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Morris Floyd | Profile

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Biography

Morris Floyd, an early leader of LGBT movements in The United Methodist Church, was born in 1946 in Austin, Texas.  His father Morris Sr. was studying for an MBA degree at the University of Texas.  The family moved to Arizona when Morris was two, living first in Tucson and then in Glendale while his father worked for J.C. Penney.  His brother Steve was born before his father’s 1952 death, from an illness contracted while a prisoner of war in Germany. Morris’s mom Buena, almost always shortened to “Boots,” remarried in 1957.  Ray was serving in the U.S. Air Force and his assignment took the family, now including Ray’s children from his first marriage and their daughter to Ramstein Air Base in Germany in 1961.

Morris attended school at Kaiserslautern High School where he was a member of the Latin Club, the National Honor Society and studied Russian. He was active in the Protestant youth group at the chapel on the base and often led the group in its Sunday evening worship. He also worked as director of the Youth Employment Services on the base during his last two years of high school.  There he helped match other teenagers with domestic jobs, such as babysitting and household chores.   Morris had a sense of his sexual orientation during high school but little opportunity to explore that then.  Years later he reconnected with Joe, one of his best high school friends, who was also gay. They had traveled together around Europe together during the last couple of years of high school and became close again before Joe died of AIDS in 1987.  Overall Morris thrived during his high school years and graduated in 1964.    

Morris intended to study premed in college and was accepted at the University of Minnesota.  However, one of his teachers was a graduate of George Washington University (GWU) in D.C. and encouraged Morris to apply there.  So Morris began college at GWU in the fall of 1964.  He enjoyed his time in this diverse, urban setting.  However, right away he struggled in the classroom with organic chemistry and decided to drop premed studies.  When his family moved from Germany to California, Morris transferred to the University of Texas to be closer to them.  He was active at the Wesley Foundation on campus and at University U.M. Church.  It was during these college years that Morris started to identify himself as a gay man albeit largely in private. He took some summer classes which allowed him to graduate in January 1968 with a double major in philosophy and political science with a minor in anthropology. 

Morris’ college years coincided with peak years of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.   In the winter of 1965 he traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska to participate in a Methodist Student Movement Conference. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was scheduled to be the keynote speaker. On Morris’ connecting flight departing Chicago, Dr. King spotted him reading a book recommended for the conference and struck up a brief conversation.  That encounter and his experience at the conference nurtured a commitment to social justice activism.     

As he completed college, he considered options.  Although he was accepted for training as a Peace Corps volunteer, Morris perceived that church ministry would provide an opportunity to use his skills to address what was needed in the country and world.  He was accepted to enter Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 1968.   In the interim, he drew on his mother’s past associations with Congressman J.J. Pickle (elected to Lyndon Johnson’s House of Representatives seat when LBJ became a Senator) to get a position working odd jobs in the House of Representatives that spring and summer.  

Morris’ seminary years were again marked by prominent socio-political movements in the U.S. with the anti-Vietnam War protests, the Poor Peoples’ Campaign and the Stonewall Riots.  Wesley students and faculty were certainly tuned into these tumultuous events.  Morris did student pastoring as a youth minister at a Glen Burnie, Maryland congregation and was then assistant pastor at Marvin Memorial U.M. Church in Silver Spring.  He had a good working relationship with the senior pastor Edward Carroll (later elected a bishop) and enjoying numerous opportunities to preach. At Wesley he preached a highly-praised antiwar sermon in chapel, drawing on Simon & Garfunkel’s “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.”  He was also active in student government at Wesley. 

Morris stayed in seminary a fourth year to work with a cohort of 15 or so top Wesley students who sought to create a more experiential learning experience. They designed a program called “Interact” in which they created their own coursework that would integrate studies with field work.  Wesley Dean L. Harold DeWolf supported the venture and educator-activist Parker Palmer was enlisted to lead the group.   It was in this group that Morris began to talk with others about being gay.  Morris worked with other Wesley students to organize a conference that year, “Politics of Hope,” that brought seminarians and students to D.C. for an intensive urban experience. Dan Rather was the keynote speaker for the conference.    

Morris’ last seminary year coincided with the 1972 United Methodist General Conference.  Prior to the General Conference, Morris and leaders of other United Methodist seminary student governments decided to try have voices of seminarians heard at the General Conference.  They organized and traveled to the conference in Atlanta with a proposal that they be seated with voice but not vote.  Following an affirmative vote by the conference, Morris was able to sit in with other conference delegates.  He did get to speak in the historic debate on a Social Principles statement on Homosexuality, which resulted in the “incompatible with Christian teaching” clause being adopted.  He was aware of gay activists who were circulating around the edges of the conference—among them Gene Leggett, Ernie Reagh, and Don McGaw.  He also met Michael Collins there, beginning a deep friendship built on common commitments as gay men of faith and advocacy for LGBT folk in the church.  They worked together closely until Michael’s death in 1984.

Morris recalls traveling with Michael one summer to the meeting of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference, where Michael’s ministerial relationship was in jeopardy because he was openly gay.  On the road trip from Southern California, they spent some time in Gold Beach, OR, where an innkeeper insisted on giving them a room with two beds even though their reservation had only asked for one.  After a couple of times of back and forth with the innkeeper Michael – exasperated – finally said, “You can give us two beds if you must, but we’re still only going to use one!”  Walking up the beach for dinner a little later, the two worried half-seriously if they should be on the lookout for bashers.

Following seminary graduation, Morris enlisted in the US-2 program, a domestic mission venture for young United Methodist adults.  He was assigned to be chaplain at the Robinson School in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The school needed coaching football, so Morris (who was not an athlete) decided to draw on his experience observing touch football on the seminary campus to coach the junior varsity team.  He quietly glowed when the team finished with a 4-3 record, as the varsity team had a losing season.  Learning that sports provided a great opportunity to connect with students, he became the athletic director at the school.   Morris developed a close mentoring relationship with a number of students and stays in contact with them decades later. During his time in Puerto Rico, Morris was commissioned as a Home Missionary.

Morris pursued membership and ordination in what was then known as the Southern California-Arizona Annual conference of the United Methodist Church.  He remembers a member of the Board of Ordained Ministry asking him when he was planning to get married, to which he had no answer.  In those days it didn’t raise quite the red flags it would raise today, and his application was successful.  Later, the pastor who asked him that question became a strong supporter of LGBT folk in the church.

In 1975, Morris returned to Southern California to complete a year of pastoring required to fulfill probationary status.  He served that year working with youth at First U.M. Church of El Cajon with a conservative senior pastor.  Persons spotted books about homosexuality on his bookshelves and were concerned about this, but he was not overtly challenged.

After that year Morris moved to Farmington, New Mexico to become principal at Navajo United Methodist Mission School. The students boarded there during the week and went home on weekends. The objective of Morris’ leadership was to change the school from being an old-style mission school—where, for example, students were not allowed to speak Navajo—to become more of a Navajo School.  A Navajo pastor was hired as chaplain.  A graduate of the school came back to serve as the guidance counselor.  The school superintendent and Morris were building a board of directors that was primarily Navajo.  After his second year, another school graduate became principal and Morris became associate superintendent.  He spent his last year there largely traveling to raise money for the school. 

During one of those trips, he connected by coincidence with the young Affirmation group, LGBT United Methodists and allies, at its national meeting at Broadway U.M. Church in Chicago.  This was the first opportunity for Morris to have significant interaction with other LGBT United Methodists.  The group was considering how to respond to the decision of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary to forbid the graduation of two gay students.

Working with Lyle Loder and other friends in the Southern California annual conference, Morris helped to organize a presence for Affirmation in the region.            

In February 1980, Morris moved to New York City to work for the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) helping to resource missions in the U.S.  He helped lead training for a new class of US-2 volunteers in the summer 1980 in Boston and the following year in Washington, D.C. He went to the 1980 General Conference in Indianapolis—not as an agency staff but to assist Affirmation in advocating for LGBT concerns. 

Although ordained, Morris was also commissioned as a Home Missionary and active in the work of Deaconesses and Missionaries, which is a lay office in the UMC.  In the period not long after the firing of Deaconess Joan Clark, Morris advocated strongly for an approach inclusive of LGBT folk in the office.  This did not make him popular with the woman who provided administrative leadership for Deaconesses and Home Missionaries, but he felt it was especially urgent to do so.  During the decades when women could not be ordained and thereafter, the role of Deaconess has been a path by which many lesbians entered the UMC’s ministry of lay service as leaders, advocates for the disadvantaged and staff for church and community ministry and community centers, among other options.

He was a member of the board of Diaconal Ministry in his home annual conference and participated in three international conferences. He also advocated strongly for LGBT concerns in that role, including several "energetic" with the then-head of the office at the GBGM.   

Morris had told his boss that he was gay and could see that there were a number of other gay and lesbian persons on the staff.  But there was unease around the agency in the aftermath of the 1979 firing of Joan Clark for being a lesbian. Although Morris had no reason to think he would be challenged, he also realized that in the case of a major expose, the support he would get would be limited.  So in August 1981, he moved to Minneapolis to become executive director of Gay Community Services (later Lesbian & Gay Community Services – LGCS), a mental health center funded largely by the county and by United Way.  During his 20 years in Minneapolis, Morris provided leadership in the LGBT community and beyond by, among other things, being one of the founders of the Minnesota AIDS Project and serving on the state’s AIDS Task Force, as well as the board of directors of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus.

This move freed Morris up to become more actively and publicly involved in Affirmation.  He was selected for the Coordinating Committee and helped design plans for advocacy and witness at the 1984 General Conference and to launch a new “welcoming church” program, the Reconciling Congregation Program.     

Morris went to the 1984 General Conference in Baltimore as one of Affirmation’s national co-spokespersons, alongside Mary Gaddis.  His years of work in United Methodist missions and as a national agency staff positioned him to get an audience with some denominational leaders there. He was invited to dinner by Bishop Finis Crutchfield from Houston (who was outed after his death from AIDS a few years later) in the dining room of the hotel that housed the bishops.  Crutchfield made a point of walking Morris around and introducing him to other bishops.  He wanted to impress Morris in this way and by relating what he had done for the gay community, previously in New Orleans and now in Houston.   Morris also recalls a hallway discussion with a prominent pastor who was seen as an ally but vehemently opposed the strategy of having an openly gay person to speak to the General Conference.  This taught him to be skeptical about how far “progressive” leaders would go to advocate for LGBT persons.  Affirmation sponsored a dinner for allies and friends at a Baltimore congregation where they honored “saints” who had supported LGBT concerns.  Following the dinner, a leading African-American pastor took Morris to task for not being recognized for the risks he had taken to lead his congregation to provide space for a largely-gay Metropolitan Community Church.  This brought Morris face-to-face again with how covert racism could thwart the intentions and vision of Affirmation that believed it was espousing social justice.

Meanwhile, Morris had also sought an appointment by Bishop Jack Tuell to his position at LGCS.  This led to several years of discussion with the Conference leadership about Morris’ status, and initially Morris was placed on an involuntary leave of absence, an action that required a supermajority vote of Annual Conference clergy.

At the clergy executive session of the Annual Conference where this occurred, Bishop Tuell made a ruling of church law affirming that such a leave may be initiated and imposed involuntarily. Such decisions are automatically referred to the Judicial Council, the denomination’s Supreme Court.  Morris argued in opposition to the Bishop’s action that the decision was contrary to the Constitution of The United Methodist Church and to key due-process rights provided in the United Methodist Discipline to protect clergy from arbitrary removal of their right to an appointment.  In Decision 524 the Judicial Council overruled Morris’s appeal. The documents related to the appeal are available below as an additional resource.

The second time the question came up, the involuntary leave was sustained by the clergy session, though by a narrow margin.  Thereafter the Bishop agreed to appoint Morris to any position reasonably compatible with the special appointment rules, but not to a local church.  Thereafter Morris worked for many years as an executive for a Twin Cities health care corporation.  He took the retired relationship to the Annual Conference in 1992, feeling that the Annual Conference relationship was hollow under the Bishop’s terms.

In 1983, Bishop Tuell had worked with other bishops and an executive of the UM Board of Higher Education and Ministry to devise the language later approved at the 1984 General Conference that required “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness” of the clergy, effectively preventing the ordination or appointment of gay and lesbian clergy. In May of 2003, Tuell preached a sermon (https://www.rmnetwork.org/newrmn/bishop-tuell-how-i-changed-my-mind/) describing how he had changed his mind and confessing that he and the others that day were “unconsciously guided” by the need for “institutional protection” over the controversial matter, rather than the Wesleyan “tests of truth” (as the Bishop referred to them in a 2000 sermon called “Doing a New Thing”): “Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason.”

Despite their profound disagreement at the time his appointment was in question, Morris remembers his relationship with Bishop Tuell as productive, mutually respectful and friendly.

Morris served as a spokesperson for Affirmation through the 1992 General Conference.  In subsequent years he became a member of the Reconciling Congregation Program board of directors.  Among other contributions, he helped the group to create its initial effort to raise funds through major gifts from “Angels.”  In a sermon to the 25thAnniversary celebration of Affirmation, in 2000, Morris reminded attendees that their status as beloved children of God is not dependent on the approval on the United Methodist church, or any other religious body, and called on them find dignity and worth internally rather than allowing themselves to become victims by continually seeking validation from an institution.

By the turn of the 21stCentury, Morris was distancing himself increasingly from the church, though he says to this day he is an “fascinated observer and commentator” on what he views as the denomination’s gyrations to find a position regarding homosexuality that will be faithful to the Gospel and to Wesleyan standards while also satisfactory to those who insist on a literal reading of Biblical proscriptions.  He believes that the struggle is about matters even more profound than human sexuality – the very nature of God, humankind, the rest of creation and the relationship among them, as well as the role of the Bible.  He does not think it likely that some sort of political accommodation between deeply opposed factions is likely to produce a resolution satisfactory to anyone.  Prior to the General Conference of 2016 he encouraged (http://www.chicagonow.com/observant-queer/2016/05/umc/) progressive United Methodists to forgo allegiance to the denomination and find a home for themselves and their Wesleyan heritage in other denominations.  He believes doing could dramatically strengthen the witness and work of groups such as the United Church of Christ without creating the overhead associated with a new Methodist denomination.

Morris now considers himself a “recovering Christian.”  He says that he can identify with many elements of that faith community’s story, but he has recognized that he cannot honestly make the theological affirmations associated with Christian faith.

Morris and his partner of 28 years, Alex Herrera, moved from Minneapolis to Chicago in the fall of 2001, where he served for 2 ½ years as the executive leader for development of the Center on Halsted, an LGBT community center.  Thereafter he worked with clients of DST Health Solutions as an account executive, consulting on the implementing the clients’ business strategy through improvements in their technology strategy and infrastructure.  After a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer, Morris retired to get well and spend his time in other ways.  He considers himself a fortunate survivor, now cancer-free 8 years later.

Alex and Morris, fearing that Illinois would not promptly approve legislation supporting marriage equality, were married in 2012 in Toronto in a small ceremony with Alex’s mother, sister and her family as witnesses.  They presently live with their pug Niko in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood and have a second home in Cuernavaca, Mexico.  While Alex works as a senior development executive for Northwestern University, Morris enjoys volunteering at the National Runaway Safeline, being active in his condominium association and occasional blogging as the "Observant Queer" (www.chicagonow.com/observant-queer).

(This biographical profile was drafted by Mark Bowman from an interview with Morris Floyd and edited by Floyd.)

Biography Date: October, 2016

Additional Resources

This set of documents outline the United Methodist Judicial Council's Decision 524 in whiich Morris Floyd challenged the decision of Bishop Jack Tuell to place him on involuntary leave of absence (see above):
 

Tags

United Methodist Church | Affirmation (United Methodist) | Reconciling Ministries Network (formerly Reconciling Congregation Program) | Activist (church change) | Civil Rights Movement | Clergy Activist | Ordination/clergy | Floyd, Morris

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