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

Unprecedented Positive Coverage

We have seen more newspaper coverage of pro-GLBT religious organizations, congregations and clergy during the previous month than we can ever remember seeing before.

Hendersonville (NC) Times News: long letter from local PFLAG secretary inviting affirming houses of worship in area to participate in Coming Out Day. Oregonian: coverage of seminar conducted by New Ways Ministry (founded by Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Rev. Robert Nugent). Providence Journal: profile of Rev. Richelle C. Russell, lesbian senior minister of 600-member First Unitarian Church. Arizona Daily Star: long article about Luminarias de Cristo, new Tucson More Light Presbyterians chapter. Detroit News: profile of host of Whosoever with Dr. Selma, local Christian lesbian TV talk show. Cleveland Jewish News: report on eighteenth anniversary of GLBT Reform congregation Chevrei Tikva. San Antonio Express-News: pre-event story about participation of pro-GLBT United Methodist minister in interfaith forum on "Homosexuality in the Word of God" at San Antonio's First Unitarian Universalist Church. Ohio University Post: articles about Coming Out Jewish and Coming Out Christian services on campus. New Orleans Times Picayune: report on National Coming Out Day service at First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans. Reno Gazette-Journal: report on opposition to Nevada's anti-marriage ballot Question 2 by fourteen "Reform Judaism, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Unitarian Universalist" clergy. National Catholic Reporter: report on meeting of Gay and Lesbian Alumni of the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary's College. Southeast Missourian: report on religious panel organized by Rainbow Alliance of Southeast Missouri State University. North Texas Daily: report on public discussion of "homosexuality in the afterlife" between ministers from Harvest Metropolitan Community Church and Denton Bible Church. Knoxville News-Sentinel: story about Rev. Greg Dell appearing at University of Tennessee to discuss "The Controversy over Same-Sex Marriage and the Church." Sacramento Bee: long article about Rabbi Brad Bloom of Congregation B'nai Israel, his repentance for not being welcoming enough, and events at synagogue to welcome gay and lesbian Jews, including two special services and screening of Trembling Before G-d. New York Times: announcement for commitment service at St. Peter's Episcopal Church led by Roman Catholic priest. Tacoma News Tribune: report on disagreement between pro-GLBT Associated Ministries of Tacoma-Pierce County and anti-GLBT Tacoma Ministerial Alliance over effort to repeal Tacoma's sexual orientation non-discrimination law. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: story about Reformation Sunday service for pro-GLBT Presbyterians at Calvary St. Andrew's Parish. St. Petersburg (FL) Times: report on Shower of Stoles display at Lakewood United Church of Christ. Journal News (White Plains, NY): report on pro-GLBT Reformation Sunday service at South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry.

Soulforce Returns to Lynchburg

On Saturday, October 26, the Interfaith Working Group participated in the Soulforce-organized "OUT and ABOUT in Lynchburg," the first ever pride event in Lynchburg, VA. Other organizations participating in the event included the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, People For the American Way, Q-Spirit, Planned Parenthood of Lynchburg, New Beginnings Christian Church of Richmond, Lynchburg Friends Meeting, First Christian Church in Lynchburg, Roanoke Chapter of PFLAG, Al-Fatiha, GLAAD, Equal Partners in Faith, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The event was preceded by a press conference with Art Scott, an "out and proud" graduate of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University; Rev. Roger Zimmerman, pastor of First Christian Church (the host church for the Soulforce weekend in Lynchburg); Rev. Mel White of Soulforce, and Faisal Alam, founder and director of Al-Fatiha. Soulforce and Al-Fatiha had previously issued a joint statement denouncing Falwell's accusations against Muhammad on CBS's 60 Minutes.

During the event a crowd of hundreds, including dozens of students from Lynchburg area high schools and colleges, heard numerous speakers and entertainers, including Christian Country and Western Singer Scott Schoen; an MCC member from Austin, TX; Peggy Campolo of Central Baptist in Wayne, PA; Rev. Steven Baines, People For the American Way; MCC Gospel singer Rev. David North, from Washington, DC; transgender activist Judy Osborne; Philadelphia-area poet Laurie Pollack; Rev. Dr. Lisa Wilson Davison, Professor of Old Testament at Lexington Theological Seminary; Mary Lou Wallner, an evangelical Christian whose daughter committed suicide in 1997; and Christian de la Huerta of Q-Spirit, who led the crowd in a closing meditative ritual.

About a dozen protestors carrying anti-gay signs and armed with a bullhorn harangued the crowd from the perimeter of the event for most of the afternoon. The Lynchburg News and Advance identified two protestors as clergy, including the pastor of Lynchburg's Grace Presbyterian Church.

On Sunday From 7:30 am until noon, 150 people stood in prayerful vigil across the street from Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC). The line of Soulforce supporters, wearing Soulforce shirts and carrying banners and Stop Spiritual Violence signs, stretched for two blocks along Thomas Road and one block along the side of the TRBC complex. Several Soulforce volunteers in suits and dresses stood directly outside the church greeting people as they arrived. Soulforce supporters came from as far away as Hawaii, and included at least five people from the Philadelphia area, including three from Central Baptist and one from Tabernacle United Church. A banner with a quote from Gandhi was at one corner: "Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good." Mounted directly across the street from the front door of the church was another banner that said "Southern Baptist teachings are killing God's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children."

Two counter-protestors carrying a giant cross and "repent" signs stood quietly near the church facing the Soulforce line. Three other counter-protestors stood within a few feet of the Soulforce line with a large yellow and black sign that said "homosexuality is a sin," and spent most of the morning screaming about "sodomites" and "judgment day." They also called two young women who came out from TRBC to offer donuts to the Soulforce people "sodomites." One told the News and Advance that "he might have been a little carried away" when he screamed "God hates you."

During the course of the vigil several people from the neighborhood talked to the Soulforce supporters, and after the service about a dozen of the estimated 4,000 people in attendance shook hands and said hello. "The purpose of the weekend events was to alert, educate, and begin to mobilize the residents of Lynchburg to stand up and speak out against the toxic rhetoric spoken by Christian fundamentalists like Rev. Jerry Falwell," said Rev. Mel White. "The pride event celebrated who we are and who God created us to be. The vigils called attention to the fact that fundamentalist rhetoric leads to violence and suffering for God's GLBT Children." Two thousand pamphlets titled What the Bible Says - and Doesn't Say - About Homosexuality, were distributed at the event on Saturday, in front of Thomas Road Baptist Church on Sunday, and in a door-to-door campaign earlier in the week.

The weekend's events were covered by local television and newspapers, the Liberty University Press, the Roanoke Times, and the Associated Press. There was a large paragraph on page 3 of the USA Today, and the entire pride festival was filmed by the PBS show Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.

Quote from a Lynchburg Resident

The following quote from an anonymous resident of Lynchburg was sent to a Soulforce-related email list, and is reproduced here with permission:

Being one of the semi-closeted Lynchburg residents I just wanted to thank all you who have supported this action. I have talked to many of my GLBT friends and through this experience many of us have been empowered to be more open and honest with our lives. I have struggled with this for many years knowing that the majority of my friends and family are very strong Christians with a very Fundamentalist doctrinal bent. So through these past few years I have lost most of my friends and family since they so strongly disagree with my finally living the life that God intended for me. So this past weekend gave me the chance to see that there are many people who were willing to sacrifice time, money and themselves to help my small city and I. It also allowed me to experience what it could be like living "Out and proud" and gave me numerous examples of people who are living their lives fully as themselves. So again I thank you for all that Soulforce has given to Lynchburg.

News from Americans United

The U.S. House voted against the House of Worship Political Speech Protection Act 239-178, a bill backed by the Christian Coalition, American Family Association, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Wallbuilders, Concerned Women for America, American Center for Law and Justice, National Right to Life Committee, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Kennedy, and Dr. Richard Land (iSouthern Baptist Convention). The Department of Health and Human Services announced that a "demonstration grant" has gone to Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing from the Compassion Capital Fund. In February of 2001 Robertson said on the 700 Club that he was opposed to government funding of religious groups.

Murder in California

Gwen Araujo, a Newark, CA transgender seventeen-year-old, was murdered at a party, allegedly by a group of guests who had discovered that she did not fit their gender definitions. The case has been reported by the AP and received extensive coverage in California papers. In general, news reports have been consistent in placing the attack in a context of ongoing anti-transgender violence, but extremely inconsistent in their use of gender pronouns. Several papers noted that the local high school was working on a production of The Laramie Project at the time of the murder, but Araujo's murder has not resulted in the level of religious reaction that Matthew Shepard's did. A press release from the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns said:

The members and friends of The UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns are deeply saddened and angered as we have learned of the fearful, hate motivated and cruel circumstances of the untimely death of Gwen (Eddie) Araujo of Newark, California.

In our prayers we reach out in love and sympathy to Gwen's family and friends. In our prayers we reach out to hold in our hearts all the youth in the Bay area, in the world, that they might know such cruelty and injustice is not the last word; that there is reason to hope for a world transformed by love and understanding.

In our prayers we reach out to those who perpetrated this crime and others who have done likewise, that they might take responsibility for their actions, and that their punishment be just and humane. In our prayers we ask God to heal the feelings of revenge and fury; to transform our response to this horror into a passion for change and reconciliation among all people.

It was 1997 when the United Church Coalition for Lesbian & Gay Concerns adopted the name by which we are now known, The United Church of Christ Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns. In these five years we have gained even greater understanding than we had then about the call for us and for our churches to truly welcome people of all gender identities, as well as lesbian, gay and bisexual people. We've also become clearer about the necessity of the church to speak out immediately to protect transgender people and to extend civil rights protections to include transgender persons. The lives and well being of other human beings are at risk and cannot wait until the rest of us understand fully our prejudices and fears.

We are supported in our stance by the President of the United Church of Christ, Rev. John Thomas and other national UCC leadership who have said about this crime "Gwen's death is a shocking reminder of the fear, prejudice and ignorance that fuel the power of hate to diminish and destroy life. These events also cry out to us that this is not what God intends. There is much work to be done before we attain the vision of God's community - This is not a time for silence, indifference and complacency. It is a time for speaking out and listening; it is a time for compassion and solidarity; it is a time for learning, advocacy and risking new ways of being community."

Gwen (Eddie) Araujo is the 26th person to be killed since last year's Day of Remembrance held in November 2001. This is double the number killed last year and substantially higher than the annual average of transgender people murdered over the past decade for being themselves. The Day of Remembrance is an annual event held in more than 40 cities across the nation to memorialize those transgender persons killed during the preceding year. This year Remembrance services will be held in most participating communities on Wednesday, November 20, 2002.

We will not be part of the silence which allows such violence to grow. We will not stand by while versions of hate proliferate, too often justified by interpretations of Christian scripture and faith which do not represent what we believe, nor the faith of most Christians. There are resources that can help us learn and respond, such as the "Transgender Pocket" of the "Open and Affirming Study Packet" which we have published (www.uccCoalition.org), Transgender Good News by Pat Conover and other books on this subject published by Pilgrim Press (www.pilgrimpress.com/cat-3.html)

It is our hope that everyone in this country would take to heart these final words, quoting again from the letter from our church's leadership, "There is no reason to remain in the dark about the transgender realities among us. We can learn, we can grow and we can act."

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Judicial charges have been filed against four more Presbyterian clergy in New York State.

An elder from the Los Ranchos Presbytery is attempting to declare an official constitutional crisis and force a reconvening of the General Assembly to deal with the growing number of congregations and clergy who have publicly announced non-discriminatory ordination and marriage policies. The Book of Order requires that he collect signatures from a geographically diverse group of fifty commissioners to the previous General Assembly. In early November he announced that he was "breathtakingly closes" with forty-four. The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly sent a letter to all commissioners asking them not to sign.

According to Presbyterian Promise, nationwide, over twenty congregations held Reformation Sunday services to "offer support and recognition to individuals and congregations who continue to heed God's call to inclusion despite threats of discipline and invitations to lead the denomination." At South Church in Dobbs Ferry, NY, a regional celebration for churches and individuals from the Presbyteries of New York City, Hudson River and Southern New England included a reaffirmation of the ordinations of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Demonstrating Christian Diversity?

A debate between Fred Phelps and John Rankin on the question "Does God hate homosexuals?" was held at the Open Bible Church of Casper, WY on the fourth anniversary of Matthew Shepard's murder. According to an AP article, "the debate was organized by local pastors as a way to show that Phelps does not represent Christians on homosexual issues." Both Phelps and Rankin are anti-gay.

Father Paul Washington

Father Paul Washington died Monday, October 7, at the age of 81. Father Washington is remembered for his involvement in many causes, but we especially remember him as one of the first clergy people to sign on to the IWG letterhead, and for his willingness to make personal appearances at press conferences, services, panels and talk shows in favor of domestic partnership benefits and marriage for same-gender couples.









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