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


Texas Judge Says MCC is Not Acceptable

According to the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC), a district judge in the Texas court system has officially ruled that the predominately-gay denomination is not an acceptable church for a child.

The ruling came during a custody ruling as part of the divorce proceedings between the child's lesbian mother and her husband. "I'm holding the judge's order in my hand and reading and re-reading his words. Ican hardly believe what I am seeing," said the Rev. Troy D. Perry, moderator of more that 300 MCC congregations.

Judge Keith Nelson, of the 78th Judicial District of Texas, wrote: "The primary issue is where the child would attend Sunday school and church... the intent was for mainline churches to be utilized in the religious training of the daughter. This would include the Catholic Church, and churches in the Protestant faith such as Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Christian, Episcopalian, which are considered to be the standard religious institutions in the Protestant field. The Metropolitan Community Church does not fall within this category."

"This is a violation of the First Amendment protections to freedom of religion," said Perry. "We have joined hands with the National Center for Lesbian Rights to fight this injustice and protct the constitutional rights of this lesbian mother and her child... This is not only shocking, it's an attack on GLBT families and people of faith. Because we're gay or lesbian, this homophobic, sexist judge feels he can decided by official government decree which churches or synagogues are 'acceptable' and which are not. What in God's name will it take to get the government out of our lives-or from attempting to control our GLBT families?"

The lesbian mother says she tried to comply with the ruling and attend the types of churches listed in the order. "We never felt comfortable in those places," she said, her name being withheld to protect her daughter's legal rights. "My heart almost broke when my daughter begged me to take her back to the MCC church."

"I am asking all people of goodwill to support this case. And I encourage those who believe in prayer, to remember this courageous mother and her beautiful young daughter with their prayers, said Perry. According to perry, an appeal of the judge's decision was filed in the Texas court system Friday, April 23. The UFMCC Legal Defense Fund, 8704 Santa Monica Boulevard, 2nd Floor, West Hollywood, CA 90069 is accepting donations (made out to UFMCC), "to fight for this lesbian mother's rights and against this injustice."

In All Things Charity

Rev. Greg Dell, who will be suspended as a United Methodist pastor effective July 5 for performing his thirty-third same-sex union, has appealed his conviction. He will become director of In All Things Charity (IATC) when his suspension takes effect. IATC is a national movement begun in 1977 to protest the UMC's negative policies on sexual orientation. Its work is directed toward influencing the denomination's General Conference in May of 200 in coalition with the three other national groups which are working on these issues.

In an open letter to the Northern Illinois Conference, the congregation of Broadway UMC stated, in part, "We are committed to continuing our ministry to all people in celebration of their diversity. We are committed to being 'salt and light,' first in our own neighborhoods, then to the greater community, and finally to the world. The suspension of our pastor will not change who we are or the connection we have to our community. We are also committed to facilitating change within our denomination so that Pastor Dell's vital ministry can continue and he can return as our pastor. We do not want other pastors like Greg Dell and congregations like ours to face the same injustice that we have--too many have suffered too much already."

Rev. Dell noted that the Spring membership class at Broadway, usually between four and ten people, has twenty-seven people this year.

That All May Freely Serve

The executive committee of the General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted on April 26 to allow the Rev. Jane A. Spahr of TAMFS (That All May Freely Serve), to be one of three recipients of the Women of Faith awards for 1999. The steering committee of the National Ministries Division had overturned her selection because "To recognize her would appear to endorse the position for which she's been advocating.

TAMFS advocates for an inclusive church that honors diversity and welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons as full members, including eligibility for ordination to the offices of elder, deacon, and pastor. It was formed six years ago after a Permanent Judicial Commission ruling that Rev. Spahr could not be installed as co-pastor at Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY, because she is a lesbian. Since them, evangelists have also been hired by TAMFS affiliates in New York, Baltimore, and Chicago.

Vermont

A Massachusets Family Institute letter was sent by Focus on the Family to pastors in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, urging them to "get involved in this landmark battle to protect marriage," claiming same-sex marriage legalization would lead to a "concerted effort to use sate and federal civil rights laws to criminalize traditional views of homosexuality;" persecution of churches and other religious organizations that refuse to recognize homosexual marriages;" and "increased pressure on faith-based organizations to revise their teaching and policies on homosexuality or fae the loss of public funds or non-profit status."

Mike Gabbard, charman of the Alliance for Traditional Marriage Hawaii, wrote a letter sent to all Vermont households saying the people of Hawaii and Vermont are "accepting of others as individuals and place a high value on matters of fairness and compassion;" and urging them to defeat same-gender marriage. Citizens for Community Values of Ohio spent about $40,000 on the mailing.

Other United Methodist News

The Rev. Jimmy Creech has performed another same-sex union ceremony, this time in Chapel Hill, NC. The Center for Religion and the News Media organized a conference in Evanston, Illinois: "The Minister, the Media and the Message: An Examination of the Media Coverage of the March 1999 Trial of the Rev. Gregory Dell," which featured three panels of journalists, Methodist officials and members of gay and lesbian organizations. The Burlington Free Press wrote about disagreements between UMC clergy in Vermont following Dell's conviction.

Legislative Update

The North Carolina House of Representatives killed a bill to expand hate crimes legislation to include sexual orientation, gender, age and disability. A hate crime bill appears to be advancing in Texas. The New Hampshire legislature repealed the ban on adoption and foster-parenting by same-gender couples.

Orthodox and Conservative Rabbis

The Forward (a New York Jewish weekly) reported an Orthodox rabbi coming out; a petition by Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary students to admit gay and lesbian students; and a push by some Conservative rabbis for the Rabbinical Assembly to say it does not discriminate based on orientation in placement and hiring.

SEPTA Settles

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that SEPTA has agreed to pay Christ's Bride Ministries of McLean, VA $165,000 after the Supreme Court let stand a ruling that SEPTA had violated their free speech by pulling their ads linking abortion and breast cancer (characterized by a federal health official as inaccurate and unduly alarming). The Inquirer said we may see more ads this summer.

Pittsburgh Hunger Strike

Eighteen students at the University of Pittsburgh began a hunger strike April 12 to get Pitt to give health benefits to domestic partners of gay employees, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A complaint was filed with the city's Human Relation Commission, saying it was in violation of the city's non-discrimination ordinance. The university said the city has no authority to enforce the law since the state non-discrimination law does not include orientation. After seventeen days the students ended the hunger strike, beginning a sit-in outside the university trustees office.

The Last Session

The Last Session (a musical about AIDS, orientation, and Christianity) just won five awards from the L.A. Drama Critics Circle (including best book, music, and lyrics), and at the GLAAD Media Awards, Best L.A. Production. Songwriter Steve Schalchlin is webmaster of Living in the Bonus Round, which includes his diary of life with AIDS, and discussion of AIDS, orientation and religion.

Letterhead Additions

Congregation Mishkan Shalom, Rabbi Brian Walt of Congregation Mishkan Shalom, and Rabbi Liz Rolle of Congregation Beth Ahavah will be added with the next printing of the letterhead. In 1995 we had ten Names! Now: eleven congregations, six religious organizations and sixty-four clergy from fifteen religious traditions.



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