Dear Bishop Webb:
You have assumed leadership in a part of New York State that is “holy ground.” In pre- European times, five Indian nations came together on the shores of Onondaga Lake to create the Iroquois Confederacy (later Six Nations). Their purpose was to eradicate inter-nation conflict and eliminate cannibalism.
Later, Western and Central New York was the location of the “burned over district,” that area where no one was left to convert in the great revival of the 19th century.
It is the scene of the first civil disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Law that legalized the recapture of slaves to be returned to their owners or to be sold on the auction block. Hundreds of citizens broke Jerry out of jail and underground leaders spirited him to Canada.
Central and Western New York were centers of the Underground Railroad. Many churches and members hid slaves, risking large fines and prison. Harriet Tubman chose Auburn for her retirement. Frederick Douglas was a resident of Rochester where he published his newspaper, The North Star.Elizabeth Cady Stanton presented her Declaration of Sentiments at the first women's rights convention held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, initiating the first organized women's rights and women's suffrage movements in the United States.
The Holy Spirit seems to move here for justice and renewal. I believe the United Methodist Church is on the wrong side of scripture and the evolving sense of justice by our society and our Christian faith. As Leonard Pitts, Jr. observes in today’s Post Standard, “Jesus of Nazareth was the author of a revolutionary love that crossed lines and resolved separations, that pointedly included the excluded, invited the disinvited, touched the untouchables.” I’m sure you have read the column where he exhorts Christians to “stand up and speak out” that not all Christians are “anti-gay.”
Perhaps it is time for New Yorkers again to rise up and declare to our Church and communities that we exclude no one to the leadership of our congregations or to the sacrament of marriage. I pray for you in your difficult role as our spiritual leader.
Peace and grace,
P.S. For a history of Central New York and the anti-slavery movement, “North Star Country” by Milton C. Sernett, an SU professor, is a good read and an excellent resource.