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


Life Partnership Hearings

Philadelphia City Council heard testimony on the three proposed Life Partnership bills from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm (with two one hour breaks) on April 22. Council ultimately voted the bills out of committee. The final vote will be on Thursday, May 7. Most local media coverage did not adequately convey the grueling, intense, contentious, and angry atmosphere of the debate, nor its intensely religious nature.

Almost all of the opposing testimony was religious in nature, from Cardinal Bevilacqua, Bill Devlin of the Urban Family Council, and Rev. Benjamin Smith, Sr., plus many concerned citizens speaking of their religious opposition to homosexuality. However, the supporting testimony included many non-sectarian organizations such as the ACLU, the Bar Association, city unions, PFLAG, the Lesbian and Gay Task Force, and the Center for Lesbian and Gay Law and Public Policy, as well as individuals who discussed how they had been effected by current policy. On top of this, the amount of positive testimony from religious organizations and clergy was overwhelming. Testifying in favor were the American Jewish Congress, IWG supporter Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell representing the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr.; Rev. Barry Harte, from IWG supporter University Lutheran Church of the Incarnation, who read a letter from Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Bishop Roy Almquist; Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting; Marie Summers, President of Dignity/Philadelphia; Rev. Jeff Jordan of Metropolitan Community Church of Philadelphia; Rabbi Yael Levy of Congregation Mishkan Shalom; Rev. Dwight Lundgren of First Baptist Church of Philadelphia; Father Isaac Miller from the Church of the Advocate; and IWG supporters Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale, Rev. Nina Grey, Rev. Paul Huebner, and Rev. Benjamin Maucere. In addition, several individuals testifying for themselves or secular organizations noted that they were Roman Catholic, blunting the Cardinal's claim to speak for all 500,000 members of the archdiocese.

Television news coverage neglected the overwhelming religious support; most stations managed to show some clergy in favor (but one station mislabeled Rev. Maucere as Rev. Jordan). The Inquirer coverage included an article with a color picture of the Cardinal and a black & white crowd photo, and a Melissa Dribben column focusing on the debate's religious nature. But between the article and the column, only Marie Summers, Rabbi Levy, Rev. Maucere, and Rev. Jordan were mentioned.

A Daily News article began with "dueling clergy," but only mentioned Bennison. However, their April 24 editorial stated that there was a theological disagreement between the two sides, with Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and "many Protestant ministers" strongly opposed to the legislation, and Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison, Jr. and "other Protestant and Jewish clergy" supporting it. The editorial also said "Much of the testimony...was theological in nature, representing a wide spectrum of moral beliefs," but that it's inappropriate to base legislation on religious teachings, and the bills must be "considered only as an issue of equal compensation for equal work and equal treatment under the law." We thanked the Daily News.

Other Life Partnership Maneuvering

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia purchased a quarter-page advertisement in the March 29 Review and Opinion section of the Sunday Inquirer, with this definition of marriage: "A voluntary union for life of a man and a woman; the union is solemnized in accordance with local law by a wedding ceremony and the filing of a certificate of marriage." The definition was printed three times, each time smaller and in a paler shade of gray. Following this was the statement: "If City Council has their way, marriage will be just a faded memory." Catholic parishioners throughout Philadelphia asked the archdiocese to stop using their donations for political advertising, but the same ad was later printed in neighborhood weeklies around the city.

The Urban Family Council also made plans to have petitions passed around churches in the area to protest the legislation; Action News (WPVI-Channel 6) called the IWG to ask us about their interviewing a pastor who would not give out such petitions at his or her church. Many thanks to IWG supporters Rev. Jim Littrell and the congregation of St. Mary's Hamilton Village Episcopal Church. The Action News crew filmed their service, reported on the story from in front of the church, and spoke to Rev. Littrell and some of the members about their belief in justice and equality.

Our intended April 2 rally, which turned out to be more of a press conference for the TV cameras, also gave folks an opportunity to respond to that ad. Our thanks to all who came. The television coverage was fairly good; Melina Waldo of PFLAG and Marie Summers of Dignity were both interviewed, and IWG supporter Rev. Stephen Snider was shown holding one of our new signs: My Faith Makes Me a Gay Rights Activist (which subsequently became the title of an Integrity conference in Northern California, thanks to the internet).

On April 21 (the day before the testimony) the Urban Family Council of Philadelphia bought a full-page ad in the Daily News signed by thirty-two individuals and organizations including the Archdiocese. The ad said the only real life partnership is one-man-one-woman marriage.

Our statement now has ninety-three endorsers (eight congregations, eight religious organizations and seventy-seven clergy from sixteen religious traditions).

Jimmy Creech Aftershocks

The United Methodist News Service reports that the highest UMC judicial body will hold a special session August 7-8 in Dallas to discuss the denomination's prohibition of gay unions. Over 150 UMC pastors have stated publicly that they will continue doing same-sex union ceremonies. An April 17 New York Times story about an increased willingness of clergy in many denominations to perform ceremonies sadly made almost no distinction between religious and civil marriage. Gubernatorial candidates in Nebraska used the Creech case in campaign ads, decrying the possibility of same-gender marriage.

An April 19 Sunday Oklahoman opinion piece by Mark Tooley (Institute on Religion and Democracy, dedicated to discrediting and defunding the denomination) used the Creech case to list the Institute's usual litany of complaints, urging all churches to follow the example of First UMC of Marietta, GA and withhold funding. The Omaha World Herald reports that three churches in Georgia and one each in Iowa and Nebraska are withholding or redirecting denominational giving.

The Modesto Bee, Sacramento Bee and Omaha World Herald, among other papers, reported that evangelical pastors and lay leaders in California and Nevada had asked to separate from the regional conference of the denomination, though a subsequent letter from a pastor in the Modesto Bee said his church had voted to establish procedures for congregations to leave, not to actually leave, contradicting quotes from the Sacramento article.

Omaha World Herald activity: March 29--an ad signed by local churches critical of Creech: "We also affirm our commitment to Holy Scripture as interpreted in the historic Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish traditions;" April 9-- letter of support for Rev. Creech from Beyt Shalom Reconstructionist Synagogue of Omaha; April 12--"Gays Find Community of Faith in Church" (article); April 16--letter says the April 12 piece was a case for censorship; April 18--long article: "Black Churches and Gays" (the March 29 ad was signed by more than a dozen black churches); April 25--letter from Reform Jewish, Lutheran (ELCA), Baptist, Catholic, Disciples of Christ, MCC, UCC, PCUSA, United Methodist, Unitarian Universalist, and Unity clergy and lay leaders objecting to the March 29 ad, saying in part, "The statement clearly does not reflect the thought of all faith groups. Our interpretations of scripture are not uniform, and we cannot claim to speak for each other without consultation. No members of the Catholic, Orthodox or Jewish traditions signed the statement. We cannot find representatives from these traditions who were even consulted."

CCAR and Religious Same-Gender Marriage

The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) meets in Anaheim, CA June 21-24, and may vote on the sanctification of same-sex marriages. A resolution has also been submitted calling for the issue to be left to each rabbi. CCAR has endorsed civil same-sex marriage, but has not yet addressed religious same-sex marriage. An April 24 New York Jewish Week story said that Rabbi Eric Yoffe, President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, favors passage of a same-sex resolution, and that some rabbis have threatened to leave and start a separate organization if such a resolution passes. The article also included remarks about similar debates in the United Methodist and Episcopal churches.

Reggie White

Near the end of March, remarks by the Green Bay Packers' Rev. Reggie White to the Wisconsin state legislature concerning ethnicity and sexual orientation became a major story. Since then, White's remarks have joined the Boy Scouts and the United Methodists as national topics for columns, letters, and editorials. Channel 29 (WTXF) asked the IWG for clergy to comment on White's speech; our thanks to Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale for appearing on the Ten O'Clock News. On April 22 the Ann Arbor News reported that White will join Alveda Celeste King and gospel singers Debbie and Angie Winans in Ypsilanti for an anti-non-discrimination-ordinance rally: "Upholding Christian Values." An April 26 AP story reported that in a 20/20 interview Sara White said CBS didn't hire her husband because they are "too scared of the Sodomite community."

Alabama School Board Settles Religion Suit

In a conclusion to a story from the September newsletter, the Pike County (AL) School Board has settled a lawsuit with the Willeses, a Jewish family who alleged that their children were religiously harassed by teachers, administrators and a Bible distributor, according to a statement from Americans for Religious Liberty, which said, in part, "This is a classic case of why we don't want our schools to get into the religion business. It causes a lot of hurt feelings and wastes taxpayers' money that could be used to buy text books and patch leaking school roofs. It is not a coincidence the incident occurred in the same state where a judge openly shows his contempt for the First Amendment principle of separation of church and state by posting the Ten Commandments on his courtroom walls."

Growth Spurt

Welcome to our new supporters: Rev. Douglas Holder, St. Luke's United Church of Christ in Dublin, PA; Rev. Dr. Holly Horn, First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia; the congregation of St. Mary's Hamilton Village Episcopal Church in West Philadelphia; the Methodist Federation for Social Action, Eastern PA Conference; and the Delaware Valley Area Council of Unitarian Universalist Congregations.

Americans United Sues SE Delco School District

The Southest Delco (PA) School District approved a voucher plan by 7-0, despite a conflict of interest for board members with children in private schools. The state constitution forbids use of public school money "for the support of any sectarian school." Rev. Barry Lynn (Exec. Dir. Americans United) says" "Taxpayers should never be forced to pay for religious indoctrination. This plan clearly violates the separation of church and state... I am confident that the courts will strike it down."



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