Member Feature: Rev. Gil Caldwell
I attribute my activism to the activism of my mother. She was active as a black woman in the segregated Methodist (before the United Methodist Church), and would attend national meetings of Methodist women representing the all-black Central Jurisdiction.
She would return from those meetings and at the dinner table, would tell us of how she was refused entrance to white-only restaurants and hotels. Many of the white women present did not respond to the discrimination, she and the other black women experienced.
But, there were a few white women, from the south and the north, who befriended her, walked out of restaurants with her, and would refuse to stay in the hotels where she could not stay. As I look back the stories she told in the 1940's when I was 6, 7, or 8, shaped my life of activism. (Remember the song in South Pacific? 'You've got to be carefully taught, by the time you are 6, 7, or 8, the people to love, the people to hate'?)
I learned from my mother, not to hate, but to stand up against hatred.
My preacher-father was not the activist my mother was, he was a scholar. But recently, I have discovered that the Masters Theses he wrote while a student at Syracuse University in 1918, was about the debate and division in the Methodist Church over slavery and the owning of slaves.
My activism of course was informed and shaped by Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. I met in 1958 when I was a student at Boston University School of Theology. And, I first heard him at the "Prayer Pilgrimage" in Washington, DC in 1957 where he spoke on the 3rd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that invalidated racially segregated public schools.
I first heard of Soulforce as I with others was preparing to challenge at the 2000 United Methodist Church, the anti-gay language and legislation of the UMC that was first enacted by the General Conference of 1972. There were some United Methodist Gay rights activists, who were not keen on Soulforce becoming involved in our protest activity, but they did no prevail.
Soulforce through the leadership of Mel White impressed me because of his and its willingness to challenge the anti-gay attitudes and actions of religious bodies.
There has been for me a disconnect between faith practices of churches that viewed some persons as being "less equal than others". Of course the racial practices of the Methodist Church that had a direct bearing on my family and me, as African Americans laid the foundation for my activism.
The words, "New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth", James Russell Lowell, shape my views of faith and justice. Old approaches are inadequate to shape new understandings of race, sexuality and changing cultural values.
We ignore our faith and justice responsibility when we attempt to impose
old attitudes and assumptions on change that is inevitable. The present stance of the United Methodist Church; "The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" gives the impression that it is same- sex intimacy that is at variance with Christian teaching, without regard to the quality of love, respect and affirmation expressed in that intimacy.
Our unwillingness to, or our laziness about bringing to bear faith understandings about new kinds of relationships, suggest a kind of rigidity about faith and faith practice.
I admit it is a bit out of context as I write this, but Jesus said, "You have heard that it hath been said, but I say unto you..."
Years ago, Harry Emerson Fosdick preached a sermon that had much to do with the initiation and building of Riverside Church in New York City.
The sermon title: "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?". Fundamentalism, a literal interpretation of and response to Scripture, diminishes the capacity of Scripture and the faith to address our evolving experiences and understandings of God's intent.
Soulforce hopefully, I am not an "insider", is as an organization/movement that is evolving in thought and practice that makes it capable of being an equal opportunity "critic and cheerleader" of contemporary religious life and practice.
The name Soulforce prompts me to engage in a kind of Jazz "riff", as I write about it. "Soul" is a word and description that has special meaning for those of us who are black and/or value the black, spiritual, cultural, historical, bitter/sweet, etc. experience.
My concerns and my hopes about the LGBTQI Movement are rooted in the question; "How does this Movement understand and become an ally/advocate of the black justice movement."
I have observed how some persons/groups within this Movement at one time, affirmed in words but not deeds the justice struggles of Trans* persons and Trans* community.
If, in response to political attitudes, Trans* persons/community could be
"seen", but their cries for justice could not be "heard", in conjunction with the justice efforts of those who were not Trans*, something was amiss.
There is something less-than-moral/ethic when some persons are "used" to further the aims of others, when their own justice needs are not being affirmed.
This has been my ongoing challenge as personally and otherwise, my blackness and my Civil Rights Movement history I have felt. has been "used" by some to further gay rights needs, but not the needs of blacks.
The great challenge for the 21st century is economic justice! The LGBTQI community is, or is thought of as a middle, upper middle, upper class, economic and educational community and movement.
Oprah Winfrey in the role she played in SELMA, Annie Cooper, endured the racial discrimination and race-based physical brutality that was that of Ms. Cooper. It of course was a movie role that Oprah Winfrey played. But, how can all of us in "real life" identify and be in solidarity with those who for economic, educational, racial, etc. reasons be viewed in our society as "The Other".
This is a personal challenge for all of us, it is a challenge for Souforce, it is a challenge for all Movements.