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

Protestant Upheaval

The debate over the role of sexual minorities in Protestant denominations continues in 1998. So far, Rev. Steven Sabin was told he will be removed from the clergy roster by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; a lay pastor was fired by a different ELCA congregation in Iowa; a date was set by the United Methodist Church (UMC) for the trial of Rev. Jimmy Creech; the debate over ordination standards continued in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and a Southern Baptist congregation was expelled from the Texas Convention.

Steven Sabin

Rev. Steven Sabin, of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Ames, IA, has been informed that he will be defrocked effective April 15 for living with another gay man. His congregation must decide whether they will defy the ruling. Coverage has mostly been limited to midwest papers, but will likely be national in April.

Jimmy Creech

Rev. Jimmy Creech's hearing has been scheduled for March 11-13 Kearney, NE, 186 miles from his Omaha congregation. Rev. Creech is being tried for performing a union ceremony, the first time a pastor has been tried for violating the UMC's Social Principles. The story has already made the front page of the New York Times. The issues include the rights of ministers to pastor to all parishioners, as well as the broader issue of an inclusive church and society, and demonstrating that people of faith support this vision.

Proclaiming the Vision, created so organize, support and coordinate plans among the various groups within the UMC supporting Rev. Creech, is a project of the Methodist Federation for Social Action with the long-term goal of Proclaiming the Vision of an inclusive church and society. They are preparing media support and helping with travel and lodging preparations for supporters around the county. IWG supporter Rev. Arthur Brandenburg will be among those going from our area.

University Baptist Church

The Baptist General Convention of Texas has expelled the University Baptist Church in Austin. The Southern Baptist congregation will have to remove the Convention's name from their literature and web site. The web site mentions both the Convention affiliation and the church's ministry of gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight and transgendered people working toward unity and inclusion. Rev. Larry Bethune said, "Gays and lesbians and their families are damaged once again by hearing that God hates them. They hear that [message] the way an African-American would hear, 'Love the soul and hate the color,' or a woman would hear 'Love the woman but hate the gender.'"

Voters Veto Maine Anti-Discrimination Law

Voters in Maine overturned a bill designed to prevent discrimination in housing and employment on the basis of sexual orientation. State law allows voters to circulate petitions requesting a veto of a bill passed by the legislature, and if enough signatures are collected, the bill must pass a special election. In this case a petition was circulated by the Christian Civic League and Christian Coalition of Maine. Veto of the "gay rights law" as most commentators called it, sparked editorials, press releases, letter-writing campaigns, and feature articles.

One of two schools of thought on the vote is that most Americans are morally opposed to homosexuality. A recent study published in the New York Times Magazine claimed that there is no appreciable moral support for gay rights among suburbanites; a number of writers and editors, including Don Feder, latched onto this idea. In Feder's syndicated column, he focused on recent legislative setbacks for gay rights, concluding, "Middle-class Americans have not come to the conclusion that homosexuality represents an alternative that is the moral equal of any other. Nor will they, while the nation retains its sanity. How many times do we have to say 'no'--to domestic partners ordinances, gay marriage, efforts to coerce the Boy Scouts and public-school indoctrination--before the elite takes this resounding negative as an answer?"

The second school of thought, reflected in an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer and papers in Maine, was that conservative churches and organizations are still unparalleled in involving constituents in the democratic process. Only 30% of the people registered actually voted, so the 52% victory required the mobilization of less than 16% of the electorate. Opponents of the veto outspent proponents 5-1 on advertising featuring Governor Angus King, and polls showed support for the nondiscrimination law. However, the national and Maine Christian Coalitions worked through local churches to get out the vote; the Family Research Council organized an Alveda Celeste King rally and a state-wide ex-gay tour; and Gary Bauer's other organization, American Renewal, contributed $25,000 for ads. According to the Bangor Daily News, Bauer spoke to veto supporters by phone after the vote: "You had the common sense of the people of Maine behind you, and 2,000 years of Judeo-Christian civilization. We need people to defend marriage and the family. I'm proud to be on the same team with you."

The Portland Press Herald wrote about the members of the Lisbon Free Baptist Church rallying to support the veto, with one member alone manufacturing and distributing 100 lawn signs and calling 200 people to remind them to vote. The story also mentioned the local United Methodist pastor, who opposed the veto and tried to hold seminars on the problems faced by gay and lesbian people, but shop owners were pressured to take down the signs. According to the AP story, the national Christian Coalition plans to build on this success by recruiting 100,000 church liaisons; "Coalition officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said... churches are becoming an efficient way to reach voters in an age of suburban sprawl."

The Christian Coalition's Randy Tate was quoted in papers around the country, calling the vote a "victory for people of faith." The Interfaith Alliance produced a national letter-writing alert in response. As if to back up Tate, the Washington Post, in interviews with Maine citizens, cited the religious affiliations of those opposed to the law, but not supporters. In contrast, papers in Maine did a far better job of highlighting religious people on both sides of the debate, and a Philadelphia Inquirer article concluded with a quote from Rev. Susan Jamison, pastor of the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Bangor, who said, "Many of us are very embarrassed by this vote. We hope the rest of the country sees this as a wake-up call." The San Francisco Chronicle's editorial said "The Maine repeal vote demonstrates that any complacency in the civil rights movement for gays and lesbians is risky and premature."

National Freedom to Marry Report

On February 12, the mayors of San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Ithaca declared the first National Freedom to Marry Day. Events around the country included one on February 13 on the Penn campus, with Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale, executive director of the Christian Association at the University of Pennsylvania (and IWG supporter), speaking. Reuters wrote about the tying of a large knot on the steps of New York's City Hall officiated by Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum; a "just married" procession of cars in Kansas City; and a wedding cake ceremony in Atlanta. The Boston Globe reported on a prayer breakfast sponsored by the Boston Freedom to Marry Coalition which included Rabbi Howard Berman, rabbi emeritus of Sinai Temple in Chicago, who talked about the practice which persisted for some centuries in some European countries of limiting (by law) the number of marriage licenses available to Jewish couples.

Opposition in Vermont

On February 11 (the day before Freedom to Marry Day) a group in Vermont announced their intent to pass a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. A clergy member of the group was quoted in the Burlington Free Press: "The basic unit of social order in our country is the family, which is defined in the Judeo-Christian documents that our country was founded on as one man and one woman. Anything else would lead to social deterioration."

Philadelphia Yet Again

Gay rights are a religious issue in our city again, though the level of publicity has not approached the media circus from last time. This time the Cardinal send a hand-delivered letter to City Council members and the mayor complaining about the three proposed life-partner ordinances. According to the Inquirer, it said, "Ordinances of this type are destructive to our city's moral and social structure because they are, in essence, a means to promote and protect homosexual relationships." The archdiocese said parishioners would be reminded how their council people voted. William Devlin, director of the Philadelphia Family Policy Council, said in the Daily News he was "working behind the scenes" on strategy and lining up "a vast host of black, Hispanic and Asian clergy...opposed to expanding the definition of family."

So far this has not received major coverage; there has been a Reuters story, a Philadelphia Daily News story, Cynthia Burton's Inquirer column, a story in some editions of the Inquirer, and 30 seconds on the Channel 6 news. The Daily News mentioned support by "liberal clergy," and ran three letters criticizing comments by the Cardinal and John Street, and praising Councilman John Kenney, who indicated in the Daily News that his duty is to the city and not the Church.

Deb Price Writes about Synagogue

On February 20, syndicated columnist Deb Price wrote about the inspirational history of New York's Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, led since 1992 by Reconstructionist Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, which has grown from 10 members to 800 in 25 years, and is the world's largest gay synagogue, attracting 3,000 worshipers for Yom Kippur. Rabbi Kleinbaum was also mentioned in the Reuter's story on National Freedom to Marry Day.

Letterhead Update

Rev. Victoria Weinstein of Mainline Unitarian Church is number sixty-six and the Rev. Jim Littrell of St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Hamilton Village is the sixty-seventh supporter of the IWG.

Promise Keepers Broke

According to published reports and their own web page, Promise Keepers is out of money and has laid off all staff (345 people). The Detroit Free Press reported that Bill McCartney said he would ask every church in the country to give $1,000: "It's the will of God for churches to give this money. If the church fails to do this, they will have missed the heart of God. If they're a small church, that doesn't let them off the hook. They need to ask a large church for the money." According to the web page, events announced for the rest of the year will be held.

Local Presbyterian Votes

Amendment A, passed this year by the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly, lost in both the Philadelphia and West Jersey Presbyteries during the February monthly meetings. The proposed amendment replaces heterosexist ordination requirements voted into the Book of Order by the General Assembly and presbyteries last year (Amendment B). The Philadelphia Presbytery passed an overture suggesting alternative language which cleans up theological problems with Amendment B while clarifying the original intent as an anti-gay-ordination measure. Whatever happens, it is clear that the denomination is deeply divided over issues of sexuality.









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