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


Vermont

On April 26, Governor Howard Dean of Vermont signed the "Civil Union" bill which extends all the rights and benefits of Vermont's state marriages to same-sex couples. The vote had passed the House by a vote of 79 to 68 the day before.

A Lambda Legal press release quoted Director Beatrice Dorn: "The possibilities for our families and, indeed, the shape of our movement are forever changed. Vermonters are to be commended for their thoughtful and fairminded deliberations. They are the first, but certainly not the last, to take this giant step toward equality. Vermont has sent a signal to the entire nation that it is no longer tolerable to deny lesbian and gay couples the respect other couples take for granted. When other states follow suit, they will certainly be grateful to Vermonters for their leadership. Today is a day of celebration for lesbians and gay men in Vermont, and throughout this country. Of course we continue to still look forward to the day when we win the freedom to participate fully in marriage itself."

For a momentous legal occasion, it did not spawn the reaction many recent events have. The story made the news, but there was very little editorial response, especially given the furor before the vote. ABC News saw fit to give Jerry Falwell three minutes of air time to respond to the Governor. On March 30, the Conservative News Service reported that "Vermont Activists Put Brakes on 'Civil Unions' Legislation," and they quoted the president of the Alliance Defense Fund: "This is not a matter of 'my opinion versus your opinion.' If the basis of your belief is Biblical truth-if you're a Jewish person who reads Scripture or a Christian who reads Scripture-you've got a sincere basis to stand on." The American Family Association (AFA), the Family Research Council (FRC) and Focus on the Family (FOF) were the only major religious right websites with Vermont press releases. All claimed the legislature had gone against the wishes of the electorate. AFA: "This legislation passed by in [sic] Vermont erodes the traditional, cultural and historical standard that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Anything else is counterfeit." FRC: "No matter what Vermont's legislators do, marriage will always be the union of a man and a woman, created by God as the essential intertwining of the sexes. Marriage is the foundation for families, communities and civilizations. It is about much more than the relationship between two people. Liberal legislators are trying hard to ignore the Word of God, the law of Nature, and the experience of thousands of years of human history. But it will eventually catch up with them." FOF: "It is an unprecedented assault on marriage, redefining what we have held as foundational truth in this country for generations. The legislature's action today will influence the position of marriage in every state across the nation. Vermont has now made same-sex marriages their top export, and courts all across this country will begin to see traditional marriage challenged in an unparalleled way." The Traditional Values Coalition Message to Pastors and Lay Leaders simply stated that the legislation passed and the governor signed it into law, in contrast to many pages of information on other stories, including the Boy Scouts case. The Rutland Herald quoted the Catholic League's William Donahue: "What Vermont has done is really send a message to the rest of country that marriage is not an institution to be taken seriously."

A pro-Vermont editorial was in the St. Louis Dispatch. In his Philadelphia Inquirer column, David Boldt suggested civil unions might be a good line on which to call a "truce." Boldt cited Gallup polls and the book "One Nation After All" to support his contention that Americans are "deeply troubled" by homosexuality.

United Methdist Church

A formal complaint against Bishop Melvin G. Talbert charges him with "disobedience to the order and discipline" of the church for his handling of the charges against the sixty-eight pastors who were charged and then acquitted for performing the Sacramento same-sex union service.

A statement entitled "United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church" was released on April 20, signed by sixty people, including thirty-nine clergy. The statement says in part: "We cannot and will not deny that we recognize in the experiences of our Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender brothers and sisters the resonance of our own journeys as people of color in the church. We see the truth in the words of Coretta Scott King when she says that the struggles for inclusion of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people are part of the 'continuing justice movement' for which Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life, a movement that 'thrives on unity and inclusion, not division and exclusion.'" The signers identified themselves as Aboriginal/Native American, African American, African-American/Caucasion, Chinese American, Cuban American, Dominican Republic, Filipina/o American, Filipino, Hispanic, Japanese American, Korean, Korean-American, Mexican American, Peruana/o American, Puerto Rican, and Tongan American.

On April 16, Union United Methodist Church in Boston held a special service to celebrate their congregational statement of reconciliation and inclusiveness, which says in part: "Union United Methodist Church is a predominantly African-American congregation within the church universal, The Body of Christ. We aspire to follow Jesus, who welcomed, received and stood with the oppressed, the disinherited and scorned persons of his day. He did likewise in relation to persons with physical challenges and those born of an ethnic, racial, or cultural parentage different from his. His was a walk of compassion showing who was included around 'the welcome table of the Lord' on earth. That same walk of the Compassionate Jesus sustains the conviction expressed in a Negro Spiritual: 'There's plenty good room, plenty good room in ma Father's Kingdom, plenty good room, plenty good room -- just choose your seat and sit down'."

The Rev. Mel White's Soulforce has announced plans for civil disobedience and arrests which will be led by Yolanda King, Arun Gandhi, Rev. James Lawson, and Rev. Bob Graetz on May 10 in Cleveland, where the United Methodist Church General Conference meeting is to be held.

Presbyterian Church (USA)

The Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbytery of Southern New England has lifted the stay of installation against Wayne Osborne and the First Presbyterian Church of Stamford, so Osborne can now be installed as a member of the Session. At least seventeen overtures dealing with sexual orientation, ordination, marriage ceremonies, and a potential split in the denomination will be considered at the 212th General Assembly in Long Beach California, June 24 to July 1.

Christian Coalition

Within the last month, Christian Coalition affiliates in Maine, Florida, Oregon, and New Mexico have been reported engaging in anti-gay activities. The Lewiston (ME) Sun-Journal reported on April 12 that the Chrisian Coalition of Maine mailed copies of a study by Paul Cameron to "every board chairman, superintendent and legislator in Maine, about 700 in all," with a letter which said, "...knowingly employing homosexual teachers after receipt of this study places you in a precarious legal situation." The Sun-Journal followed up the article with an editorial condeming the Coalition's action. In Florida, a group of organizations led by the Christian Coalition and the Florida Family Association failed to get enough signatures to put a repeal of the Miami-Dade Human Rights Ordinance on the ballot. On March 27, GLAAD reported that the Christian Coalition of Oregon was helping the Oregon Citizens Alliance gather signatures for an anti-gay initiative on the November 2000 state ballot which reads in part, "the instruction of behaviors relating to homosexuality and bisexuality shall not be presented in a public school in a manner which encourages, promotes or sanctions such behaviors." On March 21, the Albuquerque Journal reported that the Christian Coalition of New Mexico filed a complaint with the Public Regulation Commission against U.S. West because U.S. West offers domestic partnership benefits.

Dr. Laura Update

The National Religious Broadcasters sent a letter to Paramount supporting yet another national media venue for Dr. Laura Schlessinger. The Family Research Council, which has supported actual censorship laws, has created a Free Speech for Dr. Laura web page, and ran a full page ad in the Washington Times entitled: "The Thought Police are Out to Get Dr. Laura."

Episcopal Bishops

Leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion met in Portugal and again warned that the ordination of gay priests "threaten[s] the unity of the communion in a profound way." After a five-day retreat by a hundred Episcopal Bishops, the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold III said he "cannot imagine any diocese altering its present direction in the light of anything that has happened, either here or in Portugal," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Campolos in the Inquirer

FaithLife editor Jim Remsen profiled Peggy and Rev. Tony Campolo in the April 30 Philadelphia Inquirer about their marriage, their differing views on homosexuality, the reaction of conservative Christians to their willingness to speak out on the subject, and their hopes for Christian denominations struggling with the issue. Peggy (board member of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and friend of the IWG) will be in Cleveland with Soulforce [see page 2].

Parents Television Council

The Parents Television Council, which regularly buys full-page newspaper ads featuring Steve Allen, released a study called "What a Difference a Decade Makes," detailing increased vulgarity on television. One category of "vulgarity" was "homosexuality," and one example in the report was a man referring to another man as his husband.

Boy Scouts of America

The US Supreme Court has heard arguments in Dale v. Boy Scouts of America. The Unitarian Universalist Association, General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, United Church Board for Homeland Ministries (United Church of Christ), Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Diocesan Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark (NJ) filed a brief on Mr. Dale's behalf. The Arizona Daily Star reported that the American Jewish Congress also filed a pro-Dale brief.

People of Faith 2000

Jerry Falwell has launched "People of Faith 2000" a project he claims will raise up to $25 million to register 10 million religious conservatives by November. In addition to the unfortunate name, Rev. Falwell has told both the USA Today and beliefnet.com that his project is intended to help one candidate and one political party, according to Americans United This is improper behavior for a 501(c)(3). The project has already raised $1 million in tax-deductible donations.

Institute for Democracy Studies

The Instititute for Democracy Studies (IDS) is continuing the work started by the Center for Democracy Studies and The Body Politic. The first issue of IDS Insights is 12 pages, and includes articles on anti-feminist ecumenical organizations and "Spiritual Warfare in the Presbyterian Church." IDS also has publications about struggles in the Presbyterian Church (USA), anti-abortion activist organizations, and the Promise Keepers. Call 212-493-9237 or visit www.institutefordemocracy.org.

The Religious Right vs. the Environment

A number of people associated with the Religious Right (five are listed by the Institute for First Amendment Studies as Council for National Policy members) are mentioned in a press release for the launch of the Interfaith Council for Ecological Stewardship. The press release says: "...modern environmentalism too often travels down a dangerous path of extremism." Those listed include Dr. James Dobson (Focus on the Family), Rev. Dr. D. James Kennedy (Coral Ridge Ministries/Center for Reclaiming America), Diane Knippers (Institute for Religion and Democracy), Dr. Richard Land (Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) Rabbi Daniel Lapin (Towards Tradition), Father Robert Sirico (Acton Institute) and Rev. Donald Wildmon (American Family Association)

IWG News

Rabbi Marjorie Yudkin, Beth Chaim Reform Congregation, West Chester, has been added to the letterhead.


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