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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
November 2004

Repent America at Outfest

On October 10 eleven people from Repent America --led by Michael Marcavage and escorted by police from Civil Affairs--attempted to enter Outfest (reported attendance: 25,000) in front of a stage at 13th and Locust Streets with a bullhorn and their usual collection of giant anti-gay banners. Volunteers at first formed a human barrier across the sidewalk but were ordered by police to allow Repent America to pass; they then circled Repent America and some of the police with large pink Styrofoam angels tall enough to obstruct view of the banners while several others outside the circle blew whistles repeatedly in order to drown out the bullhorn.

Repent America walked about half a block north on 13th Street, away from the stage, still surrounded by police, the people carrying the angels and the whistle-blowers. A crowd of angry Outfest attendees surrounded the entire group; at least one person in the crowd was yelling at Repent America and another began to argue with them. The police ordered the angel carriers to back off several times so that Repent America could move, but when they were able to move again, Repent America did not, so the angel carriers resumed obstructing view of the banners.

The police finally arrested everyone from Repent America, escorting them to police vans. A report from Concerned Women for America’s Culture and Family Institute said that they were held for twenty-one hours and charged with ethnic intimidation, criminal conspiracy, possession of instruments of crime, reckless endangerment of another person, riot, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and obstructing a highway.

A press release from Repent America begins: “On Sunday, October 10, 2004, eleven Christians with the Philadelphia-based Repent America were arrested, jailed, and charged under hate crimes legislation during an evangelistic outreach at the annual ‘Outfest’ homosexual pride event held in the public streets of Philadelphia.” The release also refers to “Gospel literature” and “scripture banners.” An article from the Culture and Family Institute and discussions on Christian-Underground.com, a Traditional Values Coalition forum, repeat the theme of official anti-Christian persecution under hate crime laws even though many Christian and other religious individuals and groups participated in Outfest. The American Family Association Center for Law and Policy is suing the city on Repent America’s behalf and representing them in their criminal defense.

Non-violent responses to Repent America’s intimidation and belligerent presence at events from WOW to Outfest have included singing, dancing, vigil lines and now the pink angels; these responses have all been somewhat effective at barring Repent America’s access to people who have already endured abuse because of their sexual identities. Unfortunately, those efforts are portrayed by Repent America and national Radical Religious Right organizations as evidence of a pro-gay, anti-Christian government conspiracy, and people who have not experienced Repent America’s “street preaching” firsthand will not recognize the inaccuracy of phrases such as “evangelistic outreach” and “scripture banners.”

Rev. Beth Stroud’s UMC Trial

Rev. Beth Stroud, associate pastor of First United Methodist Church of Germantown since 1999, will be tried by the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference for “practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teaching.” Lasting one to three days, the trial will begin December 1 at Camp Innabah, a United Methodist camp and retreat center at 712 Pughtown Road in Spring City, Chester County. and will be open to the public and media at Rev. Stroud’s request even though UMC trials are usually closed. An Annual Conference press release says that an open trial has not been held in the area in over fifty years.

An article from the Reconciling Ministries Network notes that Rev. Stroud “is in charge of youth and children's programs and evangelism, and also assists with leading worship, preaching, and pastoral care. The church judicial process that led to the trial has been unfolding since April 2003, when Stroud preached a sermon in which she shared how her Christian faith was shaped by her experience as a lesbian.”

The Annual Conference press release says, “United Methodist Church l law forbids the ordination and appointment of ‘self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.’ The church's top legislative body, the General Conference, reaffirmed the ban on self-avowed homosexuals during its most recent meeting in Pittsburgh in May.” On October 11 the Committee on Investigations voted unanimously to send Rev. Stroud’s case to trial.

Retired Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel of Smithsburg, MD has been appointed to serve as presiding officer for the trial. The jury will be composed of thirteen pastors from the sixteen-county Conference and a minimum of nine votes are required for a conviction. According to the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) article, “Stroud will be represented at the trial by The Rev. J. Dennis Williams, a retired United Methodist pastor whom she selected to serve as her counsel. Rev. Williams will be assisted by Alan Symonette, Esq., an attorney and labor arbitrator who is also one of FUMCOG's Co-Lay Leaders, and a team of attorneys from FUMCOG. Stroud's entire legal team is serving pro bono.”

The RMN article quoted IWG supporter Rev. Fred Day, FUMCOG’s senior pastor: “We continue to be inspired by Beth's courage and faithfulness. Our congregation supports her. In May, we established a legal defense fund for Beth, and people have sent donations from all over the country. We are in a process of prayer and discernment to determine what else we can do. Many of our members want to be present at the trial to support Beth. We are an open congregation, welcoming to all people. We welcome all people and families to be part of our church community, without regard for race, gender, or sexual orientation. As a Reconciling Congregation, we are one of many United Methodist Churches who disagree with the denomination’s discriminatory stance, and hope to see a day when the church lives up to its promise of justice and inclusion for all people.”

A pastoral letter from Bishop Marcus Matthews on the Annual Conference web site (www.epaumc.org) says: “The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference will be in the world’s spotlight as we prepare for and conduct the public church trial of the Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud. I am asking you to join me in prayer from now until the trial… Moreover, I am asking all congregations throughout the Philadelphia Area to hold a day long prayer vigil on Dec. 1 that we may rightly discern the will of God and that justice, mercy and faith will prevail for all persons involved.”

Soulforce has not yet released details of a previously-announced national action in protest of the trial. Updates will appear on www.soulforce.org.

On October 27 the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a short article about the trial and included a quote from Rev. Stroud: “I knew when I preached that sermon that this day might well come. I'm spiritually and mentally as prepared as I can be.” The Reconciling Ministries Network article concludes with a quote from Rev. Stroud: “I'm not afraid. I can’t know what the outcome of the trial will be, but I trust God to work in and through whatever happens. I love the people of the United Methodist Church, I love ministry, and I love my partner and the life God has given us together. I just want to be the person God created me to be, and to serve in the way God has called me to serve.”

Four ways non-FUMCOG members can help are listed on www.bethstroud.info: 1) Praying for everyone involved in the trial, for the Annual Conference, for the UMC, and for FUMCOG. Please pray that God's grace and love will be expressed in and through everything that happens. 2) Keeping the FUMCOG phone lines as free as possible for pastoral needs and other church business. To express your support or get more information go to bethstroud.info and fumcog.org. 3) Reaching out to be present with people in your own community who are struggling with their emotional response to the trial. And 4) Joining people from FUMCOG who are working on plans for prayerful, supportive witness as a way of expressing their support.

Religion and Marriage in the News

On October 28 the Grand Rapids (MI) Press reported on a press conference by the West Michigan Coalition for the Protection of Marriage (WMCPM), fifteen congregations wanting to “offset a press conference in June held by Concerned Clergy of West Michigan,” a group of over sixty clergy who were among the seventy-five signing a statement opposing a proposed state constitutional marriage amendment. Among the quotes from Rev. Arthur Bailey of Abundant Life International Ministries and the WMCPM: “We don’t believe that’s the stand of most of the clergy in Western Michigan.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a guest column by Tess Fields, a lesbian and Planned Parenthood employee who lives with her partner and their son in Oregon and who is also the daughter of Georgia Christian Coalition leader and proposed state constitutional marriage amendment supporter Sadie Fields. Tess Fields wrote of her split from her mother in seventh grade (her mother told her that her best friend, who was Jewish, was going to hell if she didn’t accept Jesus), as well as her estrangement from her extended family since the age of 24, when her mother found out that she was a lesbian and told her she was “sick,” “crazy,” and “of the devil.”

An extremely positive October 30 report on the web site of WLOX-TV, ABC affiliate for Biloxi, Gulfport and Pascagoula, MS, describes a rally in favor of a proposed state constitutional marriage amendment by “nearly a dozen churches of the Hancock County Ministerial Alliance” who “came together to let a united voice be heard.” Quoted in the report are Ministerial Alliance president Rev. Jeb Banashak, American Family Association Journal news editor Ed Vitagliano and the Rev. Al Green (church unidentified) who said, “We need an amendment because no one has the right to undefine the Word of God.”

A report on a Gulfport, MS rally by The Sun Herald of Biloxi quotes Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Rodi (“representative of the religious community”) who said, “We’re joining our hands together in protecting marriage. We support it because of our fidelity to our Christian faith. Neither church nor state can alter the basic meaning of marriage… established by the plan of our creator between a man and a woman.”

An October 29 Clarion-Ledger article (Jackson, MS) quoted representatives from the American Family Association and NGLTF and included a picture of men in suits kneeling in prayer on the state capitol’s steps “in support of a proposed state amendment to ban gay marriage.”

Letterhead Updates

We are pleased to announce the addition of The Christian Association at the University of Pennsylvania as an organizational supporter and the Revs. Norma E. Koenig and Dr. Robert E. Koenig (UCC, retired) as individual clergy supporters. The continued interest and moral support of religious organizations, congregations and clergy (along with the tax-deductible financial donations of our readers) keeps this extremely small all-volunteer organization going.

Anglican Uproar

The Anglican Communion’s Windsor report, responses by Episcopal Church, USA presiding bishop Frank Griswold and Bishop Gene Robinson, plus the subsequent anger expressed by anti-gay Anglicans has been a worldwide news story. Largely lost in the news reports are the voices of GLBT Episcopalians other than Robinson. The preliminary response from Integrity:

Integrity thanks the Lambeth Commission on Communion for the thorough and balanced report it released today. Like the rest of the Anglican Communion, we will be studying the principles it articulates and discussing the recommendations it makes. However, we have a few preliminary responses remarks that we would like to share.

We are grateful that the report recognizes that serious, Communion-wide dialog on the ordination of gay and lesbian persons and the blessing of same-sex relationships has not occurred. We look forward to the development of a process that will enable true dialog on these issues. We hope that such conversation will not only be ABOUT homosexuality, but WITH gay and lesbian Anglicans. The members of Integrity USA will gladly make ourselves available to share our faith stories with our sisters and brothers throughout the Communion, as we have been doing for the past thirty years.

We stand with the bishops of the Episcopal Church who participated in the consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire and who have authorized rites for blessing same-sex relationships for use in their dioceses. While being cognizant of the pain felt by some our brothers and sisters in other provinces, we remain convinced that these actions were, and are, in keeping with the Gospel. We hope that these bishops will also be part of a Communion-wide dialog on these issues-explaining the theological reasons for their positions.

We also stand with Bishop Gene Robinson himself who was elected, confirmed, and consecrated in accordance with canon law and a Spirit-led process in the Diocese of New Hampshire. We are confident that, as there is further consideration of the recommendations in the Windsor Report, Bishop Robinson will not be excluded from the councils of the Communion.

Overall it seems to us that the report is a call to an earnest, Communion-wide discernment process about the nature of the Gospel and the nature of the Church given the contexts of our varied interpretations of the Scriptures, our differing approaches to Anglican tradition, and the complex realities in which the various provinces of the Communion live and move and have their being. Clearly it is essential that this conversation occurs, and in such a manner that all the people of God who are members of this Communion can fully participate.

Finally, we would like to thank Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold for his initial statement on the Windsor Report—affirming the presence and positive contribution of gay and lesbian persons to every aspect of the life of our church and in all orders of ministry.









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