Faithful America -- think Change.org for progressive Christians -- has spent the past several days promoting a petition on the site that calls on the United Methodist Church to go easy on the Reverend Bill McElvaney.
McElvaney, 85, a retired pastor and professor emeritus at SMU, last month presided over the wedding of octogenarians Jack Evans and George Harris, two of his former congregants at Northaven United Methodist Church who decided to finally tie the knot after 53 years together. The denomination, which bars its clergy from performing same-sex weddings, suspended McElvaney and could have him defrocked.
The petition, now 22,000 signatures strong, calls on the United Methodist Church to "put Jesus' commandment to love our neighbors ahead of unjust church rules" by calling off McElvaney's prosecution. Supporters will deliver it to Bishop Michael McKee this morning, probably, thanks to multiple Faithful America media advisories, with news cameras in tow.
Notably absent from the demonstration will be McElvaney himself. In a letter last month to Northaven members, he made it clear that, other than prayer, he wanted no agitation on his behalf.
McElvaney hasn't said anything about the petition drive, and he probably won't. He doesn't seem the type to publicly criticize what at heart is a well-meaning gesture. Eric Folkerth, his successor at the Northaven pulpit, has no such qualms. In a blog post this morning, he blasts Faithful America for continuing to push its petition drive:
"Faithful America" has done this, despite the fact that Bill specifically asked for people to take no action on his behalf...
Given all of this, the only assumption I can draw is that "Faithful America" either never bothers to ask, or really doesn't care, about the actual people involved in their stunt-like escapades. To my knowledge, they have not contacted anyone directly involved with this "action."
Anyone can create a scene with an online petition. But real social change involves relationships ... something they have clearly not built, or even attempted to build. I have tried to contact them several times myself, but they have not returned my calls.
So, while they engage in their stunt today, I will be visiting a member in the hospital.
If McElvaney escapes serious punishment, you can bet Faithful America will claim it as one of its social justice successes.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.