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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
December 2000/January 2001


Soulforce, Dignity, and EPF at the NCCB

The final Soulforce nonviolent resistance direct action of the year 2000 engaged the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) which met in Washington, DC. The Soulforce direct action was cosponsored by Dignity/USA and Equal Partners in Faith. Over two-hundred and fifty gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) individuals and families, friends and allies from all over the United States participated.

The action began with a series of letters between Soulforce and Bishop Fiorenza (NCCB president), in which Soulforce outlined their requests. They are asking the bishops to allow Dignity/USA to meet on church property, to celebrate mass for Dignity, to offer an apology to sexual and gender minorities "for their tragic treatment by the Roman Catholic Church for the last twenty centuries," and to "appoint a national blue ribbon committee of clergy and laity (with openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Catholics, including those in loving, committed relationships) to re-examine the Vatican's teachings against us and to begin a dialogue with us that will lead to hope and healing for us all." Bishop Fiorenza denied all of the requests. Participants in the action "adopted" individual bishops and wrote introductory letters to them explaining why they were participating in the action. On Saturday, November 12, Bishops Joseph A. Galante and A. J. Quinn met with representatives from Soulforce and Dignity/USA.

On the evening of Monday, November 13, following a press conference with Arun Gandhi and other speakers, participants walked quietly across a bridge to the National Shrine (the largest Roman Catholic Cathedral in North America), carrying the names of their adopted bishops. Lining the sidewalks around the shrine, they stood in silent vigil as the Bishops and invited dignitaries arrived for a special mass. As the mass began, the action participants returned to the National City Christian Church for dinner and a rally.

On the morning of Tuesday, November 14, as the Bishops were meeting across town, action participants repeated the march across the bridge to the National Shrine, praying, singing, and blessing the cathedral. Just over a hundred people were subsequently arrested for blocking the driveway to the Shrine, fined $50 per person and released after being processed by the police. Among those arrested were Maryanne Duddy (executive director, Dignity/USA) and the Revs. Mel White, Jimmy Creech, Phil Lawson, and William Sloan Coffin. A silent vigil continued on the sidewalk outside the hotel where the bishops were meeting through Thursday, November 16.

The actions were covered by the Washington Post, Religion News Service, Baptist Press, Associated Press (AP), Baltimore Sun, Houston Chronicle, Washington Blade, Gay People's Chronicle, Seattle Gay News, Chicago Free Press, and more. The Philadelphia Inquirer published the AP story on the third page, with a photo of some participants waiting to be arrested, including the Rev. William Sloan Coffin and 95-year-old grandmother Fran Taft, both in wheelchairs.

Thoughts on the Soulforce Action

In an open letter to the Roman Catholic Bishops of America, Rev. William Sloan Coffin wrote: "I know that the Roman Catholic Church repudiates violent forms of homophobia. But to deplore the violence while continuing to proclaim the ideas that undergird it strikes thoughtful people as hypocritical. The teaching of the Church sanctifies the denigration of gays and lesbians. So instead of looking at gays and lesbians from the perspective of Catholic theology wouldn't it be better to look at Catholic theology from the perspective of gays and lesbians? The picture of Matthew Shepard hanging on a Wyoming fence burns in my mind and heart."

In a statement to the NCCB, Bishop Galante mentioned the meeting with Soulforce and Dignity/USA, and said: "...it is worth our being on record that fidelity to the Gospel teaching on marriage and sexuality is an essential part of our discipleship of Christ. As challenging as this teaching is and has always been, it is not a form of spiritual violence toward others." He also quoted the Congregation for the Preservation of the Faith, the Catechism, and the letter to Soulforce from Bishop Fiorenza, noting that "violent malice in speech or action" against "persons of homosexual orientation" should be condemned by "the Church's pastors wherever it occurs;" that the "intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law;" that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity;" and that "Catholics who do not observe this part of the Church's teaching on homosexuality 'are not in accord with the mind and heart of the church.'"

The Traditional Values Coalition Message to Pastors and Lay Leaders stated that Mel White's comments "give us more reason than ever to oppose the passage of pro-homosexual hate crimes laws."

Catholic League President William Donohue said: "It is the politics of intimidation that Soulforce is now using to get Catholics and Protestants to recognize the egitimacy of sodomy." He then argued that sado-masochism "is what kills gays, not talks on abstinence."

Dignity/USA President Mary Louise Cervone said: "One of the most powerful moments of these events was to see hundreds of people, brought together through the pain and oppression of our various religious backgrounds to witness to the love of God for all GLBT people everywhere. Dignity/USA looks forward to continuing its relationship with Soulforce and is proud to have stood with Soulforce in solidarity with our GLBT brothers and sisters everywhere."

A Christian Statement on Marriage?

A statement affirming mixed-gender marriage was signed by Bishop Anthony O'Connell (chairman, NCCB Committee on Marriage and Family Life), Dr. Richard Land (president, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention), and Bishop Kevin Mannoia (president, National Association of Evangelicals). The Associated Press (AP) report on the release of the statement called it a rejection of same-gender marriage, and mostly covered the Soulforce-organized non-violent resistance action at the NCCB. Soulforce was not reacting to the marriage statement, but the action was related to it. Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches (NCC), was originally listed as a signer of the statement, but he then posted a reaction to the statement on the NCC website in which he urged that it not be interpreted as an anti-gay statement; then the Southern Voice reported that Rev. Dr. Edgar objected to the AP characterization of the marriage statement and offered some disagreement with the statement he had signed. Finally, the Presbyterian Church (USA) News Service reported that he had removed his endorsement entirely from the statement.

The Rev. Mel White (Soulforce executive director) said: "In this dramatic about-face, Dr. Edgar has placed the National Council of Churches squarely on the side of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans."

Dr. Land was quoted in the Baptist Press: "If Dr. Edgar's and the NCC's price for ecumenical endeavor is affirmation of same-sex relationships, then the price is, and always will be, too high and unacceptable."

Arizona State Chaplain

The coming out of Charles Coppinger, chaplain of the Arizona State Legislature, was reported by Focus on the Family, in a story that said state legislators were "reeling," "stunned," and "feeling betrayed," and which included a recommended reading list of anti-gay and pro-ex-gay books, and a suggestion from Focus' Mike Haley that Coppinger read I Corinthians and the first chapter of Romans. The article did not mention the inherent entanglement risks of having a legislative chaplain. Coppinger has been unordained by Christ's Church of the Valley, and has joined Community Church of Hope, according to the Arizona Republic. Coppinger also participated in the Soulforce non-violent resistance action at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

United Methodist Church

The Reconciling Congregations Program announced that it has changed its name to Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). Noting that over the last decade, thirty-five percent of United Methodists have repeatedly voiced support for full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the church, the RMN board "recognized the need to connect, support, equip, nurture and resource the people of this movement....connecting faith communities, campus ministries, local congregations and affinity groups such as United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church, Parents Reconciling Network and MOSAIC (Methodist Students for an Inclusive Church).... [and honoring]...the diverse ways people want to participate in the movement--some through healing and being in solidarity, others through challenging UMC policy and practice, and others through creating a 'church of resistance'--a church within a church committed to developing ministry and resources for congregations and individuals who feel alienated from the denomination because of its exclusive policies."

NCCB and Human Reproduction

In a statement entitled "Abortion and the Supreme Court: Advancing the Culture of Death," the NCCB said: "We recommit ourselves to the long and difficult task of reversing the Supreme Court's abortion decisions--Stenberg v. Carhart as well as Roe v. Wade itself, which laid the foundation for a right to take innocent life. We invite people of good will to explore with us all avenues for legal reform, including a constitutional amendment."

In a November 13 statement, Catholics for a Free Choice President Francis Kisling criticized the NCCB's decision to remove a discussion about proposed changes to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services from the agenda of its annual meeting. Noting that the NCCB had proposed a series of revisions to the Directives that would close a loophole in an interpretation of church teaching that allows some Catholic-affiliated hospitals to provide tubal ligations (forbidden by the Catholic hierarchy), Kisling said: "We are distressed by the sudden decision of the NCCB to remove discussion of this important matter from its meeting agenda. Some 11 million women in the United States below age 45 rely on sterilization to prevent pregnancy and assist in planning their families. This issue is too important to be left unresolved. The policy that the NCCB ultimately decides on will have a major impact on the availability of women's health services in mergers between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals currently under negotiation. Women, hospitals and the regulatory agencies that govern hospital mergers have a right to know in a timely matter what the bishops' policy on sterilization will be."

On November 17, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice's board of directors called on the NCCB and the Vatican to enter into dialogue to determine how to continue sterilization in hospitals in the United States affiliated with and controlled by the Catholic Church, and called on Protestant and Jewish organizations to protect sterilization services so that women can make reproductive health care decisions based on their own religious beliefs, conscience, and circumstances.

The Miami Herald later reported that the Bishops were considering a revision of the guidelines in which the word "evil" had been removed from the description of sterilization, and contraceptives might be allowed in non-Catholic partner hospitals.

Welcoming Scouts?

The Providence Journal Bulletin reports that a Boy Scout Troop and a Cub Scout Pack in Providence, RI have both declared that they will not follow the gay ban, and have sent letters to their governing bodies informing them of that decision.

Second Parent Adoptions in Pennsylvania

On November 1, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled six to three that people in same-gender relationships cannot adopt a partner's child(ren) in second-parent adoptions. The Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights explains that second-parent adoption occurs when the partner of a legal parent (one who is a parent by adoption or biology) adopts a child without terminating the parental rights of the first parent. Second-parent adoption means that both parents have the same rights and responsibilities relating to the child and the child has the same rights with respect to both parents. The judges ruled that the state's Adoption Act only allows someone to jointly adopt a partner's child if they are married, and Pennsylvania law forbids marriages between people of the same gender. However, courts in fourteen of Pennsylvania's sixty-seven counties have allowed same-gender couples to adopt.

Presbyterian Church (USA)

The Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Northeast found no irregularities in the selection of Wayne Osborne as elder of First Presbyterian Church of Stamford, CT. Osborne's term expires in May, 2001; the church court appeals may not be fully exhausted before then, meaning that he will never have actually served.

According to "That All May Freely Serve," the Presbytery of Baltimore passed an overture asking the 2001 General Assembly to delete the rule prohibiting "spontaneous or planned demonstrations by individuals or groups...inside the building where the General Assembly meets." The rule forbids protests only, not celebrations. The overture calls the current rule "an abandonment of the great respect dissent has held in the history of the Reformed tradition." Some believe the rule is targeted at protests against anti-gay actions.

Help Us Increase Your Visibility

According to a story in the November 25 Philadelphia Inquirer religion section, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have released results of their survey of Philadelphia congregations, indicating that 15 percent self-identified as fundamentalist, 39.5 percent conservative, 36 percent moderate, and 9.5 percent liberal. We invite religious organizations, congregations, and clergy who support equal rights for sexual minorities, reproductive freedom, and separation of church and state to be listed on our letterhead. We also invite congregations that welcome sexual minorities, their families, and friends, to request a listing in our Welcoming Congregations Brochure.

Dr. Laura

Due to low ratings and a dearth of advertisers, the Dr. Laura television show has been moved to a late-night time slot in twelve of the top twenty-five markets (including the top five and nine of the top ten). Dr. Laura's corporate-sponsored medical and religious misinformation and defamation are still being dispensed on the web, the radio, and in smaller television markets. GLAAD executive director Joan M. Garry promised that "GLAAD will continue to monitor Dr. Laura and educate those advertisers who associate their brands with the show."


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