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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
May 2002


Day of Silence

According to the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), students on approximately 1,900 campuses participated in this year's Day of Silence (April 10). According to the Day of Silence web site, the event "institutes a visible silence," during which those participating protest anti-LGBT discrimination and abuse and reflect on the power of silence to "make our own voices stronger and to begin to stop silencing ourselves." Religious organizations endorsing the Day of Silence include Omaha Unitarian Universalists for Tolerance; Ravenna United Methodist Church, Seattle; Al-Fatiha Foundation; American Catholic Church in Nevada; the National Council of Jewish Women; and (soon) the IWG. The event was a huge success in terms of media focus on conditions faced by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students. The Religious Right put out numerous alerts and press releases, which may have helped generate some publicity, but created the unfortunate impression that religious reaction was only negative. Fortunately, most media outlets ignored them. Despite Religious Right calls for widespread counter-protests, the only serious conflicts seem to have occurred in Wisconsin, where the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that students at fourteen schools were harassed by, and some clashed with, members of Wisconsin Christians United, who carried signs saying, "Got AIDS Yet?" The Tacoma News Tribune reported as many as 250 students at Emerald Ridge High School cut school or were kept home by parents to protest the protest.

Religious Right Reaction to the Day of Silence

The Culture and Family Institute's, Peter LaBarbera confused individual students with advocacy organizations, saying: "This movement has budgets in the millions of dollars, very powerful lobby groups, they're over-represented in legislatures all across the country in terms of the influence they have relative to their tiny numbers. So it's a big stretch to say this is a victimized movement."

The American Family Association sent out an alert urging people to make "the Christian response" to the Day of Silence: "Truth Without Interruption Day." The Family Research Council's Ken Connor spoke on the same theme, saying: ""the pro-family movement and the church have a golden opportunity to speak the truth about homosexuality and have it be heard." And Linda Harvey of Mission:America said: "We want to take advantage of this opportunity while the other side is silent for a day to get the facts out there to kids."

The most bizarre reaction came from Rabbi David Eidensohn, director of the National Non-Sectarian Council of Pro-Family Activists, who called the Day of Silence "an assault on our school system by terrorists." He called on religious groups to file for court orders of protection for children of "biblical inclinations" to protect them from the sponsoring "hate groups," and said: "We must sue them immediately. We must demand compensation for every nickel of taxpayer money that was lost because of their campaign of agitation against the lawful school system. We must claim damages in lowered earning skills for all students who could not learn because of the homosexual activists and their disturbances."

The Traditional Values Coalition highlighted the National Non-Sectarian Council of Pro-Family Activists and Wisconsin Christians United, and claimed that the real objective was to "establish policies that will silence opposition to the spread of sodomy among teenagers."

Media Coverage of the Day of Silence

On April 4, a Tacoma News Tribune editorial highlighted students' "well-established constitutional right to express even controversial beliefs in a non-disrup-tive way," and Puyallup School District's ban on promotion, endorsement, or sponsorship of such activities.

Favorable articles about participation were in the Tennesean, Juneau (AK) Empire, Albany (NY) Times Union, Kalamazoo (MI) Gazette, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Cincinnati Enquirer, Arizona Republic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Kansas City Star, USA Today, Eugene (OR) Register-Guard, Santa Fe New Mexican and The Technique (GA Tech).

The AP distributed a mostly-favorable story about events around the country but concluded with a quote from Robert Knight of the Culture and Family Institute about staying quiet indefinitely.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on events at various Bay Area schools, including a principal joining participating students in the lunchroom after other students threw food at them. They also mentioned protests by Wisconsin Christians United but omitted the altercations reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and they concluded with the AP Knight quote.

The Bucks County Courier Times ran an article about observances at the George School, a private Quaker institution.

Presbyterian Church (USA)

The PCUSA News Service reports that Paul Rolf Jensen has filed charges against two more clergy for violating their ordination vows, one in the Presbytery of Twin Cities (MN) and one in the Presbytery of New York City. Jensen has filed charges against fifteen ministers and one elder in nine presbyteries.

First Presbyterian Church of Sebastian, FL has appealed the ruling preventing it from applying its own ordination standards. As part of its April 14 ruling in Wier v. Second Presbyterian, Fort Lauderdale, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission included guidelines for future complaints under G-6.0106b. According to an analysis from TAMFS (That All May Freely Serve), complaints must be specific, sin must be self-acknowledged, governing bodies are in the best position to examine a candidate's quailfications and determine whether the "self-acknowledgement is plain, palpable, and obvious," and GLBT individuals may not be singled out for different questioning without reasonable cause.

Chestnut Hill UMC and Drexel Hill UMC

Congratulations to Drexel Hill UMC and Chestnut Hill UMC on their recent votes to become Reconciling congregations. According to an announcement from the Reconciling Ministries Network, members of Drexel Hill UMC spent six weeks studying the denominationally-approved "The Church and Homosexuality" study before voting to become a Reconciling congregation in response to their grave concerns about the hurtful actions taken by the 2000 General Conference toward GLBT people.

According to a press release, ninety-two percent of Chestnut Hill UMC's members voted to become a Reconciling congregation after six months of study, including seventeen events focusing on issues of faith and sexual orientation. Chestnut Hill's pastor, IWG supporter Rev. Dr. Hal Taussig, noted that the Reconciling designation "includes advocacy for gay ordination, affirmation of services celebrating the sacred union of same sex couples, and the elimination of any intimation that homosexuality is a sin."

"This study has actually brought us much more than clarity on the issue of faith and sexual orientation. It has also built important new levels of trust in the congregation. We learned to talk with one another on a deeper level about other topics, because we took on this difficult subject," said Leslie Cheeseman, chair of Chestnut Hill's Reconciling Congregation Task Force.

"We believe that God loves persons of all sexual orientations equally. We see the history of discrimination against gays and lesbians in churches as a violation of this love of God. We hope that we and the larger United Methodist Church can continue to learn how to become freer of the homophobia that has so long scarred both churches and gays and lesbians," said Joy Bergey, the church's lay leader.

Chestnut Hill UMC has approximately twenty openly-GLBT persons attending worship. This is only one of the increasing population segments of the church, which has been growing slowly and steadily for the past ten years. "Since we already welcome people of all sexual orientations, some persons have wondered why we needed to take this official step to declare our welcome," said Rev. Linda Noonan-Ngwane, the church's other pastor. "Our congregation felt this was necessary because of the United Methodist denomination's stand against full GLBT participation. This vote helps people understand that this particular congregation is a welcoming one."

Another Minister's Marriage Policy

Rev. Rhett D. Baird, of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fayetteville, AR, became the latest minister to officially stop performing civil marriages by issuing this personal proclamation:

Based upon my experience, my well considered deliberations and the values which shape my life, I have come to believe that the state of Arkansas has no right to withhold the legal protections of the status of marriage to persons because of their gender.

I have come to believe that the state of Arkansas has no right to say that a love that exists between two adults has no standing in law because the gender of one of the persons is not pleasing to the state.

I have come to believe that love does not come into being nor thrive and grow and sustain the lives of people to please the state.

The state, I believe was created and exists to serve the people - all of the people - and to promote life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - of all its citizens.

Therefore, effective July 1, 2002, I will impose a one year moratorium on my acting as an agent on behalf of the state. During that period, I will honorably and joyfully create and officiate at religious ceremonies that honor and celebrate the love between two people, but I will not sign marriage certificates legalizing a bond that is not accessible to all persons, without regard to gender. Couples eligible for such legal sanction may choose to seek out the nearest civil office to do the duty of the state.

During this self imposed moratorium and protest against what I have come to believe are unjust laws in this state on this subject, I shall function only in my ecclesiastical role as an ordained minister in the Unitarian Universalist tradition and shall respectfully refrain from acting as an agent of the state.

This is a thoughtfully considered private act of conscience, a symbolic gesture of values held that must be lived out, and is not intended to represent any other person or group other than my authentic self.

Allentown

According to the Allentown Morning Call, Allentown is now the two-hundred and twentieth municipality in the country to list sexual orientation in its non-discrimination ordinance and the first city in Pennsylvania to explicitly list gender identity.

Other School News

The Torrence (CA) School District voted to ban GLIDE, a Beverly Hills-based GLBT educational organization, from speaking at the annual North High Human Relations Convention. The Anti-Defamation League considered boycotting the event because of the ban, according to the Torrence Daily Breeze.

The American Family Association reports that the Pacific Justice Institute is representing three teachers in Hayward, CA who were required to attend in-service staff development programs that "promoted" GLBT teenagers; the teachers claim that attendance violated their civil rights. A Hayward Daily Review editorial said: "...we're very concerned about using religion to defend one's right to insensitivity."

The Gilbert, IA school district voted against adding sexual orientation to its anti-harassment policy. According to the Des Moines Register, seven parents "questioned whether school policy should have moral values different from those of a student's church,"

According to an AP story, all five members of the Three Bay County School Board in Panama City, FL declared that homosexuality was a sin, and one board member stated in a public meeting that the board was "morally, ethically and Christian based."

The Broward County (FL) School Board ratified a pact with GLSEN to provide district employees with material and training "to expand their understanding of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students." The decision was a reversal of a vote taken last October, and was opposed by Rev. D. James Kennedy's Center for Reclaiming America, headquartered in Coral Gables, FL.

United Methodist Church

The Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious concerns heard a report on reaction to their intent to conduct a series of dialogues "on issues related to homosexuality and the unity of the church" according to the United Methodist News Service (UMNS). The UMNS article outlined five reactions: distress that the conversation about homosexuality would be kept alive following a strong vote for current policy in 2000; anger and resentment against being asked to engage in discussions that deepen pain and woundedness; distress that heterosexuals would discuss gays and lesbians as an "issue;" gratitude that the commission seeks to maintain unity; and confusion that so much effort is being focused on this one issue.

ELCA

According to the ELCA News Service, the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has approved $1.15 million for a six year project to study "several topics related to homosexuality and human sexuality."



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