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May 2005 Newsletter
Equal Marriage Rights
The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
Soulforce at the Southern Baptist Convention
Twelve people, including
Board Chair Jimmy Creech, entered the
Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)
in St. Louis on Tuesday, June 11, and waited in the audience until
James Merritt began to speak. Rising individually and in pairs, the twelve
asked loudly to be heard. All twelve were arrested and booked on charges of
Misdemeanor Trespass and Felony Ethnic Intimidation. Outside the Convention
Center, two-hundred people held a press conference. As the arrests were
occurring inside, the two-hundred people approached the Convention Center doors. Thirty-eight people, in groups of four and five, tried to enter and were
arrested. The Ethnic Intimidation charges were dropped. Those arrested were
released the same day. All protestors had undergone intensive non-violence
training, some from Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, Arun Gandhi.
The Soulforce protests and anti-Muslim comments made by former SBC president
Rev. Jimmy Vines dominated news reports about the convention. The AP
distributed several stories about the protest, one of which began: "The head of
the Southern Baptists condemned homosexuality from the podium Tuesday as gay
rights protestors shouting slogans marched through the convention hall and
into the arms of police." The Religion News Service described Soulforce as
"an interdenominational pro-gay organization;" described twelve individual
members of Soulforce "dressed in their Sunday best" being arrested as they
"walked near the stage carrying leaflets;" and quoted Merritt, who called the
protestors examples of "a secular culture... that is becoming increasingly
strident in its anti-Christian, anti-truth, anti-God mentality."
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted Merritt's remarks that gay and
lesbian people used to be discreet but that now they demand "...public
legitimization of their peculiarity;" they also reported that
the protestors outside were calling out: "Please, Brother Merritt hear us," as
they "marched toward the doors slowly in sets of four." Both the
and the Associated Baptist Press wrote about protestor May Lou
Wallner, baptized Southern Baptist, whose daughter killed herself in 1997
after her parents refused to accept her orientation. Wallner and her husband
joined Soulforce after being asked to speak at the 1999 Lynchburg event.
The Baptist Press (BP, an official arm of the SBC) noted that Soulforce
protestors were faced by "nearly 60 police officers, many dressed in full riot
gear and flanked by steel barricades;" the article focused on security
precautions taken against the threat supposedly posed by the protestors, and
how parents inside explained the protests to their frightened children as an
example of anti-Christian persecution. The BP web site ran several pictures
of protestors including an unidentified photo of the Rev. Phil Lawson (brother
of the Rev. Jim Lawson, advisor to Soulforce and Dr. Martin Luther King)
praying in front of police before being arrested.
Al-Fatiha, the international
GLBT Muslim organization, announced plans to send a formal letter of protest
to the SBC for both their anti-GLBT and anti-Muslim remarks.
Presbyterian Church (USA)
The 214th annual General Assembly, which concluded June 21, clarified
the denomination's position on late-term
abortions; voted against an overture that would have ordered the
Presbytery of Northern New England
of Burlington, VT into compliance with the ordination ban;
voted not to discard copies of the existing (relatively progressive)
sexuality curriculum; voted to retain the current system for modifying the
constitution; and voted not to meet in 2005 or odd-numbered years thereafter.
According to the
there was also a 272-224 vote not to endorse the federal marriage amendment;
and a pro-GLBT resolution passed 413-65. That resolution was in favor of
anti-discrimination laws, decriminalization of consensual private sexual
behavior, admission of GLBT students into seminaries, and the establishment of
sexuality courses in seminaries; the resolution also criticized harmful
stereotypes in the media and the sin of homophobia.
On June 2 the session of Christ Church of Burlington, VT unanimously passed
"We have been engaged in a continuing process of congregational discernment in
light of the GAPJC decision in Londonderry Presbyterian Church vs. Presbytery
of Northern New England, the help we have received from the Pastoral Committee
established by the Presbytery pursuant to this decision, and recent PJC
decisions interpreting and applying G-6.0106b. The Session of Christ Church,
Presbyterian, grateful for new opportunities for creative witness on an issue
it cares deeply about, hereby sets aside our Resolution of April 20, 1997, and
the Report of June 18, 1998, so that we can clarify and strengthen our
statement of present conviction."
Anglican Diocese of
New Westminster (southwestern British Columbia) has voted 215-129 in
favor of blessing the unions of same-gender couples. Delegates from nine
churches walked out and issued a statement of dissent, according to the
Canadian Press. The Toronto Star reported that thirteen of the
forty-one Canadian bishops issued a "statement of regret" over the vote
and expressed concern that the vote "would cause confusion among Anglicans
globally who are against the issue."
The Anglican News Service released a letter from the
Archbishop of Canterbury,
who said he is both saddened by the vote and sorry to learn that people
We are very pleased to announce the addition of Rabbi Alan LaPayover,
Congregation Beth Am Israel, Penn Valley. Rabbi LaPayover, ordained in June,
has been recruiting rabbis for the IWG letterhead for several years.
Love Welcomes All
In response to "Love Won Out," a
Focus on the Family-sponsored Kansas City
conference, a Kansas City clergy and laity group created the
Love Welcomes All
campaign, buying a Kansas City Star ad that said:
On June 22, 'Focus on the Family' is presenting a national conference in
Kansas City promoting the scientifically discredited and immoral claim that
'homosexuality is preventable and treatable.' As clergy and people of faith we
are responding by lifting our voice in support of our lesbian and gay sisters
and brothers. We believe that 'reparative therapy,' 'conversion therapy' or
any other attempt to alter one's sexual orientation is a harmful distortion of
the image of God in which we are all created.
We, the undersigned, recognize that since all persons are made in the image of
God, they have value and are to be respected as such. Any effort to convince
people to change the way they were created shows disrespect for the person and
We support the position of the psychological community that has stated since
1974 that homosexuality is within the normal spectrum of human sexuality. We
affirm the value of loving, committed families for all God's children. We
believe that families are people living in covenantal relationships of love
and fidelity. We consider those sisters and brothers to be a unique, holy and
precious gift to all of us who work together to become the family of God.
'Focus on the Family' promises participants that 'you'll be reminded of the
power of love, and how it will always win out over fear, hatred or ignorance.'
We pray that God's love will truly win out, and that fear, hatred and
ignorance will one day disappear.
We unite in support of those gays and lesbians who refuse to abandon or be
forced out of their faith homes. We rejoice with other communities of faith
that are open and accepting of all people. We urge families and friends to
embrace their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender loved ones and to
celebrate life within the rich diversity of God's creation.
The campaign web site lists eighteen welcoming congregations and seventy-one
clergy from these traditions: Disciples of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church
in America, Episcopal, Jewish, Metropolitan Community Church,
Missouri Synod Lutheran, National Metropolitan Spiritualist,
Presbyterian Church (USA), Religious Science, Southern Baptist,
United Church of Christ, United Methodist, Unity, and Unitarian Universalist.
Philadelphia Daily News
The URL of our online Guide to Welcoming Congregations
was in Chris Fariello's June 27 column about religion and lesbians.
Vouchers Ruled Constitutional
The Supreme Court voted 5-4 that publicly funded vouchers for religious
schools do not violate the First Amendment. Rev. Barry Lynn of
called it "the worst church-state ruling in fifty years," and said,
"If Americans don't give their state legislators and members of Congress an
earful, they may soon be paying taxes to support religious indoctrination."
An Equal Partners in Faith
statement said in part:
Vouchers will lead to the re-segregation of our schools and drain
struggling public schools of scarce resources. Vouchers will allow
taxpayer funding of religious schools that promote intolerance and
discriminate in hiring. Vouchers will allow taxpayer funding of religious
schools that teach and practice the subordination of women. Vouchers will
allow taxpayer funding of religious schools that promote intolerance against
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Vouchers will allow tax-payer
funding of religious schools that teach intolerance toward other religions and
promote the idea of an exclusively "Christian America."
Marriage in New Jersey
On June 26, in an historic case aiming to legalize marriage for same-sex
couples in New Jersey (advancing the rights of these couples beyond domestic
partnership benefits or Vermont's Civil Union law) seven lesbian and gay
couples represented by Lambda Legal
filed a lawsuit against the State of New Jersey in Hudson County Superior
Court in Jersey City. The lawsuit (Lewis et al v. Harris et al) is based on
the New Jersey Constitution.
The Santa Cruz (CA) Sentinel published a nice article about
St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, their
and their decision to be a welcoming congregation and march in the local
Pride parade. The Sentinel's parade article focused on
Temple Beth El
and their "twice blessed" banner. The El Paso Times and
the Tennessean mentioned Pride-related religious services. The
Salt Lake City Tribune mentioned the participation of
and a float bearing the legend: "God made you to be you. Now soar." The
Sarasota (FL) Tribune quoted "the Rev. Don Beaudreaut, the openly gay pastor of the
Church of Sarasota," about the need for community support, a parade, and a
GLBT community center. The Oregonian described the MCC float and noted
that the Portland parade "included groups representing more than a half-dozen
religious denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church and the United
Church of Christ." No coverage of the Philadelphia parade was in the
Quebec Civil Unions
The legislature of the Province of Quebec voted unanimously to create a
civil union law that includes full adoption rights. According to the
Canadian Press, the Quebec Premier said: "It is with immense pride that we are
taking this historic step that will place Quebec at the forefront of modern
nations on the question of civil union and family laws." According to the web
the legislature also modified the Quebec Civil Code to change the legal
definition of marriage from "between a man and a woman" to "between two
persons." The change has no practical effect (the Canadian federal government
has jurisdiction over marriage) but serves to demonstrate that the
Quebec government would offer full marriage rights if possible.
In late May, a same-gender couple in Lincoln, Nebraska held a commitment
ceremony. One man in the couple is United Methodist and one is Mormon.
The ceremony and a preliminary service were performed at
St. Mark's on the Campus Episcopal Church.
The Rev. Jay Vetter, of
Christ United Methodist,
officiated and preached
at the service before the ceremony, while his wife (who is not ordained)
officiated at the actual commitment service. In June,
picketed the Episcopal church where the ceremony was held and the
United Methodist church where Vetter is the pastor.
The Lincoln Journal Star ran three articles immediately following the
service: a description of the service and ceremony with biographies of the two
men; Rev. Vetter's full remarks; and
reactions from supporters of the Nebraska Defense of Marriage Act, including
the executive director of the
Nebraska Family Council
(NFC), who said, "...someone who does this openly is acting contrary to
the wishes of the people of Nebraska."
Other coverage included a story about the mostly-positive responses
Rev. Vetter has received; an article and column about the Phelps protest; and
more than twenty letters, including our response to the NFC.
Pledge of Allegiance
organizations issued a flood of appeals to "save" the Pledge of Allegiance
after a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that public school officials
cannot require students to recite a version containing the words "under God."
The Rev. Barry Lynn, of Americans United,
said "This decision shows respect for freedom of conscience. You can be a
patriotic American regardless of your religious belief or lack of religion.
Our government should never coerce school children--or anyone else--to make
a profession of religious belief." He noted that the original version,
written in 1892 by a Baptist minister, did not include the words "under God,"
which were added by Congress in 1954 . Lynn also said "America survived the
Great Depression and won two World Wars with a completely secular pledge."
A Philadelphia Inquirer
editorial called the original lawsuit "time-wasting mischief" but printed the
pledge without "under God," and said that if the 1954 version does any harm,
it's in giving ammunition to those who believe that America is a Christian
Thanks to IWG supporter
Rev. Katie Day for discussing the pledge on WCAU-TV on short notice.
A big thanks to everyone who joined us for the Pride Parade! This year we had
a Presbyterian, UCC, Episcopal, Baptist, and Pagan walking (and dancing)
contingent, with banners from
Tabernacle United Church
Anti-Promise Keepers Demonstrators Arrested
Equal Partners in Faith (EPF)
reports that three members of NOW,
one of whom was disabled and one of whom was over sixty, were arrested by
Tampa Police while handing out EPF
anti-Promise Keepers (PK)
pamphlets outside a PK rally. They were handcuffed, put in the back of a
police car and held for over an hour before being released.
United Methodist Church
Anti-GLBT groups and individuals within the
UMC have formally objected to
transgender pastor Rev. Rebecca Ann Steen's possible appointment to a
congregation in the
A United Methodist News Service story quoted
Rev. Barry E. Hidey, Bel Air, MD, who urged those who might leave the church
because of her appointment "to pause and give our Book of Discipline the
chance to catch up with this issue." Hidey led a group that wrote an
"affirmaion" opposing Steen's appointment.
The case against Rev. Mark Edward Williams, openly-gay pastor of
Seattle's Woodland Park UMC,
was dismissed by unanimous vote of the investigating committee of the
Pacific Northwest Annual Conference.