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


United Methodist Service in California

A service blessing the holy union of Ellie Charlton and Jeanne Barnett was performed Saturday, January 16, 1999, by the Rev. Donald Fado, pastor of St. Mark's United Methodist Church of Sacramento. The ceremony for the lesbian couple was conducted at the Sacramento Community Theater. Officiation at such rites is prohibited for United Methodist clergy. Particularly remarkable was the Rev. Fado was joined by seventy-one other active clergy from the UMC California-Nevada Conference, six UMC clergy from other annual conferences, seven Disciples of Christ pastors, a minister and a Bishop Emeritus of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, an American Catholic priest, a United Church of Christ pastor, a Presbyterian minister, a minister from Religious Science International, and four former clergy who left the ministry because of their sexual orientation. In addition, twenty UMC clergy from the California-Nevada Conference and fifty-two UMC clergy from other annual conferences were listed as co-officiants in absentia. Over a thousand attended the service, and outside another five-hundred people held hands and formed a "circle of love" around the building.

The Revs. Art Brandenburg and Ted Loder, both IWG supporters, were among the in absentia officiants. Rev Brandenburg said "I think this may be the most significant event for the United Methodist Church since the founding of the Reconciling Congregations Program." For an official statement on the ceremony, go to http://www.umaffirm.org/cornews/calstate.html.

Supporting events included a prayer vigil the night before in Minneapolis and services of solidarity in Salem, OR; Hollywood, CA; Mt. Pleasant, MI; and both Binghamton and Brooklyn in New York. The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches asked all congregants to pray or ring church bells to coincide with the service.

Media coverage was extensive, especially in California papers and the Washington Post. It was on CNN Headline News; there was a five minute segment on the ABC Sunday Morning News, including an interview with Rev. Greg Dell [see Dec. '98]; and Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters, the Associated Press, and Reuters all explicitly connected the service and the California ballot initiative in 2000 to prevent recognition of civil same-gender marriages.

It's too early to determine the consequences of the service. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sutter County District Attorney (a member of First United Methodist Church of Yuba City) will be filing charges against the UMC officiants "in the court of the United Methodist Church." The Reuters story included report of "a petition... circulating nationally within the United Methodist Church to force openly gay congregants out of the faith." A pre-event World Magazine article was headlined "Gay jihad in California. After a tense armistice over homosexual 'marriage,' UMC will again be pushed to the brink of a crackup."

In his post-event article in the Los Angeles Times, religion writer Larry B. Stammer wrote "The scene of ninety-five ministers presiding over a same-sex blessing as twelve-hundred witnesses looked on is probably unrivaled in the church's long history of grappling with issues of sexuality."

Catholic Ad Campaign

A full-page ad sponsored by Pax Christi USA and New Ways Ministry ran in the New York Times on December 30, 1998, listing "nearly 2000 individuals including nine bishops and more than 150 Catholic organizations or groups," according to the New Ways Ministry web page. The ad begins: "The murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, apparently motivated by anti-gay bias, has pierced the hearts of our nation and opened the eyes of many to the prejudice, discrimination, harassment, and violence that gay and lesbian people experience. We cannot be silent in the face of such action. Our Catholic faith in the nonviolent gospel of Jesus Christ moves us to speak."

The ad cites statistics of violence and harassment from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that gay and lesbian people "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity," a 1986 Vatican statement against anti-gay speech and action, and the U.S. Bishops' 1994 pastoral letter, "Confronting the Culture of Violence."

The ad concludes: "We pledge to find new ways to bring the peace of Christ to the situation of violence against gay and lesbian people. We call on all Catholics and people of goodwill to look into their hearts and weed out violent perceptions and behaviors. We ask our bishops and Church leaders to speak boldly when the rights of gay and lesbian people are destroyed and when they are maligned by politicians and other religious leaders. We pray for both the victims and the perpetrators of violence. The choice to prevent another incident such as the murder of Matthew Shepard is ours. In this season of peace we pledge to heed the U.S. Bishops' advice from their 1994 pastoral: 'Violence is overcome day by day, choice by choice, person by person. All of us must make a contribution.

A story that ran in Catholic World News said that New Ways Ministry is "controversial because of its promotion of the acceptance of homosexuality in contradiction to Catholic Church teaching." They did not quote any of the text from the New York Times ad, but they did quote Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry: "If Catholics and all people of faith commit their hearts to acceptance and inclusion of gay and lesbian people, the escalation of violence can be overcome. Misguided religious thought has fueled the homophobia that causes violence. True Christian charity can correct it."

MAD Magazine

As part of their "20 Dumbest Things of the Year," MAD Magazine published what was, for them, an unusually serious response to the anti-gay ad campaign. Under the heading, "A Newspaper Ad We'd Like to See," was a page laid out exactly like the ad that featured Ann Paulk, including the section headings, the pictures, and the sponsoring organizations at the end. However, instead of a picture of Ann Paulk there is a picture of a young man with the caption, "I'm living proof that untruths can win you votes." The text purports to tell the story of how, with God's help, and the assistance of a former homophobe, the young man turned away from his hatred of gays and lesbians. Like the original, the parody has a picture of a group of smiling people, but the caption reads, "Thousands of people like these paid models have been repulsed by extremist ads which bash gays and attempt to impose 'morality' on others. Throughout the U.S., many people are working to combat this intolerance. Most, however are typical Americans and don't give a damn one way or the other."

The tag line for the ad says "If you really love your fellow man, it doesn't matter if he's gay. And that's the truth." The list of fictional organizations at the end includes "The Council of Americans Who Have Actually Read the Constitution" and "Federation of Clergymen Against Using God's Name to Further a Political Agenda." We sent the editors a thank-you letter.

Presbyterian Church (USA) Ordination Debate

In June of 1997, the session of Christ Church of Burlington, VT passed a Resolution of Dissent in response to the Presbytery of Northern New England ordering them to comply with G-6.0106b (which supposedly bans ordination for anyone having sexual relations outside of mixed-gender marriage). The Resolution essentially said the church would not comply both with G-6.0106b and with other parts of the Book of Order. On December 5, 1998, the Presbytery of Northern New England, by a vote of 46 to 32, acknowledged that the church carries on a valid and sacred ministry in Burlington, that the inconsistencies in the Book of Order alleged by Christ Church in their Resolution of Dissent do exist, and rescinded its action instructing Christ Church to comply with G-6.0106b. The Presbytery then voted 40 to 27 in favor of a resolution from Christ Church in support of the Milwaukee Overture, which asks that G-6.0106b be deleted from the Book of Order.

Religious Exemption for Discrimination?

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of an Alaska landlord who refused to rent to an unmarried couple on religious grounds, as forbidding him to discriminate violated his constitutional right to free exercise of religion. The ruling could override housing discrimination laws in nine western states, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times, which also reported that the Alaska Attorney General's office would ask a larger panel of the appeals court to reexamine the case. A Center for Law & Religious Freedom attorney said: "Today is a victory for people of religious conscience of any stripe," while an attorney who filed a brief on behalf of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said "Lesbian and gay couples will be swallowed up by that exception by landlords who claim a religious exemption."

In a related story reported by the ACLU in December, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled 4-2 that a landlord violated two couples' rights in 1993 by refusing to rent to them because he believed they would be "living in sin." ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael Steinberg said, "The Supreme Court correctly recognized that when the Legislature outlawed housing discrimination based on 'marital status' it obviously intended to stop landlords from refusing to rent to couples simply because they were unmarried. The ruling is also important because it recognizes that a landlord's religious beliefs cannot be used to justify discrimination."

American Life League Tries to Take Over

American Life League (ALL) President Judie Brown has invited all national pro-life organizations to become divisions of ALL, and for all state and local organizations to become associated groups of ALL, in order to create a movement with one set of principles and objectives, according to the Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report. Nine groups have become ALL divisions in the last year. Brown mentioned opposition to birth control in a list of issues on which ALL has opinions, but the "Pro-Life Activist's Encyclopedia" on their website also includes chapters on issues she did not mention, such as, "Atheists: Anti-Life fo the Core," "The Position of the Jewish Faith on Abortion," and "The New Age Movement: Highway to Hell," as well as seven chapters concerning homosexuality including "The True Objective of 'Gay Rights:' Total Domination!"

Georgia Holocaust Materials

The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust first deleted, and then apologized for deleting, the only two paragraphs in their teachers guides that discussed the treatment of sexual minorities in Nazi concentration camps, because they thought they were too explicit for fifth and sixth graders, according to articles in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The paragraphs that had been deleted were published in full in the newspaper, and after a six hour meeting with members of Atlanta's gay and lesbian community, the Commission agreed to send them in a letter to teachers who receive the guides.

Americans United Reports Eight Churches to IRS

On December 10, Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced that it filed formal complaints with the IRS, asking them to investigate eight churches across the country for intervening in partisan politics by distributing Christian Coalition voter guides just before last month's election. Individual complaints document instances of voter guide distribution in conjunction with a candidate speaking from the pulpit, a party official distributing Coalition voter guides in a church, and church ushers distributing guides to churchgoers.



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