By Nan Self, California-Pacific Annual Conference
On Thundering Wings: Homosexuality: Love and the Church on Trial, by Ermalou McDuffie Roller
Ermalou Roller has written a compelling and complex autobiography; interwoven within her personal story is the church trial of the Reverend Gregory Dell, who was charged with having performed same-sex unions for members of his congregation, in conflict with United Methodist Church policies.
Many clergywomen will identify with Roller’s delayed call to ministry, after being married and having given birth to three children. More than one clergywoman will identify with the bewilderment of discovering that her husband is gay. Readers are reminded that while each of us sorts out the decisions of our own individual lives, public events often intersect with our unique personal journeys in significant ways.
The candor and courage with which this book is written are both inspiring and instructive no matter what one’s current position on homosexuality. Five United Methodist bishops have praised this book as a contribution to the ongoing dialogue within the denomination. The church’s ambivalence has continued for more than 40 years without resolution. As a matter of fact, during those 40 years the General Conferences have made prohibitions more explicit and thus more restrictive for both clergy and congregations.
The “Exodus events” of our lives mean that we must continually make decisions in the face of the unknown. (Surely the Israelites had no idea when they left Egypt that they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years before entering the Promised Land!) To enter a marriage is an “Exodus event”; to leave a marriage is no less an “Exodus event.” To respond to a call to ministry, to enter seminary to prepare to respond to that call, and to live out that vocation are all “Exodus events.” The author’s very personal and intimate details of her life decisions mirror for most of us the complexities we each face, but rarely articulate. Her multidimensional disclosure is simultaneously a love story, a spiritual journey, and a commentary on a troubling social issue of our time.
One of the very helpful contributions this book provides for the reader is a detailed, inside look at a United Methodist Church trial. While Greg Dell’s trial lasted only two days, March 26–27, 1999, the illumination and implications provided to the reader are substantial and provocative. The people who were present as witnesses and support, beyond those who were party to the deliberations, are given voice. Those on each side of the proceedings were deeply invested, and the national press were interested and thus monitored the outcome.
Retired bishop Jack Tuell was asked to preside over the proceedings. Having been first a practicing lawyer and then clergy, his reputation, wisdom, and skill were reassuring to both sides. This trial was also, for Bishop Tuell, an “Exodus Event.” In his own autobiography, From Law to Grace, he described his change of heart regarding The United Methodist Church’s position on homosexuality. Ironically, his sermon “Doing a New Thing” is printed in both his book and in On Thundering Wings.
Ermalou’s book and Bishop Tuell’s change of heart invite us, the readers, into our own personal “Exodus events”!
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WellSprings, A Journal of United Methodist Clergywomen, is published by the Division of Ordained Ministry, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
Editor: HiRho Y. Park
Managing Editor: Barbara A. Dick
Editorial Circle: Patricia Bonilla, Neelley Hicks, Anita Phillips, Jacqui Rose-Tucker, Trudy Hawkins Stringer