Methodist pastor who championed gay rights commits suicide by lighting himself on fire

The Rev. Charles Moore

The Rev. Charles Moore

A retired Methodist pastor who went on a hunger strike in the 1990s to protest the church’s discrimination against gays has committed suicide by self-immolation.

The Rev. Charles Moore, 79, doused himself in gasoline and lit himself on fire in the parking lot of a strip mall in Grand Saline, his hometown in East Texas, last month.

“I would much prefer to go on living and enjoy my beloved wife and grandchildren and others, but I have come to believe that only my self-immolation will get the attention of anybody and perhaps inspire some to higher service,” Moore wrote in one of the notes he left behind, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Moore was a lifelong champion of social justice and civil rights. In a note left on his car, he lamented the legacy of racial injustice in Grand Saline, where he was ostracized by the Methodist church in the 1950s for supporting school desegregation. According to the United Methodist News Service, Moore wrote that he was giving his body to be burned for lynching victims.

In other notes written prior to his death, Moore expressed frustration with the UMC’s positions on homosexuality and the death penalty, as well as Southern Methodist University’s decision to house the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Moore, who attended SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, initially planned to commit suicide on the Dallas campus, writing that he loved SMU and felt his self-immolation there would move people to care more about gay rights, the death penalty and better treatment for African-Americans.

For whatever reason, he opted instead for Grand Saline.

After fighting for African-American civil rights early in his career, Moore became a champion for LGBT inclusion in the Methodist church. As pastor of Austin’s Grace UMC in the 1990s, he appointed gay members to church boards and opened the congregation’s doors to a PFLAG chapter.

With UMC bishops meeting in Austin in 1995, Moore went on a 15-day hunger strike to protest the church’s stance on homosexuality. He ended the strike when bishops agreed to encourage Methodist congregations to welcome gays. However, they stopped short of removing a sentence from the church’s Book of Discipline that says homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The sentence remains to this day, and it was the type of thing that apparently haunted Moore. He wrote that despite being healthy and happy with his wife and grandchildren, he remained a paralyzed soul who felt compelled to die for a cause. While some have condemned Moore for taking his own life, others consider him a martyr.

“Instead of judging Rev. Moore, maybe we should try to ignite the passion for justice that burned so brightly in his life in ours,” wrote the Rev. Jeff Hood of Denton, known as a gay-rights supporter and death-penalty opponent. “When I look straight ahead into the dark, I see Moore’s bespectacled image burning. I see Moore giving his life so that others might live. I refuse to turn my head. I know that Jesus is speaking to me from there. The courage of a passionate follower of Jesus can set the world afire with love. May the great martyrdom of The Rev. Charles Moore make it so.”