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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
July/August 2001


Presbyterian Church (USA) Takes First Step

On June 15, the General Assembly voted 317-208 to lift the ban on ordaining sexual minorities. From now until next General Assembly the Presbyteries will vote on the measure, which requires a simple majority to pass. The amendment lifts the constitutional prohibition (1997), and the "authoritative interpretation" of 1978, reaffirmed in 1993; and adds a statement to the Book of Order: "...suitability to hold office is determined by the governing body where the examination for ordination or installation takes place, guided by scriptural and constitutional standards, under the authority and Lordship of Jesus Christ."

In a More Light Presbyterians, That All May Freely Serve and Shower of Stoles Project joint statement, Rev. Janie Spahr said "...the church has taken a step toward justice for God's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. We are looking forward so much to being in the presbyteries so people can see us for who we are as people of faith, to share our faith, to share our stories...." The Witherspoon Society responded in part: "We welcome this substantial step toward restoring health and peace to our beloved church." The Covenant Network said a vote for the amendment "would return the church to our historic Presbyterian principles of mutual forbearance and freedom of conscience on non-essential matters." The Presbyterian Coalition said that "recommending that the denomination abandon the biblical, historical, and confessional standards of fidelity and chastity for those who are ordained to church office, is a very real threat to the peace, purity and unity of what is already a very fragile body." A Focus on the Family article subtitled "Ministers cheating on their wives, homosexuals being ordained that's the new vision from the national leadership of the Presbyterian Church USA," claimed that "the presentations of those in favor of ordaining homosexuals left more conservative Presbyterians - and other Christians - scratching their heads."

The Washington Post focused on whether unrest would increase or be quelled. The Dallas Morning News and St. Louis Post-Dispatch highlighted local PCUSA post-vote services. The Indianapolis Star focused on local gay rights/AIDS activist Rev. Howard Warren; the Omaha World Herald spotlighted local gay rights activist Cleve Evans; and the Birmingham News focused on local anti-gay activist Rev. J. William Giles (executive coordinator, Presbyterian Coalition). An AP report said "...homosexuals aspiring to preach" had "inched closer to the pulpit;" later the AP wrote about clergy presenting the issue to congregations. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interviewed clergy on both sides and quoted Rev. Paul Roberts, whose congregation started the Confessing Movement: "We're going to have another year of fighting. It doesn't matter who wins, it will be horrible, with more blood being spilled on the presbytery level."

Unitarian Universalists and Home Depot

Home Depot moved on May 11 to amend its equal employment opportunity policy to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in response to a shareholder resolution filed by the Unitarian Universalist Association calling on Home Depot to "amend its written equal employment opportunity policy to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and to substantially implement this policy."

United Methodist Church

The Rev. Mark E. Williams of Woodland Park UMC, Seattle came out on June 16 after giving a report to the Annual Conference as chair of the Legislative Committee on Church and Society, Domestic. The media has reported on his congregation's wish to keep him, and the possibility that he will continue to preach there but not as the pastor. In his statement Williams says, "I realize that the Church is prepared to accept me as a pastor only as long as I remain closeted and silent. It makes me sad to think that I may face rejection and the denial of my call to ministry from the community that's nurtured me all my life. I'm confident that I won't be rejected and my gifts won't be denied in the gay community. The spirit of grace and acceptance is present there in a way that should put the Church to shame."

Rainbow Sash Movement

The Rainbow Sash Movement announced that their members wore sashes to Roman Catholic mass on Pentecost Sunday (June 3) in Chicago, Rochester, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Dallas, Melbourne, Sydney, and London. "By wearing the Rainbow Sash we are entering God's house honestly, no longer hiding our faces in the Catholic Closet, and seeking Holy Communion. The Church should be engaged in making room at the Eucharistic table for everyone God sends. It's a Eucharistic meal to which we are all worthy, simply because we have been invited," said Joe Murray, US Convenor. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported that the six sash wearers there received communion "without incident," though the paper reported that one parishioner called it "a public display of anti-Catholicism," and was planning to send a videotape of them being served to the Vatican and the New York City Archbishop for review.

Libraries, Pride and Censorship

The Anchorage Daily News has been filled with articles and letters regarding the mayor's decision to remove a public library Pride display sponsored by PFLAG and the local MCC congregation. In one statement, the mayor cited church/state grounds, though the reports do not mention any overt religious content. According to the paper the library "regularly allows outside exhibitors and has included sensitive topics before, including rape awareness." The Salt Lake Tribune reported on protests against a local library branch for a display of books by and about GLBT people, and editorialized against the Eagle Forum's contention that the library was "hiding behind the first amendment."

Boy Scouts of America

Eight urban scout councils, including Philadelphia, petitioned the BSA to drop their anti-gay policy.

The American Medical Association voted to "ask youth-oriented organizations to reconsider exclusionary policies that are based on sexual orientation," while not specifically referencing the BSA.

Religious Right reaction to the PBS broadcast of the documentary Scout's Honor was extremely negative. The American Family Association called Scout's Honor "a shameless attack on the character and integrity of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), which will strengthen the resolve of parents nationwide to support the Boy Scout policy banning homosexual men as leaders;" and also said "the BSA continues to be the target of a radical group of whiners who refuse to accept a Supreme Court ruling against them." The idea that the Supreme Court's decision in Dale v. Boy Scouts of America somehow validates the BSA viewpoint rather than classifying them as a discriminatory organization with a right to hold and enforce a discriminatory viewpoint has increasingly been appearing in columns and letters to editors as more institutions have chosen to dissociate themselves from or openly criticize the BSA.

Another argument (which ignores the existence of gay scouts) is that dissociation from a discriminatory organization is equally discriminatory. The Waterbury (CT Republican-American editorial "Closed and Denying" criticized the Stamford Jewish Community Center and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations for dissociating themselves from the BSA, since "...Boy Scouts are created in the image of God, too..."

Soulforce

Soulforce conducted nonviolent protests at the Southern Baptist Convention, held at the Superdome in New Orleans June 11-13. Soulforce supporters were trained in non-violence, stood vigil in front of the Superdome, and participated in a Jazz Funeral to mourn the suffering of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Southern Baptists. After a press conference, supporters tried to take a coffin with letters from/about those hurt by Southern Baptist teaching into the Superdome, but were stopped by police and ordered to leave. Thirty-four people were arrested, but the City Attorney dropped all charges. The protests received excellent media coverage.

Author and internet commentator Rev. Rembert Truluck, who was arrested, wrote "The Spirit of God that was so evident to me in Soulforce people and actions is also in many Southern Baptists. The Spirit moves among and within us and brings us into understanding and awakening. Nothing is impossible with God. Even the most obstinately anti-gay religious group in America can change: one by one. The Holy Spirit is still working in all of us long after the convention and the demonstrations and the speeches are over. All that we can do is to testify to and demonstrate our truth in confidence and love. Then leave the results to God."

Soulforce will be in Indianapolis August 10-12 for the Evangelical Lutheran Churchwide Assembly.

Thank You!

Thank you to the folks from Central Baptist, Integrity/Philadelphia, and Tabernacle United Church who joined us with banners for this year's Philadelphia Pride Parade. We distributed Welcoming Congregation brochures the length of the parade route. Please join us next year, and help us provide a diverse pro-GLBT religious presence.

Book Recommendation

Out of the Closet Into Our Hearts, edited by Laura Siegel and Nancy Lamkin Olson (Leyland Publications, 2001) has 51 short essays "Celebrating Our Gay/Lesbian Family Members" by a wide variety of people including Gene Shalit, Rhea Murray, Rev. Kurt Olson, Rev. Bob Hawthorne, and Dennis Shepard. There's a specific faith section with nine essays in it, but most of the essays have some religious aspect to them, and the recurring theme is of the writers being radicalized. This excellent book is available online and in bookstores.

Censorship and Sex Education

The National Coalition Against Censorship, the Pro-Choice Research Center, and SIECUS have launched a "public education campaign to inform legislators, educators, policy-makers and others about the threat to First Amendment principles from publicly funded 'abstinence-only' sex education." Their joint statement has been endorsed by many organizations, including the Unitarian Universalist Association, Americans United, Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, and Catholics for a Free Choice. Some statement sections are: Abstinence Only Education is Censorship, Abstinence Only Education Affronts the Principle of Church-State Separation, Abstinence Only Education Silences Speech about Sexual Orientation, and Censorship of Sex Education is Ineffective and Unnecessary.

The statement says: "Material on contraception, sexually transmitted disease, and sexual orientation has been razored out of textbooks. Articles about sexuality have been censored in the student press. Teachers have been warned against talking about certain topics, and cannot answer students' questions fully or candidly. Some have been disciplined or threatened with lawsuits for speaking frankly about sexual matters. Many teachers understandably avoid discussing sexuality at all."

New Video

Family Stories: Journeys of Spirit in Mixed Orientation Families "documents the transition of Roberta Kreider and Mary Lou Wallner from devastation to empowerment when confronted with the myriad of issues that resulted from the deaths of their gay and lesbian family members," and is introduced by Rev. Peter Gomes, Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School. The video can be purchased for $29.95, along with a study guide. Send checks to: John Davis, PO Box 164, Wayne, PA 19807, or call (610) 989-0198. Profits will go to new ventures promoting equality for God's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children. Funding and support were provided for the video by Central Baptist Church (CBC) and its members. For more information go to www.familystoriesvideo.org.

PA Ethnic Intimidation Act

The Pennsylvania Senate passed legislation to amend the state's Ethnic Intimidation Act by adding actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, mental and physical disability, and ancestry to the existing law. According to the Statewide PA Rights Coalition (SPARC), "this legislation is the most inclusive language of any hate crimes bill in the country." The bill has been passed to the state House for concurrence where it will probably be voted on in the fall. A statement of support for inclusive hate crime laws is available on the web at www.sparc-pa.org/statementofsupport.pdf

Surgeon General's Sexuality Report

The U.S. Surgeon General's "Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior" drew different responses from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) and the Family Research Council (FRC). RCRC president Rev. Carlton W. Veazy called it "an important step in encouraging religious communities to break their silence on sexuality" and said that the recommendations respect "the great diversity of beliefs and opinions about sexual behavior among religious communities." The FRC criticized the Surgeon General for meeting "with individuals across the ideological spectrum on the issue of sexual health" and felt "a call to destigmatize so-called sexual orientation is perhaps the most disheartening component of the report."


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