As we wrap up Black History Month, my mind and heart are returning to Rev. Darlene Garner and the injustice she experienced at the hands of the Metropolitan Community Church, a denomination to which she faithfully gave her leadership and ministry.
I have been an ally of the Metropolitan Community Church since I attended my first LGBT-affirming worship in the 90’s. I served as coordinator of the interfaith presence at the March on Washington in 2000 where MCC’s founder Rev. Troy Perry offered the opening prayer. I participated in the installation of Rev. Nancy Wilson as the Moderator of MCC at the National Cathedral. In recent years, I have been fortunate to work with Rev. Darlene Garner and her spouse Rev. Candy Holmes with whom I attended the People of African Descent (PAD) Conference. I’ve been inspired by and learned much from them. For these reasons, I was shocked when I learned Rev. Garner had been dismissed from the Senior Leadership staff at MCC.
In 2016 I attended MCC’s World Conference in Victoria, Canada where Rev. Garner was among four candidates for the next Moderator. As it turned out, the MCC assembly failed to elect said moderator. Instead, an interim moderator was named, and for the remainder of the conference, I sensed the pall that fell over that assembly. While I cannot fully comprehend the challenges nor the failure of the assembly, as an ally to MCC, I had hope that the church would find its way.
The dismissal of Rev. Garner is marked by three fault lines: racism, ageism, and sexism.
It was executed through a disrespectful and murky process marked by multiple communication failures with Rev. Garner and with MCC members and congregations. Rev. Garner received no advance notice nor just cause for her dismissal. Instead, she was told that this decision was “necessary due to restructuring.” Normally, these terms of dismissal are commonplace within capitalist corporations that operate like the structure of an empire. It is within these corporate arenas that we can expect already marginalized people to be removed from their jobs callously - regardless of their performance, character or work ethic - under the guise of “restructuring.” So, this characterization of MCC’s unjust actions adds salt to the wound because it was applied solely to Rev. Garner, a 69-year-old African-American woman.
The persistence of these social ills within a Christian denomination which was founded to be welcoming, affirming and loving is unfortunately consistent with the conditions of our world under Trumpism.
For this reason and others, this discriminatory dismissal is heartbreaking and I hope it will become a wake-up call for MCC and all faith traditions. As an elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) I worked for 23 years to end the discriminatory barriers to LGBT faith leaders in the church. I am keenly aware of the persistence of racism, ageism, and sexism (along with homophobia and transphobia) in the church. And, as the director of the Global Faith and Justice Project, I am committed to working for change from within the church and across society.
One day, I can imagine MCC offering an apology to Rev. Garner for this injustice. In the meantime, my hope and prayer are that the MCC national leadership, pastors, and congregations across its global fellowship will stop to examine this situation and reflect upon its root causes. It is also my hope and prayer that individual and collective reflections will result in a commitment to do right by Rev. Garner and her extraordinary legacy. Dr. King told us that “faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” I pray that MCC will never allow such an injustice to happen again. May the Metropolitan Community Church summon both courage and conviction to step into a journey of repentance, reconciliation, reparations, healing, and justice.