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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
April 1998

Life Partnership Publicity

On the morning of Thursday, March 19, William Devlin, of the Urban Family Council of Philadelphia, led a hundred people through City Hall to denounce the life partnership bills in a so-called "campaign of love." They received coverage on the six o'clock channel 6 and ten o'clock channel 29 news, channel 29 inexplicably opening and closing with slow-motion, soft focus shots of mixed-gender weddings.

Coincidentally, we released our statement concerning the public religious debate of the bill on the evening of March 19 at a press conference at Tabernacle United Church. The printed statement included the six congregations, six religious organizations and fifty-six clergy on our letterhead, plus an additional nineteen clergy and another congregation who also wished to endorse the statement, bringing the total to eighty-eight people or groups from sixteen religious traditions (sixty percent higher than the total on the June 1996 statement). We did not attract the broadcast media, but there was more balanced coverage in the Inquirer and Daily News, turning pieces that might have focused on religious attacks on sexual minorities into stories about religious debates over sexual orientation.

Letterhead Update

We are pleased to announce the addition of Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell to our list of official supporters.

Thanks For Your Help

Thanks are due to everyone who has supported the IWG in this effort: all of our letterhead supporters, including Rev. Andrew Barasda, Rev. David Brown, Rev. Katie Day, Rev. Jim Littrell, Rev. Ben Maucere, Rev. Patricia Pearce, and Father Paul Washington, who attended the press conference; Rev. Jeff Jordan (MCC Phila.), and Marie Summers (President of Dignity/Phila.) for coming to the press conference and endorsing the statement; and the other endorsers: Rabbi Richard Address (Union of American Hebrew Congregations), Rev. Judith Beck (St. Peter's Episcopal, Germantown), Rev. Roger Broadley (St. Luke and the Epiphany), Rev. Warren Cedarholm (Eastern PA Methodist Federation for Social Action), Rev. Sandra Ellis-Killian (American Baptist Church Clergy), Rev. Barry Harte (University Lutheran Church of the Incarnation), Rev. Richard Lichty (Germantown Mennonite Church), Rabbi Mordechai Leibling (Jewish Reconstructionist Federation), Rev. Dwight Lundgren (First Baptist Church of Phila.), Father Isaac Miller (Church of the Advocate), Rev. Marian P. Shearer (St. Luke's UCC), Rev. Fergus A. Smith (First Presbyterian Church of Phila.), Rev. William E. Stone (St. Stephen's UCC), Rev. Jim Taylor (Christ Church in Phila.), Rev. Louis Temme (Trinity Memorial Episcopal), Rev. Tom Torosian (retired, Presbytery of Phila.), Rev. Sharon Vandergrift (First UMC of Roxborough), and Rev. Kenneth Wells (Glading Memorial Presbyterian).

Jimmy Creech Trial

In Kearney, NE on March 13, the Rev. Jimmy Creech was found not guilty of violating the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church by a church jury of his peers. Nine of thirteen votes were needed to convict; they got eight. CNN carried the verdict live; the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post and AP also covered it. An Omaha World Herald article said Nebraska United Methodists who dismissed Creech's trial as local could look at who had "flocked into the state...to see how wrong they were."

Rev. Mel White, UFMCC Minister of Justice, reported daily on the trial; during jury selection he wrote of "...other witnesses standing ready in the memories of these jurors, unseen witnesses living and dead, lesbian and gay witnesses whose words still echoed, whose smiles still lingered, whose tears still flowed in the minds and hearts of those thirty-five United Methodist clergy... Jimmy's chief counsel... brought those ghosts to life... 'Have you known any gay people,' he asked them, 'and if you have, how have they affected your life?"

Before the verdict, Proclaiming the Vision released a statement, now signed by over a hundred UMC pastors, indicating "...their intent to celebrate rites of union with all couples, regardless of gender," and regardless of the verdict. Afterward, conservatives threatened to leave the UMC and join the Presbyterian Church (USA); a later press release from the conservative group Good News suggested that Creech's supporters "seek another church fellowship...[with] views...compatible with their own. This would be...more loving than... [forcing] upon the UMC a radically revisionistic moral standard."

The Raleigh News and Observer ran an analysis by Jim Jenkins saying that activist clergy like Creech win support of mainstream congregations when they take good care of them; there have been many letters in the Omaha World Herald, including some urging members of Creech's church to visit other churches; Deb Price wrote a syndicated column about him; a Toledo Blade columnist ran a story about two local United Methodist Church pastors who support him; on the Monday after the trial, the Charlotte Observer profiled the First UMC of Charlotte, saying roughly one hundred of the three-hundred twenty-five people present on any given Sunday are gay; The State of Columbia, SC, interviewed local Methodist pastors; the Philadelphia Inquirer ran only an AP story on Saturday, the day after the trial.

Bishop Martinez has asked the UMC Judicial Council for a ruling on whether the prohibition against same-sex union ceremonies is compulsory. Rev. Creech returned to his pulpit March 15, with a standing ovation from his congregation, and the Phelps family picketing.

Media Frenzy

Papers around the country are reporting and editorializing about the Creech Trial, the University Baptist expulsion; Rev. Steve Sabin; the Boy Scouts; the defeat of Amendment A and the upcoming elder ordination trials in the PCUSA; the Maine vote; the announcement by the Christian Coalition that they are returning to a largely anti-gay agenda; marriage legislation in Kentucky, West Virginia and Maryland; and three pending State Supreme Court marriage cases in Hawaii, Vermont, and Alaska.

Some journalists have noticed a pattern: a Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel story about the defeat of Amendment A also mentioned the upcoming PCUSA trials (involving a local elder), the Jimmy Creech trial, and the Bishop Righter trial. The Omaha World Herald reported on a study by United Methodist theologians and bishops titled "In search of Unity," which said that issues related to homosexuality represent a challenge "so deep as to harbor the danger of explicit disunity or schism." The story also touched on Steve Sabin and Amendment A. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about local clergy opposed to the ordination rules in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the ban on union ceremonies in the United Methodist Church.

Steve Kloehn of the Chicago Tribune wrote an excellent analysis of the debate over sexual orientation in Protestant denominations. In the last thirteen years, 762 stories about homosexuality and religion appeared in the Tribune (there would have been more, but "they are beginning to jostle with one another for space"). Kloehn said the debate includes scriptural approaches, reconciling scripture with conscience and modern culture, understanding seeming contradictions, understanding the authority of the church, and its relationship to personal belief. These stories, he said, "may only be the beginning of the story."

Other News from the Protestant Great Debate

Rev. Steve Sabin, of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Ames, IA, has been granted extension of his ordination until his appeal is heard (possibly September). In the Presbyterian Church (USA) Amendment A was defeated, leaving the denomination to spend another year under the effects of last year's Amendment B, and another year of potentially explosive debate over sexual orientation. Rev. Gene Robinson, Canon of the Ordinary Province of New Hampshire and executive secretary of the Province of New England, is one of five nominees who may succeed the Rt. Rev. John Spong as Bishop of Newark, NJ. If elected, he would be the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop.









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