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


Soulforce, Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University

On Friday, October 22, the Rev. Mel White (of Soulforce), with two-hundred supporters of GLBT rights from across the country, gathered at First Christian Church in Lynchburg, VA. They participated in community service activities around Lynchburg, met with the Rev. Jerry Falwell and two-hundred Liberty University students and members of Thomas Road Baptist Church, and worshipped at Falwell's church. Media coverage was extensive, including White and Falwell on NBC's Sunday Today and a long story at the top of the ABC Sunday Night News featuring White and the Rev. Patti Ackerman. Much of the media focus was on Falwell and White, but what emerged was a sense that pro-GLBT people of faith are everywhere, and while reactions to Falwell were mixed, those who went to Lynchburg were moved by meeting the students and members of Thomas Road.

The Soulforce delegation was a diverse group; many of the names in this partial alphabetical list will be familiar to readers of this newsletter: Rev. Patti Ackerman (Integrity); Peggy Campolo, (Central Baptist, Wayne, PA); Dave Chandler (Dolores Street Baptist, San Francisco); Rev. Jimmy Creech; Rev. Jim DeLange (St. Francis Lutheran, San Francisco); Rev. Doug Donley (Dolores Street Baptist); Maggie Heineman (Bridges Across); Greg Marlan (called a "gay Silicon Valley engineer" and "devout Methodist" by the San Jose Mercury News); Richard Murphy (MCC of South Beach); Rodney Powell (called "a black civil rights leader who marched with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr." by the Lynchburg News & Advance); Gary Rimar (a frequently-published letter-writer, called "a Jewish gay delegate from Michigan" by the News and Advance); songwriter Steve Schalchlin and Bob Skaggs (MCC of South Beach).

Preliminary coverage included a U.S. News and World Report story about Falwell and White's mutual history, and local-angle stories in several papers. The Daily Kansan said Rev. Heather Hensarling of United Methodist Campus Ministry spoke at a Queers and Allies meeting at the University of Kansas urging attendees to "open communication lines between the Christian community" and sexual minorities. The Raleigh News and Observer put the event in the context of current denominational conflicts, citing Jimmy Creech's upcoming trial and the Wake Forest Chapel controversy. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette interviewed Dick Hatch, a Christian radio talk-show host in the 1980's, who accused gays of "killing everyone else with disease and promiscuity." In the interview, he said, "I have not changed my views about homosexuality...But the hostility is not necessary...It is harmful to the message of the Gospel, and...to the people you are talking about...I did and said what I believed, at the time, was right...I realize that you can get caught up in a religiously intolerant bubble...You end up following the party line...and say things in the heat of the moment that you think were brilliant, and with time, you realize that they were stupid...I'm not saying that they're right. I'm saying that I was wrong."

Friday night, Lynchburg's mayor spoke, as did Rodney Powell, who said: "A sustained, massive social protest, guided by love, is required to end the violence and discrimination that homosexuals face in this country," wrote the Lynchburg News & Advance, which cited testimonials by two gay graduates of Liberty University, and an Evangelical Christian mother whose lesbian daughter hanged herself after they were estranged.

Reporting on the service in his online diary, Steve Schalchlin said: "...people began carrying large photos on posters of the faces of the dead...and placing them in our pews so they could sit among us. Matthew Shepard, Billy Jack Gaither....Coming down the aisle was a face I knew....Bill Clayton. Dead at 16 from suicide after a gay bashing. Bill Clayton whose face I stumbled into on the internet three years ago. Whose face I returned to every day for a solid week before writing his mother. Bill Clayton whose story was first posted on my site.....the person carrying his poster turned and put Bill's face right into our pew. And I completely fell apart....Maybe it was God reminding me why I was there. Maybe it was Bill himself there in the room reminding me that I was doing the right thing, that *WE* was doing the right thing."

Community service activities, including a donation to the local food bank and a contribution to Habitat for Humanity - $20,000 each from Thomas Road and Soulforce - $200 of which came from Tabernacle United Church (IWG letterhead) - were noted in the News and Advance, the San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register, Austin American Statesman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and San Francisco Chronicle.

The Family Research Council was concerned about the gathering. They compared White to Fred Phelps, and said: "...the church has been remarkably consistent on this topic for 2,000 years. Even major liberal denominations have moved in recent months to reiterate that homosexuality is a sin. The Bible is utterly clear on this point." They hoped White will "repent from his sin and embrace the life-saving gospel of Jesus Christ, as thousands of ex-gays have." Saturday's San Francisco Examiner said a letter was sent to Falwell from the San Francisco police chief saying: "'Love the sinner, hate the sin' is a statement which validates and encourages violence." The News and Advance reported that Falwell said "We oppose alcoholism and drugs...not alcoholics and drug addicts," and the Rev. Creech said "I'm hearing things from the Rev. Falwell...that I consider close to spiritual violence." The Washington Post said Falwell apologized "for not always loving homosexuals," but said his goal is still to "bring them out of the lifestyle and to the Lord." The Post also said he was reprimanded by "evangelicals who believe the Bible prohibits Christians from sharing a meal with 'sexually immoral' people," so he only served "small bottles of Poland Spring water."

The News and Advance reported that Falwell said there's "nothing a child can do" that should make a parent cut him off. Mel White responded: "If he only says that in his life, he's going to save lives;" and Peggy Campolo: "If Jerry Falwell says it, parents will think it's the right thing to do." Falwell also promised to monitor all messages going out under his name "to tone down the anti-gay rhetoric." White said he would do the same, and send his letters to Falwell for review before posting them.

Falwell-specific commentary focused on his past behavior, the pressure to change (especially after Matthew Shepard's murder), the risk he took by participating, the civility he exhibited, his promises to improve, and/or his continued shortcomings. Positive coverage included an article in Time, a column by Cal Thomas, and editorials in the Bergen County, NJ Record and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. More critical coverage included editorials in the Brown Daily Herald and the New York Times.

The Sunday AP story gave details from Falwell's sermon, noting that he spoke of "the importance of parents' unconditional love for their gay children," but if a son of his were gay he would pray for him and do everything he could to bring him out of "this lifestyle." They also quoted Fred Phelps: "Now, Jerry Falwell is just as much a sinner as Mel White and both will burn in hell." Richard Murphy felt that the Falwell delegates were alarmed and shocked at the violent words of Phelps and his followers, according to the Miami Herald.

Sunday's San Francisco Examiner quoted Rev. Doug Donley: "We lovingly saw each other as human beings and saw each other as brothers and sisters and started telling the truth for the first time for many of us. I think we made great inroads on the opportunity to put faces behind the issues." The Examiner also quoted Dave Chandler: "My expectations were to build a relationship with one person from Jerry Falwell's side. I made that connection...and I felt very successful in that connection."

Monday's San Jose Mercury News focused on Greg Marlan's spiritual life journey, in the only story which noted that Falwell invited ex-gay anti-gay activist Michael Johnston to speak from the pulpit (which Marlan called "sneaky"). In a statement on worldnetdaily.com, Falwell said, "I am committed to helping Michael Johnston and thousands of other 'ex-gays'..." The News and Advance quoted Gary Rimar, taken to Hyland Heights Baptist Church by a Liberty University student (and welcomed warmly): "They had never met normal gay people. They didn't know what to do with me."

Gay Church Panic Defense

Jeffrey Montgomery has been reporting from the Matthew Shepard trial in Laramie through the support of the Triangle Foundation and its supporters; The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. His October 25 report said that observers speculated on whether the 'gay panic' defense would be used, though activists called it inevitable. He wrote, "...for a reduced verdict of manslaughter, it would become essential...to tie the brutal beating to some motive." Montgomery reports that the defense cited same-gender sexual experiences as a youngster, and two other items not widely reported: the defendant [as in the Gaither case] was rumored to be gay, and, among "sexually confusing events in his past," McKinney, vacationing with a girlfriend in Florida, inadvertently entered a gay church.

According to Reuters, Wyoming state court Judge Barton Voight told defense attorneys that he was "having a problem" with the gay panic defense: "...without a statute in Wyoming I'm not sure it's admissible. I may not allow it." Defense attorney Dion Custis blamed the media for calling it a "gay panic defense."

United Methodist Church and Boy Scouts

The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society issued a statement opposing the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policies and supporting the New Jersey Supreme Court's unanimous decision. The statement said, in part:

While the General Board of Church and Society would like to enthusiastically affirm and encourage this continuing partnership of the church and scouting, we cannot due to the Boy Scouts of America's discrimination against gays. This discrimination conflicts with our Social Principles.

The United Methodist Church, the largest single supporter of the Boy Scouts of America, strongly condemns discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Social Principles state: "We insist that all persons regardless of age, gender, national status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured." (Para. 65G) The Social Principles further state: "Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for homosexual persons." (Para. 66H)

The General Board of Church and Society affirms the decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court in the case James Dale v. Boy Scouts of America that ruled the Boy Scouts of America is discriminatory in its exclusion of gays. We further, for the sake of our continuing partnership, call upon the Boy Scouts of America to discontinue this exclusion of gays.


The United Methodist News Service noted that the statement ran counter to the denomination's Commission on United Methodist Men, which objected to the ruling. The denomination said it had no official position on the question. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Boy Scouts of America has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to exempt them from state anti-discrimination laws.

Vouchers

Americans United reports that The U.S. Supreme Court turned down four church/state cases, including two voucher cases from Maine. According to People for the American Way Foundation, seventeen of Milwaukee's private and religious voucher schools, facing investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) for alleged violations of the state's voucher law, are contesting the agency's authority; they claim their private status and alleged lack of appropriate procedural regulations puts them beyond the reach of oversight and enforcement. In August, PFAW Foundation and the NAACP of Milwaukee filed a complaint with DPI after the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council discovered that some private and religious voucher schools failed to select voucher students at random, charged extra fees prohibited by law, and failed to allow parents to opt children out of religious activities.

Rainbow Flags In Solidarity

A member of Tabernacle United Church living in Powelton Village was harassed because of his rainbow flag, so Rev. Patricia Pearce (IWG letterhead) decided to fly a flag at her house in solidarity, and helped organize a neighborhood flag distribution. Twenty flags (provided by Giovanni's Room) have been distributed. Powelton residents can get them at the Community Education Center.

Jimmy Creech Trial Coming Up

Jimmy Creech's trial will be in Grand Island, NB, Nov. 17-18. If you plan to hold a prayer vigil/service, email a request for a sample liturgy from Broadway UMC (webmaster@brdwyumc.org), and contact Laura Montgomery Rutt, Media Publicity & Logistics Coordinator (lmrutt@lancnews.infi.net). Send financial support for trial expenses (checks payable to MFSA) to: MFSA; c/o K. Johnson; 212 E. Capitol Street, NE; Washington, DC 20003. ("Creech Defense Fund" on memo). Letters/cards for Rev. Creech will be delivered to him on the eve of the trial. Send to: Jimmy Creech, c/o Alliance for Tolerance and Freedom, PO Box 5211, Lancaster, PA 17606.

Ten Ways to Fight Hate

The Southern Poverty Law Center has a new booklet: "Ten Ways to Fight Hate," which they plan to give to two million human rights and civic organizations, schools, police agencies, houses of worship and others. The first organizational representative in the Philly area to call gets our extra copy! Or print copies by going to their website.

Presbyterian Church (USA)

The Permanent Judiciary Commission (PJC) of the Synod of the Northeast overruled two presbyteries (Southern and Northern New England) in cases involving ordination of sexual minorities. The Presbytery of Northern New England was ordered to require that Christ Church Presbyterian in Burlington, VT comply with the ban on ordination of sexual minorities; in 1997 they declared they would defy it. The synod PJC ordered the session of First Presbyterian Church in Stamford, CT to reexamine an openly gay elder's "suitability for continued service on the session." They said that the PJC of the Presbytery was wrong to uphold election of previously ordained Elder Wayne Osborne to the Session when his examination "left some questions unanswered," according to the Presbyterian News Service.

Marriage

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that support for the anti-marriage ballot initiative in California is down to 50% with 41% opposed, compared to 57% and 39% in August. Don't forget to read "Religious Support for Equal Marriage Rights" and share it with people in your organization.

AFA Sues San Francisco

The American Family Association filed suit in federal court against the City and County of San Francisco because the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution encouraging local television stations not to run the Center for Reclaiming America's anti-gay ads. It is unclear from the AFA press release what the exact charges might be.


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