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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
February 2005

Pennsylvania Media Support for Repent America

Michael Marcavage and Repent America received sympathetic coverage in two articles and an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, two articles and an editorial in the Delaware County Daily Times and an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Curiously the piece most critical of Marcavage and the national portrayal of the case by the Religious Right came in an otherwise anti-gay (“not that there’s anything wrong with the closet”) guest column in the Philadelphia Daily News by talk radio commentator and author Michael Smerconish in which he refers to the national Religious Right organizations as “wing nuts.”

The Inquirer’s front page headline story about Repent America and the support they have gotten from the Religious Right mentions “bullhorn-amplified, Scripture based denunciations of homosexuality” and includes quotes from Wisconsin Christians United (a group that employs similar tactics to Repent America, which was not mentioned in the article) and the American Family Association (“Jim Crow has been resurrected in Philadelphia.”) with one brief quote from Franny Price of Philly Pride Presents and none from anyone who was previously assaulted by Repent America. An email complaint to the reporter, the ombudsman and the editor describing Repent America’s behavior at WOW led to a brief quote from IWG Coordinator Chris Purdom in the Inquirer’s section B front page profile of Marcavage (“Flaunting his faith bullhorn in hand”), which also includes a quote from IWG supporter the Rev. Tim Thomson-Hohl of The Garden Church in Lansdowne, but in the article Marcavage denies screaming anything other than “the Gospel” at WOW. An Inquirer editorial supporting Marcavage’s free speech rights expresses no sympathy for the rights of those verbally assaulted or any distinction between Repent America’s message and their intimidating and harassing behavior.

The only quotes in the January 12 Delaware County Daily Times article (“Saint or Sinner? Court to Rule on Religious Activist”) are from Marcavage and his lawyers. The January 13 article by the same reporter (“Marcavage: Man on a Mission”) is one of the least sympathetic to Marcavage, in that it has two quotes from Franny Price including both the final quote and “I don’t think Jesus would show up with a bullhorn” but it still relies heavily on Marcavage’s self-description of his own activities and includes no quotes from individuals who have encountered his abusive language though what he calls in the article his “truth horn.” In his editorial against jailing Marcavage, Gil Spencer claims the case “not only shows the fearful intolerance of some in the gay community, but their influence in Philadelphia to silence and even have arrested their perceived enemies.“

The January 23 Post-Gazette article by Bill Toland focuses on Marcavage and the Constitutional issues of the case. It accurately describes Repent America’s web site and some of Marcavage’s previous activities (including a confrontation with a group of Roman Catholics who he accused of idol worship for praying to Mary) though not those at WOW. It includes a good quote from Franny Price that there were seven churches at Outfest and none of them were arrested, but the focus of the article is still Marcavage and Repent America, and all the direct quotes except for the one from Price are from Marcavage and his lawyers, including the final quote “God is using us in a mighty way.”

If you are one of the thousands of people who have had direct contact with Repent America, and you are comfortable being out about it, we suggest that you contact Bill Toland (btoland@post-gazette.com), Gil Spencer (gspencer@delcotimes.com) and the Inquirer editorial board.

Roundtable Responds to Rev. Eugene Rivers

On January 19 the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Religious Leadership Roundtable denounced anti-gay comments by the Rev. Eugene Rivers of Boston “that the gay-rights movement had co-opted the language of the civil rights movement for its own benefit." The Roundtable press release says in part:

Rivers' statement, 'Same-sex couples wanting to marry are white lesbians who seek the accouterments of family life,' reflects his misunderstanding about the makeup of his community. According to a report published by the National Black Justice Coalition and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, based on the 2000 Census, black same-sex households make up 14% of the same-sex households in the United States, greater than the 13% of the general population that is African-American. Black lesbian couple households are almost as likely as Black married opposite-sex couple households to include a child of one or both of the adults (69%). Nearly half of Black male same-sex couple households (46%) include a child of one or both of the partners. As Bishop John Selders, Presider of The Inter-Denominational Conference of Liberation Congregations and Ministries observes, laws discriminating against same-sex couples cut across racial lines: "There are significant numbers of people of color, African Americans in particular, who are equally discriminated against because of unjust laws." Bishop Selders adds, "I'm disappointed again by the shameful rhetoric espoused by brothers and sisters of color regarding same gender loving marriage."

Presbytery of Baltimore Rescinds Marriage Vote

The Baltimore Presbytery held a special meeting at which they overturned their previous 51 to 35 decision in favor of equal civil marriage rights [see last issue] by a vote of 86 to 71. As is frequently the case in the Presbyterian Church (USA) far more commissioners than usual attend meetings where the primary purpose of the meeting is known in advance to be a vote on GLBT-related issues.

RAC Statement on Reproductive Rights

Rabbi Michael Namath of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism prepared the following statement for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights on the 32nd Anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

The Supreme Court's 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision guaranteed all women in this country legal and safe access to reproductive choice. Certainly, we have come a long way since the days of back-alley abortions, when women died seeking needed health care services. Yet despite the passing of three decades, reproductive rights are under increasing threat - and the rights too many take for granted today may be gone again.

This past year saw the enactment of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act elevating the fetus to full personhood; enactment of the Late Term Birth Abortion Ban, telling doctors that their discretion as medical professionals is proscribed; and enactment of a Federal Refusal Clause overriding state law in order to protect health care entities that refuse abortion counseling and services. In addition, the Bush administration increased funding for Abstinence Only Education, and continued with a third straight year of denying $30 million in promised funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The assault on Roe also continues in the judicial branch as a litany of anti-choice judges received nomination, and often confirmation ascended to the bench.

Today, the battle for reproductive rights is about more than maintaining women's right to control their bodies. It is about ensuring that students receive comprehensive sex education, when abstinence-only education is the sole program funded by the federal government and studies find that such programs leave students painfully uninformed about their bodies and how to grow into healthy, responsible adults. It is about ensuring appropriate access to contraceptives in all 50 states when contraceptives remain unaffordable for many men and women and insurance companies balk at their coverage. It is about ensuring that expectant mothers of all economic backgrounds are provided with prenatal and maternal healthcare. It is about ensuring that the hundreds of thousands of women living in the 86 percent of counties across America that lack abortion providers are provided with true access to reproductive choice. It is about urging the FDA to bestow over-the-counter status on Emergency Contraceptives that have been proven safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. Despite our status among the wealthiest and most educated nations on earth, the United States falls painfully short in all of these areas.

Jewish tradition teaches us that we are partners with God in making a better world. At the same time, we learn that ensuring a healthy society is a responsibility to which we must all be committed As we look upon our society 32 years after Roe, we are reminded of how important the Court's decision has been in making our society healthier and of the importance of continuing to stand strong against any attacks on the fundamental principle of reproductive freedom.

Civil Marriage Update

The Traditional Values Coalition announced their introduction of a California Constitutional Amendment that would forbid marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships between same-gender couples. California Domestic Partnerships are now equivalent to marriage according to state (but not Federal) law, and a bill to remove gender from California marriage law is pending. Liberty Counsel reported that Justice E, Michael Kavanagh of the Ulster County Supreme Court (NY) has issued a permanent injunction against all officials of the Village of New Paltz to stop solemnizing the marriages of same-gender couples. Liberty Counsel was also involved in a challenge to DOMA in Federal Court in which Judge James Moody, Jr. dismissed an attempt by a couple married in Massachusetts to have their marriage recognized in Florida. Focus on the Family reported that the Montana legislature will consider a civil unions bill, and that a one-man-one-woman-marriage amendment is being proposed in Idaho. The Family Research Council reported on a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution banning marriage and civil unions. FRC also reported that the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the state constitution does not require equal marriage rights, and that the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the recently passed constitutional ban.

In Atlanta, Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Rev. Bernice King, youngest daughter of Rev. Martin Luther King, organized an anti-equal-marriage-rights march from the King Center to Turner Field. Stories about the march and disagreements over marriage among King’s family members and followers appeared in several papers around the country (Coretta Scott King, John Lewis and Rodney Powell are all strong supporters of equal marriage rights).

A reported 1,000 people attended a religious rally in Annapolis to urge the legislature to pass an anti-equal-marriage-rights constitutional amendment. Organizers originnally predicted 100,000 attendees. One of the legislators pushing the amendment was quoted in The (Annapolis) Capital as criticizing churches for not busing in more people for the rally and claiming marriage “is a God-ordained institution that was set in place when the world was formed.”

ELCA Task Force Recommends No Action

After approximately two and a half years of meetings, the sexuality task force recommended that the denomination take no action on the existing policies of blessings for same-gender couples or the ordination or rostering of clergy living in committed relationships with same-gender partners. Their primary recommendation was that the denomination concentrate on staying together, and they suggested that those who call non-rostered or extraordinary candidates not be prosecuted if they make the call as a matter of conscience and do so quietly.

A press release from the Lutheran Alliance for Full Participation (The Extraordinary Candidacy Project, Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries, Lutherans Concerned North America, Lutheran Network for Inclusive Vision, Wingspan Ministry, and Soulforce, on the web at goodsoil.org) concluded, "Failure to recognize that lesbian and gay persons are already full participants in the ministry of the Church through our baptism should be unacceptable to any Lutheran. We sit in the pews, we sing, we pray, we teach, we baptize. We preside at the table. We are already ministers, ordained and lay. We are children of God and of our Church. The ELCA is our Church home. We are committed to stay. Our faith compels us to work for change.”

The ELCA Churchwide Assembly (where a vote on the recommendations will presumably be taken) will be held August 8-14 in Orlando with protests.

Cartoon Characters and the Religious Right

James Dobson’s criticism of the use of SpongeBob SquarePants in a pro-tolerance video received general ridicule in the mainstream press, and caused the United Church of Christ to publish an announcement that the UCC extends an “unequivocal welcome” to SpongeBob, and “if given the opportunity, would warmly receive Barney, Big Bird, Tinky-Winky, Clifford the Big Red Dog, or for that matter, any who have experienced the Christian message as a harsh word of judgment rather than Jesus’ offering of grace.” The article was accompanied by a picture of the Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president of the denomination welcoming SpongeBob to denomination headquarters.

Much less humorous was the Family Research Council’s report that Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has demanded that PBS return the DOE funds used to pay for the episode of “Postcards from Buster” in which Buster visits a lesbian couple and their children in Vermont.

Texas Textbooks

The Texas Board of Education approved new middle and high school health text books after publishers agreed to such changes as defining marriage as “a lifelong union between a husband and wife,” changing “partners” to “husbands and wives” and “attraction to others” to “attraction to the opposite sex.” The publishers were not identified in mainstream media articles but in a highly favorable article about the decision Focus on the Family (FoF) identified them as Glencoe/McGraw Hill and Holt Reinhart and Winston. FoF also noted that “the ineffectiveness of condoms is mentioned in one of the books” thereby theoretically satisfying the state’s requirement that students learn to “analyze the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of barrier protection.”

The Value of Unconstitutional Laws?

In his January 18 “Washington Update” the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins reacted to the Virginia Supreme Court’s striking of the law prohibiting sexual relations between unmarried people by repeating his assertion that there is value in keeping unconstitutional laws on the books, while attempting to invoke some peculiar negative visceral imagery regarding traditional judicial garb: “…even if they are not enforced, laws enforcing moral ideals serve to raise the bar of acceptable conduct, and help protect against the victimization and health consequences that accompany immoral behavior. This is another example of judicial activism, in which black-robed justices overturn long-held public policy at the stroke of a pen. “

Episcopal Bishops Keep the Faith

Integrity issued the following statement January 13:

Integrity appreciates today's statement from the House of Bishops, which met for a short time in Salt Lake City this week to begin the process of receiving the Windsor Report. The bishops expressed regret for the pain, hurt, and damage to The bonds of communion that have resulted from certain actions of the Episcopal Church, and they sought forgiveness from those other Anglican provinces feeling disaffection for our church. At the same time, the House of Bishops reminded the Anglican Communion that church polity differs significantly throughout the Communion and that more "intentional consultative processes" and visitations to other Anglican provinces for learning and witness are needed.

We are encouraged that the House of Bishops expressed support for "a Communion-wide study and discernment process on matters of human sexuality as recommended by Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988, and 1998." Such a Process will provide an opportunity for constituent member churches of the Communion to actively listen to the stories of faithful LGBT Christians and to engage in dialogue with us.

We are thankful that the House of Bishops rejected a moratorium on the election and consecration of additional LGBT bishops and the authorization of additional diocesan policies permitting same-sex blessing. The statement from the House of Bishops correctly points out that it cannot preempt the canonical authority of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

On January 15 Integrity issued a statement that the organization “is pleased to have been invited by the Rev. Canon Gregory K. Cameron, Deputy Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Office, to London for a conversation on practical ways in which a Communion-wide dialog on human sexuality might be moved forward.









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