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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
June 2000


Protests at the UMC General Conference

On May 10, during a nonviolent protest led by Soulforce, more than one-hundred eighty people were arrested for blocking the driveway to the convention center where the United Methodist Church General Conference was being held. On May 11, twenty-seven people were arrested on the floor of the conference for disrupting the meeting, including Bishops Susan Morrison and Joseph C. Sprague. May 10 protesters included Yolanda King, Arun Gandhi, Rev. James Lawson, Rev. Bob Graetz, Dr. Rodney Powell, Rev. Mel White, and several bishops, including Bishop Sprague, who was one of those arrested.

The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, former President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference signed the United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church statement. [see Keeping the Faith, May 2000] The Confessing Movement (an anti-gay UMC group) reported on the protests, ignoring the presence of Civil Rights leaders, while the Traditional Values Coalition Letter to Pastors mentioned them prominently. Soulforce has announced their four-year strategy to help end discrimination against sexual minorities by the United Methodist Church, called "Relight the Flame," which will culminate in one-thousand arrests at the General Conference in 2004.

Presbyterian Church (USA)

The Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly announced the results of two cases from the Synod of the Northeast: they are permitting the Presbytery of the Hudson River to continue to allow same-gender union ceremonies as long as the difference between union ceremonies and marriages is clarified, and they are permitting the West Jersey Presbytery to accept a gay candidate for ordination.

Soulforce has announced planned civil disobedience for June 25 in Long Beach, CA during the 212th General Assembly (from June 24 to July 1). More Light Presbyterians and That All May Freely Serve issued a joint statement supporting individual Presbyterians who decide to participate in the Soulforce action.

The General Assembly will consider at least seventeen overtures dealing with orientation, ordination, marriage ceremonies, and a potential schism.

Media Coverage of the UMC General Conference

Before the conference, the Dallas Morning News ran a story on May 2 which mentioned debates about sexual orientation in several religious traditions, and which mentioned the Soulforce meeting with Jerry Falwell as an example of "reduced rancor" between the two sides, failing to say that Soulforce would be in Cleveland. That article was in contrast to the Associated Press and Religion News Service's pre-conference theme of potential schism. AP reports during the conference referred to "the Soulforce gay-straight alliance;" Scripps-Howard News Service ran a story on one couple's anguished reaction to the protest on the floor of the Conference.

Publications that ran stories about local delegates and protesters and the debates over gay-related issues included the Sioux Falls, IA Argus Leader, the Arizona Republic, the Bergen County, NJ Record, the Brookings (SD) Register, the Chicago Sun Times, the Des Moines Register, the Detroit Free Press, the Indianapolis Star, the Lincoln Journal Star, the Omaha World Herald, and the Rocky Mountain News.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported on a local United Methodist family whose gay son was participating in the Soulforce protest. The Rutland Herald reported Bishop Morrison's arrest. The Tacoma Morning News ran a story about First United Methodist Church, which hosts a gay and lesbian congregation and lobbied the General Conference for a change in policy. U.S. News and World Report ran a story on "Christian Doctrine and Gays." The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported on protests and gay-related votes. The Los Angeles Times focused on "'60s-style civil disobedience." The Chicago Tribune and Akron Beacon Journal had extensive coverage on debates and protests. The Cleveland Plain Dealer interviewed one gay and one ex-gay United Methodist. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on potential long-term results of the conference, both nationally and in Northern California. The Orange County Register focused on possible Soulforce protests at Orange County United Methodist churches. The Cincinnati Inquirer ran stories juxtaposing the sexual orientation debates in the UMC and in other religious organizations with the same-sex union law in Vermont.

The Lancaster (PA) Sunday News ran Laura Montgomery Rutt's report on her experience in Cleveland as a United Methodist and media coordinator for Soulforce. Coverage in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and the Metro (SEPTA's new free paper) was virtually non-existent.

GLBT Votes at the UMC General Conference

Votes on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues compiled from United Methodist News Service stories imply that General Conference delegates were divided into at least three groups; almost every vote for change (pro or con) lost by two to one, and proposals to clarify or keep policy passed by the same margin. The vote was 615 to 312 against a proposal by anti-gay congregations in the California-Nevada District to establish an Evangelical Missionary Conference in the Western Jurisdiction. Seventy-eight percent voted against creating a denominational program for "persons who seek to leave or not start the practice of homosexuality." The vote was 705 to 210 against a stipulation that before pastors could be assigned to a church they must sign a statement: "I do not believe that homosexuality is God's perfect will for any person. I will not practice it. I will not promote it. I will not allow its promotion to be encouraged under my authority." They voted 640 to 317 to retain the restriction that "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" cannot be ordained; they voted 646 to 294 to retain the language: "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches;" and voted 670 to 222 to change the restriction against same-sex unions from a principle to a more clearly binding rule. They retained language to restrict church funds from being used "to promote the acceptance of homosexuality," and added a sentence to the Social Principles: "We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn their lesbian and gay members and friends." More than eighty percent approved a petition to continue a dialogue about homosexuality. The dialogues will be organized by the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

After the vote to continue the ban on same-gender ceremonies, a ceremony was announced for Omaha, NE on June 3 to be conducted by the Rev. Mark Kemling. The Columbus Dispatch announced that the West Ohio Conference wants to "dismiss a central Ohio minister because he is gay and won't promise to stay celibate."

Kiyoshi Kuromiya

We are saddened by the passing of Kiyoshi Kuromiya, founder of Critical Path AIDS Project, which among other things, provides internet access and an email list server to the IWG. His obituary was on page one of the Inquirer. The memorial service May 23 at St. Luke and the Epiphany was led by IWG supporter Rev. Jim Littrell.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

The Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA resolved "that a committed relationship be defined as one where there is love, quality, faithfulness and endurance and mutual uplifting of spirits," and that the Synod "recognizes and affirms the blessing of such committed same-gender relationships by pastors of this synod after counseling with the couple seeking such a blessing."

On the synod website, Bishop Peter Rogness writes: "I am hopeful that one result of all this might be greater consideration to biblical authority and interpretation. We are a church of the Word. At our best, we anchor our moral deliberation in the Word. Though some accuse our action of setting the Bible aside, they often overlook the ways they too selectively interpret or set aside neighboring portions of the same Levitical passages, for instance, that they are so insistent must be followed. To say we follow the Bible doesn't end the discussion."

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the reaction by Lord of Life Lutheran Church of Oconomowoc (not the one in Ames, IA), which passed a resolution: "While the resolution passed is non-binding, it nevertheless implies what one could call 'guilt by association.'" The paper quoted pastor R. Dean Smith, who said, "Although Lord of Life members want it known that their church will not perform ceremonies blessing gay and lesbian unions, the church welcomes all people to worship there."

On May 24, the Detroit Free Press reported that the Southeast Michigan Synod had followed the lead of the Milwaukee Synod.

Pennsylvania Legislation

PA hate crimes laws currently protect those targeted because of race, color, religion, national origin, disability, and ancestry; Senate Bill 553 will add "real or perceived sexual orientation" to this list. If passed, malicious intention will be defined as "the intention to commit any act, the commission of which is a necessary element of any offense…motivated by hatred toward the actual or perceived race, color, religion [or], national origin, disability, ancestry or sexual orientation of another individual or group of individuals." Crimes of this nature will be considered hate crimes, the sentencing of which "shall be classified as a misdemeanor of the third degree if the other offense is classified as a summary offense. Otherwise, an offense under this section shall be classified one degree higher." The Statewide Pennsylvania Rights Coalition (SPARC) is launching a campaign to educate legislators about the hostile climate in Pennsylvania for sexual minorities. "The fate of this bill now depends upon the urgent response by concerned citizens," declared SPARC Co-Chair Stephen Glassman. "Hate crime incidents are on the rise in Pennsylvania against sexual and gender minorities. Although as a coalition we agree that this bill is not inclusive enough regarding gender identity, we will work with the Senate and we will continue to educate people on full inclusion of all sexual minorities," stated Dr. Sue Rankin, co-chair of SPARC.

Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report says the legislature's Pro-Life Caucus is mustering support for a budget amendment to ban state money from health centers that provide abortions or abortion referrals. Pennsylvanians should contact their state legislators and let them know how they feel about this proposal.

Concert Report

Marching in the Light raised over $1,000. Thanks to those who brought tickets, who attended, to our advertisers (Tabernacle United Church, First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, Cy & Lois Swartz, and the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns), our sponsors (Rev. Al Krass, Rev. Peter Skelly, Ginny Beier, Rev. Bruce Baker, Revs. Helen Naglow & Mike Dunfee, Rev. Art Brandenburg, Marie & David Jack, Lynne Major & Rev. Lynn Lampman, Dr. Mark Ratkus, Nancy Krody, Al Richardson, and Pat & Roger Harless), and our performers (Wilbert Boone, Bill Bloom and Voices 4 Peace, Dan Howe, Patrick Evans and the choir of Hanover Presbyterian Church, Rev. David Funkhauser, Dave Reppert and Lavinia Wu).

Southern Baptist Convention

The Southern Baptist Convention is expected to vote in June to stop ordaining women as pastors. "It is deplorable that a committee of white, heterosexual men would lead people of faith back to the barbaric ages of patriarchal oppression of women," stated Rev. Steven Baines, Southern Baptist minister and executive coordinator of Equal Partners In Faith. "Women within the denomination should be insulted that mere men would deny the call of an inclusive God in the lives of thousands of women serving the church. People of all faiths should be alarmed and speak out against this 'spiritual rape'...."

Colorado Council of Churches/UFMCC

The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches has been approved as a member of the Colorado Council of Churches (CCC). The Rocky Mountain News reported that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese is reconsidering participation. A UFMCC press release said the CCC is the fourth statewide ecumenical body to accept the denomination as a member. The others are in North Carolina, Hawaii and California.

New Book

"Voices of the Religious Left: A contemporary sourcebook," edited by Interfaith Working Group supporter Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, is now available from Temple University Press. The dust jacket says, "Containing insightful perspectives of adherents to many faiths, Voices of the Religious Left makes it clear that there is a group dedicated instilling the values of justice and freedom." List price (paperback): $27.95. Call 1-800-447-1656.

Other UMC Votes of Interest

Delegates voted not to withhold funds from groups for or against abortion; called for an end to "partial birth abortion...except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life;" affirmed the UMC's tradition of school support even as "public education has become a political battleground;" and cited the church's moral responsibility to strengthen, support and reform public schools.

The First Split?

American Baptist Churches (ABC) of the Northwest have voted "with deep regret" to "restructure the regional body" by May 2002 due to differences over orientation, The Seattle Times quoted Rev. Daniel Weiss, ABC General Secretary, as saying it would be "a good idea" to split the region. "Some people have a very low tolerance about being in relationship with people who disagree with them. But they...are members of a wider national denomination and...this problem won't go away."

Texas, Gender, and Marriage

Texas is operating under a legal definition of gender inconsistent with medical opinion and all other states since the Texas Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by Christie Lee Littleton. Lower courts withdrew recognition of her seven-year marriage after her husband died, assuming (without tests) that she had an XY chromosome pair and ignoring her previously-recognized legal gender change. The case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.


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