Photo Courtesy of Love Your Neighbor
The Rev. James Cone
When James Cone speaks, people listen. And not only because his high-pitched voice and his youthful, dimpled appearance doesn’t match the anger of the “father of Black theology,” but because he is unwilling to keep silent on uncomfortable subjects.
Cone’s latest book, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” is also the title of his sermon at Sunday’s Common Witness Coalition Noon Worship at the Straz Center in Tampa. The cross and lynching tree “interpret one another,” Cone said, and people of hope and faith know that death does not have the last word. “I have to give voice to those who did die,” Cone said as he began work on his book. That voice Sunday will speak to the current injustice faced in the UMC by people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender.
Cone’s lifetime of Christian theology seeks to understand how we can make meaning of suffering and injustice, and affirms that God’s power transcends the human power that dehumanizes and leads to death; God’s power is what gives hope to people of faith.
Cone, who is the Charles Augustus Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, writes in “A Black Theology of Liberation” that, “liberation is the very essence of divine activity. “You can’t overcome something if you don’t acknowledge its presence,” Cone said. Acknowledging the pain and discrimination LGBT people have experienced for the last 40 years also becomes the path to transcend its pain.
“God made us all as brothers and sisters,” Cone said recently in a CNN story. “I’m mad when people don’t treat others as brothers and sisters. I’m concerned about the suffering of all people, not just black people. If anybody is being treated unjustly, I’m with them.” Cone will be with us as Sunday’s preacher in a Worship service coordinated by Rev. Delyn Celec, who serves as a Campus Minister at United Methodist-related Shenandoah University in Virginia.
Celec was ordained last fall by the Church Within A Church (CWAC) movement (www.churchwithinachurch.org), when her UMC ordination process was ended by the denomination after she married Sarah Celec. “I’m excited and honored to be asked to lead worship as we sojourn in this quest for equality,” says Celec, who says The United Methodist Church is the place where she was “called, educated, and spiritually formed – and I’m grateful for that.”
A denominational worship leader at the 2008 General Conference, Celec’s ordination with CWAC removes her officially from UMC membership. But “RMN saved my life,” she reports as she describes the Worship that is based on the “extravagant story of love” known as “the Good Samaritan.”
Celec explains a worship order framed by that familiar story, a service designed by Rev. Tanya Linn Bennett, University Chaplain, Lecturer in worship, urban and youth ministries. Celec says she’s inspired by Bennett, her mentor and former teacher, who has written a liturgy for Holy Communion based on Luke’s version of the “love your neighbor” story. Bennett’s liturgy asks, “Who is our neighbor? Who deserves our love, our mercy, our attention, our welcome, our justice-making?” as those gathered Sunday will prepare to receive the bread and cup. “This is the table where we open ourselves to God’s abundant love, igniting our passion for our neighbors, everyone we meet, wherever we go,” says the liturgy, which will be celebrated by Bishops Grant Hagiya (Pacific Northwest Conference) and Sudarshana Devadhar (North Central New York Conference). The liturgy affirms “Jesus brought us the only answer that we need. We are to love each other as God loves us, all of us neighbors in the household of God.”
A service of “recognition, affirmation, and hope,” Sunday’s Worship “For Love of God and Neighbor,” will include liturgical leadership representing the Common Witness Coalition partners who co-host the service: Affirmation, Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Methodist Federation for Social Action, National Federation of Asian American United Methodists, Native American International Caucus, and Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN).
“This coalition is historic,” says Troy Plummer, Executive Director of RMN. “The number is growing, as faithful Christians share a belief that Wesley’s ‘do no harm’ still calls us today to extend God’s love to all.” Sunday’s service of world music and Scripture from Matthew 5 includes an original hymn written by Celec, based on Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6.
The Straz Center for the Performing Arts is located at 1010 North MaCinnes Place and is walking distance from General Conference and the Common Witness Coalition Tabernacle. For those unable to be in Tampa, live streaming of the service that includes Cone’s preaching is available at www.gc12.org.
Reprinted with permission from the Common Witness website, "Love Your Neighbor." The Rev. Lois McCullen Parr is pastor at Broadway UMC in Chicago, and has a background in writing and peace and justice activism.