Martin Luther King, Jr. Sundays

Harriett Tubman Portrayal 2007
Rev. Gil Caldwell Visit 2005
Rev. Caldwell (left) walks to the Boston Common with King and Abernathy, April 1965




FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                              

CONTACT: Rev. Kevin A. Johnson, Bloom in the Desert Ministries




Palm Springs, California, January 17, 2005 ­  -- A civil rights advocate and a man who was at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s side in the 1960s confronted the new racism – injustice towards gays and lesbians in churches and society ­during a series of appearances in Palm Springs on January 16.  

During the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell, who first heard King speak in 1957, said that King would be marching for gays and lesbians if he were alive today.

On Sunday, January 16, 2005, Rev. Caldwell delivered the sermon at the 9:30 a.m. regular worship service of Bloom in the Desert Ministries, and then spoke at an 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. catered “Soul Food Brunch.”

Both events were open to the public and held at the Family YMCA of the Desert –Palm Springs, at 3601 East Mesquite Avenue.

In addition to his memories of King and the civil rights struggle, Caldwell spoke on the current fight against racism and injustice toward gays and lesbians in church and society.

Caldwell’s advocacy for equality in church and society today includes issues about sexual orientation. He testified on behalf of a lesbian minister at a 2003 United Methodist Church trial in Washington State, telling the court, that as the United Methodist Church now brands “the practice of homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching,” there was a time when blacks and women were thought to be “incompatible” in the life of the church.

He has spoken against amending the U.S. Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage.  “I am an African American clergyman who with thousands of others protested and was arrested, challenging racist legislation that violated our national ideals of equality,” Caldwell said at a press conference held by Colorado Clergy for Equality in Marriage.  “Today, I declare that I believe ‘laws and habits’ that negate the right of same-sex couples to marry, contradict the ideals of our nation.”

Caldwell, a founding member of United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church, helped develop the group’s statement on issues of racism, sexism and heterosexism.  In part it says, “We see the truth in the words of Coretta Scott King when she says that the struggles for inclusion of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people are part of the ‘continuing justice movement’ for which Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life, a movement that ‘thrives on unity and inclusion, not division and exclusion.’”


Caldwell is currently one of the national coordinators of the Church Within A Church Movement in the United Methodist Church. The grass roots group's mission is "To BE church in a fully inclusive way."

Some blacks have argued that fighting for inclusion and justice for gays as a civil rights issue hurts the movement for racial justice. Caldwell recalls that King “took all kinds of guff from the black civil rights community and others” when he raised economic issues and spoke out against the Vietnam War.  “I want to explore what would Martin Luther King say and do if he were here today, on a plethora of issues,” Caldwell says.  “I say God cares about justice.” Caldwell adds, “One does not have to major in one area and minor in other areas.”

Caldwell, 71, retired in 2001 after 45 years of ministry serving churches in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and Colorado.  He says he is looking forward to his visit and dialogue at Bloom in the Desert Ministries in Palm Springs.    

Caldwell says he first heard King at a “prayer pilgrimage” rally in 1957 that commemorated the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the “separate but equal” concept in public schools.  While in seminary in 1958, he invited King to speak to several classes at King’s alma mater, Boston University School of Theology.  Caldwell was present for King's “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.  

In 1964, Caldwell joined in the Mississippi Summer Project, an effort to set up freedom schools for black children and register black voters.  Caldwell participated in the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights.  As a Methodist minister in the city, Caldwell was an organizer and the emcee of a rally in Boston where King spoke.

Based on his observations of King, Caldwell describes him as “a quiet reflective person, an introspective person” who “came alive in a unique way on the platform” as he spoke.  He says that King used his academic experience and intellect, yet “related to the struggle of real-life people.”

At a meeting on April 4, 1968, of the National Conference of Black Churchmen in Chicago, Caldwell heard about King’s assassination in Memphis and rushed to Boston to patrol the streets with other black clergy to discourage violence.

Bloom in the Desert Ministries is a progressive, interdenominational Christian ministry committed to full inclusion of all persons and the celebration of race, color, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identities. As a liberal protestant church, the congregation has connections to the United Methodist Church and United Church of Christ.  For additional information, contact Rev. Kevin A. Johnson at (760) 333-1221 or by email at, and visit


Rev. Caldwell at press conference with Abernathy and King, Boston 1965
Rev. Caldwell (facing) watches King speak on the Boston Common, April 1965



"Gil's Epistles"  on Same-Gender Marriage



Sadly, the tragic history of ignoring or misusing the Constitution is alive and well in the 21st century as some promote the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA).  African Americans are acquainted with how historically the equality provisions of the U.S. Constitution have been ignored when it comes to us.  Any person who claims understanding and support of human rights ought "smell a rat" in the current efforts to amend the Constitution to exclude committed couples who are same-gender from their constitutional rights.  Some of the supporters of this effort have views about the "obedient role" wives should express toward their husbands in marriage.  Will they attempt to insert this into the Constitution?


Blood, sweat and tears have been necessary to make the nation practice what the Constitution preaches.  Therefore it is difficult to understand those who know this history, expressing support for the FMA.


My marriage of 46 years does not need "protection" by a FMA, but my wife and I , my sons and my recently born first grandchild Ashley, need a Constitution that is "Unbought and Unbossed" (a phrase turned by Shirley Chisholm) by those who seek to make exclusive a document that is meant to be inclusive.


Unfortunately some of those who were "missing in action" during the Civil Rights Movement have the audacity to recruit black clergy to support their biases in seeking to get legislative approval for the Amendment.  My fear is that some of my black clergy-colleagues who believe their actions are biblically grounded are being "used" not because of theological or biblical interpretation reasons, but for purely political reasons.


Signed Gil Caldwell, Denver, Colorado

September 2004





Recently a good friend and colleague shared with me that a few people are wondering "why does Gil Caldwell seem to be so involved (sometimes intrusive) on matters related to full access and equality of Gay persons in church and society?"


Retirement; now a first-time 70-year-old grandfather (brag/brag), and because of this (email) method of instant communication, I will seek to answer the question. 


1. I am not a Johnny-come-lately to this topic. Those of you who are UMC clergy, check out my article in the March, 1980 CIRCUIT RIDER.  It was published with three other articles in what was called a "Colloquy on Homosexuality" in anticipation of the 1980 (United Methodist) General Conference.


2. My "conversion" to activism on this subject took place in a few minutes, years ago, when I read that Malcolm Boyd, a white activist Episcopal priest "came out of the closet" in announcing that he was a homosexual.  During those few minutes, I raised this question with myself: "Gil" I said to myself, "you have been influenced by the writings of Boyd, (through such books as "Are you running with me Jesus?", etc.), his campus ministry and his activism as a white clergyman on racial issues.  Do you burn his books?  Do you belittle his campus ministry?  Do you claim you never 'knew' the man, (just because of this revelation?)”  The Gil who had also been influenced by Walter Muelder at BU School of Theology, Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "OF COURSE NOT!"  The rest is history.


3. I am an unashamed and unapologetic "race man". (Deeply commited to my African/American racial history, heritage and hope).  The bias, prejudice and hatred;  the negative mis-use of scripture, the distorted, sometimes perverted theology that did (and sometimes still does) oppress black folk, is the same "messy stuff" that oppresses gay folk.  I have confronted (in my limited ways) these evils when they have been applied for racist reasons, I cannot overlook them when they are used for heterosexist reasons!


4. As a heterosexual male, I have no clue, nor do I want one, as to how, when or where my heterosexual identity became an historical reality.  I simply know that at some point years ago I discovered a certain "chemistry" that seemed to take over in my response to those who are female.  I know that the same kind of "awakening" takes place among my brothers and sisters who discover this chemistry between themselves and those of the same gender.  Further, I know that some of my colleagues discover that this chemistry is at work within them vis-à-vis men and women.  And even further, I know that in the scheme of things some discover that their gender identity is in transition and/or has shifted from one gender to another gender.  I seek not to "explain" all of this, rather, //// because I believe it is of God and I say because it is of God , "It is good".  The challenge all of us have is respecting and assuming responsibility for God's good gift of sexuality in its many expressions.


5. Finally, I remember well as an African American, white persons who were friends and many who were not, who at some cost identified, and still identify, with the black justice struggle.  They had and have no personal vested interest in doing so because of who they are racially.  They are white amidst the everyday reality of "white power".  But, they understand that until black people are free, they are not free.  It was this understanding that I believe is why Unitarian Minister Jim Reeb (left his wife and family) went with me and a plane load of others from Boston to Selma to participate in that struggle for black voting rights.  Jim was clubbed down in Selma and died a few days afterwards.  I returned to Boston.


If I as an African American heterosexual cannot be in solidarity with my African American homosexual brothers and sisters (a few who are "out of the closet", most are not), and if I cannot stand with my sisters and brothers of all racial/ethnic persuasions who are expected to make "invisible" their sexual identity in all of United Methodism and in much of society, I have "a hole in my soul", I am "the most miserable of men", may God help me in my moments of judgment!


Signed:  Gil Caldwell, still in Denver

September 2004

Addtional Links Related to The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell


Article on the Human Rights Campaign Web Site:

UK Gay News Story Open Letter Series:

Another UK Gay News Story:

Campaign to Protect the Constitution Signer:


Fact Sheet Bio of Gilbert H. Caldwell


Retired United Methodist Minister....Retired from serving as Senior Minister at Park Hill United Methodist Church in Denver, Colorado in 2001 after 45 years in the ministry....


Married to Grace Dungee Caldwell for 47 years, with two sons and one grandchild.


Gil Caldwell served as Senior Minister in United Methodist churches in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York (Brooklyn and Harlem), Pennsylvania and Colorado....He has been Campus Minister and Adjunct faculty in the African American Studies Center at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst...Executive Director of the Ministerial Interfaith Association of Harlem and Associate General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race of The United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.  He was appointed district superintendent of the Boston District of the New England Conference or the United Methodist Church, 1968-1969 as the first African American appointed to that post. He continued as superintendent of the West Chester Pennsylvania District, Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, 1989-94


He has written two books: Race, Racism and Reconciliation and Just the Right Word, a book of quotations with commentary. He has written chapters for several books and his articles have appeared in numerous periodicals.


Caldwell is a member of the Board of Scholars and Preachers of the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. In addition, he is a member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Delta Eta in Denver.


He was one of the founding members of the black caucus in The Methodist Church: Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR). In 2000, he co-founded United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church (UMOC). The organization is committed to working for the full inclusion of GBLT persons at every level of church and society. He is currently on the national coordinating team of the Church Within A Church Movement in the United Methodist Church.


Gil Caldwell has traveled extensively. In 1956 he spent the summer in Hjorring, Denmark working in an American Friends Service Committee work camp. In 1971 he participated in a Consultation of African and African American church leaders in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania to discuss the similarities and differences of African and Black Theology. He has been a delegate to the World Methodist Conference twice: in Singapore and Nairobi, Kenya. He visited Zimbabwe when it was Rhodesia and returned for the launching of Africa Methodist University in Zimbabwe. He was invited to the enthronement of Bishop Desmond Tutu in Capetown, South Africa and spent time with the African National Congress in Lusaka, Zambia. Caldwell has visited the 50 states of the USA and has visited nations in the Caribbean numerous times. During the summer of 1998, he was on a Study Trip to Jerusalem as a "Denver Jerusalem Fellow."


Gilbert H. Caldwell was educated in the public schools of Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and Dallas, Galveston and Austin, Texas. His first year in college was spent at Samuel Huston College (Now Huston-Tillotson College) in Austin, Texas. His sophomore through senior years were spent at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, his hometown. He graduated from Boston University School of Theology in 1958, and spent a year of graduate study at Harvard Divinity School, 1962-63. He received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree (D.D.) from Dakota Wesleyan University, Mitchell, South Dakota in 1971.


Caldwell was active in the Southern Freedom Movement (Civil Rights Movement) during "Freedom Summer" in Mississippi, the Selma to Montgomery March and the March on Washington. He with other members of the Massachusetts Unit of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), hosted Martin Luther King in a protest march, protesting the racial policies of the Boston School Committee. He served as Master of Ceremonies for a Rally on Boston Common where Dr. King spoke.


He has been arrested four times: protesting the racially biased hiring policies of A & P Supermarkets at their New York City headquarters in 1971, protesting apartheid in front of the South African Embassy in Washington and twice protesting the bias in The United Methodist Church vis-à-vis Gay and Lesbian clergy who openly acknowledge same-gender relationships. These latter two arrests took place at the meeting of the quadrennial General Conference of The United Methodist Church in Cleveland in 2000.



"Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream." --Amos 5:22-24