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

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Media Attention

In the last few months The Supreme Court ruled against sexual control laws (Lawrence v. Texas); courts in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia ruled against gender discrimination in marriage, resulting in same-gender U.S. and Canadian couples being able to marry legally there; the Episcopal General Conference ratified the election of openly-gay New Hampshire Bishop the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson; Walmart added sexual orientation to their non-discrimination policy; Bride's magazine ran an article on same-gender weddings; Queer Eye for the Straight Guy became a hit; a heresy complaint was filed against Presbyterian minister Rev. James Rigby of Austin; reactions to Bishop Robinson's confirmation were especially strong in Texas and Connecticut; California advanced the rights of domestic partners and transgender individuals; the Pope and President spoke out against equal marriage rights; the Constitutional Marriage Amendment gained support in the Senate; the Phillies hosted Gay Community Night; and the Boy Scouts of America continued to kick people out.

Newspapers across the country dramatically increased coverage of religious and GLBT issues; the stories were often by reporters who had no experience writing about the confluence of these two subjects. Typical articles included local religious reactions to Lawrence v. Texas with quotes from a single anti-gay Baptist minister, or, in one case, two anti-gay Roman Catholic priests. Across Canada small-town papers reported on the first same-gender couple from the town to be legally married; and in the U.S. papers reported on local couples who had traveled to Canada to marry. By early August U.S.newspapers were reporting and editorializing about the fact that they were reporting and editorializing more about GLBT issues than ever before, followed by polls about how people were reacting to the increased coverage, and then coverage of the poll results.

As the summer has worn on the Radical Religious Right has stepped up their increasingly shrill anti-GLBT propagandizing, and letter columns have been filled with pro- and anti-GLBT letters.

The volume of GLBT-related news we receive every day has tripled this summer, and our letter writing output has tripled in response. A movement that has been slowly growing for over thirty years has suddenly become visible and newsworthy. The need for calm, rational, pro-GLBT faith-based voices has never been greater.

Thank You For Your Financial Support

Since July 1 we've received eight donations totaling $1,775, which certainly helps. If every organization on the letterhead gave at least $100 a year, and every clergy person at least $20, we wouldn't really have to worry about money. (Just a suggestion, not a requirement.) We are extremely grateful to the people and institutions both on and off the letterhead who keep us afloat financially.

U.S. Constitutional and Legislative Threats

The Constitutional Marriage Amendment introduced in 2001 has been rapidly picking up support in the Senate and Religious Right organizations. Many people feel that it is highly unlikely that anti-GLBT organizations could convince two thirds of the House and Senate and three quarters of the state legislative bodies to pass it, but there is enough fear, uncertainty and anger evident in the media and communications of the Religious Right that the possibility should not be discounted, especially if a state grants equal marriage rights this year. Even with-out an amendment, the federal government could penalize states that legalize marriage for same-gender couples. Visit www.iwgonline.org/alerts for more information.

Report From WOW

About eight hundred people, mostly pro-GLBT folks from Christian-identified traditions, gathered on the University of Pennsylvania campus in August for Witness Our Welcome 2003 (WOW). The national conference featured five worship services and a variety of plenary sessions and worshops, denominational meetings, prayer and discussion sessions, entertainment, and a resource room. For more info visit wow2k.org.

IWG co-coordinator Chris Purdom held two workshops on local interfaith organizing. The MCC Philadelphia Gospel Choir performed Saturday during dinner; the Hanover Presbyterian Gospel Choir (Wilmington, DE) sang at many of the services. Several events were at Tabernacle United Church. Thursday evening's service was at the Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square, and Saturday morning's service was at the Episcopal Cathedral at 38th and Chestnut.

Protestors from what appeared to be several different organizations carried large signs and bullhorns with siren attachments at most services and outside the conference; they verbally assaulted everyone who passed. At one point a protestor placed a sign between a conference participant and her guide dog, causing her to fall over.

After Thursday night's service, the Hanover Choir, led by Patrick Evans, spilled out onto the sidewalk, dancing, waving steamers, and singing "Freedom's Coming" for over half an hour as folks waited for buses to take them back to Penn. Most of the protestors were overwhelmed and took down their signs, but while leaving, continued to aim a video camera at the worshipers.

At Saturday morning's service a small group of Soulforce volunteers gathered in a circle outside the Cathedral as a protestor with a bullhorn walked around the perimeter, shouting obscenities and calling people in the circle by name. The Soulforce volunteers then formed two lines along the sidewalk to provide a safe passage in and out of the building. Before police arrived to observe, the protestor with the bullhorn walked along the lines, getting in people's faces, shouting questions about their sex lives, and setting off the siren behind their heads. As worshipers came and went, more people joined the Soulforce lines, singing hymns loudly to drown out the protestors and allow worshipers to pass safely in and out.

Letterhead Changes

In the last few months we lost Rabbi Caryn Broitman, Rabbi Susan Marks, Rabbi Brian Walt and Rabbi Lina Zerbarini who have all left the area, and we gained the Rev. Frank Schaffer of St. James UCC, Havertown, and the Rev. Christine Paules of St. Luke's UCC, Philadelphia. Please call us to discuss joining the letterhead.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Despite attempts by anti-GLBT organizations and people within the denomination to derail or delay the process, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly voted to stick to their schedule leading to a final report on homosexuality in 2005, and to continue a relationship with the Episcopal Church, USA. Soulforce volunteers stood vigil throughout at the invitation of the Lutheran Alliance for Full Participation; both groups were prepared to conduct acts of non-violent civil disobedience if the study had been delayed.

Episcopal Church, USA

Volunteers from Soulforce of the Twin Cities stood vigil outside the Episcopal General Convention in Minneapolis during Bishop Robinson's ratification vote in August. In addition to ratifying Bishop Robinson's election in what was likely the first such vote covered by CNN, the General Convention passed resolution C051, "Blessing of Committed Same-Gender Relationships," which caused quite a lot of confusion in the media.

The resolution did not call for the creation of a specific rite, but recognized "that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions." The Presiding Bishop was also directed to oversee creation of resources to help the church in a process of continued prayer, study and discernment.

Immediately after the vote it was reported both that the Bishops had voted against blessing same-gender relationships, and that they voted for blessing them. There were also articles saying that the vote was confusing and that no one was sure what had been decided.

A statement from Integrity said in part: "We believe it is past time for the church to be engaged in the work of crafting common prayer for what is increasingly becoming common practice throughout the Episcopal Church: the celebration and blessing of faithful, monogamous relationships between persons of the same gender living their lives committed to each other and to Christ. However, we understand the language in the fifth resolve clearly to give national license for both the development and practice of liturgical rites for the blessing of same-sex unions. We look forward to working with bishops and commissions on liturgy throughout the church to encourage and enable such rites to be offered to those seeking celebration and blessing of their life long, committed relationships and to assisting the Presiding Bishop in the development of resources to facilitate conversation and discernment."

Reactions to the Episcopal Convention

There have been articles, editorials, columns, letters and polls in papers across the country, with the most extreme reactions reported in Connecticut and Texas.

A group of about fifty ministers from a variety of Christian-identified faith traditions marched on the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut in Hartford to protest Rev. Robinson's election and confirmation as Bishop of New Hampshire. They were met "by an even greater number of Robinson's supporters" according to the AP. The Rev. Wayne Carter, chair of the Hartford School Board, publicly supported the march but did not show up.

Bishop Jack Leo Iker, of the Diocese of Ft. Worth, wrote a long letter which he required all clergy to read to their congregations, in which he said in part, "This General Convention has abandoned the historic teaching of the Church on matters of human sexuality, but we have not and we will not. I repudiate and disassociate us from the decision to consecrate an openly gay man as a Bishop, and I forbid our priests to bless same-sex unions under any circumstances." The Fort Worth Weekly reported that during the 9 am Holy Eucharist on August 10, the rector of a local Episcopal Church "hurled the Episcopal church flag on to the floor in front of the altar" and then proceeded to walk back and forth across it while addressing the congregation; another Episcopal congregation took out a full page ad in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram calling Robinson's election "unconscionable."



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