Wednesday, September 18, 2013

letter 59

Bishop Mark Webb
Upper New York Annual Conference
324 University Ave.,
Third Floor Syracuse, NY 13210
September 17, 2013

Dear Bishop Webb,

            Hello from Buffalo.  I have not had the opportunity to meet you yet, though I believe we have much in common.  Like you, I am a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary.  I completed my M.Div. in 1986 and returned to campus for the Beeson Pastor Program in 1998.  I received my D.Min. from Asbury in 2001.  I grew up in the United Methodist Church and began serving churches in what is now the Upper New York Conference prior to seminary in 1982 while a student at Houghton College. 

            Yesterday I received a request to officiate at a same-sex wedding for a couple that is traveling from out of state.  They are active in their church in Florida and want a pastor to help them seal their marriage covenant in a state that allows for marriage equality.  I was delighted to say “yes” to their request.  The wedding in October will be the tenth I have officiated.  I am also actively planning for my own marriage next summer to my partner of eight years.  I have no fear of being brought up on charges for any of this since I am no longer a United Methodist pastor.   In 2004, the United Church of Christ welcomed me into its ranks of clergy as an openly gay man.  Unlike the UMC, the UCC General Synod has urged its churches and pastors to work for marriage equality and to celebrate marriages without discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

            It grieves me to read of the charges brought against Rev. Steve Heiss.  It’s hard for me to comprehend how a decision I make easily and often, with the blessing of the church, could potentially result in the defrocking and unemployment of a Christian brother in the UMC.   Despite the rejection I have personally experienced by the United Methodist Church, I continue to love it deeply and long for the day when such spiritual and vocational harm no longer occurs.  From what I know, Rev. Heiss is a caring and compassionate pastor with tremendous integrity who is serving the UMC well. 

            I don’t think that many spiritual leaders today doubt that there is change coming quickly in regard to the acceptance of same-sex relationships in our larger society as well as within the church.  Many resist this.  Many others see it as a move of the Spirit to bring needed, overdue justice.  I am convinced that we are seeing the last gasps of resistance to the Spirit’s move and that generations immediately following our own will fully embrace the gifts, graces, and rights of LGBT persons.  I believe that you and others have a holy responsibility and an awesome opportunity.  Current church leadership will be lauded by those who come afterward if they have advocated for justice and dignity for all persons.  I believe such prophetic action includes the just treatment of Rev. Steve Heiss .

            In the spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., all who dare to resist oppressive and unjust rules must be willing to pay the price.  I assume that Rev. Heiss is so willing.  Conversely, those who have episcopal oversight must act boldly to assure that those serving the church do not suffer unjustly.  Surely hurting those who faithfully serve Christ as pastors is a greater sin than marrying LGBT persons making a lifetime commitment of love.  I am praying daily for you and for Rev. Heiss, trusting that the Holy Spirit will bring resolution.  I am also praying for those who continue to feel excluded and unloved by the UMC on the basis of sexual orientation.  May God bless you and the United Methodist Church in the days to come.


Rick Danielson
Pastor, St. Stephens-Bethlehem United Church of Christ
Buffalo, New York

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