It was a storybook wedding in every way: a loving couple, flowers, friends, and two officiating ministers who had counseled the couple and knew full well that this was a marriage made in heaven, or as one of the ministers, Rev. Paige Swaim-Presley, commented: “Their faith is such an integral part of who they are in their relationship, and their love really opens a way, creates a channel, for grace to be shared with other people in their lives and in their community… It’s a picture of what I think Christian marriage should be.”
The wedding took place in January.
He complaint came in february
Reverend Davidson and Reverend Swaim-Presley had performed a wedding ceremony for a non-binary couple: Matty Cafiero and his partner, Myles Cafiero.
The formal complaint alleged that the two ministers from Jackson, Mississippi, had officiated at a same-sex marriage. In addition, they were ordered to surrender their clergy credentials or face church trial at the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC).
The complaint and the resulting ripples represent another crack in the UMC building. The second largest Protestant denomination in the country has lost more than 2000 churches through disaffiliation since he took a tougher stance against same-sex weddings.
But the complaint is wrong. Matty and Myles are not binary, they are not the same sex. Revs. Swaim-Presley and Davidson point out that UMCs discipline book—a rulebook outlining the denomination’s law, doctrine, administration, and procedures—says nothing about weddings between two non-binary people. At the same time, in other matters, he commands the deacons and elders to act according to their consciences.
In addition, it recognizes “the right of people to dissent when they act under the pressure of conscience.”
Swaim-Presley, an elder at the church (Davidson is a deacon), also noted that in addition to the right to follow their conscience, the rule book dictates that elders must provide pastoral care and counsel. “I am not living my ministry as an ordained person if I do not offer these things to the people God has entrusted to my care,” he said.
Swaim-Presley met the couple several years earlier through her work as director of the Wesley Connection, a Methodist student ministry at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi.
The following semester, the Rev. Elizabeth Davidson became co-director of the Wesley Connexion and also came to know and spiritually guide the couple. Many students under the care of the ministers at Millsaps had disturbing experiences as they went out into their faith communities and sought a spiritual path back. Matty and Myles were raised evangelicals, but they felt the connection they were looking for in the Millsaps group.
“From the first day I was there, I was met with nothing but kindness and people who were exploring as much as I was and trying to figure everything out, so it felt like a safe place to bring all the questions and all the doubts and still have that core faith,” Matty said.
“We were really blessed,” Swaim-Presley said, “because our ministry ended up being the kind of deep, thoughtful, searching, authentic human beings that every minister dreams of shepherding, and they happened to be from the LGBTQ community. community on campus and in the greater Jackson area.”
When asked to officiate at their wedding by Matty and Myles, she said: “Honestly, it never even crossed my mind to consider saying no. They were our students. They were our children. And now they are wonderful young adults.”
The Reconciliation Ministries Network (RMN), a group of United Methodist congregations and individuals who support the inclusion of LGBTQ United Methodists, expressed his support for Davidson and Swaim-Presley, as well as the Cafieros, issuing a statement: “RMN honors the calling of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the pastoral ministry displayed by Rev. Swaim-Presley and Rev. Davidson in their decision to care for this couple. Through their participation in this wedding, they have aligned themselves with the truth that LGBTQ+ people are fully human, fully loved by God.”
In addition to supporting the ministers, the Reconciliation Ministers Network is collecting donations to support their advocacy through their Clergy Defense Fund.
Faith in Women, an organization concerned with “reproductive health, rights and justice,” of which Davidson is executive director, also issued a statement standing with Davidson: “Faith in Women’s view is that discrimination hurts individuals and families. From birth to adulthood, each of us grows spiritually into who we seek to be, physically who we were born to become, and we seek romantic love in those we were born to love. The two people in love that Reverend Davidson helped marry walked a path that was neither more nor less sacred than that. It is our common path”.