I read an interesting article the other day about Billy Graham asking Martin Luther King, Jr. to pray at his New York City Rally the summer of 1957. Graham had been struggling with how to make his rallies more integrated. He contacted his friend, Howard Jones, the African-American pastor of the Christian Missionary Alliance Church in Cleveland, OH, to ask what he could do. Jones said, "Don't wait for black folks to come to you. You need to go to them!" His point was that if Graham wanted to reach more diverse populations, he needed to show people by the folks leading the rallies, that his events included them. So that summer, just eighteen months after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Graham invited the new Civil Rights leader, Dr. King, who had become very controversial for many white people, to give the main prayer at the rally.
Now, google Billy Graham and race relations and you will find a variety of opinions, some saying he didn't do enough. But I also found a story about a Graham rally in Jackson, MS in 1952, where Billy Graham went down from the platform and removed the red rope segregating black attendees from whites. This not only sent the message of unity Graham wanted his rallies to have, it was illegal! Separation was the rule in MS at that time. Even though Graham wasn't charged with a legal violation he certainly committed a cultural one! Sometimes doing what's right, requires such action.
Last week our Governing Board made a historic decision to allow same-sex marriages to be conducted at St. Luke's. A full statement from the Board about this decision can be found here. With inaction and delay at the General Conference level, we feel the time has come to live into our values of inclusion and equity. The denomination has asked that the UMC live in a period of abeyance during this time leading up to the next GC in 2024, meaning that charges against clergy and congregations who act contrary to the current Book of Discipline in regard to same-sex marriage are discouraged. I will make a very brief presentation about this in the services Sunday morning and direct people to the statement our Governing Board is releasing today.
Some might criticize this decision because we are not waiting until the Book of Discipline is changed at the next GC. After all, why have rules if you don't follow them? So the argument goes. But at some point the question must be raised if the rule is a right one, and if it is not, then people of good conscience, and especially people of faith, are required to act in agreement with what they believe is right. I join our Governing Board in saying we believe this is right. We are, in fact, acting against the past stands of the church. But we are also acting in advance of where the UMC is headed.
Too often the church, in general, has been slow to lead the world in addressing injustices, like racism, and instead playing catch-up to society once customs and norms become more socially acceptable. On other occasions, the church does what it is supposed to do, what Jesus created it to do, and that is lead the world. Full inclusion of LGBTQ+ is a right whose time has come. It should have always been there. At St. Luke's, it now is.