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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
April 1999


Billy Jack Gaither

It was first reported on March 4 that Billy Jack Gaither of Sylacauga, AL, was beaten to death, then burned on a pile of tires because he was gay. A Birmingham News story called him a "loyal Bible-reading son who took care of his disabled father, a hard working employee, a trusted friend." The New York Times News Service said he sang in the Baptist Church choir; the extensive Philadelphia Inquirer coverage ommited his religion. President Clinton denounced the murder. Wire serices said 400 people marched down Broadway in a New York City political funeral. The Birmingham News said that the 225 seat Covenant Metropolitan Community Church overflowed with people from across the state to honor Gaither and call for an end to hatred against against gays. They also reported that a measure to repeal Alabama's ban on interracial marriage cleared a legislative hurdle only after lawmakers made sure it wouldn't lead to legal recognition of same-sex marriages.

Thoughtful editorials and columns about Gaither, hate crimes, sexual orientation and diversity were in the Talladega Daily Home, the Birmingham Post-Herald, and the San Antonio Express-News. A column in the Charleston (WV) Gazzette (probably written before news of Gaither's murder), made a connection between two proposed state laws, a hate-crime law and the Defense of Marriage Act: "It is a very short and slippery slope from 'you shouldn't marry,' to 'you shoudn't live here' and 'you shouldn't work here.' These are the kind of messages that fuel the fear and bigotry that make hate crimes possible."

Equality Begins at Home/IGNITE '99

IGNITE '99 drew about five-hundred people on March 23 to the capitol building in Harrisburg for a vigil for victims of hate crimes and rally on the capitol steps, followed by lobbying; it was organized by the Statewide PA Rights Coalition (SPARC) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) as part of Equality Begins at Home (EBAH), a week of lobbying for equal rights for sexual minorities in state capitols. Speakers at the vigil, organized by Equal Partners in Faith, included Laura Montgomery Rutt; IWG Coordinator Barbara Purdom; and Peggy Campolo and IWG supporter Rev. Marcia Bailey, both of Central Baptist Church in Wayne. (A large group of Central Baptist folks came). During the rally IWG supporter Rev. Marcus Pomeroy, also of Central Baptist, delivered an inspiring speech; NGLTF's Paula Ettelbrick told the crowd that 6,000 met in Austin for the Texas rally, and Candace Gingrich also spoke; then folks went to visit legislators about specific bills to amend the Ethnic Intimidation Act to include sexual orientation, and a bill requiring state police to collect and report statistics of crimes committed against gay men and lesbians because of their orientation.

Other EBAH events drew hundreds of people, some thousands, and others only handfuls in places where even that was significant. Participation in Alabama and Arizona of some state representatives, and of Barney Frank in Florida, was noteworty; the rainbow flag flew over the capitol building in Hartford, CT all week; Missouri and Tennessee each had their first rally for GLBT rights, and North Dakota now has a statewide group to lobby for GLBT rights.

United Methodist Church

A church jury found Rev. Greg Dell of Broadway United Methodist in Chicago guilty on March 26 (vote: 10 to 3) of disobediance to the order and discipline of the denomination for celebrating his twenty-third same-sex union. Dell is suspended as of July 5, until he signs a statement saying he will comply with the ban on same-sex unions or until the provision is removed from the Book of Discipline or modified. Officials chose that date because Dell is performing a mixed-gender wedding on July 3. The Chicago Tribune wrote that Dell said he will never sign such a statement. Also from the Tribune: Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, of the Northern Illinois Conference (he brought the charges, but opposes the rule) said "I have an idea that God isn't smiling tonight;" and Rev. Gayle Felton, Reconciling Congregations Program, said "The danger is that feelings are so deep that it threatens the church with division, even schism... while actions in one don't automatically affect the others, I do think that all of the denominations are watching each other carefully."

A complaint was filed by California-Nevada Bishop Melvin G. Talbert against sixty-nine ministers who participated in the Sacramento ceremony. The Conference Committee on investigation will decide whether to bring charges. In his statement, Talbert said, "I will uphold the law, but I will not be silenced, I will continue speaking out against the law and will continue working to change the position of our church to be more in keeping with the teachings and compassion of Jesus."

An Oklahoma pasor resigned after complaints that she blessed a same-sex union. Almost two-hundred United Methodists from eastern North Carolina had what the Fayetteville Observer-Times called an "open honest discussion" about homosexuls in the church. Rev. Maurine Waun, associate pastor at First UMC of Pittsburgh, has written More than Welcome, a book urging churches to bless same-sex relationships (Chalice Press, a Disciples of Christ publishing house). The Arizona Republic had extensive coverage on a visit by Rev. Jimmy Creech (he plans to do another same-sex union in April). CORNET's web page shows a photo of a man in Louisville, KY, wearing a sign saying "I'm Gilbert Schroerlucke, a United Methodist minister. I support Greg Dell Chicago United Methodist Minister, on church trial for performing a samesex union. Homophobia not homosexuality is a sin." A UMC news desk release noted the reassignment of the senior pastor of First UMC of Marietta, GA, which redirected its general church apportionments, partially in response to church officials who "advocate for full acceptance of homosexuality."

Episcopal Church

Five Anglican Archbisops, a President Bishop, a Presiding Bishop and a former Presiding Bishop signed a letter to Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold requesting that he "examine the directions apparantly proposed by some in your Province and take whatever steps may be necessary to uphold the moral teaching and Christian faith the Anglican Community has received." Griswold invied them to visit and query bishops and diocese representatives, and listen to the experience of homosexual persons, as mandated by the Lambeth resolution on human sexuality. The Houston Chronicle reports that the U.S. Bishops, meeting in Texas, agreed "to avoid votes on controversial gay rights issues" during the denonimation's convention in 2000. The Fort Work Star Telegram's religion editor wrote that the church is "already splintered" and concluded with a quote from Patrick Henry: "The gentlemen may cry, peace, peace! But there is no peace." The Boston Globe and AP wrote about St. Paul's in Brockton, MA, which voted to secede over Massacusets diocese ordination and marriage policies. The Los Angeles Times reported on the premiere of a new play based on the trial of Bishop Righter at the Pasadena Playouse. A Dallas Morning News story said the Episcopal Church is "headed toward a schism over gay rights." They also published a letter from the Rev. Jan Nunley, rector of St. Peter's and St. Andrew's Church in Providence, disagreeing with their assesment of the situation" "What is at stake is the basic question of whether Episcopalians will hold to the historic truth that there is but one baptism into one Body of hrist - or rather maintain that there are two baptisms, seperate and unequal: one for heterosexuals, and one for everybody else.

Presbyterian Church (USA)

The Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbytery of Southern New England upheld the election of elder Wayne Osborne to the session of the First Presbyterian Church of Stamford, CT (not a More Light church). Two members of the congregation who filed the original charges have appealed the decision to the Synod of the Northeast. The West Jersey Presbytery voted 81-61 to receive an openly gay man as a candidate for the office of Minister of the Word and Sacrament. A new book by Nile Harper, Urban Churches: Vital Signs; Beyond Charity, Toward Justice (1999, william B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) contains stories of twenty-eight flourshing urban churches, three of them More Light.

In Delaware

Legislation to prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation was defeated by the Delaware House of Representatives 18-15 with eight not voting.

In Washington, DC

The Washington Post wrote that the African Unity Luncheon at Temple Baptist Church drew 200 GLBT African Americans and local clergy "for a public and forthright examination of discrimination against gay men and lesbians in the black church."

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

On March 17 the ELCA News Service released a story entitled: "ELCA Bishops Comment on Gay and Lesbian Hospitality Report," noting that the bishops "expressed strong concerns and strong support" for the report from the ELCA Division for Outreach. The denomination's historical support for the civil rights of all people is mentioned, and denominational resolutions and letters from the Bishops urging congregations to welcome all people. Eight bishops are quoted, four on each side. The negative quotes include an objection to welcoming congregations displaying rainbow flags, a remark that gays are a small percentage of the population, and a suggestion that the report include congregations with a "traditional view." Positive comments focused on the value of the report to congregations trying to reach out, and the need for ministries for people with AIDS. Rev. Robert W. Mattheis, bishop of the ELCA's Sierra Pacific Synod "reminded the bishops" of Billy Jack Gaither.

In San Francisco

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Mayor Willie Brown led a wedding service for 190 same-gender couples in the City Hall Rotunda. The city prodced a seven-layered, rainbow-colored cake with two brides and two grooms. All of the newlyweds were crammed onto the majestic rotunda staircase and introduced individually.

Vouchers

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge has proposed a voucher program that would pay for students to attend religious schools. Article III, section 15 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides that "[n]o money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school." Americans United suggests that people contact the governor and their state representative and senator.

Promise Keepers Coming Back

The Promise Keepers will be at the First Union Spectrum July 23 and 24. As before, Equal Partners in Faith will be organizing a religious response.

Letterhead Changes

Welcome to Rabbi Carl S. Choper, Temple Beth Shalom in Mechanicsburg, PA. Rabbi Choper will be added in the next printing, while the Philadelpha Chapter of Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns (PLGC) will be removed. PLGC recently merged with the More Light Churches Network to form More Light Presbyterians, currently without an active chapter in Philadelphia.

Out and About

In addition to writing letters, the web site, the email list, and this newsletter, the IWG coordinators continue to carry out the mission in person: IGNITE '99; a Journalism class at Temple University Center City in March; workshops at Beyond Inclusion in New York City and the Interfaith Public Policy Briefing in Washington DC coming up in April; SundayOUT on May 2, Marching in the Light on May 16, and the Pride Parade every June. Call if you have a class, workshop, or adult education session where you would like an IWG representative to speak.



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