“Through the years of human struggle walk a people long despised,
Gays and lesbians together, fighting to be realized.”
Those lines were written by my friend Julian Rush – musician, composer and former United Methodist minister. I met Julian in 1989 at the 2nd Annual Reconciling Ministries Convocation in San Francisco. He retired to the Phoenix area a decade later and joined Asbury UMC, where I served as pastor.
Julian Rush was the first openly gay minister appointed to a United Methodist Church after the UMC institutionalized discrimination against LGBT persons in its 1976 Book of Discipline. In 1981, Bishop Melvin Wheatley appointed Rev. Rush to St. Paul’s UMC in Denver. There would be hell to pay. Julian was soon forced out of the ordained ministry and Bishop Wheatley was admonished and ostracized by the Council of Bishops.
Julian’s rejection by the church only served to strengthen his faith. In 1985, he wrote a hymn called Ours the Journey. It is a stirring anthem, a testament to God’s persistent desire to help us move beyond ignorance and hatred, through tolerance and acceptance, finally to embrace and celebrate persons of all backgrounds, colors and orientations – “each a gift in your creation, each a love song to be sung.” The hymn would included as “In the Midst of New Dimensions” in The Faith We Sing, a hymnal supplement of the UMC published In 2000 – but only after Julian’s willingness to omit the lines quoted above: “Through the years of human struggle . . .”
This has been a watershed week in the LGBT struggle. At home, our annual conference voted by an overwhelming margin to petition the General Conference of the UMC (which meets in May 2016) to remove discriminatory language against LGBTQ persons from the Book of Discipline. And nationally, the Supreme Court has ruled that same-gender marriage is the law of the land. I recognize this represents dramatic change for some. For others, it has been a long time coming. Hopefully all of us can affirm, with Julian, our faith in the God who goes before us, calling us into a vision of our shared humanity:
“In the midst of new dimensions, in the face of changing ways,
who will lead the pilgrim peoples wandering in their separate ways?
God of rainbow, fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar,
we your people, ours the journey
now and ever, now and ever,
now and evermore!”