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


Life Partnership Bills Pass

As you've probably heard, the Life Partnership bills have been passed by Philadelphia's City Council and have been signed into law by the mayor. In spite of the overwhelming testimony from clergy and laity supporting the bills (unreported by any media outlet), Channel 29 consistently characterized supporters as "gay activists" (not "gay rights activists") and the opposition as "the religious community," showing clips of Bill Devlin (Urban Family Council) saying that the definition of family was now expanded to anyone who has ever been on the Jerry Springer Show. The print media reported that Devlin also announced his intention of forming a PAC. The Inquirer says that Council President John Street is still considering trying to pass alternative legislation.

The Bucks County Courier Times ran a front page story speculating on whether the county would ever offer domestic partnership benefits to its employees; for the article they interviewed IWG supporter Rev. Al Krass. Meanwhile, national attention has shifted to New York City were Mayor Giuliani has proposed an extensive domestic partnership program. The national Christian Coalition complained that the New York proposal would undermine efforts by parents to teach traditional morality, and Focus on the Family issued a national alert complaining about the New York and Philadelphia legislation in particular and asking for help fighting all municipal domestic partnership ordinances in court on the grounds that they are somehow illegal. The FOF alert incorrectly stated that the Philadelphia ordinance required all employers in the city to offer DP benefits.

Jimmy Creech Will Not Be Reappointed

Bishop Martinez has announced that Rev. Jimmy Creech will not be reappointed as pastor of First United Methodist Church of Omaha, despite his acquittal. The United Methodist Church is still in a state of upheaval. The Bishops issued a unanimous statement which attracted a great deal of attention despite the fact that it simply reiterated existing policies. Newspapers are still rife with speculation over potential schisms, especially the California-Nevada Annual Conference.

Northwest American Baptists

The American Baptist Churches of the Northwest passed a resolution on May 16 agreeing with the national body that the "practice of homosexuality is inconsistent with Christian teaching," and directed the regional board to a) "Communicate God's grace and forgiveness to sexually broken people," including gays; b) Affirm "that the fulfillment of sexual union is a monogamous, life-long relationship between one man and one woman;" c) "Make every effort...to call welcoming and affirming Baptist churches in the Northwest to a position on human sexuality that is consistent with Christian teaching;" and d) "Refrain from inviting persons who celebrate the practice of homosexuality, bisexuality, or transexuality as Biblical expressions of human sexuality to serve in Northwest Region ministry leadership until they have adopted a position on human sexuality that is consistent with Christian teaching."

Delegates voted down a measure that would have allowed for the dismissal of churches that abandoned one or more beliefs and practices that are considered distinctly Baptist or basic to Christianity. A two-thirds majority was required, the vote was 165 yes to 107 no. Had that measure passed, it would have been possible for the delegates to vote to dismiss the two Welcoming and Affirming congregations in Seattle: Seattle First Baptist and University Baptist. Such a measure had been proposed, but was withdrawn.

World Council of Churches

The Orlando Sentinel and Philadelphia Inquirer published a story about Protestants and Orthodox Christians fighting over World Council of Churches policies (ordination of women and acceptance of sexual minorities) because the Orthodox churches "think the group has already grown too diverse and inclusive." No specific votes or approvals were mentioned, and the only quote was from the Rev. Hilarion Alfeyev of the Russion Orthodox Church's external relations department.

Civil Marriage Update

An Alaska state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to mixed-gender couples will go to voters in November. Twelve states, including Pennsylvania, have filed briefs in the Vermont Supreme Court case supporting Vermont's right to limit marriage. The Hawaii case still sits with the Hawaii Supreme Court.

The Reggie White Saga Continues

Voters in Ypsilanti, MI decided to retain a non-discrimination ordinance which includes sexual orientation, despite appearances at a five-hundred person rally against the ordinance by Reggie White, gospel singers Debbie and Angie Winans, and Alveda Celeste King. The Ann Arbor News reported that two dozen members of African Americans for No Discrimination protested the rally. Supporters also announced that Coretta Scott King endorsed keeping the ordinance. Rev. White's positions continue to be a source of controversy in newspapers around the country. On Monday, May 18, the Family Research Council held a lunch in his honor in Washington DC to which some members of Congress were invited.

Friendship Blessing Canceled at Catholic Church

According to articles in the Contra Costa Times, the Deacon at St. Augustine Church in Pleasonton, CA was going to bless the friendship of two women until "roughly 30 protesters" threatened to picket the ceremony because it "amounted to a gay marriage" and "condoned homosexuality." The Contra Costa Times said the service was canceled by "church authorities," presumably in the diocese of Oakland. Christine Nusse of the Conference for Catholic Lesbians was quoted: "I've never heard of this [a friendship blessing] happening within the Catholic Church. It's certainly not common in the Catholic Church, and it's certainly not condoned by the church hierarchy as a whole." The Times said that the deacon indicated this would have been the third such service he had performed, and that the ceremony "was not even close to a gay wedding."

Congressional Values Action Team Formed

Congressional leaders have formed a "Values Action Team" to meet weekly with Religious Right leaders. According to a Lancaster Intelligencer Journal story, the team will be headed by Lancaster representative Joe Pitts. The New Haven Register reported agreement on pushing legislation to restrict abortions, encourage school prayer and block expansion of gay rights, and reported that Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition said "You're going to be seeing a lot more of us." You might want to tell your representative how you feel about this development.

Fred Phelps' Congregation Pickets Steve Sabin's

Fred Phelps' Kansas Congregation was in Ames, IA the weekend of May 10 to picket Lord of Life Lutheran Church, where Rev. Steve Sabin awaits a decision on his appeal to maintain his ordination. There picketing meant there was a larger turnout than usual for the Sunday service. They also picketed the University of Iowas graduation; First Evangelical Free Church and Grand Avenue Baptist Church (for suggesting that their picketing would do more harm than good); Collegiate Presbyterian (they give space to PFLAG); Cornerstone Church (because of a close relationship with Grand Avenue Baptist), and St. John's Episcopal (they usually picket Episcopalians).

Church and Kansas

According to Pitchweekly and the Topeka Capital Journal, the Shawnee County, KS treasurer cut off negotiations with a San Francisco financial company to provide county phone bill-paying services after learning the company gave domestic partnership benefits (required by San Francisco law). She used county stationary and postage to mail letters to county residents who had complained about negotiations breaking off. Along with a legal explanation, she wrote, "In my opinion, written policies nor laws enacted by man should overcome the Bible, which is God's word. In that respect, please find enclosed reasons to believe the Bible." Each envelope held the tract "Why Should Anyone Believe the Bible." Kansas Attorney General Carla Stovall said the treasurer's actions were a proper use of taxpayer money.

Philadelphia Sex Ed Study

The Philadelphia Daily News reported on and opined about a one-year study by Penn and Princeton researchers of 6th- and 7th-grade African American Philadelphians. A group received abstinence-only sex education, another had training in condom use; the control group had no sex ed. The condom group had the lowest percentage of recently having had sex (16.5%), followed by the abstinence (20%) and control (23.1%) groups. The abstinence group had a higher instance of unprotected sex than the condom group. The editorial noted that Congress voted $50 million/year for five years for abstinence only education as part of welfare reform (pushed by the religious right), and that the condom-availability program in ten Philadelphia high schools is under attack in federal appeals court and by Governor Ridge.

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