In imitation of Martin Luther, the Christian Century magazine some years ago resumed a series, "How My Mind Has Changed." In the series the magazine asks theologians "to reflect on their own struggles, disappointments, questions and hopes as people of faith and to consider how their work and life have been intertwined," according to writer Paul J. Griffin.
Likewise, The United Methodist Church and its predecessor bodies have had a history, as all persons and institutions do, of changing. "We (still) affirm our long-standing support of abstinence from alcohol..." But we say, "...with regard to those who choose to consume alcoholic beverages, judicious use with deliberate and intentional restraint, with Scripture as a guide." Methodist attitudes and actions that once supported slavery, racial segregation and prohibitions against the ordination of women have changed.
How then does the "mind" of The United Methodist change in regards to marriage equality for same-sex couples? A story my preacher-father used to tell in his sermons came to mind as I watched the TV coverage of same-sex couples being married in those states that have recently legalized same-sex marriage.
The story: A preacher was powerfully eloquent as he preached his sermon challenging the young people in the congregation to consider becoming missionaries. At the end of his sermon he issued an altar call, asking those young people who would say, "yes" to missionary service to come forward and kneel at the communion rail. As he began his prayer, he noticed out of the corner of his eye that his young adult daughter was coming forward to respond to his challenge. He continued his prayer, but as he was praying, he walked over to his daughter and as she was getting ready to kneel, he said to her; "Judy, I didn't mean you, please go back to your seat."
We as United Methodists have said this about the mission and ministry of the Church regarding inclusiveness: "Inclusiveness means openness, acceptance, and support that enables all persons to participate in the life of the Church, the community, and the world. Thus, inclusiveness denies every semblance of discrimination." How much longer as we preach, teach and practice this understanding of inclusiveness, will we continue to say to some people; "But, we didn't mean you"?
The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell of Asbury Park, NJ, is a retired clergy member of the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference.