Thursday, September 12, 2013

letter 16

                                                                                                               September 10, 2013
Bishop Mark Webb
UNY Conference Office
324 University Avenue, 3rd Floor
Syracuse, NY, 13210

Dear Bishop Webb,

My wife and I became a part of University United Methodist Church in the early 1970s when we moved to Syracuse.  I had grown up in the E.U.B. church, my wife in the Methodist church.  We joined because we liked the people in the church, but to a considerable degree because of the diversity of those attending services, and the commitment of the congregation to social justice and outreach to those in need.  At the time, the wounds of Vietnam had not healed and the civil rights movement was still the major focus of social justice; “gay rights” was not on our radar screens.

My wife and I moved to Syracuse because I was joining the biology faculty of Syracuse University.  I am now retired.  During my tenure at SU, the issues of social justice, including gay rights, became more prominent.  The idea that homosexuality was a lifestyle was set back by much evidence that sexuality is not a choice, and we became strong supporters of our friends who are gay or lesbian.  Soon I found myself in an interesting situation.  On Sundays I attended a church that had a Discipline plainly at odds with my core beliefs.  The other six days of the week, I was involved in working with students at an institution which tries to treat everyone fairly, does not judge people because they are born differently, and does not tolerate the sort of inequality the Discipline demands.  My wife was a schoolteacher in Liverpool working with students to engage with and not be judgmental of those who are different.  My wife and I have long agreed that if we move to a new community in retirement, we’ll leave the Methodist Church.  The only reason we remain at UUMC is that we know most members of this wonderful reconciling congregation believe as we do, and are faced with the same dilemma.

I realize the church hierarchy, including you, is confronted with a difficult situation, with ministers and congregations willing to follow their conscience and act in defiance of Methodist doctrine.  However, this state of affairs is not tenable, and some way needs to be found to recognize and perform gay marriages, and honor the standing of all people as equal before God.  How exactly are we to attract new young members, when we demand they (or at least their ministers) submit to a Discipline that violates the moral and ethical principles the rest of society is trying to teach, and which they are asked to abide by in their secular lives? Perhaps we should all reread the Wesleyan Quadrilateral–particularly the part about reason.

Sincerely yours,

Ernest Hemphill

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