- Feb 09, 2008
Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao, Rev Gilbert H Caldwell,
John Wesley, the Founder of Methodism proclaimed: "The world is my parish." This was in response to the criticism that he was not working within parish boundaries or in church. He wrote "I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation." His message and ministry addressed also the social situation beyond the walls of the Church. In the light of this shared Methodist heritage Gilbert H.Caldwell in the United States and Yap Kim Hao in Singapore were prompted to write this joint message.
We come from opposite sides of the world. But we were once together in Boston University School of Theology and inspired to look upon the world as our parish.
Gilbert H. Caldwell has served as Pastor & District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church in the United States. He was one of the founders and 2nd National Chairperson of Black Methodists for Church Renewal. Active in the Martin Luther King-led Civil Rights Movement, he participated in major freedom marches. He was a member of the Massachusetts Unit of Dr. Kings's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Caldwell was a member of United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. In 2000, he with others and with the support of the Reconciling Ministries Network, organized United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church. The group is committed to the full inclusion of same gender loving and LGBT persons in church and society.
Yap Kim Hao upon graduation from seminary returned to Malaysia to serve as Pastor & District Superintendent until he was elected the first Asian bishop of The Methodist Church in Malaysia and Singapore in 1968. Yap was active in the ecumenical movement and resigned from the episcopacy and was elected General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia in 1973 and served for twelve years. He led the Asian churches in support of the human rights struggle in the Asian countries and their programmes of not only of theological but also of social and economic development. Currently he is involved in Interfaith work and engaged in Inter-religious dialogue. He serves currently as Pastoral Advisor to the Free Community Church which is the only church for the LGBT persons and straights who affirm them. Awards include Boston University School of Theology Distinguished Alumni, Baker University Honorary Doctorate, World Methodist Council Order of Jerusalem, People Like Us "Dignity" (Coordinating all LGBT groups in Singapore) for his contribution to the gay community.
Both of us have been in the ordained ministry since the fifties and we are now in retired relations in the Methodist Church. But the ministry continues. As we survey the world in which we live, we have not known a time when the painful agonies of the world have been so obvious. Whether we refer to war, hunger, poverty, violence, environment or HIV/Aids, the world is suffering as it may never have suffered before. These are the pressing life and death issues that we as a church must address in our time. We need to re-arrange our priorities and tackle human suffering, resolve conflicts and enhance life.
As the United Methodist Church approaches its quadrennial General Conference this year, we are concerned that while the world suffers, our denomination will again spend an inordinate amount of precious time legislating against LGBT persons over against the more pressing issues as listed above. Our Book of Discipline contains language and legislation; "Homosexuality is incompatible with the Christian faith", suggests the denomination has the absolute truth about the incompatibility between Christian faith and homosexuality. We have not expressed toward the other matters which are so obviously incompatible with Christian teaching that are responsible for so much more human suffering. Our prohibiting negative language on this concern is out of proportion to other serious concerns that confront us all. In the past we have segregated people of color, denied the rights of women and ignored the poor. We have moved on and accepted people regardless of their race, gender or economic status. There is this last frontier or prejudice of homosexuality that we need to cross.
It is apparent that in the USA and elsewhere same gender civil unions will become legal from state to state. United Methodist prohibitions on such commitments limit the ministry of our Church. As the South African Constitution forbids discrimination against same gender couples and as the world seeks to confront those things that seem to be tearing the world apart, the negative focus of the United Methodist Church on same gender love and commitment gives the impression this is a priority issue for the denomination. The tide of gay-affirmation is rising throughout the world and even major international financial institutions in exercising their corporate responsibility for staff diversity are proactive in recruiting LGBT persons. Is the church going to be lagging and left behind?
Slavery in the USA, is now thought of as one of the moments in American history when church and society were not at their best. The role of the Church (the Methodist Church included) was not always a force for good as the nation debated the issue of slavery. In a drama titled The Slave Narratives, a collection of the thoughts and words of slaves, one slave says of the "Christian" slave master: "They used the Bible like a stick against us."How tragically unfortunate it is that in the 21st century the Bible as stick, is still used against same gender loving and committed couples.
We urge the General Conference of 2008 meeting in Fort Worth, Texas to rescind its negative legislation vis-a-vis LGBT persons and instead commit itself to affirm homosexuality and include LGBT persons in the parish in the world in which we serve.
Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao, Rev Gilbert H Caldwell,
Braddell Hill, Apt 16-17, Singapore 579724 Asbury Park, New Jersey, USA