News & Advance Article: "Disagreeing Agreeably"

Church Service Changes Perceptions
The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Virginia, October 25, 1999
By SHANNON BRENNAN

The Rev. Jerry Falwell redeemed himself Sunday morning with the Rev. Mel White and his Soulforce group, many of whom felt wounded after Falwell’s remarks following their historic meeting Saturday.

Falwell welcomed White and his group, saying, "I’ve never met more courteous, gentlemanly and professional people. Mel White, my hat’s off to you." He gave his Thomas Road Baptist Church congregation a brief report on the forum. "We had a most fruitful meeting," Falwell said. "Mel never asked me to modify my preaching."

But, he said, he did not mean to offend his Soulforce guests. Falwell had compared homosexuals to alcoholics, drug addicts, pornographers and unwed mothers.

"We’re to be lovers of all men and women," he said. "We have not tried as hard as we should."

Falwell asked White and his Soulforce group to stand, while saying he was going to reach out in love to everyone for whom Christ died.

During his sermon on the Book of Proverbs, Falwell reiterated the importance of parents loving their children unconditionally.

"I don’t believe you can love your children too much," Falwell said.

He said he has been asked many times what he would do if his son were gay. He said he would be loving and supportive while trying to make him abandon that lifestyle.

"We believe the Bible is the infallible … word of God," he said, but he did not quote scripture on the wrongness of homosexuality.

He noted that the anti-violence summit was controversial.

"I’m well aware of what’s being said on the sidewalk," he said referring to the handful of protesters who greeted Sunday’s churchgoers with signs and screams. Falwell closed his sermon saying, "God loves you. Ignore what anybody else has said to you … God loves everyone alike. You may know some unfair people, but God’s not on the list."

White said Falwell could not have preached a better sermon.

"He treated us with civility … He preached a wonderful sermon," White said. "There was no spiritual violence today. We are disagreeing agreeably."

After the service many of the 200 delegates of Soulforce went out to lunch with members of Falwell’s 200 supporters.

During a final Soulforce session at First Christian Church Sunday afternoon, several Soulforce delegates said they had wonderful experiences, particularly with Liberty University students who attended the non-violence summit.


Gary Rimar
Soulforce delgate

Gary Rimar, a Jewish gay delegate from Michigan, said the student he met took him to Hyland Heights Baptist Church, where he received a warm welcome.

"They had never met normal gay people," he said. "They didn’t know what to do with me. It is impossible to hate gay people once you know them."

Saundra Farmer-Wiley, a lesbian delegate from Hawaii, had a similar experience with two Liberty students.

"I just made them see me as a person, not a sexual activity," she said.


Fred Hammond
Soulforce delgate

Fred Hammond, executive director of Interfaith AIDS Ministry in Danbury, Conn., said he also had lunch with two Liberty students.

"We found common ground very quickly," he said, including a Biblical discussion. "If I’m created in God’s image … I reveal a piece of it," he said. "They were able to embrace that."

All the delegates said they planned to keep in touch with the students they met. Angie Childers, a lesbian from Lexington, Ky., said she had a great conversation with Bill Merrell, vice present of the Southern Baptist Convention from Nashville, who had been invited by Falwell.

"He was very caring, very accepting," she said. "He does not condone, but he didn’t condemn."

Karen Solon, a Soulforce delegate and mother of a homosexual, said she wondered whether anyone had made the connection between the hate speech by the protesters on the sidewalks and the hate speech gay kids face every day.

"That goes on in our kids’ lives in the hallways in schools," she said. "Where are the churches to speak out against it?"

White took time Sunday morning to again thank Roger Zimmerman and Sandy Knodel of First Christian Church for their hospitality and help in organizing the weekend’s events, as well as other churches and pastors who lent support.


Mark Holdbrooks
Soulforce delgate

The Soulforce group raised $22,000 for a Habitat for Humanity house to be built in Lynchburg as well as $877 for the local food bank in thanks for the reception they received in the Hill City.

Several delegates said they were overwhelmed by the support of local clergy and the city’s mayor, as well as the security provided by the Lynchburg Police Department.

"My perception of this place has changed forever," said Mark Holdbooks, a gay delegate from Boulder, Colorado

Soulforce Group Promises More Direct Actions
The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Virginia, October 25, 1999
By SHANNON BRENNAN

The Rev. Mel White woke up at 4 a.m. Sunday and decided it was time to take direct action.

He went on the "Today" show to announce a National Soulforce Campaign Against Spiritual Violence.

Soulforce is a non-violent movement based on the writings of Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

White said the Rev. Jerry Falwell called homosexuals sinners too many times to count, comparing them to alcoholics, drug addicts and unwed mothers during the press conference after Saturday’s anti-violence summit.

"We have to make a concerted effort against this kind of spiritual violence, but we have to do it non-violently," he said before attending Thomas Road Baptist Church Sunday morning.


Dr. Rodney Powell
Soulforce delgate

Rodney Powell, a Civil Rights leader who has joined White’s effort, agreed. "What we have done so far is a lovely walk in the park," he said. "With you, I sensed and shared your outrage yesterday, but don’t be discouraged. It was just the beginning."

Powell compared the summit with Falwell to the first time blacks went to the lunch counter for a hamburger and "they said no."

"There was a success yesterday," Powell said. "(Falwell) said, ‘Love your children.’

"Then he did this backsliding and we’re going to have to pull him forward again."

White said negotiations will continue with Falwell and he will be back to meet again. But Soulforce is also ready for direct action, he said.


Jimmy Creech
Methodist minister and
Soulforce delgate

The first action will be an attempt to block the trial of theRev. Jimmy Creech, a heterosexual minister with the United Methodist Church who faces loss of his orders for conducting a same-sex marriage ceremony in Nebraska.

Soulforce will be at his November trial, White said. He invited the Lynchburg 200 to join him or encourage others to come.

Creech, who attended the anti-violence summit, accused Falwell of committing spiritual violence when he compared homosexuals to alcoholics and drug addicts. His own church, he told Soulforce members Sunday afternoon, uses less hostile language, but it has the same result.

"I think this trial is about the prohibition, not Jimmy Creech," he said. "It’s about institutionalized bigotry within the United Methodist Church."

Creech, who was kicked out of the United Methodist Church in North Carolina in 1990 for his work with gay organizations, was invited to Omaha in 1996 by the United Methodist Church because of that work.

But he was later told it was OK to say what he was saying, but not to follow it up with actions, a concept he said he still cannot grasp.

Associated Press Article: "Falwell Tries to Reach Homosexuals"

Associated Press, October 25, 1999
By KIMBERLY LAMKE


Saundra Farmer-Wiley
and Kellie Young

LYNCHBURG, VA (AP) — Saundra Farmer-Wiley and Kerrie Young might never have crossed paths but for antagonism between conservative Christians and gays. Young, a 22-year-old student, has little in common with Farmer-Wiley, a 57-year-old office manager from Maui, Hawaii. Young is white, has no children and is heterosexual. Farmer-Wiley is black, has three children and is gay.

Yet for one weekend, the two found common ground at the church of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, where the Moral Majority founder on Sunday brought what he said was message of God’ s love to 200 gay Christians.

Falwell’s sermon was the culmination of a weekend forum designed to reduce violence against gays and Christians. It was led by Falwell and gay minister Mel White, an author from California who ghostwrote Falwell’s autobiography before coming out.

Young, who attends Falwell’s Liberty University here, admitted she was initially against the meeting but later volunteered to attend so she could move past her prejudices.

"I was being proud and selfish," she said. "I wasn’t showing the love we as Christians are supposed to have for all people. I was focused on these extreme examples of the homosexual lifestyle I’d seen in the past and that was holding me back."

For Farmer-Wiley, the forum was a chance to be seen as something more than a stereotype in the eyes of the 4,000 worshippers Sunday.

"This was my time to put my perspective in front of their eyes, … time for them to see me as a person, not just some lesbian,"she said. "You can’t change a person from one meeting, but this a first step at building a bridge to understanding, rather than a wall."

"I’m glad I met Kerrie and I’m glad we got to talk. I believe it is the men and women of her generation who will stop the hate and believe we are not a threat to them."

The unprecedented meeting surprised many because Falwell for years has condemned homosexuality.

Earlier this month, gay activists hissed, booed and screamed as Falwell lectured via satellite to about 60 people in a San Francisco park, urging them to give up homosexuality.

The 66-year-old Falwell was also ridiculed earlier this year when his newspaper cited evidence that the creators of the "Teletubbies" show intended Tinky Winky to be a gay role model.

As he had all weekend, Falwell stressed he will not change his belief that homosexuality is a sin, but added: "That has nothing to do with the love factor involved. We are to be lovers of all men and women."

Falwell was careful not to offend his visitors during his sermon, preaching from Proverbs 13, which offers advice on successful living in the eyes of God. He spoke on the importance of working hard, living with integrity and not focusing on material things.

Falwell also talked at length about the importance of parents loving their children unconditionally. He noted that he is often asked by reporters and gay rights activists what he would do if one of his sons was gay.

"I’d tell him ‘I love you just as much … I’m going to pray for you and do everything I can to bring you out of this lifestyle’," he said.

Dozens of angry anti-homosexual protesters demonstrated outside Falwell’s Baptist church, holding explicit signs and screaming at gay supporters as they entered the church.

Among those protesting the gathering was the Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kan., whose congregation taunted gays at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was killed in Wyoming.

"For him to invite these fags here and into his church is an abomination," Phelps said outside the church Sunday.

"Now, Jerry Falwell is just as much a sinner as Mel White and both will burn in hell," he said.

White, who brought 200 gays and lesbians from 30 states to participate in the weekend’ s activities, said it was "a shame" that protesters like Phelps brought hostility to a place a worship.

"What we have here is a great moment for our country, gays and Falwell worshipping together," White said. "It’s a small start, but it’s a start."

Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

News & Advance Article: "Gay Activists Prepare for Meeting with Falwell"

Gay Activists Prepare for Meeting with Falwell
The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Virginia, October 23, 1999
By SHANNON BRENNAN


Rev. Mel White trains Soulforce delegates
Photo by Doug Koontz

A black Civil Rights leader who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. dubbed the Rev. Mel White’s group the "Lynchburg 200" Friday night, comparing the struggle by homosexuals today to that of blacks in the 1960s.

Rodney Powell said blacks and homosexuals have been forced into moments like this because of "bigotry from the misguided application of Christian dogma."

Spiritual leadership is required to overcome that bigotry, he said.


Dr. Rodney Powell
Soulforce delgate

"I believe that what is happening here is incredible," Powell said. But the meeting scheduled today between the Rev. Jerry Falwell and White, each flanked by 200 supporters, is just the beginning, he said. A sustained, massive social protest, guided by love, is required to end the violence and discrimination that homosexuals face in this country, he said.

Powell, who never dared reveal his homosexuality during the Civil Rights Movement, declared, "We were all in the closet. We aren’t ever going back there again." Powell’s was one of many voices heard during a three-hour Soulforce training and memorial service at the First Christian Church. Both Pastor Roger Zimmerman and Mayor Pete Warren, a member of the church, received standing ovations from the group, which was clearly overwhelmed by the warm welcome they received in the Hill City.


Pastor Roger Zimmerman
First Christian Church, Lynchburg

"I do think the weekend is going to be a great weekend for the City of Lynchburg and we’re glad you’re here," Warren said.

The mayor said he saw the interviews of Falwell and White on "Good Morning America" Friday and was elated all day. White echoed Warren’s sentiments, saying that Falwell’s apology for using hate-filled language to generalize about all gays was miraculous. White said Falwell deserved credit for meeting with them and noted that Falwell was the first major southern, Baptist minister to integrate his church. "He wants to be the first in reconciling this community with that community and we’re here to see that it happens," White said. "Jerry Falwell is serious about loving us."


Pete Warren, Lynchburg mayor

White said not to expect overnight transformation, however. "This is grace a Web page at a time … this is grace a sermon at a time," he said. The evening’s program included testimonials from some of the 200 members of White’s delegation, who came from more than 30 states after White asked for volunteers via his Soulforce Web site.

Soulforce means non-violence, White said, and its goals are drawn from the teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.


Soulforce delegate Mary Lou Wallner
tells of daughter’s death as husband
Bob (right) and Rev. White listen

The most moving testimony came from Mary Lou Wallner, who said that as an Evangelical Christian, she is still struggling with what she thinks of homosexuality. Her daughter, Anna, wrote her a letter from college 11 years ago, to tell her she was a lesbian. Wallner said she wrote her daughter back to tell her she loved her, but would "never accept that in you."

Six months later, she told her daughter she could come home if she ever got her act together. For seven years she didn’t hear from her. Finally, she wrote her a letter asking to talk. Anna replied that she wanted nothing more to do with her and on Feb. 28, 1997, Anna hung herself. "If I can steer one person away from living the pain I live, then maybe Anna’s death will have some meaning," she said. "I’ve had to come to terms with who I am and how I treated my own flesh and blood."


Brian Randall,
Liberty graduate,
Soulforce delegate

There wasn’t a dry eye in the sanctuary as White hugged Wellner and her husband Bob and asked God to "take away the guilt. Let it be gone forever."

Two homosexual Liberty University graduates also stood, one choking back tears as he talked about his bittersweet return to Lynchburg.

"God loves us and God is proud of us," he said.

Another delegate, C.J. Taylor of Austin, Texas, said she was making her debut as an activist. Her former husband, Ken Martin, now a gay minister in Austin, stood by her side. She described how she, Martin and his partner, and her current husband worship together, are grandparents together and are good friends.


CJ Taylor
Soulforce delegate

"You help me live my faith in ways I never dreamt of before," she told the largely homosexual delegation. "You have changed the way I worship God."

The evening closed with a candlelight vigil and memorial service for the 20 gay men and transgendered individuals who have been killed for their sexual orientation in the last year.

Poster-size photos of the victims were carried into the sanctuary and held by various members of the delegation as their names and manner of death were read. Several were bludgeoned to death, others stabbed, shot and strangled. One was beheaded.

The ceremony also included tributes to those killed because of their race, nationality and ethnicity and their religious beliefs. Victims of domestic violence, genocide, ethnic wars and indiscriminate anger, hatred and violence were also remembered.


Rev. Ken Martin
MCC Minister,
Soulforce delegate

The Rev. Ken Martin of Austin ended the memorial by saying that they have only one enemy – untruth. Soulforce training will continue this morning before the delegation splits into three groups to perform community service activities throughout the city, including trash pickup, presentation of food to area food banks and ground-breaking for a Habitat for Humanity House. The group will meet with Falwell and his followers at 4 p.m. at Thomas Road Baptist Church. All activities are closed to the public.

White warned his delegation that they will meet protesters throughout the day, but instructed them to ignore the protesters. Four groups have permits to protest the summit.

[Note: Except for the top photograph, these pictures did not appear in the newspaper article.]

1999 Copyright The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Virginia

New York Times Article: "Falwell Finds Accord With a Gay Rights Advocate"

New York Times, October 23, 1999
By GUSTAV NIEBUHR

Two months ago the Rev. Jerry Falwell, well known for conservative political and theological views, took the unusual step of agreeing with the Rev. Mel White, a supporter of gay rights, to convene a meeting bringing together 200 of each man’s associates.

The goal was simple: a civil exchange of views between two groups that disagree profoundly over gay rights in church and state. The two ministers also promised to avoid harsh language on the issue in the future.

The meeting is to take place on Saturday at Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va.

photo from PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly

It has generated controversy for weeks, with plans for protests by some gay rights supporters, who say nothing can be gained from meeting with Falwell, and by some gay rights opponents.

In a telephone interview, Falwell said he thought the gathering significant for its occurring at all, for the fact that conservative evangelicals who believe homosexual activity a grave sin would break bread with gay men, lesbians and their supporters.

"To my knowledge, it’s never happened before," he said, adding that the occasion was so historic it would be "remembered in the same way the formation of Moral Majority is remembered." That was Falwell’s political organization, founded in 1979, a high-profile effort to persuade religious conservatives to take part in politics.

In the 1980’s, Falwell wrote an autobiography, using a ghost writer recommended by his publisher. The writer was White, a former seminary professor and, at the time, a married man. Six years ago White declared that he is gay and said he had come to terms with that after a long struggle.

Since then, he has met with Falwell twice, most recently in August, when he complained that language about homosexuals in fund-raising letters from Falwell’s organizations was so harsh that it could provoke antigay violence.

Falwell, in turn, said he had been a target of aggressive, threatening language, some of it from gay groups.

The 90-minute meeting, to begin at 4 P.M., will be closed to the press but will be followed by a news conference.

Falwell said he would affirm at the meeting that neither he nor his associates would ever change their view that the Bible makes homosexual activity wrong, or ever support legal recognition of same-sex unions.

But although he said he did not believe that language from his ministry had contributed to violence against homosexuals, he acknowledged White’s criticism that the language had sometimes been strident.

"We plead guilty to that, and we will try to do better," he said, "and I will use what influence I have across the evangelical landscape" to encourage others to do likewise.

"Most Christians believe the gay life style is wrong," Falwell said. But "we’ve got to, in the next century, make the world believe we love the sinner more than we hate the sin."

White, ordained but not a church pastor, is chairman of Soulforce, a group devoted to nonviolent action to advance gay rights. In an interview, he said Falwell would "set the pace" today by speaking first.

"And he’s going to say we’re sinners," White said. "And that’s what we disagree on. But what we agree on is, this conversation has gotten out of hand."

White said he would respond by maintaining that his sexuality was a gift from God. And others in his group will also speak: parents and friends of homosexuals, gay men and lesbians themselves, a few of them graduates of Liberty University, where Falwell is chancellor.

"They all loved Liberty," White said, "and they’re going to say, ‘Jerry, you gave us a great education.’ " Both men said they hoped protests would not overshadow the meeting.

"My prayer," Falwell said, "is the good thing that’s happening inside the building will not be lost outside on the sidewalks."

Paper on Antigay Violence

While the Falwell-White meeting has been in the works, another initiative, to rally religious voices against antigay violence, has been undertaken by Bishop Steven Charleston, president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. On Oct. 1, Bishop Charleston wrote the Cambridge Accord, a statement to circulate among bishops of Anglican churches around the world.

The document has three points: that no gay person "should ever be deprived of liberty, personal property or civil rights because of his or her sexual orientation," that an appeal to Christian faith can never be used to justify such discrimination, or violence, and that everyone is equal in God’s sight and deserves respect.

As of Wednesday, nearly 80 bishops had signed the statement, the best-known of them the retired Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu.

The document is posted on the Web site of the divinity school, www.episdivschool.org.

[Note: Photo from PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly did not appear in New York Times article.]

Copyright New York Times

Event Backgrounder: Soulforce Journey to Lynchburg

Media Contact: Jane Ralph
October 22, 1999
pager 800.636.8693

Rev. Mel White and 200 Soulforce participants from across the country are meeting in Lynchburg with Rev. Jerry Falwell and 200 representatives of his ministries and his allies on October 22-24, 1999.

Why are you going to Lynchburg?

"To bring truth and love to Lynchburg." The mission of Soulforce is to end the suffering of sexual minorities by cutting off that suffering at its source. A major source has been the false and inflammatory portrayal of homosexuality and homosexuals by religious leaders like Jerry Falwell. Soulforce bases its work on the nonviolence principles of M.K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

We begin by sitting down together and talking, as people, to develop an on-going dialogue.

We begin by not seeing each other as the enemy, but untruth as the enemy, and striving together toward a clearer understanding of the truth.

We begin by noting our major areas of agreement, such as condemning all types of violence on all sides of this issue.

We begin by recommitting ourselves to truthful, careful communications with each other, with those who agree and disagree with us, and with the media.

We begin by deploring hatred or abandonment of anyone based on their sexual orientation, especially by their families or churches.

How did this meeting come about?

The road toward this meeting began with the Rev. Dr. Mel White requesting repeatedly, over years, to talk with the Rev. Dr. Jerry Falwell and present his case, as part of the nonviolent stage of negotiation. White and Falwell been friends for years, since before White ghostwrote two books for Falwell, "If I Should Die Before I Wake" and "Strength for the Journey" in the mid-1980s.

Falwell met graciously with White privately in 1998, but chose to continue his false and inflammatory campaign. Nonviolence offers two methods, negotiation and direct action. The failure of negotiation led to direct action. Gandhi teaches the use of direct action to get negotiations started or restarted, which may include boycott, fast, march, strike, civil disobedience, sit-ins, etc. The time had arrived for direct action.

In a separate but related action, White wrote an Open Letter in February 1999 to the gay community correcting some misinformation circulating at that time about the Tinky Winky tumult. He noted that the purple teletubby, Tinky Winky, was actually "outed" lightheartedly in the gay Washington Blade newspaper in April 1998. Senior Editor J.M. Smith, in the February 1999 issue Falwell’s National Liberty Journal, simply alerted parents to that claim. White’s open letter, entitled Bashing Jerry Falwell is Harmful to Our Cause created a passionate response.

White directed this deep desire among gays and their allies to bring clearly before Jerry Falwell the suffering his anti-gay campaign was directly and indirectly causing. He invited them to take an eight-week Journey into Soulforce with him in an open letter in late February entitled A Soulforce Call for Direct Action: ‘Bringing Truth and Love to Lynchburg.’

The letter called for participants to be trained in the principles of nonviolence and use these principles to guide their goal of changing Falwell’s heart and mind. Within three hours after announcing the Journey into Soulforce on the Internet, a thousand people joined, and the number of participants grew within weeks to more than 5,000. Through that interactive training process, a picture emerged of an appropriate direct action. White targeted Oct 22-24 for he and his followers "to bring truth and love to Lynchburg."

Nonviolence teaches to begin discussions in private with your adversary, but to bring the issue public if private intervention is rejected. After five years of repeated requests to meet one-on-one, in June 1999, White began a series of Open Letters to Jerry Falwell, specifying his concerns and requested changes, and continued his requests to discuss the upcoming direct action.

Apparently, after being asked by reporters what he planned to do with the thousands of Soulforce members coming to Lynchburg in October, Falwell contacted White to discuss ways to plan a more constructive engagement.

Falwell and White talked in August in Lynchburg in a meeting chronicled in the New York Times. They met again in mid-September to finalize details of the event. They decided to each bring 200 delegates to meet on the weekend of October 22-24 in Lynchburg. They also both agreed to join in condemning any kind of violence on all sides of this issue. Further, without compromising what he believes biblically, Jerry agreed to take a more careful look at what goes out under his name to avoid inaccuracies and inflammatory language. They both concurred as to the value of reducing the harshness of the debate on both sides.

Are there only 200 of you?

No! There are thousands who have taken the Journey into Soulforce. And we’ve only just started.

In spring 1999, Mel White issued a call for participants to be trained in the principles of nonviolence as a process to help end the suffering of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered and change the hearts and minds of religious leaders with anti-homosexual campaigns. Within three hours after announcing the Journey into Soulforce on the Internet, a thousand people joined, and five thousand were on the Journey within a few weeks.

The number of participants kept growing as the Soulforce vision took shape of going to Lynchburg in October to address the issue of the often hateful, misinformed, and inflammatory language used by Jerry Falwell as part of a nonviolent resistance.

When White and Falwell first discussed the upcoming meeting in Lynchburg, they agreed that a smaller number would be more appropriate to begin the dialogue, akin to sending an ambassadorial delegation rather than an army.

Why are you taking on this hopeless task of changing Jerry Falwell’s mind?

Soulforce believes that a commitment to truth is never hopeless. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. both taught us that we cannot know how or when the truth will triumph, but only that it inevitably will. And it will triumph by a relentless commitment to the principles of nonviolence in the hearts and lives of all those involved in the process. Part of the Soulforce mission is, in the process of bringing hope and healing to our society, to find redirection and renewal for our own minds and spirits. Thus we benefit just by participating.

Many said that talking to Jerry Falwell was hopeless. But Falwell called White back and they talked. They have agreed together to condemn all types of violence, including hate speech, on all sides of this issue. Falwell has also agreed to more carefully review anything that goes out under his name to avoid inaccuracies and hateful or inciteful language.

Many said that, if we went to Lynchburg, we would only camp in the cold outside the walls of Jerry Falwell and his church, but Falwell has invited us in to a forum to meet and talk with him and his representatives. Many area churches have welcomed Soulforce delegates into their members’ homes for the weekend. And Soulforce delegates will openly attend his Thomas Street Baptist Church on Sunday to pray alongside his congregation for an end to hatred and violence on this issue.

These are not victories over Jerry Falwell. These are victories with Jerry Falwell. With these victories and this beginning of a dialogue, what place is there for despair as we continue the discussion?

Why don’t you just focus on serving the gay and lesbian community?

First, Gandhi taught that, though we must directly serve those who are suffering, we must also seek to end the cause of suffering at its source. And many religious leaders are the cause, directly and indirectly, for much of the suffering of God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children.

Second, it’s not only gays and lesbians who are suffering.

All members of a family are wounded when they are torn apart, not knowing how to love each other if they don’t understand or disagree about the morality of one member’s homosexuality.

All churches lose when their sexual minority members leave the church, despairing of God’s love, because the ministers and other members are often misinformed about this issue and have not succeeded in communicating God’s message of love and hope for each person.

All communities suffer when any group of citizens are unable to be fully productive members contributing to society to the full extent of their capabilities because of discrimination or fear of discrimination.

Soulforce Inc. www.soulforce.org
PO Box 4467 melwhite@soulforce.org
Laguna Beach, Ca 92652 fax 949-455-0959

Soulforce Delegates Meet With Falwell to Condemn Violence and Begin Dialogue

MEDIA RELEASE
Media Contact: Jane Ralph
Pager 800.636.8693

LYNCHBURG, VA: (22 October 1999) The Rev. Dr. Mel White is bringing 200 delegates of Soulforce, an ecumenical network of volunteers committed to teaching and applying the principles of nonviolence on behalf of sexual minorities, to meet with the Rev. Dr. Jerry Falwell and 200 representatives of his ministries on October 23 and 24. During this historic meeting, White and Falwell will jointly condemn violence and hate speech on the issue of homosexuality. They and their participants will also enter into dialogue, meeting as individuals to share their stories.

"It’s a wonderful beginning," says White, minister and gay activist. White co-founded Soulforce with his partner, Gary Nixon, to apply the nonviolence teachings of M.K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. in an effort to end the suffering of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered by helping change the minds and hearts of religious leaders whose anti-homosexual campaigns lead to that suffering. "This is the first step in our journey to reconciliation, not the last," White adds.

The Soulforce team plans a number of activities during the weekend, in addition to Saturday’s forum with Falwell’s representatives. They will continue their training in nonviolent discourse. All will participate on Saturday afternoon in one of a number of social service activities to benefit the city and citizens of Lynchburg. Many will attend Sunday worship at Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church. A memorial to victims of hate crimes is also planned.

Falwell says he will not compromise in his biblical conviction that homosexual behavior is sinful, and Soulforce supports Falwell’s right to preach his conscience. "Our issue is when preaching his conscience crosses the line into false and inflammatory rhetoric, with its tragic consequences," White noted about his friend, for whom he ghost wrote two books, "If I Should Die Before I Wake" and "Strength for the Journey."

"Interest in the meeting has been tremendous," White said. "It is an historic occasion, after all. Yet it’s sad, in a way, that it’s such a newsworthy event when people of faith to join to decry violence and call for reasoned dialogue."

_______________

Soulforce, Inc. of Laguna Beach, California, is a non-profit organization in operating as an ecumenical network of volunteers committed to teaching and applying the principles of nonviolence on behalf of sexual minorities. PO Box 4467, Laguna Beach, Ca 92652. www.soulforce.org melwhite@soulforce.org fax: 949-455-0959

Jerry Falwell to Meet With 200 Gay People of Faith & Their Allies

"Our War of Words Has to End. Too Many Caught in the Deadly Crossfire."

LAGUNA BEACH, CA: (October 14, 1999) On October 23 at 4p.m. in Lynchburg, Virginia, 400 people of faith will make history. The Rev. Jerry Falwell and 200 of his Baptist friends and associates will break bread with the Rev. Mel White’s Soulforce delegation of 200 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people of faith and their allies.

"Breaking bread is better than breaking heads," says Dr. White, a gay Christian clergyman who spent the last seven years pursuing Jerry Falwell and other leaders of the religious right hoping and praying that this day might come. "Our war of words has to end," he says sadly. "Too many innocent people on both sides are being caught in the deadly crossfire."

Falwell has promised not to "compromise his position on homosexuality," but he supports White’s primary goal. "Mel sincerely wants to lower the rhetoric on both sides," he said. "And that is exactly what we want as well."

"We’ll give Jerry the time he needs to learn the truth about God’s gay children," White replies quietly. "But we’ll not stop telling him that truth until he does."

Although they will discuss their very different views on sexual orientation, Falwell, White, and their 400 allies are primarily seeking ways to help end "hate speech" whatever its source. "Jerry and I disagree on many things," White admits, "but we agree on this: we must work together to help end the rhetoric that leads to anger, fear, and acts of violence."

"We’ll be sitting at round tables in mixed groups of ten," White explains. "Our gay and lesbian delegates from the Hawaii Marriage Project are bringing 200 tea-leaf leis in the spirit of Aloha (friendship). A PFLAG mother of a gay man has created 400 pottery angels, one for each place setting, to remind us of the innocent men and women who have been shot, strangled, stabbed, or beaten to death. After a meal and a time of getting acquainted, people of faith from both sides will share our stories and the stories of our friends and families who have suffered from this never-ending war of words."

At the press conference following the dinner/forum, surrounded by photos of the dead, Falwell and White plan to read the names of hate crime victims from Matt Shepard to the evangelical teenagers killed in the sanctuary of their Fort Worth Baptist Church. Mary Lou Wallner, a mother whose lesbian daughter committed suicide, will join other guests in describing the effects of "hate speech" in their lives and in the lives of their families. Falwell, White and the 400 delegates are expected to take a united stand against careless words that lead to suffering and death. They will invite others to join in that pledge.

Mel White and his life-partner, Gary Nixon, are Co-Founders of Soulforce, Inc., an ecumenical, interfaith network of people of faith committed to the principles of nonviolence as taught by Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The 200 members of their Soulforce "Journey to Lynchburg" will conduct a memorial service and candle light vigil 7 p.m. Friday evening, Oct.22, at their temporary Soulforce Central (Lynchburg’s First Christian Church on Rivermont Avenue). On Saturday morning, Oct. 23, from 8-12 they will participate in advanced training in nonviolence.

Besides meeting with Jerry Falwell and his allies, the Soulforce delegation is contributing $20,000 to Habitat for Humanity in Lynchburg and 1,000 cans and packages of food to Lynchburg food banks. The delegates from 30 states will spend Saturday afternoon picking up trash on a section of Rivermont Avenue adopted by their hosts. On Sunday they will worship with Jerry Falwell at his 25,000 member Thomas Road Baptist Church. Following the service, the Soulforce delegates hope to take their new friends from Falwell’s church to lunch in restaurants across Lynchburg.

__________________

For more information about this "Soulforce Journey to Lynchburg" see www.soulforce.org.

Soulforce, Inc., P.O. Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA 92652

Phone: (949) 455-0999 Fax: (949) 455-0959 Email: RevMel@aol.com

In Spite of Opposition From Both Sides, Falwell & 200 Baptist Leaders will Meet White, 200 GLBT People of Faith & Their Allies

"Our War of Words Has to End. Too Many Caught in the Deadly Crossfire."
A Soulforce News Alert – October 14, 1999

On October 23 at 4p.m. in Lynchburg, Virginia, 400 people of faith will make history. The Rev. Jerry Falwell and 200 of his Baptist friends and associates will break bread with the Rev. Mel White’s Soulforce delegation of 200 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people of faith and their allies.

"Breaking bread is better than breaking heads," says Dr. White, a gay Christian clergyman who spent the last seven years pursuing Jerry Falwell and other leaders of the religious right hoping and praying that this day might come. "Our war of words has to end," he says sadly. "Too many innocent people on both sides are being caught in the deadly crossfire."

Falwell has promised not to "compromise his position on homosexuality," but he supports White’s primary goal. "Mel sincerely wants to lower the rhetoric on both sides," he said. "And that is exactly what we want as well."

"We’ll give Jerry the time he needs to learn the truth about God’s gay children," White replies quietly. "But we’ll not stop telling him that truth until he does."

The unusual dinner/forum is being widely praised, but protestors from both sides have promised to be in Lynchburg to make their opposition public. Bob Kunst, gay activist from Florida says, "Falwell’s already been beaten and by resurrecting his reputation, White has compromised himself and is trying to take the rest of us down with him." Fred Phelp’s, of "GodHatesFags" fame, condemns both Falwell and White for the event. "In meeting with those who commit such things as are ‘worthy of death’ (Rom. 1:32)," Phelps writes, "Falwell is guiltier than White."

Although they will discuss their very different views on sexual orientation, Falwell, White, and their 400 allies are primarily seeking ways to help end "hate speech" whatever its source. "Jerry and I disagree on many things," White admits, "but we agree on this: we must work together to help end the rhetoric that leads to anger, fear, and acts of violence."

"We’ll be sitting at round tables in mixed groups of ten," White explains. "Our gay and lesbian delegates from the Hawaii Marriage Project are bringing 200 tea-leaf leis in the spirit of Aloha (friendship). A PFLAG mother of a gay man has created 400 pottery angels, one for each place setting, to remind us of the innocent men and women who have been shot, strangled, stabbed, or beaten to death. After a meal and a time of getting acquainted, people of faith from both sides will share our stories and the stories of our friends and families who have suffered from this never-ending war of words."

At the press conference following the dinner/forum, surrounded by photos of the dead, Falwell and White plan to read the names of hate crime victims from Matt Shepard to the evangelical teenagers killed in the sanctuary of their Fort Worth Baptist Church. Mary Lou Wallner, a mother whose lesbian daughter committed suicide, will join other guests in describing the effects of "hate speech" in their lives and in the lives of their families. Falwell, White and the 400 delegates are expected to take a united stand against careless words that lead to suffering and death. They will invite others to join in that pledge.

Mel White and his life-partner, Gary Nixon, are Co-Founders of Soulforce, Inc., an ecumenical, interfaith network of people of faith committed to the principles of nonviolence as taught by Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The 200 members of their Soulforce "Journey to Lynchburg" will conduct a memorial service and candle light vigil 7 p.m. Friday evening, Oct.22, at their temporary Soulforce Central (Lynchburg’s First Christian Church on Rivermont Avenue). On Saturday morning, Oct. 23, from 8-12 they will participate in advanced training in nonviolence.

Besides meeting with Jerry Falwell and his allies, the Soulforce delegation is contributing $20,000 to Habitat for Humanity in Lynchburg and 1,000 cans and packages of food to Lynchburg food banks. The delegates from 30 states will spend Saturday afternoon picking up trash on a section of Rivermont Avenue adopted by their hosts. On Sunday they will worship with Jerry Falwell at his 25,000 member Thomas Road Baptist Church. Following the service, the Soulforce delegates hope to take their new friends from Falwell’s church to lunch in restaurants across Lynchburg.

To contact Jerry Falwell or for information about the Forum, call Jeremy Blume (770) 813-0000. Fax requests for media credentials on letterhead to (770)-813-8887.

An Open Letter From Mel White and the People of Soulforce

Promises Soulforce Intervention in Nebraska, Nov. 16-18.

October 10, 1999

To: Bishop William Boyd Grove, Presiding Officer,
The Trial of the Reverend Jimmy Creech,
November 17-18, 1999, Grand Island, Nebraska
To: Bishop Joel Martinez, the United Methodist Bishop for Nebraska and
To: the good people of the United Methodist Church.

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

We beg you, in the name of Jesus, do not allow the trial of the Rev. Jimmy Creech to convene in Grand Island, Nebraska, November 17, 1999. You may sincerely believe that this is a private legal matter between you and one of your clergy who has broken a law. You may be convinced that this is a case of pastoral discipline that is no one’s business but your own. Unfortunately, the whole world knows what is really happening in Grand Island.

This rare church trial is taking place because Jimmy Creech dared to bless the loving relationship of two gay men. By trying him in this public forum you are saying to the nation that you find their loving relationship so offensive that a clergy who offers them God’s blessing should be persecuted and punished to the full extent of church law. With Methodism’s roots planted deep in John and Charles Wesley’s concern for the outcast, how can you try Jimmy Creech for his concern for gay and lesbian people? You are trying a good man for breaking a bad law and it is that bad law that is on trial, not Jimmy Creech.

This trial is another highly visible assault on America’s sexual minorities that will be broadcast to the nation. Every newspaper and newsmagazine report, every radio and television newscast from Grand Island will inadvertently inflame the debate about homosexuality and homosexuals. Televangelists and religious talk-show hosts will use Grand Island to fill the airwaves (and their directmail, fundraising letters) with more false and inflammatory anti-gay rhetoric. Skinheads, white supremacists, militia, Christian Reconstructionists and other extremist groups will have their anti-homosexual bigotry re-enforced. The news will even trickle down to drunken kids with baseball bats.

Whatever your verdict, this trial will further confuse and divide the church of Christ. It will support discrimination in public policy against homosexuals. It will help ruin lives, divide families, and split churches. And it will justify fear, anger, bigotry and acts of violence against us. If you allow this trial to continue, you will break the heart of Christ, bring shame to His body the church, and commit an act of spiritual violence against God’s gay and lesbian children

One day, in the not-too-distant-future, the body of Christ will finally acknowledge the truth about God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children. Why not do it in Grand Island? According to more than one million members of the American Psychological, Sociological, Medical, Pediatric, Psychiatric, and Social Worker Associations the verdict is in. Homosexuality is neither a sickness nor a sin. In 1994 the American Psychological Association summarized a quarter-of-a-century’s scientific and clinical research on homosexuality with these words:

"The research on homosexuality is very clear. Homosexuality is neither mental illness nor moral depravity. It is simply the way a minority of our population expresses human love and sexuality. Study after study documents the mental health of gay men and lesbians. Studies of judgment, stability, reliability, social and vocation adaptiveness all show that gay men and lesbians function every bit as well as heterosexuals."

Although science is still not clear how we are formed, why not take this moment in Grand Island to admit that God has formed us and loves us exactly as we are. Our sexual orientation is simply another human characteristic like the shape of one’s hands or the color of one’s eyes. Unfortunately, the church is always the last to acknowledge scientific truth. It is tragic that you continue to ignore years of scientific, psychological, historic, and even biblical research in our favor. But you cannot ignore what you know in your hearts about us.

Close your eyes and remember the names and faces of the homosexual and bisexual people of faith who have inspired and informed your life. We are your friends and colleagues in the United Methodist Church. You know from personal experience that we love Christ and serve Christ’s body alongside you as pastors, counselors, teachers, musicians, and church administrators. You know that over the centuries as clergy and laity we have given our lives in faithful, creative, and committed service. Please, in the name of Christ, help end the persecution of sexual minorities by the very church we love and so faithfully serve.

Before you place Jimmy Creech on trial again for demonstrating Christ’s love to the sexual outcasts in your midst, dare to consider how history will remember you and your United Methodist denomination for this unconscionable act. For the past two thousand years, the church has tried its martyrs and its heroes for their courageous and prophetic stance. Please, don’t do it again to Jimmy Creech.

For decades courageous individuals and organizations within United Methodism have stood faithfully for the truth about God’s gay children. You have ignored the witness of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, the Reconciling Churches Program, Affirmation and CORNET. You have closed your hearts to appeals on our behalf from Gregory Dell, Leslie Penrose, Jimmy Creech, Jim Lawson, Don Fado, the more than sixty other clergy who stood with him at the holy union in Sacramento, and other courageous clergy and laity around the nation. You have sacrificed dozens of gay and lesbian clergy, demeaned their relationships and pushed them from their United Methodist ministries. You have studied, discussed, and debated endlessly. You have tabled, postponed and delayed. Now you are about to put on trial another United Methodist clergyman who had the courage to act. Be advised. We have no option but to do our best to prevent this trial from taking place.

We are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered people of faith, our friends and families. Many of us are United Methodists. Some of us aren’t. We are committed to the nonviolent "soul force" principles of Jesus, Gandhi, and King. We come to Grand Island, Nebraska, in the spirit of Christ whose last words to us were: "A new commandment give I unto you, that you love one another." This trial is not an act of love. It is an act of spiritual violence against us. And we are determined to show relentless love in response.

To counter that violence we have invited the Reverend Jimmy Creech (and any United Methodist clergy who care to join him) to conduct a same-gender holy union on the eve of the trial, Tuesday, October 16, 1999, in Grand Island, Nebraska. We are inviting gay and lesbian couples who would like to reaffirm their vows to join in that celebration as well.

On Wednesday, October 17, 1999, if you insist on trying Jimmy Creech, we are committed to a nonviolent "Soulforce Direct Action" to prevent the trial from taking place. The endless discussion and debate about homosexuality and the United Methodist Church is going nowhere. Harvey Cox said, "Not to decide is to decide." This trial makes it clear. You have decided that our loving relationships are not worthy to be blessed by the church.

We aren’t coming to Grand Island to ask you to bless our relationships. God does that already. In fact, our loving relationships are God’s gift to us, evidence of God’s presence in our lives. We are coming to Grand Island to prevent you from another act of spiritual violence that demeans, dishonors and discounts our love for each other. In blessing our relationships, Jimmy Creech and the others have refused to obey unjust laws that were created to deny God’s gifts to us. We pray daily that one day you, too, will add your blessing to what God has already done. Until then, we come asking you to stop these acts of spiritual violence against us.

To bishops Grove and Martinez, to the thirty-five member jury pool, and to every trial participant we must add these words. Between now and November 18, the whole world will be watching you. Ask the Spirit of Truth to lead you. Listen to the still small voice of God. Then, have the courage to take your stand against this tragic trial.

On the morning of November 17 stand with us outside the courtroom. Refuse to add your name to this moment of infamy. Link your arms in our arms. Add your voice to our voices. In so doing, you have the opportunity to make glad the heart of Christ, to help heal his wounded body the church, and to prevent another act of spiritual violence against God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children.

Gandhi says, "It is as much my moral obligation to refuse to cooperate with evil as it is to cooperate with good." In our eyes, this trial is an act of spiritual violence against us and thus evil. We cannot be silent any longer. We beg you to intervene. If you had the opportunity to stand between the assassin and those innocent Evangelical teenagers who died in their Fort Worth Baptist Church, you would have risked your life to save them. If you could have placed your body between those drunken kids and Matthew Shepard before they broke his skull and tied him to the fence to die, you would have done it without a second thought.

You are men and women of courage and commitment. If the trial is not convened we will bless your names and celebrate your courage. If you insist on convening the trial, we are prepared to intervene nonviolently. We cannot stand by in grief and silence any longer. This is your chance to place your body between God’s gay and lesbian children and the untruth that leads to their suffering and death. Please, do not enter that courtroom. Hear Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, "You know the law by heart, but you have forgotten the heart of the law: justice, mercy, and truth."

James Russell Lowell wrote these words. We commend them to you:

"Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side. Some great cause, God’s new messiah, offering each the bloom or blight. And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt the darkness and the light."

May God give us all wisdom to know the right and the courage to do it before our "choice goes by forever."

mel white