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

Equal Partners in Faith Report

January 15 was a cold, wet day, Martin Luther King's birthday, and the day of the Promise Keepers clergy conference at the Apollo of Temple in North Philadelphia. Twenty people stood outside the Apollo from 7:30 to 9:00 am and politely distributed almost 2,000 flyers to people entering the conference. For the most part, they were accepted graciously. Quite a few people rejected them, and some were rude. A few folks came back outside to return them politely, and at least two people came out to argue theology.

The noon press conference called by Equal Partners in Faith (EPF) featured United Methodist pastor Dave Heberling, Pennsylvania NOW President Barb DiTullio, Assistant Director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, and IWG supporters Father Paul Washington and Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale, all of whom did an excellent job of speaking forcefully despite some hecklers. In general the coverage was good, though Rabbi Elwell was not shown in any of the broadcast stories, and her comments about Promise Keepers mocking Judaism went unreported in print as well. We were pleased with the excellent 6:00 pm Channel 6 report, but the PK leadership had apparently done a good job in advance of convincing channels 3 and 10 that the story was about the presence or absence of women, and that women had in fact been invited. This was the gist of the stories despite the fact that no one at the press conference said anything about "exclusion of women." This was also despite the fact that there were only about a dozen women registered, two of whom were with EPF, and while women had been admitted, they weren't "invited" per se. It was notable that some new terms were used by the media: in the broadcast stories, Promise Keepers was described as "controversial," and those at the press conference were called "liberal clergy."

The story in the Philadelphia Daily News focused on issues of racism, but the writer missed the point by focusing on two pastors he found who had become friends despite different racial backgrounds. The racial questions raised by EPF and other groups have to do with the policies of the organizations with whom the Promise Keepers leaders have been associated; the practice of forgiving people for slavery; referring to slavery as "redemptive;" and a concentration on "reconciliation" between races instead of equality.

IWG Coordinators Profiled in the Daily News

Interfaith Working Group coordinators Chris and Barbara Purdom were interviewed by Debbie Woodell of the Philadelphia Daily News for her January 20 column. Our thanks to Debbie for the coverage and to all who make the IWG possible by adding your names to the letterhead, sending material, speaking out at press conferences, walking in the Pride Parade and AIDS Walk, handing out leaflets on cold, wet mornings, hosting events, revising the letterhead, contributing money, and above all, nurturing and running the kinds of organizations and houses of worship we like to publicize, where progressive people of faith can find a haven and a spiritual home.

Synod Rules in Milwaukee

The Presbytery of Milwaukee passed a Covenant of Dissent in response to Amendment B (effectively banning anyone unmarried and non-celibate from ordained office). The Synod of the Lakes and Prairies of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has approved the recommendations of a Special Administrative Review Committee in response to the Covenant. Recommendations included affirmation of "the right of the Presbytery of Milwaukee to corporately express its opinions, thoughts, and feelings in a passionate way on issues that violate their collective conscience and sense of integrity" and affirmation that the phrase "we cannot agree to abide by the recently passed amendment to G-6.0106 ('Amendment B') without violating our informed conscience, faith, and interpretation of our obligations," is a reasoned conclusion permissible within the limitations established by the Presbytery of West Jersey, Synod of the Northeast, by a vote of 205-15.

However, the closing paragraph of the Covenant was ruled to be against the constitution, an irregularity, and null and void: "We covenant together to elect, ordain, and install as officers those members with suitable gifts who are called to ministry, who are persons of strong faith, dedicated discipleship, and love of Jesus Christ, and whose manner of life is a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and the world, without additional requirements or restrictions."

The report warned that "it is the obligation of ministers of Word and Sacrament and elders who disagree with any such provision to seek to change that provision through constitutional means. It is also their obligation to honor their ordination vow to 'be governed by our church's polity' and to 'abide by its discipline' [G-14.0405b(5)]. It is imperative that everyone understand the potential consequences of a failure to do so. The consequences could be initiation of either administrative or judicial action. Either course could result in the transfer of presbytery responsibilities to another governing body, while disciplinary action could result in the censure of individuals. Such censure could be as sever as removal from ordained office."

Marriage Update

We are still awaiting the Hawaii Supreme Court ruling on same-gender marriage. The Vermont Supreme Court has agreed to hear the marriage case filed by three couples. The United States Supreme Court refused to hear Robin Sharhar's appeal concerning her being fired by Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers for marrying another woman in a Jewish religious ceremony.

The Rev. Jimmy Creech's suspension from the First United Methodist Church of Omaha was extended, and the committee investigating the charges has recommended a trial, which will probably be scheduled in about two months. The IWG web site has Rev. Creech's response to the charges. "In All Things Charity" (petition signed by 1300 United Methodist Ministers) was released to the press as an act of support for Rev. Creech.

February 12 has been declared National Freedom to Marry Day by the National Freedom to Marry Coalition.

That's One Way of Looking At It

We received a missive from the Christian Family Network entitled "Looking Ahead to 1998" which said: "Two worldviews compete for the soul of America. One puts man in the center; the other puts God at the center. One is based on faith and the knowledge of God's unchanging truth; the other is based on philosophy and the belief that nothing is truly knowable. These two views are absolutely irreconcilable. Those that have deep Christian convictions will become more focused on character; those what do not will move steadily toward self-satisfaction. When two irreconcilable views emerge, one is going to dominate. Only one world-view will prevail. Either by numbers or persuasion, one side of this polarized culture will defeat the other in setting public policy."

Mormon Book Wins Award

The American Historical Association gave the Herber Feis Award for the year's best work by a public historian or independent scholar to D. Michael Quinn's book Same-Sex Dynamics Among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Perspective, in which he wrote that nineteenth-century Mormons were sometimes tolerant of sexual same-gender relationships, in a time when adults in platonic same-gender relationships shared beds and held hands, kissed and exchanged passionate letters.

More Coverage of Religious Diversity of Opinion

January 10: The Denver Post ran a profile of the Rev. Gilbert Caldwell, African-American pastor of Park Hill United Methodist Church, the only United Methodist minister in Colorado to sign "In All Things Charity."
January 19: The Detroit News ran a story about the Rev. John Rohde of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Ypsilanti (an Open and Affirming church) and the Rev. Herb Lowe of Amistad United Church of Christ, both of whom support the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Ypsilanti non-discrimination ordinance. The Ministers Alliance of Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Vicinity opposes the inclusion.
January 25: The Philadelphia Inquirer's "Living Religion" section featured excerpts from a highly theological debate over the morality of abortion between a Catholic couple from King of Prussia (who run a home for pregnant women and conduct spiritual healing retreats for women who have had abortions), and Frances Kissling (president of Catholics for a Free Choice).

Some People are Hard to Classify

According to a story in the December 31 San Francisco Chronicle, Religious Right organizations were horrified because Ward Connerly, a heterosexual African American appointed by California Governor Pete Wilson to end affirmative action at the University of California, was largely responsible for passage of a domestic partnership benefits package at the the university. The Family Research Council's Robert Knight said, "No true conservative would equate homosexual households with marriage, because we believe that without marriage and family as paramount values, hell will break loose." Lou Sheldon (Traditional Values Coalition), said Connerly and the other regents "believed the big lie that homosexuality is equivalent to being black, Hispanic, or Asian."

Connerly said the reaction to this was much more extreme than to the vote on affirmative action: "People start talking about morals, the Bible, degenerates, and before you know it you're off in a terrible debate in which you just can't reason with people." In response to a critic, he wrote, "I am part of an interracial marriage. When my wife and I married, there were those who said that such unions were immoral, unnatural, contrary to the Bible, and would lead to the deterioration of civilization."









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