The Trial of Jimmy Creech: November 17, 1999 An Act of Spiritual Violence Against God’s GLBT Children

The Rev. Dr. Mel White
November 24, 1999

I will never forget the expression on Jimmy’s face as he left the Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Island, Nebraska, to face a wall of reporters and camera crews. Two hours earlier, a jury of his peers had found our friend, Jimmy Creech, guilty of conducting the holy union of two men in Raleigh, North Carolina. The November 17 trial had just ended with the jury’s penalty decision. I met Jimmy as he and his wife, Chris, exited the sanctuary. Blinking back tears, he smiled a brave, sad smile and hugged me. But the look in his eyes haunts me still.

Jimmy Creech had served the United Methodist Church faithfully for a quarter of a century. He had preached powerfully and pastored with distinction. And though he knew that conducting a same-sex holy union had just become a "chargeable offense" for United Methodist clergy, he had broken that "unjust law" as an act of conscience.

The jury could have decided on a token penalty, a slap on the wrist, a warning. Instead, they chose to end Jimmy’s career as a United Methodist cleric. For following his heart and doing justice for sexual minorities, the jury withdrew Jimmy’s ordination to Christian ministry and revoked his license to preach and pastor.

As Jimmy and Chris walked down the stairs into the arms of his shocked and grieving friends, our Soulforce team went into action. One hundred-fifty volunteers had spent the last twenty-four hours in Grand Island, Nebraska, to support Jimmy and to protest this act of spiritual violence against all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. Carrying lighted candles and wearing our matching "Stop Spiritual Violence" sweatshirts, we formed an honor guard around the Creech family. Just behind them, Sara Sherrard, a transgendered Soulforce volunteer from Charlottesville, Virginia, carried the tall purple candle of the Holy Spirit as she led our procession away from the church where Jimmy Creech had been tried. Jimmy explained our symbolic act to the waiting media. "How can the Holy Spirit be present anyplace," he asked, "where all God’s children are not welcome?"

The day before, November 16, Soulforce volunteers from twenty states had gathered in Grand Island for advanced training in civil disobedience guided by the principles of nonviolence as taught by Gandhi and King. Because no local church in Grand Island would provide us sanctuary, the local Holiday Inn became our "Soulforce Central."

That evening before the trial began, we invited the media to see the same holy union for which Jimmy Creech was being tried. The grooms, Larry Ellis and Jim Raymer, had agreed to this "renewal of vows" as a witness to the world. A dozen television crews filmed the service. Nebraska papers carried front page, full-color photos of the grooms with Jimmy and their witnesses.

That night we gathered on the steps of Trinity United Methodist where the trial would take place for an all-night candlelight vigil. We had bought a full-page ad in the Grand Island Independent to explain why the trial was an act of spiritual violence against sexual minorities. We promised to block the doors of the church one hour before the trial began and invited bishops and jurists to join us in our act of conscience. At least a dozen UMC clergy and their families from Nebraska joined us on the steps that night.

The next morning at 7:45AM, motorcycle police escorted the bus carrying bishops and potential jurists to the door where the Soulforce delegation stood waiting. Camera crews and reporters rushed into action as we locked arms and blocked the entrance in an act of civil disobedience. Bishop William Grove approached us, thanked us for our act of conscience, then asked us to step aside so that he and the jury could "do their duty."

We didn’t move. No one said a word. Bishop Joel Martinez, the United Methodist bishop for Nebraska, looked out on a sea of determined Soulforce faces including at least twelve of his own Nebraska clergy and their wives. After several minutes of absolute silence, Captain Bill Holloway of the Grand Island police spoke his first warning. "Move away or be arrested." No one moved. No one spoke. The first sound we heard after "You are under arrest" was the sound of our Soulforce friends applauding in support as we were led away.

One week has passed since our Soulforce Journey to Grand Island. I am still stunned by the arrogance of the United Methodist Church in their mean-spirited treatment of one of their best and brightest. With almost ten million members, the United Methodists are America’s third largest Christian community (after Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists.) I had hoped that the United Methodists with their history of social concern would have realized by now that we are God’s children, too, worthy of full, unqualified membership in Christ’s church. They have not.

With every passing day I get more convinced that most of the Christian churches (Catholic and Protestant alike) are no closer to granting GLBT people full acceptance than they were twenty or thirty years ago. In many ways it’s gotten worse. Except for the United Church of Christ (who have led the way in acceptance and understanding) there is a general crackdown in most denominations on clergy and laity who support us. Investigations are under way. Charges are made. Trials are conducted. Studies are commissioned and tabled. The debate goes on endlessly. And in the process, God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children continue to suffer the endless acts of spiritual violence against us.

When someone calls you a "fag," you are a victim of psychological violence. When he calls you a "fag" and hits you with a baseball bat, you are a victim of physical violence. But when he calls you a "fag," hits you with a baseball bat, and quotes the Bible (or the United Methodist Church) to defend his act, you are a victim of spiritual violence.

I’d rather suffer psychological or physical violence any day than be told over and over again the untruth that my sexual orientation is a sickness and a sin; that my Creator doesn’t love me as I am; and that my fifteen year relationship with Gary Nixon isn’t blessed by God so the United Methodist Church can’t bless it either.

We’ve waited decades for the churches of our childhood to end their debate about sexual orientation. They have ignored the evidence of science and history. They’ve misused the Scriptures to support their prejudice and they’ve refused to take our own stories seriously. Now they’re even putting our friends and allies on trial. We’ve been too polite and too patient for too long. Or we’ve walked away and left the struggle for others.

The Soulforce principles of relentless nonviolent resistance show us a powerful way to resist injustice. Take the Four Step (or the Seventeen Step) Journey into Soulforce. Scan our archives and our on-line resources. Get in touch. We are building an interfaith, ecumenical network of people of faith determined to do justice for sexual minorities (and for all others who suffer injustice). And in the process of working to transform our society through nonviolence, we’re finding our own spirits being renewed and restored. We would love to have you join us.

OK to forward, post, print, or publish.
Photos on line or by mail:
Soulforce, Inc., PO Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA 92652
To contact Mel White:
Email: melwhite@soulforce.org
Fax: 949-455-0959

Reuters News Article: "Methodist Minister Going to Trial for Gay Wedding"

Wednesday November 17 7:32 AM ET
Reuters News Alert

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (Reuters) – A United Methodist Church pastor faces a trial by the church Wednesday for performing a union ceremony for two men.

The Rev. Jimmy Creech, who said he has performed 13 "holy unions" of gay and lesbian individuals in the last few years, is to be tried on charges of violating a church ban on performing same-sex unions.

Creech was the first pastor to challenge the Methodist Church’s rule against conducting ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions, and was narrowly acquitted in a church trial last year for officiating at a lesbian wedding. A jury of 13 clergy fell one vote short of nine votes needed for dismissal.

His ongoing battle with the Methodist Church has fractured the denomination, and he is now one of a contingent of Methodist clergy openly challenging the church on the issue.

"There are many clergy in the United Methodist Church who believe this law to be unjust and a violation of all United Methodist stands for," Creech told Reuters. "It singles out a group of people for special discrimination."

Creech said he will use the trial to explain why he believes the church’s stance to be immoral.

"I’m hopeful they will be able to understand that the law itself is unjust and should not be obeyed," he said.

Different church officials either declined to comment or could not be reach for comment. Meanwhile, the rhetoric was reaching a fever pitch among the protesters.

"This is not just simply a trial against Jimmy Creech, this is spiritual violence against all sexual minorities in this country," said the Rev. Mel White, a gay-rights activist from Laguna Beach, Calif.

White brought a delegation of 100 protesters with him to Nebraska with plans to try to block the doors of the church before the trial. The group also planned to hold a "renewal of vows" ceremony between the two men that Creech wed, White said.

On the other side, the Rev. Fred Phelps, a Baptist minister from Topeka, Kansas, who regularly stages protests against homosexuals all over the country, plans to lead a contingent of his own.

Phelps said the church’s position is based on biblical law and violating it as Creech has done is "damnable." Creech, he said, "is going straight to hell."

Grand Island Independent Article: "Police Arrest 74 Protesters Blocking Creech Trial Site, Creech Won’t Offer Defense"

Police arrest 74 protesters blocking Creech trial site Creech won’t offer defense

Grand Island Independent
Wednesday, November 17, 1999
By Tracy Overstreet

Photos by Gerik Parmele

After refusing to move from the entrance of Trinity United Methodist Church Wednesday morning, Soulforce members follow Grand Island police Capt. Bill Holloway to be arrested.

Seventy-four people were arrested Wednesday morning for blocking access to a church where the Rev. Jimmy Creech was to go on trial for marrying two gay men.

The protesters were arrested for trespassing outside Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Island. Those arrested by police had locked arms and blocked the entrance to the church as Bishop Joel Martinez of Lincoln and potential jurors arrived.

The people arrested were primarily members of Soulforce, a group supporting Creech. They were taken to a makeshift police headquarters in the former Walnut Junior High building, where they were given citations and each paid a $48 fine.

Opponents of Creech also appeared outside the church early Wednesday.


While protesting the trial of the Rev. Jimmy Creech, members of Soulforce block the entrance to Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Island Wednesday morning. The group members refused to move when (from right) United Methodist Bishop Joel Martinez and Bishop William Boyd Grove asked to enter the church. Grove is presiding at the trial.


Members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., held signs in protest of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Their leader, the Rev. Fred Phelps, left the scene shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday, saying there were other protests they needed to attend.

The church trial started at 10 a.m. after a short jury selection process. Creech told supporters outside the church that he did not participate in jury selection, and he would not offer a defense. Offering a defense, he said, would give credibility to what he considers to be unjust and immoral church law.

Instead, Creech said, he would answer questions posed by the prosecution and give a final statement. He said he would ask jurors to give no ruling so that pastors don’t have to be punished for loving all of God’s sinners.

Jurors received the case and broke for lunch just before noon. Deliberations are scheduled to resume at 1:15 p.m.

For more on this story, link to the Grand Island Independent www.theindependent.com.

People arrested for trespassing outside Creech trial

Wednesday, November 17, 1999

Grand Island police arrested 74 people for trespassing Wednesday morning outside Trinity United Methodist Church for blocking access to Rev. Jimmy Creech’s trial.

Those cited were:
Kelley Anderson, Omaha
Charles Arehart, Sunrise Beach, Mo.
Susanne Bain, Stigler, Okla.
Jack Barnhart, Pleasant Hill, Iowa
Dorothy Berry, Lexington, Ky.
Arthur Butler, Independence, Mo.
Larry Christensen, Des Moines, Iowa
Linda Christensen, Des Moines, Iowa
April Clark, Grand Island
William Coffey Jr., Los Angeles, Calif.
Luann Conaty, Venice, Fla.
Patrick Corey, Richmond, Va.
John Degroff, Nashville, Tenn.
Javier Dela Huerta, San Francisco, Calif.
Jade Dell, Chicago, Ill.
Carlton Dickerson, Charlottesville, Va.
Elizabeth Dorr, Omaha
Patrick Everett, San Diego, Calif.
William Finlaw III, Lincoln
Marylee Fithian, Minneapolis, Minn.
Peggy Galloway, Hartford, Iowa
Michael Gray, Dayton, Va.
Ladonna Green, San Diego, Calif.
Robert Griffin, Indianola, Iowa
David Grimm, Burlingame, Kan.
John Gordon, Thunnan, Iowa
Edward Hansen, Los Angeles, Calif.
Richard Harding, Concord, Mass.
Gordon Herzog, Flocissant, Mo.
Leah Hicks, Omaha
Jeaneane Hill, Bellevue, Wash.
WIlliam Jenks, Omaha
Paul Johnson, West Des Moines, Iowa
Rosemary Jurgmann, West Des Moines, Iowa
Mark Kemling, Omaha
Susan Koenig, Omaha
Dawn Leach, Cleveland, Ohio
David Leaming, Des Moines, Iowa
Jill Liske, Grand Island
Larry Little, Kokomo, Ind.
Michelle Maples, West Des Moines, Iowa
Kenneth Martin, Manor, Texas
Jean Mayberry, Omaha
Michael McMurty, Lincoln
Kristine Meinhard, Ames, Iowa
Gordon Minor, Indianapolis, Ind.
Richard Murphy, Miami, Fla.
Charles Phelan, Los Angeles, Calif.
Michael Perez, Seattle, Wash.
Lois Peterson, OMaha
Beverly Reddick, Ames, Iowa
Susan Rood, Omaha
Kathleen Ruser, Lincoln
Leroy Schoen, Lincoln
Susan Schoen, Lincoln
John Sebastian, Hollywood, Calif.
Robert Shanke, Pleasant Hill, Iowa
Timothy Shaw, Lincoln
Sara Sherrard, Charlottesville, Va.
Allen VandarLinden, Des Moines, Iowa
Jay Vetter, Lincoln
Maurean Vetter, Lincoln
Barbara Walburn, Chapel Hill, N.C.
James Wallasky, Ralston
Karen Weldin, Stigler, Okla.
Lorraine Wendell, Cheverlly, Md.
Mel White, Laguna Hills, Calif.
Douglas Williamson, Lincoln
Lee Williamson, Hayward, Calif.
Nancy Wilsen, Los Angeles, Calif.
William Wilson, Des Moines, Iowa
Scott Winkler, Omaha
Larry Wise, Kokomo, Ind.
Zavier Yager, Chicago, Ill.

Grand Island Independent Article: "Minister Stripped of Ordination for Gay Marriage Rite, Methodist Church Jury Finds Creech Guilty"

By Tracy Overstreet
The Independent (Grand Island, Nebraska)
November 17, 1999

A Methodist church jury stripped Jimmy Creech of his credentials as a minister Wednesday for breaking church rules by conducting a commitment ceremony for two gay men.

A 13-member jury delivered a unanimous "guilty" verdict against the former Omaha pastor. The verdict in the United Methodist Church trial came after about an hour of deliberation.

"This is a loss of something I love dearly," Creech said, noting he has been an ordained minister for 29 years. "This is the pettiness of the church and not the spirit of God that has acted here today."

Creech said the United Methodist Church made clear with its verdict that it will use church power to enforce bigotry.

"It is a scandalous day for the United Methodist Church," he said.

The jury could have banished 55-year-old Creech from the church altogether or given him lighter sanctions.

Rev. Steve Flader of Omaha, who acted as prosecutor, recommended that Creech lose his credentials to be a minister.

A juror, the Rev. Jeff Kelley from Nebraska City, read a statement regarding the jury’s guilty verdict.

"We wish also to affirm that the discipline says ‘homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth — we commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.’"

Earlier Wednesday, 74 Creech supporters were arrested for blocking access to Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Island. Those arrested for trespassing had locked arms and blocked entrance to the trial site as Bishop Joel Martinez of Lincoln and potential jurors arrived.

The people arrested were primarily members of Soulforce, a group supporting Creech. They were taken to a makeshift police headquarters in a former school building, where they were given citations and each paid a $48 fine.

Bishop Martinez said Creech has the right to appeal the verdict, but Creech had previously said he would not appeal the decision because that would validate the process that he feels is unjust.


(earlier article below)

Methodist church jury finds Creech guilty

Staff and wire reports

A 13-member jury delivered a unanimous "guilty" verdict against the Rev. Jimmy Creech, who was accused of breaking church rules by conducting a commitment ceremony for two gay men.

The verdict in the United Methodist Church trial came after about an hour of deliberation.

The jury is deliberating Wednesday afternoon on what sentence to impose.

The church prosecutor recommended Creech lose his ministerial credentials.

"I’m not surprised," Creech said, "but I’m really quite disappointed. I’m mostly disappointed that it was a unanimous decision."

In statements during today’s 90-minute trial, Creech condemned the law and the church for putting him on trial.

"I believe the law that prohibits pastors from celebrating holy unions with gay and lesbian couples is an unjust and immoral law," said Creech, who acted as his own attorney. "This whole judicial process — this trial in particular — has been corrupted, contaminated. The trial is illicit."

Creech implored the jury during the 90-minute trial to refuse to reach a verdict, arguing that church law forbidding gay marriage is demeaning and a form of sacrilege.

"If you vote guilty, you will be honoring that law," he said.

Creech is accused of performing the gay marriage in Chapel Hill, N.C., earlier this year, an act that has plunged the church’s 9.5 million members into a bitter debate over its doctrine.

He faces a range of possible church punishments, including dismissal from the United Methodist clergy. Creech could appeal a conviction to national church officials.

On the eve of his trial, Creech presided at a recommitment ceremony for Larry Ellis and James Raymer, the same men whose first ceremony prompted the church to seek the trial.

Earlier today, 74 Creech supporters were arrested for trespassing as they locked arms and sang hymns in front of Trinity United Methodist Church where the proceeding is being held.

Statement from Rev. Jimmy Creech

November 9, 1999

In little more than one week, there will be a United Methodist Church trial in Grand Island, Nebraska. While the church will be prosecuting me for celebrating the holy union ceremony for Larry Ellis and Jim Raymer in April of this year, this trial is neither my trial nor is it exclusively a United Methodist trial.

This trial belongs to everyone: to all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families against whom this trial is an act of violence; to all who love justice and want to end the persecution of gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender people by The United Methodist Church and other Christian churches; and, to all who grieve The United Methodist Church’s renunciation, in the cause of bigotry, of Christ’s unconditional love and welcome extended to all people.

Many persons from all over the United States will be going to Grand Island to make a clear and uncompromising witness against the violence, the persecution and the apostasy of The United Methodist Church. While this witness speaks one message of opposition and protest, it will be varied both in how it is made and by whom it is made. Some will make their witness through nonviolent direct action and are prepared to be arrested. Others are making their witness through the presence of solidarity and support. People at different places in their journeys choose different ways to witness to what God has spoken to their hearts and minds. No one way is superior to another when it is an act of integrity and faith. We may make different choices, but we are all making the same witness.

In addition to those going to Grand Island, many are making their witness in their home areas through prayer vigils, letter writing and other public expressions of support.

I support and am grateful for all ways this witness will be made, because the message in support of justice, respect, acceptance and inclusion of all of God’s children in the Body of Christ will be unambiguous and profound.

The support many have given to me as I approach the trial has strengthened me. But, of greater importance, my hope is rescued and sustained by the growing numbers of people, both nonmembers and members, who are making a clear witness in many different ways that the persecution of gay, bisexual, transgender and lesbian people must end, and the grace of God must prevail in The United Methodist Church. I believe their witness, in concert with God’s spirit, will ultimately redeem The United Methodist Church, and no one ever again will be punished in the name of Christ because of sexual identity or orientation.

Jimmy Creech Raleigh, NC

Spiritual Violence Against Homosexuals Transcends Denominational Boundaries

November 9, 1999

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Media Coordinator for Rev. Jimmy Creech
717-627-7180 – LMRutt@aol.com

On November 17 – 18, 1999, The United Methodist Church will wrongfully condemn the actions of Rev. Jimmy Creech for celebrating the holy union of Larry Ellis and Jim Raymer in April of this year. While claiming to affirm the worth of all people, The United Methodist Church prohibits ministers from performing same-sex unions.

From all over the United States, justice seeking people from a myriad of faith traditions will be going to Grand Island, Nebraska, to make a clear and uncompromising witness against the spiritual violence being done to sexual minorities and their families.

On November 16 at 7pm Larry and Jim will participate with the Rev. Jimmy Creech in the renewal of their commitment and a reenactment of their union ceremony. The young gay men want the world to see this sacred rite before they condemn it. The United Methodist Church must be held accountable for withholding the blessing of the church from what God has blessed already.

In a statement released today, Rev. Creech said, " This trial belongs to everyone: to all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families against whom this trial is an act of violence; to all who love justice and want to end the persecution of gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender people by The United Methodist Church and other Christian churches; and, to all who grieve The United Methodist Church’s renunciation, in the cause of bigotry, of Christ’s unconditional love and welcome extended to all people."

Support for justice, respect, acceptance and inclusion of all of God’s children in the Body of Christ and in support Rev. Creech will take many forms. Some will be taking part in the actions of Soulforce, a group committed to non-violent direct resistance as taught by Jesus, Gandhi and King. Others are making their witness through their presence and support at the trial. Those not able to come to Grand Island will be holding vigils, writing letters, and praying for an end to the spiritual violence committed by the Church.

This profound witness to the gospel is not about the trial of one minister by The United Methodist Church, but a wake up call to all those who persecute and oppress individuals because of their sexual orientation. In the words of Rev. Creech, "I believe their witness, in concert with God’s spirit, will ultimately redeem The United Methodist Church, and no one ever again will be punished in the name of Christ because of sexual identity or orientation."

The media are invited to attend the Holy Union rite at the Holiday Inn Midtown in Grand Island, 7PM, Nov. 16, 1999. For more information on Rev. Jimmy Creech or activities surrounding the trial, contact Laura Montgomery Rutt at 717-627-7180. For the complete statement made today by Rev. Creech, see http://www.iwgonline.org/docs/jcontrial.html.

Second Open Letter from Mel White and the People of Soulforce

November 7, 1999

To:
Bishops Grove and Martinez
The Jury Pool and All Trial Participants
All Clergy and Laity of the United Methodist Church

Re: The Trial of Jimmy Creech Grand Island, Nebraska, November 17-18, 1999

Brothers and Sisters, Greetings,

There are rumors circulating on the Internet that our Soulforce delegation is coming to Grand Island "to disrupt" or even "to prevent" the trial of Jimmy Creech. I’m sorry that my own ill-chosen words helped launch those rumors. Let me try to explain our Soulforce mission more clearly.

Please understand at the outset that every Soulforce delegate has signed a pledge against violence, as Dr. King would say, "of the heart, the tongue, and the fist." For us "to disrupt" or "to prevent" the trial would be an act of violence. You can trust our Soulforce delegates to be loving and respectful even when we disagree with you. We are sisters and brothers, children of the same Creator. Like you, we are people of faith. Many of us are United Methodists. Reconciliation is our only goal. You do not need to fear our presence in any way.

It is equally true that we do not want this second trial of Jimmy Creech to take place. That choice, however, is yours, not ours. And though you have no legal authority from the United Methodist Church "to prevent" the trial, you have the moral authority "to prevent" it by refusing to walk up those eleven steps into the sanctuary of the Trinity UMC. We know this would take an act of moral courage, the same kind of courage Jimmy Creech has shown, and we beg you to consider it.

You may sincerely believe that this trial is a private affair between Jimmy Creech and the United Methodist Church. Because of a recent ruling of your Judicial Council, in co-officiating in the Holy Union of a gay couple, Jimmy Creech has committed a chargeable offense. We assume that you would prefer not to judge a colleague for his act of conscience, but you feel responsible as a member of the UMC to do your duty if even it is unpleasant.

Consider another possibility. Could it be that refusing to participate in this trial is that rare opportunity for you to perform your own historic act of conscience? Gandhi says "it is as much our moral obligation to refuse to cooperate with evil as it is to cooperate with good." Jimmy Creech has broken an unjust law. Could it be possible that by trying Jimmy you are aiding and abetting the evil consequences of that unjust law and that by refusing to try him you would be taking an historic stand for justice?

We believe that the trial is an act of violence against all God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children. We also see the trial as an act of spiritual violence against Jimmy Creech and all other UMC ministers who are persuaded by their conscience to add their blessing to the same-gender relationships that God has already blessed. You don’t mean to participate in an "act of violence." And I may fail in this attempt to explain why your decision to try Jimmy Creech will have violent consequences in the lives of my sisters and brothers, but I must try.

I’m sure you felt anger and grief when you saw pictures of Fred Phelps carrying his "GOD HATES FAGS" sign at the funeral of Matthew Shepard. For Phelps to misrepresent God and the Scriptures to support his own bigotry was clearly an act of spiritual violence. And though your motives are entirely different from Fred Phelps we are convinced that this trial is just another "GOD HATES FAGS" sign that the media will broadcast to the nation. Only this time, the sign is not carried by an obviously disturbed man but by the United Methodist Church, an historic, well-respected denomination with a history of social concern. Few people are confused when Phelps carries the sign. You risk confusing millions when that sign is in your hands.

Whatever your verdict, this trial will declare that you believe that our loving, faithful, same-gender relationships are condemned by God and by the United Methodist Church. Therefore, the heterosexual majority looking on will conclude that our loving, faithful, same-gender relationships should also be condemned by our friends and families, our pastors, deacons, and elders, by our employers and landlords, and by drunken thugs carrying baseball bats, knives, and guns.

Whatever your verdict, the trial will declare to America’s gay and lesbian minority that you believe that the love we feel for each other is sick and sinful; that what seems natural to us is unnatural in God’s eyes; that we should hide our relationships or forfeit them altogether; and that we should attempt instead to satisfy our God-given need for same-gender intimacy and affection through occasional promiscuous sex rather than loving, committed relationships.

Worse, though you don’t mean to say it, this trial will reinforce the terrible untruth that God doesn’t love the GLBT individuals that God has created. That message cripples the souls of our sisters and brothers and plunges all too many of them into years of self-hatred, worthless "reparative" therapies, loneliness, suffering, and even death. Or it causes many others to leave the church, give up their faith, and end their spiritual journeys altogether.

Whatever your verdict, this trial will declare that people like Jimmy Creech who believe that our loving, committed relationships are ordained and blessed by God are no longer welcome in the United Methodist Church. And it will make unmistakably clear that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people of faith, as well as our friends and families are not really welcome either.

To help prevent these acts of spiritual violence, we are hoping and praying that just one of you (if not all of you) will refuse to walk up those steps on Wednesday morning, November 17, 1999. We will continue to respect you and consider you our brothers and sisters if you decide that we are wrong (and we might be). We certainly will not prevent you from entering Trinity UMC if you decide against us. But, in our sincere effort to help you re-examine your decision one last time before walking through those doors into the courtroom, our Soulforce delegation is drawing three lines in the sand (or on the sidewalk) around the church on Fifth Avenue and Elm Street that you must cross before you can start the trial.

The first line is invisible. It is the line that conscience draws around Trinity UMC. What is your heart saying about this trial and your participation in it? When you silence all of the conflicting voices (including ours) what is the still small voice of God whispering to you about the Trial of Jimmy Creech? If you have any doubt about entering that sanctuary turned tribunal, don’t do it. As a member and employee of the United Methodist Church you are responsible to perform faithfully the tasks assigned you, but in Christ you are urged to place the authority of the Holy Spirit above all earthly powers. Have you heard God’s voice in this matter? If God has told you to try Jimmy Creech then we will not stand in your way; but if you decide that the Holy Spirit is leading you to support Jimmy in his stand for sexual minorities and against this act of spiritual violence, then do not cross the line.

The second line is also invisible. It is the line that the Christian community draws around Trinity UMC. There are literally thousands of loyal UMC members praying for you. There are tens of thousands of GLBT people of faith and our friends and families who are praying that you will not try Jimmy Creech. Do you know anyone who is praying that this trial will take place?

Those who are praying that the trial won’t take place have at least three concerns. First, we are concerned about the present and what this trial will say to the watching world about Christ and His body the church (let alone about the UMC). Second, we are concerned that you are ignoring lessons learned from the past that organized religion has placed on trial all the wrong people and lived to regret it. Third, we are concerned that you are ignoring the future, what history will say about this trial when the UMC finally realizes that same-sex orientation is another mysterious gift from God to be accepted, celebrated, and lived with integrity. If you have considered the past, the present, and the future implications of this trial and still decide to try Jimmy Creech, we will not stand in your way; but if you decide that you cannot add your name to this historic event, then do not cross the line.

The third invisible line is the line that Christ draws around Trinity UMC. We all agree that He is risen and among us, but where will He be standing on Wednesday morning, Nov. 17? We picture him standing outside Trinity UMC with us. Where do you picture him? Would he enter those doors to place Jimmy Creech on trial? Or would he be outside protesting this event? Jesus was violent just once in His life when he drove the moneychangers from the temple. To Jesus, God’s house was a house of prayer for the outcasts. His dream was and is the same for your church and for mine. Would He use that sacred space that was ordained as a place of prayer for the outcast to try Jimmy Creech, the outcast’s friend? It’s very popular these days to ask "What would Jesus do?" It’s a lot harder to do it.

Because we are convinced that Jesus would not enter Trinity UMC to place Jimmy Creech on trial for blessing a relationship that God has already blessed, we are going to make visible with our bodies that line that Jesus draws.

On Tuesday evening, November 16, at 7PM at the Holiday Inn on Locust in Grand Island, Nebraska, we are going to experience the exact same Holy Union that has led to this tragic and traumatic trial. Our "renewal of vows as a witness" will be co-officiated by the Rev. Jimmy Creech and will include the same two gay men who took their vows that night, the same liturgy and music, even the same flowers and unity candle. You are invited to see for yourself what Jimmy Creech has done. Wouldn’t seeing that Holy Union service help you know whether or not your law is just and whether or not enforcing the law an act of justice? We are inviting the media to be present as well. Unfortunately, we will be holding this sacred service in a banquet room because no church in Grand Island would give us sanctuary for this event.

After that Holy Union service our Soulforce delegation is moving to those same eleven steps that you must climb to try Jimmy Creech. To show our genuine concern that this trial must not take place, we will hold a candlelight worship and vigil on the steps. Then in shifts, we will continue that vigil of concern throughout the entire night.

On Wednesday morning, November 17, as the sun rises, the entire Soulforce delegation will gather on the steps again to make visible the line we feel that Jesus has drawn. Exactly one hour before the trial is scheduled to begin two of our delegates will lock arms at the bottom of the stairway. The Chief of Police in Grand Island has advised that after locking their arms for one minute blocking the entrance symbolically (there will still be room for you to pass), that couple will be arrested. Immediately, another couple will take their place.

For one hour the symbolic civil disobedience and the arrests will continue. Our Soulforce action will be in total silence. We respect your decision either way and will not shame, coerce, or intimidate you if you make your way up the stairs. However, if you lock arms with us in our symbolic act and refuse to take those eleven steps into history, we will celebrate your courage and bless your name.

You may join us in being arrested or just join the line of those who stand with us in solidarity. A city official will issue a $48 fine. Once you’ve paid your fine, you will be released on the spot. There will be no trip to jail. The arrest will not appear on any official record but the record you carry in your heart. After you have paid your fine, please join us for our continuing vigil on the steps.

If the trial is convened we will continue our candlelight vigil until it is adjourned. If Jimmy Creech is found guilty, our last Soulforce act will be to put on black armbands that demonstrate our grief and signal a period of mourning for the United Methodist Church. We will pray one last prayer that truth will finally conquer untruth in your midst. Then we will carry our candles from Trinity United Methodist Church in a slow, silent procession that symbolizes to us the Holy Spirit’s departure from that place. How can Christ remain where any of God’s children are no longer welcome? And though we would grieve the departure of the Holy Spirit from the United Methodist Church, we would also clearly demonstrate not resignation but resolve to continue to work for full acceptance by the UMC of God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children and for your blessing of our gay and lesbian relationships.

One last time we beg you to exercise your individual moral right to help us prevent this trial. Lock arms with us. Be arrested or stand in solidarity with us. Write your check for bail. Save the cancelled check. And one day when the United Methodist Church discovers what science, history, and personal experience have already taught us that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people are God’s children, too; one day when the UMC can celebrate with us our love for each other and God’s blessing on that love; one day when we are welcomed home to the churches of our childhood and granted all the sacraments of the church once again, you can take out that cancelled check and show it to your lesbian granddaughter or gay grandson and say proudly, "I’m glad I didn’t go up those steps." We are betting our souls on the fact that one day, Christ himself will answer, "I’m glad, too."

Sincerely,

mel white
and the People of Soulforce

White Begs Methodists to Cancel Creech Trial, Calls Tribunal an "Act of Spiritual Violence"

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

November 2, 1999

A Soulforce News Alert

GRAND ISLAND, NEBRASKA, NOV. 2, 1999 – Just days after returning from their "Anti-Violence Forum" with Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, Virginia, Mel White and his Soulforce team of GLBT people of faith and their allies are training for a nonviolent "Intervention" at the Jimmy Creech trial in Grand Island, Nebraska, Nov. 16-18, 1999.

"This trial," White explains, "is not simply a private legal matter between the United Methodists and one of their clergy. It is a highly visible assault on America’s sexual minorities by an historic Christian denomination. They think the trial is about Jimmy Creech. We see it as an act of spiritual violence against all God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children."

On Tuesday night, Nov. 16, White has invited Rev. Creech (and any other clergy who care to stand in solidarity with him) to conduct a same-gender holy union in Grand Island, Nebraska. Gay and lesbian couples who would like to reaffirm their vows or GLBT folk, their friends and families who can travel to Grand Island are invited to join the celebration as well. "If this is my last act as a United Methodist minister," the Rev. Jimmy Creech says, "I am glad that it is a celebration of God’s love."

In a letter released today (complete text at www.soulforce.org), White reminds Bishop William Grove, the trial’s Presiding Officer, and the jury pool of thirty-five United Methodist clergy that the trial’s coverage by the world’s media will inadvertently inflame the debate about homosexuality once again. He is also concerned that TV preachers and talk show hosts will use the occasion to flood the nation with more false inflammatory anti-gay rhetoric. White invites trial officials to stand outside the courtroom with his Soulforce delegation. "Have the courage to refuse to convene this tragic trial.Refuse to lend your name to a moment that will be condemned by history.Link your arms with our arms and we will celebrate your courage."

"We hope that the United Methodists will realize the historic consequences of this trial before it is too late," White says, "but the minute jury selection begins, we will launch a nonviolent intervention in the spirit of Jesus, Gandhi, and King. The silent, loving, nonviolent vigil that we are currently negotiating with United Methodist leaders and local police officials may be misunderstood and condemned; but when someone we love is being attacked nonviolence calls us to stand between the victim and the assailant. This trial is an attack on our sisters and brothers. We must put our bodies in the way. We are determined to help end this costly and senseless war that religious leaders seem determined to wage against us. On November 17," White adds sadly, "Grand Island, Nebraska, becomes another frontline battlefield in that war and Jimmy Creech cannot be abandoned to fight our battles alone."

Any one who wants to participate in the Wednesday Soulforce Intervention must arrive in Grand Island by 4PM for training in nonviolence. All volunteers must sign the ten vows signed by marchers with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963. For information or to volunteer, please email Soulforce, Inc. at JCOnTrialAgain@aol.com.

MEDIA NOTES: The Holy Union and Vow Renewal Celebration with Jimmy Creech is open to the media, Tuesday evening, Nov. 16. Inquire below for time and place. If the trial is convened November 17, the Soulforce Intervention will begin immediately at the trial location: Trinity United Methodist Church, 511 North Elm St., Grand Island, NE. For general information or to interview the Rev. Jimmy Creech, contact Laura Montgomery Rutt, Media Coordinator, 717-627-7180 (lmrutt@lancnews.infi.net). To contact Dr. Mel White or members of his Soulforce Team in your area, call: 949-455-0999 or 949-933-3592 or email him at JCOnTrialAgain@aol.com. Checkwww.soulforce.org for on-line updates. Soulforce Team members are available in most areas for media interview.

Associated Press Article: "An Unlikely Friendship, A Historic Meeting"

Jerry Falwell and Mel White Join Forces
Associated Press, November 1, 1999
by Lynn Rosellini

They really do love each other, though sometimes you have to look beyond the brickbats to see it. The Rev. Jerry Falwell call the Rev. Mel White an unrepentant sinner who is leading Christian youth down the path of evil. White says that Falwell is an ignorant victim whose "pathetic" personal attacks are exceeded only by his violence-inciting "hate speeches." Yet for 15 years, they have been friends – and that’s no coincidence, says Gary Nixon, White’s longtime partner. "It’s God who has brought these boys together," he says.

The oddball relationship between Falwell, the gay-bashing televangelist, and White, the gay activist who ghostwrote Falwell’s autobiography before publicly acknowledging his homosexuality, has produced one of those quirky American tableaux that may prove the old adage that if you live long enough, you’ll see everything. It was his friendship with White that prompted Falwell take the groundbreaking step this past weekend to meet with 200 gay men and lesbians to meet with 200 of his own followers at his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va. The stated purpose of the 90-minute meeting was to temper the hostile rhetoric that spawns hate crimes. The unstated purpose: to get evangelicals and gays talking, face to face. Forget changing minds: "For the first time in history," says Falwell, "we will have talked without fighting."

That’s no small feat, since Falwell and White themselves went for five years without talking to each other because of White’s homosexuality. Gay rights has been one of the most explosive issues in modern American churches, polarizing entire congregations over questions of ordaining gay ministers and sanctioning of same-sex marriages. While some denominations, like the United Church of Christ, have officially welcomed gays, the Southern Baptist Convention and most other evangelical churches teach that homosexuality is a sin.

But when White got to know Falwell in 1984, he was a model evangelical. A husband and father of two, White was a star writer for Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, and Billy Graham. During frequent hops on Falwell’s jet while White researched the book, the friendship between the rail-thin, soft-spoken author and the avuncular, pudgy televangelist gradually took form. White found Falwell a "fun guy," a relentless practical joker with a passion for Hostess Snow Balls. Falwell admired White’s honesty and humor. "You understand me better than anyone," Falwell would say later.

Out and about. There was only one problem. Unknown to Falwell, White was attracted to men. From youth, he had struggled with homosexual impulses that his religion told him were sinful. "I spent 25 years in terror, trying to figure out what was wrong with me," he recalls. When electroshock treatment, exorcism, and $250,000 in psychotherapy failed to "cure" him, White finally left his wife and moved in with Nixon.

Falwell was stunned. He believes the Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin, and he built an $80 million-a-year ministry in part with strident fund-raising letters condemning gays as "deviants" committed to the "complete elimination of God and Christianity from American society." But after ignoring White’s letters and calls for years, Falwell began to wonder what purpose he was serving. Maybe it was time, he concluded, to think about "loving the sinner but hating the sin>" When they met again last August, White told him that hate crimes against gays were escalating and that Falwell was partly to blame: "I know you don’t mean to hurt people, Jerry, but your rhetoric is killing them!" Falwell listened, and in a speech prepared for Saturday vowed never to "make statements that can be construed as sanctioning hate or antagonism against homosexuals." Friends again, the two men suddenly had common enemies: The meeting was slated to be picketed by both the Oral Majority, a confrontational gay rights group, and the Rev. Fred Phelps, the Baptist minister who runs a virulently antigay Web site.

Neither White nor Falwell is sure where their dialogue will end. "How do two people who see each other as a threat talk to each other in nonhate language?" mused White. If he and Falwell can answer that, it could be a lesson for more than just the two friends and adversaries.

Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Time Magazine Article: "An End to Hatred"

In a dramatic turnaround, Falwell reaches out to gays and lesbians, a group he once openly despised
Time Magazine, November 1, 1999
By John Cloud

The Rev. Jerry Falwell stuffs a leather-bound "giant-print" Bible under an arm so he can pop a Rolaids into his mouth. He eats fatty food too often at the Backyard Grill in Lynchburg, Va., and he turned 66 last summer, but friends say he hasn’t let up on his schedule. This morning he’s speaking to 1,500 cheering students at Liberty University, the college he founded in 1971 that has become the largest evangelical college in the world. "Jesus is awesome!" they shout, many faces contorted with joy.

Christian rock blares. Eventually, Falwell takes the podium, as he has countless times in his 47 years of preaching. But when he speaks, the words sound a bit strange.


photo: Chad Hunt for Time
REUNION: Falwell, right, with Mel White, his ghostwriter who came out of the closet

"We can have friendship with homosexuals," he says. "you need to learn that. We can have friendship with people we disagree with." Many of the kids have grown up in conservative homes where gays are rarely spoken of, especially not in exhortations to friendship, and now they sit stone-faced, motionless. Falwell laments the murders of Matthew Shepard, the gay Wyoming student, and Billy Jack Gaither, the gay man clubbed to death and burned in Alabama. Falwell makes clear that, to him, homosexuality is still a sin. But he says Christians must be more vigilant about observing both halves of "that clich鬢 as he calls it: "Love the sinner but hate the sin."

Is Jerry Falwell mellowing with age? Sort of. The edge has dropped from his voice a bit. The Christian conservative movement he helped start 20 years ago became a political and financial giant, but Falwell believes it also has sometimes gone too far in its rhetoric. "If we are to have a real Christian witness to millions of gay and lesbian people," he says – abandoning such terms as "homosexual deviants" – "we have to use our language carefully."

For many years, but especially during the 1990s, as gays have won more power, Falwell has used language harshly to frighten millions of dollars from donors. Last weekend Falwell apologized for such statements. The occasion for Falwell’s soul searching was an unprecedented meeting between 200 of Falwell’s supporters and 200 gay people of faith.

Falwell agreed to break bread with them after several talks with the Rev. Mel White, a 60-year-old gay activist who runs Soulforce, an ecumenical gay group. White and Falwell used to be pals; White, a former filmmaker and writer for conservative causes, ghostwrote Falwell’s autobiography. But they lost touch after December 1991, when White, tired of fighting his true nature and incensed by one of Falwell’s fund-raising pitches, came out to Falwell. Within two years, White was working full time for gay causes, blasting Falwell and other conservatives.

Now they are friends again. They have bonded over mutual horror at the high-profile violence of the past year, beginning with the Shepard murder and culminating in September, when seven Christian young people were murdered at a Baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas. "Columbine, Paducah, the Gaithers, the Shepards, we don’t like any of that," Falwell told Time. It sounds a little odd to compare school shootings in Colorado and Kentucky with anti-gay slayings, but over the past few years, evangelical Christians have lost political battles on issues like school prayer, and now many feel they are threatened physically. Falwell kept an armed plainclothes guard nearby last weekend. "We watch our steps," he says.

FALWELL THEN…
"There is no middle ground.
For Christians, there can be
no peaceful coexistence
with those Sodomites."

AND NOW…
"We can have friendship
with homosexuals … We
can have friendship with
people we disagree with."

To be sure, Falwell has changed more in style than in substance. "Compassion" is in vogue among conservatives, but it sometimes doesn’t mean much. On Saturday, Falwell called for "compassionate conviction," a sort of religious counterpart to Republican candidate George W. Bush’s "compassionate conservatism." But Falwell and Bush both believe employers should be able to fire people just for being gay. Neither wants gays to be able to marry or adopt children. And Falwell, at least, believes sincerely that gays can change into straights. Indeed, he hopes his softer words will allow that message to meet less resistance in the gay community. Other religious conservatives, like Robert Knight of the Family Research Council, said last week they won’t even meet publicly with people like White. A few dozen picketed the Falwell summit.

But Falwell has made an important break, on he compares in historical importance with his baptizing blacks in the early 1960s (which many whites in his church opposed) and his founding of the Moral Majority in 1979. "Homosexuals are the last pariahs in this society," he says. "We’ve got to reach out."

(c) Copyright 1999 Time Magazine