We Did: Stories of United Methodists living marriage equality
By Dr. Dorothee Benz, Rev. Doug Cunningham, Rev. Vicki Flippin and Rev. Scott Summerville
Over the last eight months, week in and week out, We Did authors have told stories of flesh-and-blood people whom they ministered to and whose weddings they performed. Some of the stories have been heartbreaking (the couple who wanted to get married before death claimed one of them) or dramatic (the couple that fell in love after one nearly died in an accident), others have been simply joyful (“dancing down the aisle”). Some of the authors were officiating weddings for longtime parishioners or people they baptized, some offered their ministry to family members, and some to strangers who were in search of clergy to bless their unions in the faith they grew up in. Some of the weddings took place in churches, some outside, one in an old three-car garage turned into a mission for homeless people. There were stories from long ago, like the pastor who married people in the midst of the horror of death that was the early AIDS crisis, and stories from just a few months ago. But every single story was about love and ministry and community.
This project began as an act of solidarity with Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree, who was brought up on official church charges for officiating at his son’s wedding. Clergy from around our conference who had also performed same-sex weddings gathered to discuss what their unique contribution in support of Tom might be, and they decided that telling their stories – that they had done exactly what Tom now faced prosecution for – was that unique contribution.
But the effect of these 31 stories has been far greater than any specific act of solidarity. Together, they have made real and made normal the desire of two people of the same sex to marry. Together, they have demonstrated – in a way that no amount of biblical exegesis or commentary on the Book of Discipline ever could – that it is untenable, indeed impossible, to require clergy to discriminate. Together, they have laid bare the reality that the issue at stake in our denomination really is homophobia and discrimination, not lofty ideals of covenant or the authority of scripture. Together, they have ended the pretense that there is a “debate” between two equal sides about how we should treat LGBTQ people.
The effect of this powerful witness can be seen throughout our conference and beyond. It created a context in which Bishop McLee could declare as part of the resolution in Tom Ogletree’s case, “I call for and commit to a cessation of trials” for clergy performing these marriages. It helped set the tone for the public forum on May 10, in which Rev. Dr. Althea Spencer-Miller and Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey eloquently explained that LGBTQ people are part of our church, not alien outsiders, and that their seeking change in the church is right and normal. The We Did stories have been published each week on MIND’s website and simultaneously on RMN’s blog, giving them a national audience. With this witness, as with We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality, our conference is providing leadership and inspiration to the national movement. We are finding a way out of the 40-plus-year spiritual wilderness of the UMC’s bigotry: we refuse, simply, to any longer be complicit in it.