roots Are Memory.”
The United Methodist Church – This merger of three Methodist denominations took place in 1968. We were organized soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Many of us hoped the UMC – with its racist history of slavery and segregation that caused some blacks to leave the denomination and form the AME and AMEZion predominantly black denominations, and had just rid itself of an institutionalized racial segregation in an all black unit, Central Jurisdiction – would become the nation’s leading faith-based racial justice religious body. Unfortunately, in 1972, the General Conference of the denomination approved legislation that declared, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Since the passage of that legislation, LGBTQ clergy and lay persons have been dismissed or marginalized, same-sex unions and marriages have been denied and clergy who have performed same-sex unions and marriages have been charged, judged by juries, and at times, had their ordination credentials taken away.
I and others were arrested at a 2000 General Conference in Cleveland protesting our discriminatory policy. Since then I have sought to encourage the denomination to remember its history of Bible-based discrimination against blacks and women, to thus acknowledge how we moved beyond that discrimination, and allow that memory to empower a rescinding of our anti-same-sex unions and marriage language and legislation.
Currently, two predominantly white churches in Mississippi are considering withdrawal from the denomination because of those of us who are resisting the anti-same sex marriage legislation of the denomination. They should reconsider withdrawal as they are reminded of the long racial struggle in Mississippi and in the Methodist/United Methodist churches of Mississippi.
Solnit quotes Walter Brueggeman: “Memory produces hope in the same way that amnesia produces despair.” A denomination that confronted and challenged its structural racism and sexism of the past should be able to confront and transform its heterosexist narrowness today.
Overcoming Trump-ism – Michael Lerner writes: “Shaming all white people and all men, it turns out, is not really a smart strategy – and if progressives learn nothing from the 2016 election, they should learn this!” The front page of the March 15 New York Times bears this headline: “Leaked Trump Tax Forms Show A $38 Million Payment in 2005.” The efforts to “shame” Donald Trump and those who support him backfires when his wealth is front and center. The aspirational spirit that capitalism fosters has many Americans who support him (and even some who do not) to be vicariously fascinated by his wealth.
There is a risk that a demand that Trump release his taxes – and publishing leaked portions of them – can elicit sympathy for him as personal attacks and intrusions. Those who are making these demands and revealing what is learned must make clear they are doing so as part of the expectation and practice of recent decades – and because the returns have potential to spotlight and clarify numerous conflicts of interest that may well undermine ethical and constitutional governance by the administration.
From “Grounds For Hope,” Rebecca Solnit: “We need a litany, a rosary, a sutra, a mantra, a war chant of our victories. The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we can carry into the night that is the future.”