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May 2005 Newsletter
Equal Marriage Rights
The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
United Church of Christ
The United Church Board for Homeland Ministries
the creation of the William R. Johnson
Scholarship fund, an endowment of $500,000 to support
"self-affirmed gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
seminarians" studying in master of divinity programs
toward full-time ministry in the
United Church of Christ.
It is the first such fund created by any religious denomination
specifically to encourage sexual minorities to answer
the call to ministry.
Boy Scouts of America
The US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against James Dale
and the state of New Jersey, and in favor of the
Boy Scouts of America (BSA),
who contend that they are an
inherently discriminatory organization. "This is a pyrrhic
victory for the BSA leadership; they have won for
themselves the dubious right to be bigoted and
exclusionary. They have convinced the highest court in
the land, and have shown the rest of the country, that they
stand for discrimination," said
Lambda Legal Senior Staff
Attorney Evan Wolfson, who argued the case.
Andrew Park, Executive Director,
Center for Lesbian
and Gay Civil Rights, sent a letter to Philadelphia Mayor
John Street: "... the United States Supreme Court issued
a decision finding that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)
proactively discriminates against gay people as part of
its mission. Because the BSA openly discriminates, we
request that you rescind any public support, and refuse
any future support, for BSA and its affiliates.
Specifically, we ask that you prevent Boy Scout Troops
from meeting in any Philadelphia Public School facility, as
well as any other publicly funded facility under your
control, at any time. Also, we ask that BSA be removed
from all workplace charitable giving programs operating
in any city office."
General Board of Church and Society
of the United Methodist Church (one of several religious
organizations that supported Dale's case, including the
United Church of Christ
Board for Homeland Ministries,
Religious Action Center
of Reform Judaism, the
Diocesan Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark,
Unitarian Universalist Association)
United Methodist Church, the largest single supporter
of the Boy Scouts of America, strongly condemns
discrimination based on sexual orientation. While [the
General Board] 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."
Rev. Troy D. Perry, founder and moderator of the
"I believe that this decision by the Supreme
Court upholds the Boy Scouts' homophobia. It is
nothing more than a ruling that supports irrational fear."
The AP quoted Scouts spokesman Gregg Shields:
"We're very pleased. It's going to allow us to continue
our mission of providing character-building programs for
Presbyterian Church (USA) Same-Sex Union Vote
At the 212th General Assembly of the
Presbyterian Church (USA)
from June 24 to July 1 in Long Beach,
CA, commissioners voted 268 to 251 (51 to 48%) to
send a proposed constitutional amendment to the 173
presbyteries: "Scripture and our Confessions teach that
God's intention for all people is to live either in fidelity
within the covenant of marriage between a man and a
woman or in chastity in singleness. Church property shall
not be used for, and church officers shall not take part in
conducting any ceremony or event that pronounces blessing
or gives approval of the church or invokes the blessing
of God upon any relationship that is inconsistent with
God's intention as expressed in the preceding sentence."
The rule will take effect if a majority of the presbyteries
pass it by majority vote before the 2001 General Assembly.
During a brief recess after the vote, the corridor outside
the plenary filled with about fifty supporters of same
sex union ceremonies, who sang hymns in solemn protest.
The website of
That All May Freely Serve
Rev. William Weisenbach, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Philipstown,
Cold Spring, NY and chair of the
committee of council that successfully defended the
Presbytery against a challenge of its pastors
conducting Holy Unions, still plans to conduct them. "I
hope this denomination needs me. If they don't, they
don't. I'm going to keep doing what I feel I'm called to
do. If they decide that makes me unfit for this
denomination, I have to go where I'm wanted." The Rev
Janie Spahr is also quoted: "We are deeply saddened by
this vote. We will do everything we can to help educate,
to help person this issue as we have always been
doing...pray for us, our organizing, and our partnerships,
that people may speak their truth in love...this was a hard
night, but we will prevail."
United Methodist Church
Over three-hundred clergy and laity from the New
England Annual Conference of the
United Methodist Church have
voiced their strong
opposition to the current
policies of the United Methodist Church regarding the full
inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the
church. Another union ceremony for a same-gender
couple has been performed in Nebraska, and charges have
been filed. Protests have taken place on the floor at
meetings of the Western Pennsylvania and West Ohio conferences.
Other PCUSA Votes
In other business, commissioners voted to refer all
overtures and questions relating to sexual orientation and
ordination to next year's Assembly; they approved a
statement calling on the governing bodies of the church to
refrain from initiating judicial actions with respect to
issues of sexual identity and on advocates for particular
positions on these issues to exercise similar restraint in
their public statements and actions while the legislative
moratorium on these issues is in effect; they voted to send
an amendment to the presbyteries that would remove the
list of reasons a person could not be denied membership,
replacing it with, "no persons shall be denied membership
for any reason not related to profession of faith," rather
than adding sexual orientation; they voted to develop
"resources and tools to assist congregations in ministries of
evangelism, programming and pastoral care with gay,
lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons and their
families and friends;" they voted to expand AIDS "care team"
ministries in congregations; they voted to prohibit
demonstrations by individuals or groups inside the building
where the General Assembly meets; they rejected an
overture declaring an "irreconcilable impasse;" and they
voted against creating a new study on abortion focusing
exclusively on biblical and confessional issues.
Soulforce Protests at the PCUSA General Assembly
One-hundred-twenty-five members of
protested peacefully outside on the second day,
and eighty-one were arrested. Protesters included the Rev. Janie
That All May Freely Serve;
William P. Thompson, former moderator and stated clerk of the
Rev. Harold Porter; Virginia Davidson; James Anderson;
and Martha Jullierat of the
Shower of Stoles Project.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) News Service
released several reports about Soulforce before and after
the event. The protest was also covered by the Associated
Press, Cox News Service, USA Today, Atlanta Journal
Constitution and the San Francisco Chronicle. A
Soulforce statement released prior to the Assembly said, "We
must take this stand. Your current official policy of
exclusion has the effect of condemning all sexual minorities
as unloved by God and unwelcome in the Presbyterian
Church. It leads to discrimination, suffering, and even
death for Presbyterians and non-Presbyterians alike. We
are being arrested to demonstrate how determined we are
to see the PCUSA open its doors (and its positions of
leadership) to all God's children once again."
The first civil union licenses in Vermont were issued
just after midnight on July 1. Media coverage on the first
day was extensive, and there was some mention of
religious support in most stories. Don't forget that our brochure
"Religious Support for Equal Marriage Rights" is
on the website, and paper copies are available on request.
Other PCUSA General Assembly News
Kirsten Kingdon, executive director,
and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and a
Presbyterian elder, attended the General Assembly and spoke
More Light Presbyterians dinner.
News Service reported on a meeting between individuals
from the Presbyterian Layman,
That All May Freely Serve,
the Covenant Network,
More Light Presbyterians,
and Presbyterians Pro-Life,
representing themselves, not their organizations; they
agreed that the same 10 people (and maybe a few others)
will go on a Bible study retreat later this year.
Southern Baptist Convention
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)
met June 13
and 14 in Orlando, FL. The SBC voted to stop ordaining
women as pastors, and to strengthen their stance against
homosexuality and abortion. Twenty-seven or more
members were arrested outside the convention in
response to the anti-gay policies. Six
ministries supported those policies in a press conference.
On June 24, Yahoo posted an AP story indicating that
the Baptist General Convention of Texas
leaving the SBC and forming a new denomination in
October, which would be the ninth largest in the country.
The Religious Coalition
for Reproductive Choice (RCRC)
to the anti-abortion policy,
noting that RCRC "...respects the views and beliefs of all
faiths and creeds on the sensitive topic of abortion and
agrees that people of faith should concern themselves
with the sanctity of all human life. However, the Southern
Baptist statement on abortion omits mention of the sanctity
of a woman's life and health and her sacred responsibility
to care for her existing children and family as well
as a fetus. The Religious Coalition is convinced that each
woman who is faced with a difficult, complex moral decision
about abortion must be free to decide how to respond,
in consultation with her doctor, her family, and her
RCRC Service at First Presbyterian
A convocation will be held 2 pm, Sunday, July 30 by
the Religious Coalition
for Reproductive Choice (RCRC)
First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, 21st and
Walnut. Speakers include Frances Kissling, executive director,
Catholics for a Free Choice;
Rev. Lois Powell, executive director,
the United Church of Christ
Coordinating Center for Women in Church and Society; and Rev.
Mark Pawlowski, executive director/CEO, South Central
Michigan Planned Parenthood, and member,
Planned Parenthood Federation
of America Clergy Advisory Board.
The IWG is cosponsoring this event. For more info or to
be a cosponsor, call RCRC at 202-628-7700 ext. 208
Dr. Laura Update
The June 16 New York Jewish Week has an Orthodox
Procter & Gamble has decided not
to advertise on her show. A protest is scheduled for September 11,
early evening, around 5th & Market, to mark
the airing of the first show. Further details will be in the
September issue, but please keep the date open.
Church/State Supreme Court Cases
On June 19, in a Santa Fe school district case, the US
Supreme Court ruled against majority-led student religious
observance in public schools. Rev. Barry Lynn of
Americans United said:
"The justices rightly said that students should never be allowed to
bully classmates into religious worship they may not believe in.
Allowing majorities to impose their religion on everyone else is
the decision a "total victory for freedom of religion."
The ACLJ's Jay Sekulow said
it "...distorts the First Amendment by exhibiting
hostility towards student speech." And the
American Family Association
Center for Law and Policy said it
"is at war with the traditions of a free society."
People for the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas said,
"This school district has a history of crossing the
line, time and again, by favoring, if not coercing, religious
expression. But the Court saw through this subterfuge
and upheld the Constitution and its guarantee of religious
liberty for all Americans, regardless of their beliefs."
The Supreme Court also ruled that public funds can
go to private religious schools for computers and instructional
materials. The Court refused to review a lower
court ruling striking down as unconstitutional a Louisiana
school board requirement of teaching evolution with a
disclaimer mentioning "the biblical version of creation."
Rabbi Liz Rolle has left Congregation Beth Ahavah.
Welcome to Disciples United Community Church,
Lancaster County; Imago Dei Metropolitan Community
Church, Media, PA; and Rev. William H. Levering,
Summit Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia.
WOW2000: Witness Our Welcome
Gay-friendly churches, organizations, and individuals
from across North America will meet at Northern Illinois
University in Dekalb, August 3-6, for the largest cross-denominational
effort for the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
persons ever held. There will be
workshops, plenaries, services, a special youth conference
and more. For more information or to register, go to
or call 1-800-318-5851.
American Medical Association and Catholic Hospitals
adopted a resolution stating they support
"action to ensure continued patient access to pregnancy
prevention services within the community..."
called it "a step forward in ending the steady erosion of
reproductive health services caused by Catholic hospital
chains eliminating or restricting services."
Focus on the Family Interprets Proposed Law
Focus on the Family
is fighting the proposed Pennsylvania
Hate Crimes Law, claiming in a Pennsylvania action alert:
"Pennsylvanians who publicly speak out against
homosexuality could potentially be subject to prosecution"
and that "not only does SB 553 extend special rights
to homosexuals, but it adds the phrase, 'actual or
perceived,' meaning that a person's thoughts and intentions
would be a condition for prosecution....." Motivation
is already a factor in criminal prosecution, and
"actual or perceived" recognizes that anti-gay violence
and intimidation can be based on faulty perception, and
relieves victims of proving their orientation to receive
protection, negating the "special rights" claim.