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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
June 2001


Bishop Egertson Asked to Resign

On May 23 the Los Angeles Times reported that Bishop Paul W. Egertson was asked to resign by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Presiding Bishop, H. George Anderson. According to the Times, when Egertson was elected Bishop he promised "to resign if he ever felt he must defy church law as a matter of conscience."

In "An Open Letter to the Rostered Ministers and Synod Council Members of the Southern California (West) Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America," Egertson writes that "the overwhelming majority" of those he spoke to "vigorously opposed the idea" of his resignation. The letter (on the web at www.socalsynod.org) includes the full text of a resolution passed by the Synod Council, which he calls "the most moderate response I have received," and which says in part:
BE IT RESOLVED that the Southern California (West) Synod Council expresses its consensus that Paul W. Egertson, Bishop of the Southern California (West) Synod, should not be removed from office or be required to resign as a result of his participation with others as an act of conscience in the irregular ordination of Anita Hill at St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church in St. Paul, MN; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that, should Bishop Egertson choose to resign his office as a further act of protest over what he and many others within this Synod and the Church at large con- sider to be an unjust policy, the Synod Council, with regret, fully supports any such de- cision by him and further acknowledges that his willingness to accept the consequences of his actions is in keeping with the finest traditions of the Lutheran Church, consistent with the maintenance of Church order and in advancing the dialogue within the Church on this difficult issue about which honest disagreement exists.

Egertson also summarizes what his resignation "does and does not mean" for him:

First, it does not mean I recant or wish to diminish the protest I made by participating in Anita Hill's ordination. On the contrary, resigning intends to put an exclamation point after it.

Second, it does not mean resignation is now a precedent to be applied to others who commit acts of conscientious disobedience in protest of unjust policies in this church. It may be a precedent for those who make a prior promise to resign, but not for others.

Third, it does not mean that I admit to any particular violation of my installation vows or provisions of the constitution of this church. Since no such charges have been stated, no such admission can be inferred. That "some lines were crossed," incurring a penalty, is clear. Exactly what those lines were is not so clear.

Fourth, this resignation does mean that I have come to the place where I cannot in good conscience carry out the responsibility of this office to enforce the ELCA's policies in regard to homosexual persons as set forth in Vision and Expectations. Until the invitation to participate in the irregular ordination in St. Paul arrived, I had not faced an occasion requiring me to act. If I had faced some of the cases other bishops have had, I don't know what I would have done. But now, without calling into question what the conscience of others has or will lead them to do, I know that I cannot enforce a policy that is so hurtful to people and to this church.

Fifth, this resignation does mean that I recognize and affirm my accountability to good order in the church and my responsibility to assume the consequences of my actions. If I had not made my promise, I would not be resigning but I would be accepting some other appropriate penalty.



Disciples of Christ Offers DP Benefits

The Board of Directors of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) voted to provide coverage under the Churchwide Health Care program for domestic partners of church employees covered by family insurance. Program administrators and attorneys are developing the precise definitions, plans and procedures necessary for coverage implementation, which could take effect by January 2002. The change applies only to health care coverage, not the Pension Plan or other programs.

Orientation and Change in the News

On May 8, AP reported that Dr. Robert L. Spitzer released what they termed "an explosive new study," based on several hundred phone interviews, in which he concluded that some individuals had changed their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Following this, newspapers and magazines all over the country ran articles, columns and letters (generally balanced between pro and con opinions) about ex-gay programs.

The American Psychiatric Association responded that "there is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of reparative therapy as a treatment to change one's sexual orientation," and "The potential risks of reparative therapy are great (including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior) since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reenforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."

Focus on the Family immediately jumped on the story, quoting Dr. Joseph Nicolosi of NARTH: "This is clearly a historic event in the history of psychiatry's understanding of homosexuality."

In a May 23 op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, Spitzer himself wrote, "I did not conclude that all gays should try to change, or even that they would be better off if they did....However, to my horror, some of the media reported the study as an attempt to show that homosexuality is a choice, and that substantial change is possible for any homosexual who makes the effort."

According to a GLAAD news release, Cathy Renna and Spitzer "discussed the problematic news coverage" and the lack of acknowledgment of bisexuality in both the coverage and the study. "We're pleased that Dr. Spitzer has acknowledged the inaccuracy of the media's coverage of his study," Renna said. "But I'm frankly surprised that he can't see the connection between inaccurate, sensationalistic media coverage and the problematic methodology of his own study."

NRLR Comments on Ex-gay Programs

The National Religious Leadership Roundtable released a long statement on conversion therapy. Excerpts are included here. The entire statement is available by email from the IWG.

The National Religious Leadership Roundtable (NRLR) affirms that gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) individuals are an intentional and blessed part of Creation. Therapies to "convert" or "repair" a person's orientation are misguided and should end. Such therapies deny the inherent holiness of GLB people...

Much of the debate about conversion therapy has centered on the question of whether GLB people can become heterosexual. This question is irrelevant. Sexual orientation is intrinsic, powerful and sacred. As such it should be honored as a gift from God to be celebrated, not a problem to be "fixed." In fact, research has shown that trying to force change can cause serious harm.

Research has demonstrated that sexual orientation exists on a spectrum from absolute homosexuality to absolute heterosexuality. Some people live on the polar ends of that spectrum and are likely to be immune to change. Others--some studies say the vast majority --live between the poles. Those who embrace this blessing often identify as bisexual. Those who live in this place of possibility but aren't supported in its holiness may well be those most vulnerable to "conversion" attempts.

As people of faith, we understand and rejoice in our knowing that sex and gender cannot be reduced to biological "givens," but are fluid social, cultural, and spiritual constructs that can change in the lives of many (but not all) individuals and peoples over time. We welcome the blessings and learnings conferred upon us by this beautiful variety and complexity....

There are political implications of the research race to prove whether one is born gay or can "change." A recent study claims a high "success rate" of so-called conversion therapies and [some] insist that if anyone CAN "become heterosexual," then everyone MUST. This false argument has been used to undermine non-discrimination and hate crimes laws that cover lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

We offer an alternative view and suggest that an analogy between sexual orientation and religion helps illuminate the spiritual violence inherent in the thinking described above. We are free and unfettered in our religious affiliations and must be similarly so in our intimate and significant relationships. Just as our right to religiously affiliate does not require that our faith practice be biological or life-long, our sexual orientation does not need to be biological or life-long. Those who are called to love others of the same gender, whether as gay, lesbian or bisexual, should be honored and protected, for these are paths full of grace, integrity and loving kindness.

We have hope that those who fear the grace inherent in same-sex loving can themselves seek change, and come to accept and appreciate our blessing.

For all who believe that gay, lesbian and bisexual orientations and transgender identities are sanctified, we ask that you join us in creating welcoming and affirming beloved communities in all faith traditions. Together we can ensure that our holy GLBT brothers and sisters will never again feel the pain and condemnation of the call to "convert."


In the States

The Oklahoman reported that the Association of Professional Oklahoman Educators' executive director spoke against a National Education Association resolution to teach students "to appreciate gay and lesbian students and families" at a "Pro-Family" rally in the state capitol.

The Governor of Texas signed the James Byrd Jr. Act, allowing for enhanced penalties for crimes less than murder motivated by prejudice based on race, religion, color, gender, disabilities, sexual orientation, age or national origin. The Fort Worth Star Telegram quoted the president of the Texas Eagle Forum, who complained: the law "is not only infringing upon persons' thoughts, and attitudes and behaviors being controlled and dictated in the state, but we're going to take innocent children and teach them about immoral and unhealthy behavior."

The Governor of Arizona signed a bill repealing his state's bans on cohabitation and consensual sex, stating in a letter reprinted in the Arizona Republic: "The laws that are repealed by HB 2016 are unenforced and unenforceable. Keeping archaic laws...does not promote high moral standards...it teaches the lesson that laws are made to be broken. Moral standards are set by families and those they turn to for guidance, such as religious and community leaders. We learn much more from watching their behavior than from any written laws or rules."

Presbyterian Church (USA) About to Meet Again

A May 8 Presbyterian News Service (PNS) release started: "Will schism happen in the Presbyterian Church (USA)? Most observers think not, but the 213th General Assembly will address a number of issues related to what the church's constitution calls 'the peace, purity and unity of the church.'"

Another background piece from PNS mentions that four presbyteries have submitted overtures dealing with abortion, including the Presbytery of Donegal, in Lancaster County, PA, which "is asking for a biblical and theological study of the issue of abortion, arguing that previous policies have been developed on the basis of sociological and public policy concerns."

The Presbytery of San Joaquin has proposed that the national ministries division "offer transformational resources to those who struggle with sexual purity."

There are a large number of overtures related to G-6.016b (the rule designed to forbid ordination to those who engage in sexual behavior outside of mixed-gender marriage). The Presbytery of Memphis has proposed adding G-6.016c: "The provisions of G-6.0106b and this G-6.0106c shall not be interpreted to permit the ordination of practicing, self-affirmed, non-repentant homosexuals." The Eastern Korean Presbytery has proposed a moratorium on issues of sexuality and ordination. The Presbytery of Denver has proposed the formation of a commission to make recommendations to recognize the anti-gay positions of the church as the church's "teaching position," while leaving ordination decisions to the examining bodies. The Presbytery of Baltimore has proposed that the General Assembly recognize that "reasonable Christians" can conclude that the portions of the Book of Order forbidding discrimination, listing ordination as a right of membership, giving congregations the right to elect their own elders, and forbidding ordination to some people on the basis of orientation are in conflict. The Presbytery of Santa Fe proposes leaving the existing language intact, but adding a conscience waiver. The Presbytery of the Hudson River proposes an application process for conscience waivers. The Presbytery of mid-Kentucky, the Presbytery of the Western Reserve, the Presbytery of Chicago, the Presbytery of the Heartland, and the Presbytery of Newton have proposed four different amendments striking the existing G-6.006b and adding language leaving ordination requirements to the examining body. The Presbyteries of Northern New England, Elizabeth, and Boston have proposed striking G-6006b. The Presbyteries of New York City, Cayuga-Syracuse, Long Island, Northern New York, and the Twin Cities Area have proposed striking both G-6.0106b and any anti-gay interpretations of the Book of Order that preceded it. The Presbytery of Milwaukee has proposed that the General Assembly declare: "1. homosexual persons are as qualified and capable of fulfilling the requirements of the Book of Order, G-6.0106 as are heterosexual persons; and 2. loving and faithful relationships between persons of the same sex are recognized as worthy of Christian honor, in the same way that such relationships are honored between persons of opposite sexes." The Presbytery of Hamni has proposed concluding that "resolution has been reached on the matter of human sexuality related to eligibility for ordination."

Soulforce in New Orleans

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) will meet at the Superdome in New Orleans in June. On June 12 and 13, Soulforce will conduct vigils 8 am-6 pm. There will be a jazz funeral 11:30 am-12:30 pm and non-violent civil disobedience and arrests 12:45-2:00 pm.

In his letter to Dr. James Merritt, president of the SBC, Mel White said of the jazz funeral: "This New Orleans tradition flows out of a saying that dates back to slavery: 'We weep when a child is born into this cruel world. We sing and dance when the good Lord takes someone home.' Soulforce volunteers will use the jazz funeral to tell your Messengers and through the media, to tell the world why we weep when a gay child is born into one of your Southern Baptist families or becomes a member of one of your Southern Baptist churches."

Roman Catholic Church and AIDS

Dignity/USA released a statement calling on the Roman Catholic Church to "to engage in a serious Examination of Conscience about how they have treated AIDS and people with AIDS and HIV." Dignity President Mary Louise Cervone noted: "Over 20 million people world-wide have died of AIDS in the past 20 years. Nearly 36 million people are currently infected with HIV. Over 14,500 people get infected with HIV every day. This disease has affected the lives of millions of God's children. Our Church should be using its enormous moral, political and financial resources to fight for them. Instead, our leaders have been reluctant to get involved."

Dignity specifically asks the Church to
  • Make a public statement recognizing the 20th Anniversary of AIDS, honoring those who have lost their lives to the disease, pledging support to people currently living with HIV an committing Church resources to work for the eradication of the virus worldwide.
  • Call on pharmaceutical companies, philanthropic institutions and governments of developed nations to make treatment of HIV/AIDS more widely accessible in poor countries, especially sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Use Vatican funding to purchase AIDS medications and distribute them to impoverished people. Immediately cease public opposition to measures that reduce or prevent transmission of HIV.
  • Institute Masses for people with HIV, their families, caregivers and survivors of those who have died of AIDS in every US diocese and every parish in the world.
  • Apologize for attitudes and actions that have demeaned people with HIV/AIDS and their families and have led people to avoid seeking pastoral care from the Catholic Church.

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