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


Presbyterian Church (USA)

On October 21, the Rev. Katie Morrison became the first openly-lesbian candidate ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament since the 1978 ban on ordaining "practicing, self-affirming homosexuals." The Presbytery of the Redwoods ordained and installed Morrison, a life-long Presbyterian, as a National Field Organizer for More Light Presbyterians (MLP). MLP works for "the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the life, ministry, and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA)." Participants in the service included: the presbytery's executive presbyter and moderator; Morrison's father, Steve Morrison, an elder at Pasadena Presbyterian Church; former PCUSA minister Martha Juillerat, director of the Shower of Stoles Project, who was unable to work after engaging openly in the 1993 denominational dialogues on sexual orientation; the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr of That All May Freely Serve (TAMFS), who was ordained before the 1978 ban, but whose call to Downtown Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY was denied by the General Assembly's Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) in 1992; Lisa Largess, denied ordination in 1993 because she was open about being a lesbian; and the Rev. Susan Leo, a lesbian who left the PCUSA to serve openly in the United Church of Christ.

On September 27, the Rev. Don Stroud, Baltimore Minister of Outreach and Reconciliation for TAMFS, was officially accused of heresy at the stated meeting of the Baltimore Presbytery. An unnamed accuser who reportedly attends a California church in the Los Ranchos Presbytery, alleged that Stroud practices "the sin of homosexuality," is not governed by church polity, believes holy unions are equivalent to marriage, and is open about his homosexuality in defiance of the denomination's constitution.

After the September 11 attacks, the GAPJC postponed and has not rescheduled a September 14-15 hearing in the Stamford, CT Wayne Osborne elder-ordination case.

Voting on Amendment 01-A, which would lift the 1978 and 1996 ordination bans, is under way in the presbyteries. By October 26, nine presbyteries had voted. Two presbyteries including Baltimore voted for the amendment, and seven voted against; all nine voted the same as in 1996 (formalizing the 1978 ban) and 1997 (failing to undo 1996). A simple majority of 88 of the 174 presbyteries must approve Amendment 01-A for the ban to be lifted. An October 5, PCUSA News Service story referred to the Presbyterian Coalition's "$300,000 effort to defeat Amendment A."

Religious Right Letter Writing

The American Family Association (AFA) is urging people to complain to the chairman of Procter & Gamble (P&G) about the company's decision to broaden the eligibility requirements for dependents to include domestic partners and their children. The AFA said the decision "cheapens the institution of marriage;" is a "slap in the face of true families;" and that P&G has "thumbed its nose at God." We wrote a letter of thanks to the chairman of P&G. If you are not on the letterhead and would also like to thank P&G for the fairness of this policy, write to Chairman John E. Pepper, Procter & Gamble, 1 Procter & Gamble Plaza, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

The Culture and Family Institute (CFI) is asking people to write to the CEOs of AT&T, American Airlines, and J.P. Morgan Chase to complain about their sponsorship of the GLAAD Fairness Awards. The sample letter from CFI said, "I do believe the political agenda of groups like GLAAD to be damaging to the institution of the family and marriage, and especially threatening to impressionable young people."

We wrote letters of thanks and appreciation to all three companies, in which we said: "The negative stereotypes of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people that pervade our culture and are reinforced by quasi-religious political organizations can lead to isolation, violence, despair, suicide, and broken families. It is vitally important, especially for GLBT youth, that we recognize and reward those who dare to provide a few fair, accurate, and positive media images of GLBT people and their families." To encourage these companies with additional thank-yous, write to: C. Michael Armstrong, Chairman and CEO, AT&T, 32 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10013; Donald Carty, Chief Executive Officer, American Airlines, 4200 Amon Carter Boulevard, Fort Worth, TX 76155; and William B. Harrison, Jr., President and CEO, J.P. Morgan Chase Co., 270 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017-2070.

Letterhead

We are pleased to announce the addition of Collenbrook United Church (Drexel Hill, PA), as the twenty-third congregation/organization on the letterhead. Collenbrook is our second More Light (PCUSA) and fourth Open and Affirming (UCC) congregation. Welcome also to Rev. Dorothy Field (Crozerville UMC), and Rev. Richard J. Lichty (Germantown Mennonite). Rev. Rudy Nemser and Rev. Elizabeth Smith have left the area.

United Methodist Church

In a counterpoint to Religious Right complaints about GLBT advances post-September 11, Michael L. Gonzalez (Unofficial Confessing Movement Page) wrote of "the demise of homosexual advocacy;" claiming that "large numbers of visible cheerleaders of the homosexual movement have abandoned the 'cause' as they now focus on real concerns," and, "the fifteen minutes of fame for the homosexuals may now be at a close."

According to a UM News Service story, a twelve-member committee of leaders from the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference will be meeting three times this fall to discuss "the issue of transgender clergy" in order to "provide clergy and laity with a way to be well informed, understanding of all positions, and engage them in a spiritual discernment process so that when they are confronted by decisions brought to the clergy session we have a thoughtful and well grounded -- spiritually grounded -- basis for the church to address those decisions."

Park Slope UMC (in Brooklyn) announced a new policy on holy unions and other covenant services:

"It is the policy of Park Slope United Methodist Church that exchanging of vows for all covenant services including legal weddings for all couples in our church community will be held in places other than in our church, such as churches of other denominations, private homes, the garden, or parks and other public spaces. The pastor will no longer conduct legal marriage or holy union ceremonies. As an inclusive Christian community, we refuse to discriminate against each other, and we will work to remove discriminatory policies in the UMC Book of Discipline, which offend against Christ's teaching that we love one another as God loves us."

The United Methodist Judicial Council has ruled that the Book of Discipline forbids the appointment of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" as pastors of local churches, and that declaring involvement in a same-gender relationship would be enough to subject a pastor to review of his or her standing as a minister.

California

The governor of California signed AB 25 into law, giving the state what has been called the most extensive Domestic Partnership law of any state. The governor was joined in the signing by the former partner of Mark Bingham (a gay rugby player credited with being one of three passengers who thwarted terrorists on the flight that crashed near Pittsburgh on September 11).

The law takes effect January 1, 2002, and applies to same-gender couples, or mixed-gender couples with at least one partner over 62, who register with the state. Under the law, anyone may relocate with a domestic partner without losing unemployment benefits; use sick leave to care for an ill partner/child of a domestic partner; file disability benefits on behalf of a seriously ill/ incapacitated partner; be exempt from state income tax on health benefits provided to domestic partners (current benefits are taxed as income); make medical decisions; act as a conservator; sue for wrongful death; seek damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress; administer a partner's estate; use the statutory will form to bequeath property to a domestic partner; adopt a partner's child using the stepparent adoption process; and continue health coverage for surviving domestic partners of government employees and retirees. AB 25 also requires health care service plans and disability insurance carriers to extend employer-based or association-based (unions or trade associations) coverage to the domestic partner of an employee or an association member.

The AP quoted Randy Thomasson (Campaign for California Families): "In one fell swoop, Gray Davis has cheapened every marriage in the state, undermined the vote of the people, pandered to the special interests, frivolously spent taxpayer money and broken his written promise to the citizens of California." Ken Connor (Family Research Council) said, "The governor signed on the Sabbath, a holy day for Christians who cherish the institution of marriage as emblematic of the relationship of Christ and His Church." Robert Knight of the Culture and Family Institute said that "as America reassesses its moral foundations, California has taken a giant step toward moral anarchy."

September 11 Aftermath

Religious Right organizations have been calling for more state-sponsored religious observance, especially in public schools, while simultaneously complaining about GLBT-rights activists using the September 11 tragedy to advance an agenda. The Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition said that private and public relief agencies "should be giving priority to those widows who were at home with their babies and those widowers who lost their wives. It should be given on the basis and priority of one man and one woman in a marital relationship. This is just another example of how the gay agenda is seeking to overturn the one man-one woman relationship from center stage in America, taking advantage of this tragedy."

Clergy for a Fair Houston

Clergy for a Fair Houston is a new group begun the Rev. Robert Schaibly (First Unitarian Universalist Church in Houston). He issued a statement opposing a city proposition to stop the city from offering insurance benefits to domestic partners of city employees. The statement, signed by over 100 clergy, says:

"We come from many faith traditions and communities. We are residents of a great city, and citizens of a nation that guarantees constitutional freedoms and protections to all. Discrimination in the workplace is immoral as well as economically costly. In our various faiths we find support for laws which protect persons from discrimination. We respect the diversity of the world in which we live. Hatred and prejudice are not family values. Therefore, we urge Houstonians to defeat any attempt to limit equal rights in employment. We support the goal of equality, dignity, and respect for all people."

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

An ELCA News Service story (Oct. 17) reported that the Conference of Bishops listened to proposals for carrying out the 2001 Churchwide Assembly directives to "produce a study on homosexuality, develop a plan and timeline leading to a decision regarding the possible ordination of gay and lesbian people in committed relationships and initiate a process to develop a social statement on human sexuality." A preference was stated for a $1,000,000 six-year process; a formal decision has yet to be made by the Church Council.

On October 28, the Bergen County Record reported on a year-long series of meetings already held in the New Jersey Synod, reportedly considering joining the Reconciling in Christ program at their May 2002 convention.

Applying the Constitution

Americans United (AU) has released a position paper titled "Applying the Constitution in the Wake of the Terrorist Attacks." The introduction notes that the September 11 attacks have "led to an increase in what many scholars call 'civil religion'-- endorsements (usually fairly generic) of God and faith by political leaders and government officials. It is important to remember that our civil liberties are at great risk in times of crisis, and that we should therefore be more, rather than less, vigilant about protecting them from erosion in the coming weeks and months." Some excerpts follow:

* The United States is a pluralistic society: Hundreds of religions are represented in America. Christian denominations constitute the majority, but even among these there is a great diversity of opinion on matters of theology and politics. Non-Christian faiths are well represented in America. In addition, millions of Americans do not believe in God at all, are agnostic or embrace humanistic principles. This diversity of thought and religion is one of our greatest assets.

* Public schools must be especially sensitive to religious issues and flagrant violations of the law cannot be tolerated: The terrorist attack should not be used as an excuse to ignore Supreme Court rulings on religion in public education. Public schools serve children of an impressionable age. Since parents, and not school officials, bear the responsibility for the religious upbringing of children, schools must refrain from sponsoring religion or doing anything that coerces (even subtly) participation in religious activities.

* School officials should foster unity rather than division. A practice that has proven divisive in a few communities is posting of the phrase "God Bless America" on school marquees. Courts have not addressed the legality of this practice. Rather than focus on narrow legal questions, it is more important to recognize that the introduction of school-sponsored declarations with any religious references are often controversial and that schools serving a diverse population will better serve families of all backgrounds with more inclusive statements such as "United We Stand."

* Patriotic activities that contain religious references are not unconstitutional in public schools. Public schools may sponsor recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, but students who object may not be compelled to join in or be punished if they refuse. (Some individuals have religious and philosophical objections to reciting the pledge.).

* State and local governments have more leeway than public schools, but must still remain sensitive to religious diversity. The Supreme Court and lower federal courts have permitted some government bodies such as city and county councils and state governments to engage in some types of activities that remain forbidden in public schools. For example, state and local governments may in some cases include nonsectarian prayers at legislative meetings or engage in other forms of "civil religion." Whether they ought to do so is another question. Government officials should remain aware of the fact that they represent people of many different religious and philosophical points of view and should avoid even the appearance of favoritism in religious matters.

* There is no "natural" reaction to recent events. Government officials should refrain from asserting that prayer and religious worship are somehow the natural, logical or expected reaction to recent events. For many Americans, increased attention to religion is a natural reaction to a crisis such as this. However, other Americans may take a different view. It is inappropriate for government officials to assume that the former reaction is correct and that those who pursue the latter course are somehow not patriotic or love their country less.

* This is the time to reaffirm our commitment to church-state separation, not turn our backs on it. On Sept. 11, our nation was attacked by terrorists who dislike America in part for its official policy of government neutrality toward religion. These terrorists come from nations where there is no separation of religion and state. They want a theocracy where one faith is mandated by the government. It would be highly ironic if our response to this threat was to lower our own wall of separation between church and state. Rather, we should reaffirm the importance of that wall in safeguarding the principle of religious freedom and the incredible religious diversity it gives us.

The wall of separation has given the United States more individual freedom, religious diversity and interfaith peace than any nation in world history. At this time of crisis, that diversity is a source of great strength, not a weakness. We as a nation should not hesitate to protect that wall from attack.



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