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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
February 2003


Presbyterian Church (USA) Becomes Even More Contentious

The investigating committee appointed by the Presbytery of the Redwoods announced on Dec. 4 that they have voted not to bring charges against the Rev. Katie Morrison or anyone involved in her ordination, despite complaints from Paul Rolf Jensen, whose heresy complaint against the Rev. Don Stroud was recently officially ignored by the Baltimore Presbytery.

On Jan. 14, elder Alex Metherell presented PCUSA Moderator Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel with signatures from fifty-seven commissioners to last year's 214th General Assembly (GA) calling for a special reconvening of the GA in order to deal with the growing number of congregations and clergy who have publicly announced non-discriminatory ordination and marriage policies. Fifty signatures are required to force the meeting. Proponents of the meeting disputed Abu-Akel's opinion that the meeting could not be called for 120 days, which would have put it just before the already-scheduled 215th GA. Meeting proponents were also upset that he wrote to each of the signatories, saying, "I implore you in the name of Christ and for the good of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to reconsider your decision." On Jan. 16 the Witherspoon Society posted an opinion from the Stated Clerk of the Philadelphia Presbytery on their web site suggesting that the proposed business for the meeting should simply be ruled out of order. On Jan. 21 The Layman Online reported that Westminster Presbyterian (Canton, OH) had filed a complaint with the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission against Abu-Akel and PCUSA Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick, asking them to order Abu-Akel and Kirkpatrick "to cease all efforts to interfere with recalling the 214th General Assembly into session." The Presbyterian Outlook published a Jan. 21 letter from Metherell to Abu-Akel threatening to sue Abu-Akel in civil court if he had not called the special session by Jan. 27. On Jan. 27 Abu-Akel announced that thirteen of the fifty-seven signatures had been invalidated and that he would not call a special session.

On Jan. 18 Des Moines Presbytery passed (47-32) an overture to the 215th GA to delete the ordination ban from the Book of Order and overturn the related definitive guidance. A similar overture passed the GA in 2001 but was voted down by the presbyteries. The Twin Cities Area Presbytery took no action on the same overture on Jan. 11, apparently because some who had previously supported it feel it is politically inexpedient this year. On Jan. 23 the anti-GLBT Confessing Church Movement made a preliminary announcement regarding the formation of a more formal organization to be called "The Confessing Church of the PC(USA)," stating in a letter from the Communications team that they are seeking to "BE THE CHURCH within the PC(USA)."

So far these controversies have not attracted much media attention. The AP released three short articles, and the Oakland Tribune mentioned a possible upcoming vote to rescind the ordination ban in a long article about a visit by Georgia-based transgender Presbyterian Minister Rev. Erin Swenson to California to speak to Presbyterians who wanted to learn more about gender issues following the murder of Gwen Araujo.

New Jersey Town Meetings

Lambda Legal and forty-five other organizations, including the new Marriage Equality New Jersey chapter, are holding town meetings throughout the state from January through May titled, "Supporting All Roads to Justice: Marriage Equality in the Courts, Domestic Partnership in the Legislature." A communication from Lambda lists the following religious cosponsors: Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship Church, First Presbyterian Church of Haddonfield, Ethical Culture Society-Bergen, United in Grace, The Oasis, New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Havurah, Unitarian Churches across New Jersey, and More Light Presbyterians. A complete list of meeting dates and locations is available at www.iwgonline.org/events.

The meeting at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship was well-covered in The Record, which quoted extensively from the speakers, including the Rev. Mark Lewis. Lewis, who, along with his partner (also an Episcopal priest) is a plaintiff in the New Jersey marriage suit, said, "The state of New Jersey believes we are perfectly fit to officiate at wedding ceremonies. But it says we are not fit to be married ourselves. It's saying, 'You're good enough to work for us, but you're not good enough to receive what we have to offer.'"

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The ELCA News Service reports that the Rev. Peter Rogness, bishop of the Saint Paul Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), announced January 15 that he had lifted sanctions imposed in 2001 on St. Paul-Reformation Church and another congregation by his predecessor, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, now ELCA Presiding Bishop. St. Paul-Reformation was censured for calling and ordaining the Rev. Anita Hill. The censure remains in place but the sanctions, which forbid participation in synod activities, have been lifted from both congregations. Bishop Rogness' statement said that the congregations "have exhibited vigor and growth that suggest they have much to offer the wider church." Bishop Hansen responded that Bishop Rogness' action "...should not be interpreted as presupposing any changes in ELCA policies."

THIS obedience, a film following the Rev. Anita C. Hill and St. Paul-Reformation from the decision to commit "ecclesiastical disobedience" through the decisions made at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, is available (VHS) through http://thisobedience.com.

Southern Baptist Convention Pressure

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is putting pressure on the city government of Nashville, headquarter city of the SBC and host city for the 2005 convention, not to add sexual orientation or gender to the Fair Employment and Housing ordinance. According to the Baptist Press, the letter from the SBC to the Convention and Visitors Bureau said in part, "...our constituents are telling us today that they do not want to meet in cities where our meeting has to constantly deal with these issues." A Washington Times article indicated that the concern was motivated by last year's Soulforce protest in St. Louis, and is somehow connected to the decision not to bring felony charges against the protestors.

Pro-GLBT Reconstructionist Publicity

Under the headline "Jews reach out," the Sun-Chronicle of Attleboro, MA published an extensive article about a "Keshet Initiative to publicly welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews" by Reconstructionist Congregation Agudas Achim, headed by former Philadelphia-area resident/IWG supporter Rabbi Elyse Wechterman. The interview with Rabbi Wechterman touches on the Reconstructionist movement's history of non-discrimination and encouraging diversity; Jewish understandings of sexuality; the holiness of same-gender marriages; and the rainbow as a symbol of God's covenant with all creation, and therefore as an appropriate symbol for the gay and lesbian community. Rabbi Wechterman says of her congregation, "Families may look different, but they are all Jewish families. We want to make sure that every family is welcome, and make sure their kids are welcome, no matter what their families look like."

Faith2Action

Janet Parschall, former head of D. James Kennedy's Center for Reclaiming America and organizer of the 1998 national anti-gay, pro-ex-gay ad campaign, has disappeared from the Center's web site. She is now president of Faith2Action, a new organization described as a group where "people of faith become people of action, working together to win the cultural war for life, liberty, and the family." The areas of concern listed on the web site are "abortion," "homosexuality," "pornography," "evolution," "liberty," and "family." The first project listed is an anti-abortion ad with the face of a fetus, the phrase "I am an American," an American flag, and the tag line, "America, it's time to protect your children again." The main page lists Concerned Women for America, National Right to Life, and Focus on the Family as partners.

Anglicans and Marriage

The Birmingham News ran a long article reporting that the pastor of Birmingham's largest Episcopal church was one of four prominent theologians who wrote a nationally distributed letter opposing rituals for same-sex unions. According to the article, the letter says a proposal to sanction blessings "flies in the face of the univocal teaching of Hebrew and Christian Scripture." The AP released a story saying that the Anglican Mission in America is expecting "a wave of defectors" if the blessings are adopted, but that growth through schism is not the Mission's goal. The Canadian National Post and the Vancouver Sun reported on the Anglican Church of Canada's Diocese of New Westminster (Vancouver), which had to cut its budget twenty percent after eight parishes stopped paying assessments because of other parishes in the Diocese which are going ahead with plans to perform union ceremonies for same-gender couples.

Family Research Council Quote

In an email note to "Friends of Family Research Council" FRC President Ken Conner responded to the awarding of $500,000 by Special Master Kenneth Feinberg to the lesbian partner of a Pentagon employee killed on September 11, 2001, by saying in part: "Increasingly we are seeing taxpayer dollars doled out to special interest groups that seek to advance a radical anti-family agenda."

Advocate Refers Readers to KTF

Advocate.com, the online version of The Advocate, posted a story on January 10 about Rev. Rhett D. Baird, the Fayetteville, AR UU Minister whose personal marriage proclamation we published in May, 2002. The Advocate article links to the online version of that issue. All the issues since May 1998 are now online, and we're slowly working backwards through the older issues.

More Disfellowshipping

First Baptist Church - United Church of Christ has been disfellowshipped from the Indiana-Kentucky association of the American Baptist Churches for ordaining the Rev. Gene McAfee, a gay man who joined the church as a student and is now leading a congregation in Edinburgh, Scotland, according to an article in the Bloomington Herald-Times.

Disciples of Christ

The Religion News Service reports that Disciple Renewal will try to pressure the denomination to speak out against National Christian Church performing union ceremonies for same-gender couples. Disciple Renewal is listed as a member organization of the Institute on Religion and Democracy's Association for Church Renewal, though the web site pointed to by the IRD says the organization is named Disciple Heritage Fellowship.

Eucharist Trial Update

Soulforce reported that the jury trial for three gay Roman Catholics arrested in November during the US Conference of Catholic Bishops [see last issue] was postponed until January 29. Originally scheduled for January 24, a jury was unavailable that day, and the prosecutor's witnesses were unavailable on January 27 and 28. "I flew in from Seattle for the trial, and I am so exhausted and stressed out from all of this. I am willing to wait until Wednesday for the jury trial we are entitled to under the law because I know we are doing the right thing," said Mike Perez, one of the defendants. "If only the church had done the 'right thing' and served us communion when we asked the first or the second time, none of this would be taking place." The three were charged with unlawful entry for refusing to leave the Hyatt Regency lobby without being served, and face up to six months in jail and up to $350 in fines.

Federal Aid for Your Building Campaign?

Americans United (AU) reports that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will allocate federal money for religious entities to construct buildings for worship as long as sections of the structures are used for social services. Predicting that the policy will prove unworkable, AU Executive Director Rev. Barry Lynn asked, "How is the government to determine when there's too much religious activity in a taxpayer-funded building? My guess is that once these facilities are built with tax funds, no government inspector is ever going to come around and check."

That's One Way of Looking at It

According to a Focus on the Family year-end review in CitizenLink: "Homosexuality received several key endorsements from organizations and personalities in 2002." The organizations and personalities listed were the American Academy of Pediatrics, Rosie O'Donnell, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and the National Education Association.

Conservative Jewish Movement to Reconsider Ban?

The Jewish Week has two articles in their December 27 issue about a possible reconsideration of anti-GLBT marriage and ordination policies in the Conservative movement. IWG supporter Rabbi Leonard Gordon, of the Germantown Jewish Centre, described in the article as "an active Rabbinical Assembly member who is trying to move the movement toward reconsidering its policy," is quoted saying, "Over the past ten years we've seen a serious increase in the number of committed gays and lesbians who are taking active roles in Conservative communities. People who are bringing in questions about raising children, supporting families with same-sex parents, about weddings. This was not the case a decade ago." On January 3 the AP distributed an article saying that Judy Yudof, president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, would ask the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards to reconsider the question. The AP story also mentioned Orthodox and Reform policies. Other articles about a possible policy change appeared in the Chicago Tribune and Austin American-Statesman.



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