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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
December 2004 / January 2005

Presbytery of Baltimore Supports Equal Marriage Rights

On November 18 the Presbytery of Baltimore voted 51-35 to support a resolution from Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church supporting civil marriage for same gender couples, adding the Presbytery as a signatory on an amicus brief in the ACLU’s marriage suit against the state of Maryland, and directing the Presbytery to lobby against actions which would limit equal marriage rights.

A letter on the Presbytery web site from Peter Nord, executive presbyter, focuses on unity, exchanging beliefs and holding opposing views in tension. He says in part, “For those who are most discomforted by the decision of Presbytery, I write to say that I know how painful these actions are for you. I hold you in my prayers and invite the Presbytery to join me in those prayers. I am confident that the last Word has not yet been heard. In the coming weeks, I will be inviting a group of the more moderate voices to come together to look at how we do our work as a Presbytery, and I hope that you will support them in their efforts as well.”

To date there has been no official response to the actions of the Presbytery from the denomination, its news service, or any of the pro-GLBT and anti-GLBT organizations within the denomination.

The need for the Presbytery’s support is great. Focus on the Family has announced a January 27 “Defend Maryland Marriage Rally” backed by five hundred churches and organized by state legislators. The first sentence on the rally web site says, “We are not homophobes;” the fifth paragraph begins, “We believe it is necessary that church leaders across Maryland be exposed to the vile and militaristic agenda of the homosexual activist and that they are exposed to their intent to sodomize our children.”

PCUSA Charges Filed Against the Rev. Jane Spahr

An investigating committee of the Presbytery of the Redwoods has filed a charge against the Rev. Jane Adams Spahr, Minister Director of That All May Freely Serve, for fully participating in and signing a legally recognized marriage certificate at the wedding of two men in Ontario. The charges were based on a complaint filed by the Rev. James Berkeley, identified by the PCUSA News Services as “a member of Seattle Presbytery and issues Ministry Director for Presbyterians for Renewal.” According to the TAMFS web site, the two men are staff members of Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester, have been together for twenty years and underwent a year of pre-marital counseling with Rev. Spahr.

In the article on the TAMFS site Rev. Spahr says, “I am so grateful to Redwoods Presbytery, as they have a long history of standing for justice for LGBT people, and they have stood by me and my ministry in this area and throughout the country for the last nearly thirty years. I know how difficult it has been for them to take this step, but I am glad the conversation may now take place.”

United Church of Christ Ads Rejected by Networks

CBS and NBC have refused to air the UCC's "God is still speaking" ad stating that all people are welcome in UCC churches. People for the American Way has a copy of the rejection fax from CBS on their web site. It says: “CBS/UPN Network policy precludes accepting advertising that touches on and/or takes a position on one side of a current controversial issue of public importance. Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations, and the fact that the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the Networks. While moot, we must advise that CBS/UPN does accept advertising from churches and religious organizations which deliver secular messages that are beneficial to society in general. Nevertheless, advertising that proselytizes on behalf of any single religion is not acceptable. In our view, this commercial does proselytize.”

The Christian Post of San Francisco quoted Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler: "It is a piece of masterful propaganda, but it is a diabolical misrepresentation of Christianity."

A statement from the National Religious Leadership Roundtable of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said in part: “Members of the Roundtable, along with progressive faith leaders around the country, have been going about the difficult work of reclaiming the language of faith from the forces of intolerance. It should come as no surprise, however, that challenging the religious right's media hegemony would not come easily. The UCC's groundbreaking campaign represents a courageous step in the struggle of progressive faith leaders to reframe the morality debate to include justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and the Roundtable offers the denomination our sincere appreciation and support."

In his web log on the Shalom Center web site, IWG supporter Rabbi Arthur Waskow said in part, "How repellent! — That the same networks which report with glee the hate-filled rhetoric of some religious groups and that meanwhile make billions from presenting gratuitous violence and rapacious sex refuse to broadcast a message of gentle, loving, inclusive religion. I hope we will all urge their presidents to think again, to repent of this unwise action, and to broadcast the ad."

ABC, Matthew Shepard and the Religious Right

On November 26 the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) issued a statement calling a 20/20 segment on the murder of Matthew Shepard “irresponsible, biased, shameful, and destructive.” Clarence Patton, NCAVP Acting Executive Director said, “One has to question the motivation of the show’s producers in not only attempting to engage in revisionist history, but in doing so at this point in time, as our nation’s lesbian and gay community is fighting for its life to an extent not seen in years.”

An article in the Laramie Boomerang about the reaction of former detective and retired Police Chief Dave O’Malley to the show indicates that the people from the show who interviewed him accidentally left behind copies of emails indicating that they had made up their minds before the interview that the murder of Matthew Shepard was not a hate crime.

Whatever ABC’s motives, Focus on the Family demanded that NBC apologize for Katie Couric’s 1998 question about whether religious belief and teaching, exemplified by the Religious Right’s “Truth in Love” campaign, contributed to the murder (in the November 1999 KTF we reported that McKinney’s lawyer cited McKinney’s accidental visit to a gay church with his girlfriend as a motivating factor in his panic defense). The 20/20 story has been reported as fact by the Family Research Council and the Baptist Press.

Soulforce Roman Catholic Vigils

For the fifth year in a row Soulforce, Inc. kept vigil at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual meeting November 14-17 in Washington, DC.

On November 9 over two hundred people participated in eleven vigils across the country in the Soulforce “National Call to Prayer and Vigils,” held in conjunction with Licensed Affiliated Soulforce Local Groups and two independent organizations. Events were held at local Catholic Chanceries. Each group tried to establish dialogue with the local bishop first but if requests were ignored or denied vigils took place. In Oklahoma and Cleveland the bishops granted the request.

The vigil at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Chancery started at 9:15 am and ended at 2:00 pm. Twenty-five people participated throughout the very cold day, with as many as thirteen at any one time, including people from Soulforce Philadelphia and Dignity Philadelphia, a member of Call to Action, an ELCA minister, an ELCA church administrator, an ordained American Baptist, a Presbyterian elder and a former Catholic priest.

Marriage Votes

Eleven states passed Constitutional bans against equal (or in some states, any) rights for same-gender couples and the vote was only remotely close in Oregon. While discouraging, please remember that:

  1. even though marriage for same-gender couples has been a practice in some religious traditions in this country for over 30 years, many people have life-long personal gender-specific definitions of marriage, and have only started considering other definitions since the Massachusetts ruling;
  2. the measures were backed by the Presidential candidates from the two largest parties;
  3. the measures were fervently backed by two of the largest religious organizations in the country: the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, and by every Religious Right organization;
  4. the measures were largely poorly written and not well understood by voters;
  5. the measures are probably not defensible to a U.S. Constitutional challenge under Romer v. Evans;
  6. both the passed state Constitutions and the proposed U.S. Constitutional Amendment depend on the continued use of the word “marriage” in U.S. law; and
  7. there was very little appreciable difference between the votes and public opinion polls, which show that this idea is new to most people, does not fit well into their existing worldviews and is officially opposed by large and influential religious organizations yet has the consistent support of 30-40% of the American populace.

In the meantime, real families in Michigan have lost real benefits. Focus on the Family reports that the governor has announced that state workers will not be allowed to keep their domestic partnership benefits following passage of the constitutional ban on marriage and “similar unions.”

Focus on the Family and Repent America

Focus on the Family’s reports about Repent America at Outfest (KTF, 11/04) move further from the truth with each retelling. An article in the December first issue of FoF’s CitizenLink, entitled, “Hymn Singing Christians Fight Back,” begins: “Some evangelists face a possible 47 years in prison for doing nothing more than showing up at a gay pride event. Eleven Christians facing prison time for singing hymns… are fighting back with a federal lawsuit challenging the charges against them.”

Pennsylvania Science Education

On November 30 the San Francisco Chronicle reported on religiously-motivated anti-evolution teaching in public schools, focusing on the school board of Dover, PA, which voted 6-3 in October to mandate the teaching of “intelligent design” to ninth graders.

Liberty Counsel to Sue for Entanglement

Liberty Counsel, the legal arm of Jerry Falwell’s organizations, has announced what they refer to as their “second annual nationwide campaign to prevent blatant religious discrimination during the holidays,” where “holidays” is clearly meant as a reference to Christian holidays. Their stated goal is to sue “any governmental agency that discriminates against the public displays of religious symbols or songs,” and defend “any governmental agency which abides by the Constitution and allows the equal expression of religious views.” In other words the same organization that filed the most lawsuits to prevent equal marriage rights around the country is doing what it can to enforce government promotion of Christmas as a quasi-religious holiday.

Congress Passes Another Anti-Abortion Measure

The omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress in November includes the Hyde-Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment, which prevents state and local governments from requiring hospitals to provide abortions or even mention abortion as an option in counseling. This bill leaves municipalities and states without recourse in a process in which hospitals run and funded by the Roman Catholic church take over failing private or publicly funded hospitals and eliminate abortion and other reproductive services. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice called the bill “a disgraceful display of ideology over health, “ and “an ill-advised policy that is clearly harmful to women.”

The Trial of Beth Stroud

On December 1-2 Rev. Beth Stroud of First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG), in Philadelphia, was tried, convicted and stripped of her ordination by a church court for living openly in a committed relationship with her partner, Chris Paige. The Jury voted 12-1 to convict but only 7-6 to defrock her. The conviction was almost completely guaranteed by the judge before the trial when he only accepted jurors who said they would uphold the Book of Discipline and then refused to allow any arguments about what the Book of Discipline actually says. As the prosecution agreed she was a wonderful minister who was called by God, and no facts were in dispute, the defense rested after calling only two witnesses. FUMCOG organized a vigil in support of Rev. Stroud at the trial; they were joined by supporters from other organizations and congregations, including Soulforce Inc., Soulforce Philadelphia and Tabernacle United Church. Beth Stroud will continue to serve on the staff of FUMCOG but will be unable to officiate at baptisms or communion.

The trial received national and local press attention. Photos of Beth and Chris were on the front page of the Philadelphia Metro two days in a row with the headline on the first day, “God Created Me as a Lesbian” and on the second day, “She’s Out.”

Articles by religion editor Jim Remson were featured in the Inquirer; the Daily News ran AP trial coverage on page four and a follow-up report on the FUMCOG Sunday service after the trial by Ron Goldwyn included an interview with filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond, whose documentary about the congregation will air on PBS December 29 at 9:30 pm.

Soulforce Chair Jimmy Creech, who was defrocked by the UMC for officiating at the weddings of same-gender couples, was interviewed briefly on the Fox 29 news, but he was identified only as “protestor Jimmy Creech.” A follow-up story on Fox 29 the Monday after the trial noted that Stroud had been rehired by the congregation “to teach the Bible to children.” A Google news search turned up over seven hundred articles from around the country. IWG supporter Rev. Fred Day of FUMCOG was quoted in a United Methodist News Service story: “This is not the United Methodist Church of our past heritage or best future, to be driven by rigid rules and regulations, but by ever-widening circles of grace.”

A response to the trial by Kathryn J. Johnson of the Methodist Federation for Social Action concluded, “Everyone present at the trial--prosecution and defense, parishioners, friends and family--agree that the Holy Spirit is present and working powerfully in Beth Stroud. No verdict by a trial court can take that away. We fear for the heart and soul of the church, however. How long will we survive if we continue to choose law over love and punishment over grace?”

A statement from Soulforce said, “The United Methodist Church’s deceptive marketing slogan is ‘Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors’, but the Church’s heart, mind, and doors are not open to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, This verdict shows the blatant hypocrisy of the United Methodist Church and poignantly illustrates the spiritual violence that the Church perpetuates against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, both inside and outside the church.”









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