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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
July/August 2000

United Church of Christ

The United Church Board for Homeland Ministries has announced 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."

The 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, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Diocesan Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, and the Unitarian Universalist Association) said: "The 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 UFMCC said: "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 youth."

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 reports that Rev. William Weisenbach, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Philipstown, Cold Spring, NY and chair of the committee of council that successfully defended the Hudson River 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 Soulforce protested peacefully outside on the second day, and eighty-one were arrested. Protesters included the Rev. Janie Spahr of That All May Freely Serve; William P. Thompson, former moderator and stated clerk of the PCUSA; 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."

Civil Unions

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, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and a Presbyterian elder, attended the General Assembly and spoke at the More Light Presbyterians dinner. The Presbyterian News Service reported on a meeting between individuals from the Presbyterian Layman, That All May Freely Serve, the Presbyterian Coalition, 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 Soulforce members were arrested outside the convention in response to the anti-gay policies. Six Exodus-affiliated ministries supported those policies in a press conference.

On June 24, Yahoo posted an AP story indicating that the Baptist General Convention of Texas is considering 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) issued a response 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 God."

RCRC Service at First Presbyterian

A convocation will be held 2 pm, Sunday, July 30 by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) at 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 critique of Dr. Laura. 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 fundamentally un-American." The ACLU called 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 http://www.wow2k.org, or call 1-800-318-5851.

American Medical Association and Catholic Hospitals

The AMA adopted a resolution stating they support "action to ensure continued patient access to pregnancy prevention services within the community..." RCRC 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.









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