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

Bethlehem September 11

At an ecumenical September 11 service at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem sponsored by the Greater Bethlehem Area Council of Churches, a participating minister asked, "Where were you when God needed you, when prayer was taken out of schools and we started allowing same-sex marriages?" The Allentown Morning Call has featured extensive coverage and commentary about the remarks and reaction to the remarks.

Rev. Elizabeth Goudy, of the Metropolitan Community Church of the Lehigh Valley, participated in the service and asked First Presbyterian and the Council of Churches for statements of regret and intent. A letter from Rev. Goudy to members and friends of MCCLV on their website says in part: "I want to especially thank this evening the gay and lesbian couples of MCCLV. After sitting through a spiritually hostile and horrifying worship service, we were all asked to go to the front of the church with candles to close the service. The couples of MCCLV walked out proudly holding hands!!!! What a powerful image of showing truth to power! What a powerful witness! What a powerful example of living out MCCLV's Vision of 'bold and courageous action.'"

A letter from the senior pastor and the clerk of session of First Presbyterian of Bethlehem to the Rev. Goudy and members of MCCLV said in part: "It was unfortunate that at a moment when we were gathered as Christians to send a greater message of hope and national unity, your community was wounded. We especially regret that this occurred within the walls of our household of faith. We also acknowledge that there is much diversity within the Christian community. However, we're saddened when that diversity causes division rather than unity around Jesus Christ."

The Morning Call reported that the Greater Bethlehem Area Council of Churches issued a statement which said in part: "it is with deep sadness and regret that, for some, the service exacerbated divisions that are already within the religious community, causing pain and anger."

The Easton Express-Times reported on September 26 that Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church congregation will be picketing churches in the Bethlehem area in reaction to these events some time in December.

Miami-Dade Result

On September 10, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) issued a press release claiming victory in the ballot initiative to remove sexual orientation from Miami-Dade's non-discrimination ordinance. The release quoted NGLTF's Lori L. Jean: "Twenty-five years ago, Anita Bryant passed an anti-gay ballot measure virtually identical to the one that was resoundingly defeated tonight. Thankfully, this time, the people of Miami-Dade County have sent the Christian Coalition and its small band of gay-obsessed zealots packing! Best of all, tonight's victory signals the death knell of what has been the favored tactic of religious political extremists for the last decade-trying to foist their brand of bigotry on everyone through anti-gay ballot measures."
An Equal Partners In Faith (EPF) press release quoted EPF director Sylvia Rhue and the Rev. Donna Schaper, senior pastor of Coral Gables Congregational Church. Rhue said, "As progressive people of faith, we rejoice with the people of Miami-Dade who have chosen inclusion over discrimination. This should send a strong message to Religious Right activists that most people- including people of faith-do not share their extreme and divisive agenda." The Rev. Schaper said, "People of faith played a key role in making this victory happen. Alongside others, we worked hard to counter the misinformation of the Religious Right and to promote a more inclusive society for all Miami-Dade citizens."

Religious Right organizations were particularly alarmist before the vote, but afterward promised to keep trying to overturn the ordinance. In their September 4 report, the Culture and Family Institute (CFI) said that one-hundred NGLTF volunteers would be going to Miami before the election, and noted that people trained by NGLTF have previously worked to convince people not to sign petitions to put anti-gay measures on the ballot, an activity CFI characterizes as "harassment." On September 5 the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) escalated this dubious criticism into a crisis, reporting that CFI had said that NGLTF was "sending 100 militants to Florida to harass citizens who are trying to overturn a pro-homosexual ordinance in Miami/Dade County."

After the election, TVC reported that the activists had been sent to harass voters. In post-election analysis CFI claimed that proponents "nearly pulled off an upset victory" in the 53-47% vote and predicted that "resistance will grow to this radical agenda." Focus on the Family quoted the executive director of Family First of Florida: "I don't think, ultimately, it reflects the will of the people in the Miami-Dade area."

Soulforce Return to Lynchburg

Soulforce executive director Mel White and his partner Gary Nixon moved from California to a house across from Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA, and are attending services there. The move was covered by the Lynchburg News and Advance, the Lynchburg ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates, AP, and Religion News Service. Stories appeared in papers as far away as Seattle and England. It was a front-page Washington Post story, White and Nixon were interviewed by several radio stations, and they appeared on CNN Sunday after turning down a Crossfire debate. The bulk of the Sept. 19 Falwell Confidential was devoted to a criticism of Rev. White, the move, and pro-GLBT theology.

Letterhead Changes

We are pleased to announce the additions of Rev. Deborah L. Coggin, Vision of Hope MCC (replacing Rev. Christen Chew); Rev. Fred Day, First United Methodist Church of Germantown; and Rev. Melanie Morel Sullivan, The Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill. The number of official supporters ebbs and flows with the seasons, but the 101 names on the current letterhead are the most we have ever had.

Jewish Bulletin of Northern California

The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California reported that their board of directors voted unanimously to "print homosexual unions alongside heterosexual announcements" under "weddings" in the lifecycles section. The Bulletin reports that they were the first Jewish paper in the nation to run commitment ceremony announcements and are now the first to list them under weddings. The article quoted Board President Louis Hass: "We thought it was time to acknowledge that gay and lesbian couples join together and form families just as heterosexual couples do. Especially given the times and the area which the Bulletin serves, it only makes sense to treat all Jewish couples the same in our lifecycles section." At least one of the partners must be Jewish, the couple must have participated in a public Jewish ceremony, and the couple must have filed in some city or town as registered domestic partners. The article concluded with a quote from editor and publisher Marc Klein: "Undoubtedly, our move will be followed by other Jewish newspapers, as their communities better understand the important role gays and lesbians play in Jewish life."

The Topeka, KS city council voted 5-4 against extending the city's non-discrimination ordinance to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and voted 7-2 to toughen penalties hate crime penalties only after voting 8-1 to remove the words "sexual orientation, gender identity or expression." Testimony against equal protection for GLBT people came from members of Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church, and Rabbi Yehuda Levin of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, who was invited by the County Treasurer to come from New York to speak, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. The paper interviewed Rabbi Lawrence P. Karol, of Temple Beth Sholom (Topeka) who pointed out that Rabbi Levin was known for his opposition to Congressional funding of the Holocaust Museum because of its inclusion of sexual minorities and gypsies.
Archbishop of Canterbury

The BBC reported that in a farewell speech to the Anglican Consultative Council, outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. George Carey criticized pro-GLBT bish-ops and called disagreement over sexual issues between traditionalists and liberals his greatest worry. The BBC also noted his mention of globalization, September 11's aftermath, and the clash of world religions.

Life Partnership in Philadelphia

In 1998, Philadelphia's City Council passed three Life Partnership ordinances providing limited benefits to same-gender couples; they passed after considerable religious debate and with extensive support from religious organizations, congregations and clergy in the city. Support for the ordinances was originally primarily organized by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, and opposition by Bill Devlin of the Urban Family Council.

On August 29, in a suit instigated by Bill Devlin, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that provisions in two of the ordinances are invalid. Stacey L. Sobel, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, called the ruling "a travesty for lesbian and gay couples in Philadelphia." On August 31 the Philadelphia Inquirer profiled three couples who would lose their city benefits, in which Devlin was quoted as saying the ruling was a victory for Philadelphia and the nation.

On September 4 The Inquirer reported that the mayor, who originally opposed the ordinances, has announced his intent to appeal the ruling to the State Supreme Court and to request a stay of the opinion so that couples can continue receiving benefits. Devlin was quoted again: "It's unfortunate that John, as a man of faith and a Seventh-Day Adventist, has decided to appeal something his own denomination doesn't support. I guess John Street feels he knows more than God on this one."

The September 12 Culture and Family Institute Report had an article devoted largely to quotes from Devlin that concluded with a variation on the Inquirer quotes: "Urban Family's victory at the PA Commonwealth Court level has been the most significant pro-marriage legal victory in this nation in a decade It is unfortunate that, now, the City of Philadelphia has appealed the decision-and those leading the charge for the appeal, our mayor and our city solicitor, both claim to be evangelical, born-again Christians. In fact, our city solicitor, who is filing the appeal in favor of 'gay' marriage, is the former co-chair of the 1992 Billy Graham crusade."

On September 6 the Inquirer reported that the executive director of the Human Relations Commission assured those at a meeting at William Way that all of the rights provided would remain in place.

New Hope

On September 10, New Hope became the first borough in Pennsylvania to pass a non-discrimination law including sexual orientation, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Inquirer quoted favorable testimony from both the Rev. Charles Stevens of the Unitarian Universalist Church of New Hope and IWG supporter Rabbi Sandy Roth Parian of Kehilat HaNahar.

Rudy Nemser

The Rev. Rudy Nemser, former minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill and one of the first clergy people to sign on to the IWG letterhead, died of cancer on August 3 at his home in Massachusetts; he was 74 years old. A memorial service will be held at UUCCH, 401 North Kings Highway, Cherry Hill, on Saturday, October 26 at 2 pm. Rev. Nemser's obituary is available online

Bill O'Reilly vs. Stephen Bennett

To the dismay of the Religious Right, Fox TV host Bill O'Reilly, generally considered to be extremely conservative, gave an interview to The Advocate in which he was fairly supportive of equal rights for gay and lesbian people and dismissive of the Religious Right. This led to charges by Concerned Women for America (CWA), parent organization of the Culture and Family Institute, that O'Reilly is not a "real Irish Catholic," and a subsequent appearance on O'Reilly's show by Stephen Bennett, ex-gay spokesperson for CWA, in which O'Reilly noted that CWA President Sandy Rios called O'Reilly "an exemplary example of the American Christian who does not know what God's word said." The interview consisted largely of arguing about the purpose of the Bible, the meaning of certain Bible passages, the nature of the trinity, whether O'Reilly is really Irish Catholic, and whether Bennett is really a religious fanatic.

An American Family Association statement said O'Reilly had "crossed the line," wondered "why such an intelligent man would stoop to such personal attacks" and claimed O'Reilly was "being insulting to millions of Christians who are faithful to Jesus Christ." In a WorldNetDaily commentary, Bennett said O'Reilly turned from "Dr. Jeckyl to Mr. Hyde" and his "views on 'gay' marriage and homosexual adoptions don't hold water-and are in complete rebellion to that of Jesus, the Bible, as well as the Catholic Church." The day after the Bennett interview, O'Reilly interviewed Baptist minister Rev. Charles Kimball, chairman of the Wake Forest University religion department and author of "When Religion Becomes Evil;" they discussed the interview and the hate mail he'd received since the day before.









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