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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
July/August 2002

Soulforce at the Southern Baptist Convention

Twelve people, including Soulforce 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 Post-Dispatch 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 to bring Christ Church 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 Layman, 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 the following:

"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."

Canadian Anglicans

The 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 walked out.


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 the Creator.

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 (www.iwgonline.org/welcoming) 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 Americans United 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.

Pride Coverage

The Santa Cruz (CA) Sentinel published a nice article about St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, their Integrity chapter, 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 Holladay UCC 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 Unitarian Universalist 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 Inquirer.

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 site samesexmarriage.ca, 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.

Lincoln Nebraska

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, Fred Phelps 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

Religious Right 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 nation.

Thanks to IWG supporter Rev. Katie Day for discussing the pledge on WCAU-TV on short notice.

Parade Report

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 and Integrity/Philadelphia.

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 Baltimore-Washington conference. 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.









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