By Harriet P. Gross
You’ve probably read or heard about a recent gay wedding in Dallas that was both unusual and controversial. Unusual, because the men involved had waited an unusually long time for this opportunity to marry: one was 80 years old, the other 84. Controversial, because the ceremony was held in a bona fide Protestant church, with a bona fide Protestant minister officiating.
We’re at a time in America when the clamor for same-sex marriages is being heard loud and clear, and quite a few such unions are already taking place. We may yet see the chance for equality that African-Americans fought for in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and that women fought for in the ‘60s and ‘70s, extend to gays and lesbians as well. But such fights are always long and hard. Minority groups of all kinds continue to be marginalized in various ways, and those of the same sex who want to be officially married represent such a minority in our time.
However, George Harris and Jack Evans are now officially wed. I know neither of these men, and I don’t know the Rev. Bill McElvaney who married them. But I do know something about the denomination in which he ministers, and something about the church denomination in which the wedding took place. And the two are not the same.
McElvaney is pastor emeritus of Northaven United Methodist Church on Preston Road in North Dallas. My husband and I are very good friends of a couple who are longtime members of that church. We’ve learned from them that their congregation is one of “compassion, peace, justice and reconciliation.” All are welcomed there, and that really means “all”: “We believe in separation of church and hate” is one of its mottos.
But Northaven is more than a bit out of step with the official view of the denomination itself: the United Methodist Church holds that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Retired Pastor McElvaney chose to officiate at this wedding in another church rather than his own, to spare it denominational ire, and the very real possibility that Northaven’s current minister might suffer if the nuptials were held there. A trial and defrocking are real possibilities for those who go against the rules; McElvaney himself is also at risk.
So the nuptials, a very “gay” event in two senses, took place in Northwest Dallas’ Midway Hills Christian Church. This denomination is often confused with the Church of Christ, which it is not. The name that best expresses its identity is “Disciples of Christ,” and its members take that as a serious charge for social action. “We are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world,” they say. “We welcome all…as God has welcomed us.”
Disciples get “down and dirty” to help all those in need. I learned this from a dear departed friend who was a life-long member of the Christian Church, and I participated in many efforts with her and her dedicated Disciple friends, who became my friends as well.
A funny personal experience: I was teaching Confirmation class at a large temple when I asked the rabbi’s secretary which church she belonged to. When she named a nearby Christian Church, I said, “Oh, you’re a Disciple!” She was truly surprised that a Jew would know about her denomination, and told me so. And I had the pleasure of responding: “I’ve waited all my life for a chance to say this: Some of my best friends are Disciples!” And so they are.
So Midway Hills Christian Church was a safe place for a gay wedding, and perhaps also for the dozen Methodist ministers who attended it, sitting together and attesting by their solidarity that they were with the Rev. McElvaney when he said “George and Jack are offering a gift, an invitation and a challenge to the United Methodist Church to become a fully inclusive church.” With their presence, they were saying, “From your mouth to God’s ears…”