September 24, 2013
Bishop Mark Webb
Upper New York Episcopal Area
324 University Avenue, 3rd Floor
Syracuse, NY 13210
Dear Bishop Webb:
I am called to add my voice to the many others naming the blatant injustices against LGBTQ persons perpetuated and encouraged within our denomination by the rules. As one taught as a Methodist throughout my entire life to value, affirm, and celebrate equally all persons no matter race, gender, sexual orientation, or other uniqueness, I am truly baffled as to how and why our denomination, with its long and beautiful tradition of leading with passion and energy the charge to combat social injustices in all arenas of our society and world where they are found, has for several decades now chosen to remain so profoundly and obviously lost and how we, as a denomination, continue to fail to discern and embrace the movement of God that is right in front of us. The many voices you have heard in the letters written to you in support of Reverend Steve Heiss all express that they clearly not only see and hear God’s movement, but that they are speaking with God’s truth in love. They recognize that we have reached the end of our 40 years of wandering in the desert lost and unsettled. It is time for us to be found once again and to offer a promised land to all without exception.
Reverend Heiss has named the injustice and, in a form of civil disobedience, has made a brave, conscientious and God blessed choice to deny the “rules” of the institution in favor of living out the call of inclusion as clearly exemplified for us in the life of Jesus. I have heard you state numerous times that we are all called to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Unfortunately, we cannot transform a world which is already light years ahead of the church in responding to the concerns of LGBTQ inclusiveness. Instead, it appears that there may currently be many more prophetic voices outside of the institutional church calling us to the Way and modeling God’s love with others than are apparent within the church institution, particularly when it involves embracing the full worth and inclusiveness of those that are not like us. Your place in changing this dynamic can be either historically significant for and morally affirming of diversity within our church or your actions can be pharisaically in line with the “rules,” the status quo, and the fearful.
Considering your position as a very new Bishop in the United Methodist Church, as a professed person of God, a follower of John Wesley, and as an ordained elder, you are clearly facing a decision far greater than how to offer grace to Reverend Heiss in this single situation. God’s call for change won’t and can’t wait for the General Conference in 2016. The Holy Spirit is quite obviously moving among the persons in Upper New York in a very profound way. You have been blessed with the gifts and circumstances that will allow you to take a lead role in moving the entire denomination towards change for full inclusiveness of LGBTQ persons in all areas of the church. This may very well be God’s true call upon you at this time. Deciding to follow that call, setting one’s own human formed goals aside, and giving all over to God’s lead will be extremely difficult. The Bible is full of examples of those who fought God’s call, but, of course, in the end God’s way won out. Therefore, I am not only seeking to see genuine grace and absolution given to Reverend Heiss for his blessed acts of Love, but I am strongly urging you to personally take perhaps one of the greatest leaps of faith in your ministry and to not remain neutral on this issue, but to speak, act, and live the Gospel message by leading the charge for change. God and opportunity are knocking. Answering the knock at the door is truly living out the prophetic leadership role to which we entrust our Episcopal leaders.
I believe my friends in the Cabinet leadership of Upper New York would step up to make change happen along with you and in covenant with you because, in good conscience, their hearts know the turmoil that the injustices in the BOD inflict upon so many brothers and sisters in the pews and in the pulpits. I have heard many of their expressions of their calls to ministry and watched the painful wars of conscience they must battle because of the honest demands that being in leadership of our beloved institution places upon them. However, imagine the beauty of a leadership body that chooses to be in the middle of change and refuses to stand for less than God’s justice. Our leadership can be such a leadership if so led by you. Based upon voices at the UNY Annual Conference sessions of the last two years, it appears the majority of clergy and lay members would also be supportive of such an affirming stance by this Annual Conference. Bishop, you would not be alone and you would be in league with Jesus in living out the change our church needs to experience.
While tearing down barriers to inclusiveness, relationships with those in disagreement will need to be tended in love. Those participating in recent conversations with you regarding human sexuality issues in UNY must continue to work together to determine how we can still live together and honor individual beliefs despite our theological and interpretive differences. No matter the outcome of the search for a just resolution in the specific matter before you, communication needs to continue across the Conference while, simultaneously, intolerance and bigotry as written in the BOD and carried out by some must be boldly named and found unacceptable and intolerable by the people of UNY. We must believe and pray that God will soften the hearts of those who define God only in terms that bring self benefit and self righteousness and that God opens them to become persons truly living a faith-filled God life and growing the Kin-dom here on earth with all persons equally embraced.
Deep prayer and discernment through silence and aloneness with God will inform and guide you as it has me during times of tremendous challenge, change, and fear. The pain caused to so many and the institutionally condoned injustices against select groups of God’s children weigh heavily on all hearts fueled by a passion for Jesus and filled with God’s all-consuming love.
I have faith that the Will of God will ultimately prevail despite our human posturing and interference for own purposes. I will pray that God speaks directly and clearly to you, Mark Webb, so that your heart is opened as never before and that you may have the wisdom to know which way the Spirit is blowing with every step and action you take in this matter.
Sherri L. Mackey