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


Interfaith Working Group Online

We now have our own domain: the Interfaith Working Group Online (www.iwgonline.org; send email to iwg@iwgonline.org). The stationery will be updated! For the moment, the old URL will take you to the new domain, and the old email address is forwarding mail to the new address.

Much of the information on the website is useful regardless of where you live, and it attracts visitors from around the country and beyond. There is ten times as much storage space, and we will add new sections and features. The Calendar and Alerts will have information from all over the country. We also invite volunteers to create local IWGs around the country, doing the kind of work we have been doing in the Greater Philadelphia area, using the new domain to list local supporters and projects. Please visit the new website, and tell us what you think.

National Religious Leadership Roundtable

The National Religious Leadership Roundtable met in Colorado Springs this August and agreed on a mission statement [see page 2], participation and membership guidelines, and operating procedures. Convened by the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Equal Partners in Faith, the Roundtable includes representatives from forty groups (including the IWG).

The meeting included a public event: "Spirituality and Sexuality, In the Image of God," which attracted a crowd of about two-hundred and included remarks and prayers from the Rev. Patti Ackerman (Integrity); the Rev. Jimmy Creech; Rabbi Stephen Foster (Congregation Emanuel, Denver); the Rev. William Johnson (Office of LGB Concerns, United Church of Christ); Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum (Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, NYC); the Rev. Troy Perry (Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches); Rev. Elder Nori Rost (Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church); and the Rev. Carlton Veazy (Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice).

A public request to James Dobson of Focus on the Family "to hear our case, and together to begin a process of seeking truth about homosexuality and hoosexuals," was signed by representatives from twenty-two participating organizations [ see page 2]. The meeting was covered by the New York Times, Associated Press, and Colorado Springs Gazette. There were front page stories in the Gazette two days running, a mention on CNN headline news, a favorable editorial in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a syndicated column by Frank Morris Susa, and stories in the New York Times, Washington Post, and even the London Guardian.

Columbus, Ohio

A half-page advertisement in the Columbus Dispatch calling for justice for sexual minorities, including access to domestic-partner benefits and full participation in churches, listed the names of four-hundred clergy, laity, congregations and organizations.

National Religious Leadership Roundtable Mission

The National Religious Leadership Roundtable (NRLR) is an interfaith network of leaders from pro-gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) faith, spiritual, and religious organizations. We share resources, support one another, and work in partnership with other justice seeking groups to:
  • Amplify the voice of pro-GLBT faith organizations in public discourse
  • Promote understanding of and respect for GLBT people within society at large and in communities of faith
  • Promote understanding and respect within GLBT communities for a variety of faith paths and for religious liberty
  • Achieve commonly held goals which promote equality, spirituality, and justice.


NRLR Petition to James Dobson

We the undersigned members of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, gathered in Colorado Springs, August 22-24, 1999, express our concern about the false and inflammatory rhetoric against homosexuality and homosexuals that flows regularly from Dr. James Dobson and his Focus on the Family organization.

We support Dr. Dobson's right to preach his conscience about homosexuality but we condemn his dangerous and untrue rhetoric against homosexuals. Focus on the Family's anti-homosexual campaign leads directly and indirectly to broken families, to divided churches, and to suffering and death for God's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

Like Dr. Dobson and his colleagues, we are people of faith committed to empowering whole and healthy families. In that spirit we ask Dr. Dobson to meet with us, to hear our case, and together, to begin a process of seeking truth about homosexuality and homosexuals.


Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

According to the ELCA News Service, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Churchwide Assembly voted to not "propose at this assembly any change in the standards for rostered ministry related to non-celibate gay or lesbian persons." Amendments to suspend enforcement of current policy and to hold a consultation proposing "strategies which might allow for the ordination of non-celibate lesbian and gay persons" were defeated.

During the Assembly, thirteen gay and lesbian pastors and pastoral candidates were honored and unofficially rostered to Lutheran ministry at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Denver; Rev. Steve Sabin, of Lord of Life Lutheran Church (Ames, IA) preached. "Rostering is a new word in the life of the church," Sabin said. "We are not commissioning, we are not ordaining, we are not installing. But we are a listing of people who have a call to ministry. In extraordinary times you need extraordinary measures."

Boy Scouts of America

The New Jersey Supreme Court's unanimous decision that the Boy Scouts of America are a public accomodation under state law and cannot discriminate against James Dale based on orientation has inspired a huge national media response. Commentary was pro or con on discrimination, the morality of non-heterosexual orientations, the right to free association, and/or justices making moral proclamations. A letter from Focus on the Family's Mike Haley said: "This assault on the Boy Scouts by gay activists should leave no doubt in anyone's mind what the gay rights agenda is...it's not about tolerance or civil rights, but forcing private institutions to promote the acceptability of homosexuality to the next generation;" and, "If gay activists want to start their own Scouting program, more power to them...they should not be legally empowered by pro-gay judges to hijack a 90-year-old institution that morally objects to having homosexuals as role models."

Four points related to church/state separation, religion, and orientation were sporadically addressed. The Scouts' have ties to all levels of government (sponsorship by government-related agencies and recruitment access to public schools, inappropriate for religious organizations). They have encouraged sponsorship by religious organizations with other views about morality of non-heterosexual orientations or discrimination based on orientation (contradicting claims of a general consensus on the meaning of "morally straight," and that they only associate with like-minded people on the issue). Scoutmasters are not to discuss religion or sex with scouts, referring them to clergy or parents. And a friend of the court brief supporting Dale's case was filed by the Diocesan Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and Unitarian Universalist Association. It refers to affidavits and certifications from Lutheran and Presbyterian pastors, and Roman Catholic and UMC bishops.

The Chicago Tribune reported that a Cook County (IL) judge ruled the Scouts cannot discriminate on the basis of orientation, but can deny employment to anyone the organization "'reasonably believes' is using the organization to 'discuss issues regarding sex.'" Some papers reported a Rhode Island scoutmaster was dismissed for using James Dale's picture for target practice on a Scout camp rifle range. And in California, the city of San Luis Obispo raised rent on the Scouts' office from $1 a year to $800 a month beginning in February.

Kansas Schools and Evolution

The Kansas State Board of Education's decision not to require teaching evolution by local school districts because it offends the religious sensibilities of many people was generally derided in editorials around the country. The Philadelphia Inquirer printed a letter in favor of science education and against the decision from the Rev. Patricia Pearce of Tabernacle United Church. Most Inquirer letters printed were anti-evolution. According to the AP, the publisher of a junior-high Kansas-oriented science text plans to delete much of its first chapter, so it can sell in non-evolution-teaching districts; the text mentioned an inland sea that covered ancient Kansas, and the mosasaur, an extinct sea lizard on display in a Kansas museum.

Roman Catholic Church

The Vatican announced that Fr. Robert Nugent and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, founders of New Ways Ministries, have been barred for life from ministering to gays and lesbians. Sr. Jeannine responded, "Wouldn't Catholics feel proud if Church leaders condemned anti-gay violence each time they mention homosexuality, instead of mentioning homosexual acts as they usually do? Wouldn't lesbian and gay Catholics feel the beginning of reconciliation in this year of jubilee if we, as a Church, asked forgiveness from our lesbian sisters and gay brothers for our silence and complicity in the face of their oppression?"

United Methodist Church

On August 27, Linda E. Enger and Eleanora N. Piombino of Houston were united in front of Bering Memorial United Methodist Church (Houston) by Rev. Troy Plummer. Rev. Marilyn Meeker-Williams and Rev. Dr. Bruce Felker served Holy Communion in the church afterward. Rev. Plummer, an Orthodox Catholic priest, is an employee of Bering Memorial. In February, senior pastor Rev. Meeker-Williams announced her decision not to conduct marriage services until she could do all types. Bering Memorial UMC will hold no weddings in the sanctuary while the UMC bars clergy from officiating at "homosexual unions." The service used for Enger and Piombino will be available for all couples seeking a wedding service at Bering Memorial.

Marriage

The Oregon anti-marriage bill lost; no such bills passed this year (twelve were blocked, five are pending). Hawaii and Vermont court cases are pending. The California anti-marriage ballot initiative scheduled for March is already making the news, after an official LDS (Latter-Day Saints) Church letter asked Mormons to donate "means and time to assure a successful vote."

American Baptist Churches

Six American Baptist Churches USA regions have requested adjudication with the General Board after it rejected the appeals of four Welcoming & Affirming California churches disfellowshipped by American Baptist Churches of the West and expelled by the General Board (July 1999). The congregations had asked to be cooperating churches of American Baptist Churches USA but not the regional body; usually churches must be recognized by regional bodies.

Ohio Voucher Program

According to the Washington Post, a federal judge issued an injunction halting Cleveland's tuition voucher program for violating the First Amendment's establishment clause. "I think it will bring the whole voucher thing to a screeching halt nationwide," said Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director, Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "These programs do advance religion, and taxpayers should not fund religious schools."

Individual vs. State Religious Displays

The ACLU defended a Jewish Mississippi student's right to wear a Star of David (supposedly a gang symbol) in high school. Coral Ridge Ministries is campaigning to put Ten Commandments displays in public schools; its flyer blames teen pregnancy, suicide, violent crime, divorce, and declining SAT scores on Supreme Court rulings against religious displays in the schools (which they blame on the ACLU). The school board in the Mississippi case is now allowing the student to wear his Star of David.

PFLAG Publication

Faith in Our Families: Parents, Families and Friends Talk About Religion and Homosexuality, a newly revised booklet from Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays highlights the experiences of families upon learning that a loved one is gay and addresses how families nationwide reconcile their faith with acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender loved ones. To order, contact info@pflag.org.

Christian Coalition and Religious Liberty

We reported that the Christian Coalition was among the groups supporting the boycott of the Army called by the Free Congress Foundation because Army Wiccans have free exercise of religion. Immediately after that report, the Coalition was removed from the list. A Military Pagan Network press release notes that the 700 Club reported on their religious-freedom-in-the-military rally, and that Pat Robertson said, "I'm not worried about a little coven of Witches...Rather than suppress us all, we might give them freedom."


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