By REV. GILBERT H. CALDWELL
I write you as a retired African-American United Methodist Pastor who was a “foot soldier” in the Civil Rights Movement (Mississippi Freedom Summer, the Selma to Montgomery march, the March on Washington, and a march led by Martin Luther King in Boston to protest school segregation).
As I have read about the coalition and your opposition to President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage as well as to the support by the board of the NAACP for marriage equality, I was reminded of some words from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
I am a co-partner in a project called “Truth in Progress.” My partner, Marilyn Bennett is white, lesbian and no longer related to the church because of church opposition to the ordination of gays and lesbians who are open about their same-sex committed relationships. I am African American, straight and still active in the United Methodist Church. I will celebrate my 55th wedding anniversary in November. Marilyn, who has a relationship with Archbishop Tutu and his family and I, wrote Archbishop Tutu asking him to share with Truth in Progress some words in response to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. This is what Archbishop Tutu wrote that we have posted on the Truth in Progress website:
“May this tragic act help the U.S. to be true to the ideals of the founding persons of your great nation. May you all realize that you really are members of one family, God’s family, the human family: black, white, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, lesbian, transsexual, gay, bisexual, and so-called straight. All belong in the bundle of life … members of one family, God’s family, the human family.”
Your opposition to President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage, has some relationship to those who in 2008 would not vote for him “because he is the son of an interracial marriage, and the Bible is against interracial marriage.” These persons used isolated bits of scripture to justify their resistance to interracial marriage just as you are doing the same to oppose same-sex marriage. There is an “ugliness” to using the Bible to deny some members of “God’s family” the right to legally marry their same-sex partner. We sometimes say in the African-American community, “God don’t like ugly.” Archbishop Tutu would agree. He lives in South Africa where same-sex marriage is legal.
I wonder what Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, as she observes the Coalition of African-American Pastors from heaven would say about you? Jordan, who possessed a magnificently sharp mind, a uniquely gifted way of speaking and a deep commitment to the founding principles of our nation was for many years in a partnered relationship with another woman. How wonderful it would have been if she had been able to be “open” about that relationship in a marriage — a marriage that the Coalition would have denied her having.
Colleagues in the Coalition, while you are opposing President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage, there are groups and persons whom you know, who may be your supporters, who have supported legislation in their respective states to suppress voter participation in the presidential election. They claim that they are concerned about voter fraud, and thus they for the first time are demanding new identification requirements. But some of them have “let the cat out of the bag” as they have said their efforts are directed toward the defeat of President Obama.
I end this “Open Letter” by asking you, “Have you thought of what your grandchildren, nieces and nephews and other young people will say when in the future they read of what you and your colleagues did to attempt to defeat the first African-American president in history?” History will not be kind to you and neither will the generations that follow you.
‘Gil’ Caldwell is a partner in Truth in Progress, a member of the national board of PFLAG and one of the founders of the Black Caucus in the United Methodist Church.