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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
July/August 1999

Religious Liberty

In June, discussions raged in the Southern Baptist Convention, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), American Baptist Churches, Reformed Church in America, and Christian Reformed Church about religious identity; sexual identity, orientation and behavior; the definition, nature, and role of families; and the role of religion. Meanwhile, attempts were made to involve government in religious life and provide special rights to the Christian majority, from officially sanctioning religious documents, to funding religious schools, and denial of free exercise to religious minorities in the military. The courts may ultimately strike down such measures, but the court system is time-consuming, risky, and leads to attempts to politicize the judiciary or amend the Constitution.

We urge you to write to your local paper, school board, municipal government, state representatives and senators, governor, congressional representatives and senators, and the President, and tell them you value constitutional protection of your religious liberty, including the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment. We guarantee they're hearing from those who believe in free exercise for the majority only, public funds for religious indoctrination, and the appearance of religious conformity.

Ten Commandments

The House of Representatives passed H.R.1501.EH, part of which allows posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings, giving special recognition to a religious document (half of which is about religious belief and practice, thereby giving official preference to Judaism and Christianity) in an obvious violation of the First Amendment. Former Southern Baptist pastor and gay internet commentator Dr. Rembert Truluck questioned its constitutionality as well as the theological wisdom (for Christians) of ranking the Ten Commandments over Jesus' Great Commandment. Philadelphia Daily News chief editorial writer Carol Towarnicky wrote an excellent opinion piece against the bill, covering minority religious rights, multiple versions of the Ten Commandments, and references to slaves.

Religious Free Exercise in the Military

According to the Austin American Statesman and the web pages of the Military Pagan Network, thirteen organizations (including the Christian Action Network, American Family Association, and Traditional Values Coalition) are calling for a conservative Christian boycott of the Army, after un- successful attempts by a US Representative to deny Wiccans free exercise of religion at Fort Hood and other military bases. The Statesman quoted Paul M. Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation: "Until the Army withdraws all official support and approval from witchcraft, no Christian should enlist or reenlist in the Army, and Christian parents should not allow their children to join the Army." The Daily News ran an editorial in favor of religious liberty for Wiccans.

Pride Celebrations

Philadelphia's Pride Parade included the Interfaith Working Group (thank you to Tabernacle United Church and Dave & Marie Jack), Congregation Beth Ahavah, Integrity, Dignity, Evangelicals Concerned, and Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) of Philadelphia. The Inquirer ran a photograph that included Evangelicals Concerned and the IWG, though the organizations' names weren't visible or mentioned in the caption.

Local parade and festival coverage from around the US and Canada with mention of religious participation included: The London (Ontario) Free Press and Charleston (WV) Gazette mentioned religious services; the Hartford Courant reported on a commitment service at the festival; the Salt Lake Tribune and Baltimore Sun noted participation of the MCC; the Boston Globe noted inclusion of "many gay and lesbian-friendly church groups;" The Kansas City Star and Austin American-Statesman reported that a local Methodist congregation had a booth at their respective festivals; the Asbury Park (NJ) Press mentioned a parade participant with a "God is Love" sign; the San Antonio Express-News wrote about a woman honored at the festival, a "devout Christian" who "was forced to leave her church of 40 years when fellow members objected to her involvement in PFLAG;" the Detroit Free Press had an article about efforts to include a religious celebration in the Pride festival for the first time; and the Washington Post reported that during the parade there, thirty people in front of a church en route prayed: "I will make of the outcasts a strong nation."

Reformed Church in America and UCC

The Reformed Church in America (RCA) voted not to cut ties with the United Church of Christ over differences of opinion about sexual orientation. The Des Moines Register reported that most who spoke during the debate favored ending the relationship. "I want to warn these people that they're going to hell because they reject the word of God," was typical of quotes from delegates in the newspaper article. RCA General Secretary Wesley Granberg-Michaelson opposed the proposal.

Christian Reformed Church

Synod 1999 of the Christian Reformed Church voted to call their churches "to repentance for their failures to minister to those who experience same sex attractions," said the United Reformed News Service.

United Methodist Church

The Denver Post, Des Moines Register, Chicago Sun Times, and Associated Press ran stories about UMC clergy involved in the same-sex union controversy. The Houston Chronicle said that Bering Memorial UMC in Houston is the latest church where clergy will not perform weddings pending lifting the same-gender union ban. Annual Conference meetings in Western Michigan, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota and Northern California/ Nevada featured debates over proposed changes to the same-sex union ban, which Minnesota and Northern California/Nevada recommended dropping. The Charleston Daily Mail said the West Virginia conference called for expansion of state hate crime laws to include orientation. The Washington Post, New York Times, AP and San Francisco papers said investigations into charges have begun against 68 ministers who participated in the Sacramento marriage service. The AP and Chicago papers said a family was expelled from a UMC-related campground for posting signs designating their cottage as "reconciling."

The Rev. Greg Dell was elected by the Northern Illinois Annual Conference as a delegate to the General Conference in 2000. You can go to the CORNET website (http://www.umaffirm.org/cornet/index2.html) to read a statement from clergy involved in the Sacramento service with extensive references to the Bible and United Methodist documents, as well as a reflection by the California/Nevada Chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. A UMC News Service release said, "Homosexuality has been a volatile issue at every General Conference meeting since 1972 and is expected to be a lightning rod for conflict at the Cleveland meeting."

Southern Baptist Convention

Coverage of this year's Southern Baptist Convention included participation by Reggie White, a promise to reach out to urban minorities, and objections to the president's Pride Month proclamation and appointment of ambassador James Hormel. Virtually ignored was a 1% drop in membership, including First Baptist Church of Greenville, SC, which discontinued an affiliation dating from 1845. A reason cited on their web page is that "the separation of church and state is a treasured conviction which has historically guided Baptist churches and conventions in America." Affiliations with the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship were retained.

School Prayer

Syndicated columnist Linda Chavez (published in the Inquirer) praised a crowd of 2,000 at a public high school graduation for reciting the Lord's Prayer to protest the substitution of a moment of silence for an official prayer, arguing that the lack of an official prayer stifled their free exercise. An opinion piece by Michael Novak in the New York Times (and Daily News) seriously argued that the country needs an official prayer, or perhaps a book of 200 official prayers from all religious traditions, a different one for each school day (a major underestimation of the number of US religious groups!).

Presbyterian Church (USA)

A committee recommendation to remove the ban on ordination of sexual minorities went to the floor of the General Assembly (GA). The ban had been added to the Book of Order two years ago and was almost amended last year. The GA instead voted to accept the minority report, recommending no action for two years, with discussion and continued obedience during that time. The minority report was passed (389 to 198). Despite last-minute maneuvering, the Rev. Jane Spahr of That All May Freely Serve received her Woman of Faith Award. Please keep members of the PCUSA in your thoughts and prayers, especially those who cannot serve or don't feel welcome, those who serve despite the ban, and those who work for equal treatment, including That All May Freely Serve and the More Light congregations.

It's Elementary

The showing of "It's Elementary" on some PBS stations (including WHYY and WYBE) resulted in the usual pro and con letters, editorials, and columns in papers around the country. The strongest negative reaction seems to have come from media personality Dr. Laura Schlessinger who, in her syndicated column, supported teaching respect for all students, and bemoaned the behavior of young men who pick on the poor, the weak and the different, while at the same time saying that the purpose of the film is to indoctrinate children to believe homosexuality is normal rather than "deviant or morally wrong behavior," and "a personal or societal problem." She also said that "where once we were asked to tolerate diversity, now we are being intimidated to accept deviancy," and "all traditional religions view homosexuality as a sin." The Lexington (KY) Herald ran an excellent rebuttal to Schlessinger's comments from a local interfaith organization, the Spiritual Growth Network of Kentucky.

American Baptist Churches

The General Board of the American Baptist Churches USA, meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, voted to expel four Welcoming and Affirming (W & A) California churches: Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, Oakland; First Baptist Church of Berkeley; New Community of Faith, San Jose; and San Leonardo Community Church. The Des Moines Register quoted the Rev. Marcia Bailey (see letterhead) of W & A congregation Central Baptist in Wayne: "The spirit of God is in our midst, and that can never be taken from us."

Religious School Funding

Vouchers for private and parochial schools again failed to pass in Pennsylvania. A wide range of religious and civic groups opposed vouchers on state/federal constitutional grounds; yet most public commentary focused on supposedly universally-failing public schools and the need for "choice." Philadelphia Inquirer columnist David Boldt even suggested the primary motivation of opponents was anti-Catholic prejudice. The Vermont Supreme Court ruled unanimously that vouchers violated their state constitution. "The momentum in courts nationwide is increasingly turning against vouchers," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Taxpayers must never be forced to pay for religion, and the Vermont Supreme Court clearly ruled the right way."

Reform Judaism

The Omaha World Herald reported on a debate at Omaha's Temple Israel over the senior rabbi's decision to perform a commitment ceremony for two men, and cited debates within the Central Conference of American Rabbis over commitment ceremonies and the controversy at the Rev. Jimmy Creech's former Omaha church. The Boston Herald reported on the installation of associate Rabbi Elissa Kohen, who is a lesbian, at Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, New England's largest synagogue.

Christian Coalition Denied Tax Status

The Internal Revenue Service has denied the Christian Coalition status as a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organization. The Coalition will probably become a forprofit organization, Christian Coalition International, and the Texas Christian Coalition, (already tax-exempt) will be renamed Christian Coalition America.

Yet Another Religious Bill In Congress

H.Con.Res.94 was introduced in the House (30 cosponsors), obliquely referring to the murders of James Byrd, Matthew Shepard and Billy Jack Gaither as "events that currently burden the hearts of the people." The bill is completely theological, asserting that: "it is the necessary duty of the people of this Nation not only to humbly offer up our prayers and needs to Almighty God, but also in a solemn and public manner to confess our shortcomings;" and suggests that Congress recognize "the unique opportunity that the dawn of a millennium presents to a people in a Nation under God to humble and reconcile themselves with God and with one another."









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