United Methodists

Rev. Gil Caldwell Officiates His First Same-Sex Marriage

by Rev . Gil Caldwell

As a Civil Rights Movement “foot soldier”, I have used these words of Martin Luther King, Jr. to guide my activism, not just for people of African descent, but for all justice struggles; “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I officiated my first same-sex marriage the Sunday of this year’s Martin Luther King weekend, January 19, 2014.

The couple whom I married, Drew Giddings and Dennis Hall, are African American men and agreed to my acknowledging the significance of their marriage as a response to the justice leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr.

As one who had attended the March on Washington, participated in the Selma to Montgomery March and the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and introduced Dr. King as he spoke on Boston Common, I believe that marriage equality for same sex couples is in the best tradition of the Civil Rights Movement. I am pleased that the Reconciling Ministries Network has given me space to share the following.

I did not know that my saying “yes” to performing the marriage of Dennis Hall and Drew Giddings on January 19th would set the stage for the mass marriages that took place at the Grammy’s on January 26th. As I felt the “good vibrations” these marriages provoked and evoked in me and watched and listened to Queen Latifah guide the proceedings, I wished that every United Methodist had seen what I saw and felt what I felt.

If they had, I believe the United Methodist Church would be about transforming its anti-same-sex marriage and unions language and legislation.

But, I write all of this as a prelude to what must be written about the marriage of Drew Giddings to Dennis Hall, and I reverse that by writing “Dennis Hall to Drew Giddings” as a way to express the equality that should exist in all marriages.

I said “yes” to sharing as a clergyman in the marriage of Drew and Dennis because my long-time friend, The Rev. Dr. Traci West, was in Zimbabwe and not available. Traci and I have been colleagues in organizing with others at United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church. She has been supportive of Truth in Progress, as Marilyn Bennett and I explore issues of race, sexual orientation, and religion through writing, filmed interviews, visits to sites important to the Civil Rights Movement and the Gay Rights Movement, and a forthcoming documentary film.

I first met with Drew and Dennis to talk about their marriage in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

I immediately felt positive and good about these two handsome black men, obviously in love with each other and in love with life.

We sat in the lobby of the building, where my wife and I live, watching the crashing of the waves of the Atlantic Ocean across the street.

I learned that they traced their lineage to Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados. We talked and talked about the wedding, their families, and their children, closing our talk with prayer.

They created and prepared the content of their wedding ceremony and they sent it to me. As I read over and over again the ceremony they sent, these words that they had for their Exchange of Vows said all that needed to be said as they held hands:

Will you take one another to be no other than himself. Loving what you know of him, trusting what you do not know, will you respect his integrity and have faith in his abiding love for you, through all your years, and in all that life may bring to you.

They each in response to this said “I will” with conviction and power.

I preached my sermon after the reading of Ephesians 3:14-21. I began by sharing the words of the Frank Sinatra song “Love and Marriage”: “Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage”.

I asked, “Which of you is the horse, and which of you is the carriage?” Dennis and Drew laughed and those gathered “laughed with them.” They knew, and we all know, that in marriage, the roles of horse and carriage are to be interchanged. If not, one partner always rides, while the other always pull their partner. This may work at times, but certainly not all of the time.

I mentioned in my sermon my 56-year marriage to Grace and the marriage of Martin Luther King to Coretta, and said:

Authentic marriage is consistently strong and unbending when two people are so ‘into each other’ so that no person, no relationship, nothing can separate them from each other.

I then suggested to Drew and Dennis that they sing and say frequently the song we used to sing on the picket lines in the South and the North, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round.” I ended my sermon with a prayer in which I included quotations from well-known persons about love. Among them, “Love stretches your heart and makes you big inside,” by Margaret Walker.

How did I feel about performing the marriage of a same-sex couple when the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church says “no”?

I am a third generation Methodist. My grandfather and his generation were born into slavery. Our family name, Caldwell, is the name of those who “owned” my foreparents. The Methodist Movement had people in it who believed and said the “practice of abolitionism (freeing the slaves) and racial integration were incompatible with Christian teaching.”

They were wrong, and they have been proven to be wrong because other Methodists publicly disagreed with them. I have already been punished by The United Methodist Church, once being in 2000 at the Cleveland General Conference when I, along with others, was arrested twice because of our civil disobedience against the oppressive, anti-gay language and legislation of The United Methodist Church.

My “call” to ministry and my ordination as Deacon in 1956 compels me and frees me to be incomplete and total ministry to all of God’s people, regardless of who they are, what they have done, or whom they love.

How strange it is that Methodism did not charge those Methodists, clergy, and lay who were members of the KKK or the White Citizen’s Council for what they thought and did to black people, yet, in the 20th and 21st centuries, same-gender loving persons who are open about their love and commitment and the clergy who perform their unions and marriages are subject to charges or to criticism?

I say to my United Methodist sisters and brothers who charge and bring to trial the United Methodist clergy whose understanding of ministry embraces, complete ministry to/with same-sex couples, the words that Jesus spoke from the cross: “Forgive them, God, for they know not what they do.”