Mel White Replies to the Christian Century Editorial "Ecclesial Protest: Acts of Disobedience"

May 31, 2000

We at Soulforce want to thank Christian Century for your recent editorial describing our civil disobedience in Cleveland’s United Methodist General Conference as "media-driven street theater." You are correct. For thirty years Protestant and Catholic leaders have debated the homosexuality issue. That debate itself has become a primary source of suffering for millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. Soulforce volunteers are using "media-driven street theater" at denominational gatherings this summer to send a clear message that for us this endless debate must end.

No longer will we sit silently in church conferences, conventions, assemblies or congregations where the Bible is used to caricature and condemn us. No longer will we stand by in anger and grief while our relationships are demeaned and our ministries denied. No longer will we appear on church panels or media broadcasts with people from ex-gay "transforming" ministries who believe our sexual orientation is a sickness and a sin that can and should be changed. The debate is over. The verdict is in. Homosexuality is not a sickness, not a sin. We, too, are the children of God, created, redeemed, sustained, and accepted without reservation by our loving Creator.

Our nonviolent demonstration at Cleveland is just the first step. These acts of "media-driven street theater" signal the launch of a long-term Soulforce program of civil disobedience and non-cooperation at other national and regional church conferences, conventions and assemblies. Call it what you will but plan for it at your denominational headquarters, at your seminaries and colleges, and even at your individual churches across the country that still see our lives as "incompatible with Christian teaching," that refuse to bless our relationships or honor our call to service.

We are committed to the nonviolence teachings of Jesus, Gandhi, and King. We refuse to demonstrate violence of the heart, tongue, or fist. We will bring truth in love relentlessly to those who misunderstand and condemn us. We will love our adversaries and take on ourselves any suffering that our direct actions may cause. (In Cleveland, for example, those of us arrested were honored with a permanent police record. We spent a day in paddy wagons, jails, and courtrooms across the city and at $150 each paid collectively over $30,000 in fines.) And we are willing to pay a whole lot more in time, money and energy to see the suffering end. We invite your readers to join us or at least to hear our side of the story at www.soulforce.org.

By the way, the writer of your editorial didn’t mention that the 191 people of faith who were arrested in Cleveland at our "banal protest" included everyone of the "genuine" United Methodist heroes proclaimed in your editorial. We stood proudly with Jimmy Creech, Gregory Dell, Don Fado and many of the "Sacramento 67" as well as heroes from the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s including Dr. Jim Lawson (the man who trained the students who integrated the lunch counters and rode the Freedom Busses) and Arun Gandhi, the steward of his grandfather’s legacy in nonviolence.

I’m grateful that your editorial mentioned "Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail." The primary thrust of that amazing document was not to define civil disobedience or to proscribe its use as a tool of spiritual resistance in future civil rights movements. At the heart of that historic letter is the author’s terrible disappointment with the "white church" for its refusal to do justice for racial minorities. At our Soulforce event in Cleveland, Dr. King’s eldest daughter, Yolanda, expressed a similar concern that white and black churches alike refuse to do justice for sexual minorities and quoted deeply moving passages from her father’s writings that apply directly to our cause.

"The contemporary Church," Dr. King writes, "is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the Church as never before. If the Church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early Church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century."

We at Soulforce say, "Amen and amen!"

Mel White, Co-Chair, Soulforce

PS: We are seeing volunteers to join us in "media driven street theater" (as Christian Century calls it) or in spiritual resistance to injustice (as we see it) in:
Orlando, Florida, at the Southern Baptist Convention, June 13-14
Long Beach, California, at the Presbyterian General Assembly, June 24-25
Denver, Colorado, at the Episcopal General Convention, July 8-14

Soulforce, PO Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA 92652 949-455-0999
RevMel@aol.com

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Article: "Gay Activists Plan Protest at General Assembly"

May 25, 2000

Soulforce group demands equal recognition for homosexuals in PC(USA)
by Evan Silverstein

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – As Presbyterian commissioners and guests gather for opening worship at next month’s 212th General Assembly (GA) in Long Beach, Calif., members of an ecumenical gay-rights organization will assemble outside to protest Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) policies on homosexuality.

The non-violent demonstration outside the Long Beach Convention Center, scheduled for June 25, is being organized by Soulforce, a coalition of gay, lesbian and transgendered people and heterosexuals from a variety of faith backgrounds, including Presbyterians. The group is pushing the PC(USA) and other mainline denominations to fully accept sexual minorities in the life of the church.

"We are there to say, ‘There’s an injustice being done, and we’ll pay the price to show you how serious we are in getting that injustice undone,’" said the Rev. Mel White, a Soulforce co-founder and gay minister of the predominately gay and lesbian Metropolitan Community Church. "They have simply made us second-class citizens. They allow us to come and pay our tithe, but we’re not really welcome in the Presbyterian Church."

Current PC(USA) policy bars sexually active gay members from being ordained as church officers. Soulforce hopes to chip away at that and other church policies by blocking a convention-center entrance during services scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. Earlier this month Soulforce staged a peaceful rally during the United Methodist General Convention in Cleveland, and more than 200 of its members were arrested.

"We’re done with the debates; those aren’t working," said Jean Holsten, a Presbyterian attorney from Davis, Calif., who is co-chair of the group planning the demonstration. "The minds and hearts and souls aren’t being changed in that. So we want to be standing as a witness to the truth that we see, which is that God’s table is fully inclusive."

White said about 100 Soulforce members will assemble in front of the Convention Center at 8:30 a.m. on June 25 to invite GA delegates to attend worship at nearby First Congregational Church, a United Church of Christ facility that will host services sponsored by Soulforce.

At 10:30 that morning, participants in the demonstration will march from First Congregational Church to the convention center, where White said members will "take our stand to say to the folks inside, ‘God’s spirit can’t remain where all God’s children aren’t welcome.’"

White said the activists will wear T-shirts with printed messages saying, "We are God’s children, too. This debate must end," and "Stop spiritual violence."

"This will be totally non-violent, totally silent, totally non-disruptive," he said.

The GA has been center-stage for protesters before, although most past efforts were led by dissenting Presbyterians. The most recent example is a protest two years ago, in Charlotte, N.C., by supporters of the National Network of Presbyterian College Women. In Albuquerque, N.M., in 1996, a brief demonstration followed the adoption of G-6.0106b, which requires of church officers either chastity in singleness or fidelity in marriage (defined as between a man and a woman), and requires officers to repent of any self-acknowledged sin that is listed in the church’s "Book of Confessions."

"There’s been a long and kind of cherished tradition of the Presbyterian Church that people are allowed to express opinion," said the denomination’s stated clerk, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick. "There’s always folks outside the General Assembly passing out brochures expressing opinion of one sort or another. And we have had other times in which there’s been expressions even in the hall itself."

But don’t look for Soulforce members to take to the Assembly floor, despite reports that some members disrupted the Methodist proceedings in Cleveland – a charge that Soulforce officials adamantly deny.

"We don’t do interruptions. … We don’t believe in blockades," White said. "We don’t believe in noisy processions. What we do is very quiet and very symbolic. We don’t believe in disrupting. We don’t believe in going in. We’re trying to win minds and hearts. What good would that do if we disrupted?"

Soulforce officials compare their movement for inclusion of gays and lesbians to the civil-rights movement of the 1960s, and say they conduct themselves in the manner of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi.

Kirkpatrick said church officials have not discussed the scheduled protest or decided how they will respond, but said he hopes no added security measures will be necessary.

"We hope that if Soulforce feels it’s important to engage in civil-disobedience action … that a way can be found that enables them to express their issue of conscience through that without…disrupting the worship of the General Assembly or its life," Kirkpatrick said. "At least from the experience of the United Methodist (assembly) and others, I’m confident that can happen."

Presbyterian-related groups reaching out to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people have applauded Soulforce and its agenda. More Light Presbyterians and a group named "That All May Freely Serve" said in a joint statement, "We appreciate that the ultimate goal of Soulforce is to encourage the conversion of hearts and minds, to the end that individuals and communities of faith will affirm and celebrate God’s love for all people."

Members of the two organizations, which are not sponsors of the event, said standing with Soulforce is a matter of conscience, and every person in the church must decide whether to participate and how to choose the best means of combating anti-homosexual discrimination.

"We are inviting people as a matter of their own conscience to do what they want to do," said the Rev. Jane Spahr, a minister with "That All May Freely Serve" who has acknowledged being a lesbian. "I’m hoping that this is not just about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. This is about oppression. It’s about second-class citizenship. It’s about not inviting our own children and grandchildren into leadership. For a church to have this as a rule, it’s so painful to me. It’s like, let the stones cry out."

Spahr said she plans to participate in the Soulforce protest.

One member of More Light Presbyterians said he’s undecided.

"I think the goals of Soulforce are admirable," said Scott Anderson, a co-moderator of the group. "There’s a long history in the religious community of civil disobedience on moral grounds, on non-violence. I really respect that mode, but it has not been my personal journey."

He said he believes people’s acceptance of gays and lesbians must come about through a "conversion" that grows out of "getting to know them, witnessing first-hand the integrity of their Christian faith, and … that’s been sort of my focus."

Members of conservative Presbyterian groups could not be reached for comment or did not return phone calls from the Presbyterian News Service: Joe Rightmyer, of Presbyterians for Renewal, could not be reached for comment. Two Presbyterian Coalition board members, the Rev. Mark Toone of Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, of Gig Harbor, Washington, and the Rev. Peter Barnes of First Presbyterian Church, of Boulder, Colo., did not return calls.

As in Cleveland, Soulforce will follow a carefully scripted plan in Long Beach. Representatives are taking part in talks with local police and convention center officials. Cleveland officials said the process worked well.

"We knew what was coming," said Lt. Sharon MacKay, a public-information officer with the Cleveland police. "We had an approximate number. They were very up-front with us, very forthcoming with information, and they were no problem at the time they staged their demonstration. They were no problem during the arrests. There were essentially no problems at all. It went very, very well."

Join us at the Southern Baptist Convention, Orlando, Florida on June 13-14, 2000

A Soulforce Alert, May 23, 2000

Friends of Soulforce,

Is there any chance you could join us in Orlando, Florida, Tuesday evening, June 13, and most of the day Wednesday, June 14? Here’s why.

The Southern Baptist Convention is holding its national meeting June 13-14 in Orlando. With 15.8 million members in 40,000 churches, the Southern Baptists have become the primary Protestant source of misinformation about God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children. This year the Baptists have promised to re-affirm their anti-GLBT policies and to create new guidelines that will deny women the right to serve as clergy in their churches.

As you know, we planned to use this first summer of the new millennium to take direct action against the anti-GLBT policies of three mainline denominations (United Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians). But in the last few days, we’ve been asking ourselves, "How can we confront these more ‘liberal’ denominations and ignore the tragic policies of the nation’s largest anti-GLBT denomination?"

So, we are letting you make the final decision. You have 48 hours to decide. If fifty friends of Soulforce agree to join us Tuesday evening, June 13, (to be trained) in Orlando, Florida, and Wednesday, June 14, (to face arrest in a nonviolent act of civil disobedience at the Southern Baptist Convention) our committee will fly to Orlando next week and make arrangements with the Police Department and other city and convention officials. If fifty do NOT sign up by Friday, May 26, we will forfeit this opportunity to stand for truth in love relentlessly before the Southern Baptist Convention.

Remember, this is a misdemeanor offense that will require a small fine and a little inconvenience but in the process of taking your stand make a big difference.

You are also welcome to come and be trained and not be arrested!

If you cannot come, could you call us to volunteer 25,000 mile awards to get the rest of us to Orlando?

Or, would you even send a check (or donate on line) to help us pay the expenses of this extra event? We’re going to give you a complete report on Cleveland asap. Thanks for your help!!

Yesterday, I spent three hours with the police in Long Beach preparing for our nonviolent civil disobedience at the Presbyterian General Assembly, June 24-25. This will be an incredible experience as well.

If you are in the Southern California area, sign up for Long Beach.

Or if you know someone in either Florida (June 13-14) or Southern California (June 24-25) please forward this message. We need to know in the next two days if we can proceed with our civil disobedience in Orlando.

The lives of our 191 Soulforcees arrested in Cleveland were changed forever by putting their bodies on the line for justice. Be arrested for the cause. It will renew your spirit and help transform our society.

Love to you all,

Mel

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Two Days of Civil Disobedience Stun United Methodists. 218 Arrested Demanding Justice for Sexual Minorities

Soulforce News Alert
Tuesday, May 16, 2000

Gandhi, King, Civil Rights Heroes and United Methodist Bishops Launch Soulforce Campaign to End "Holy War" Against Homosexuals

Soulforce Announces Plans for Presbyterian and Episcopalian Events

CLEVELAND (May 13, 2000) Discriminatory policies against sexual minorities in the United Methodist Church resulted in 191 arrests, May 10, and 27 arrests, May 11, for acts of civil disobedience at the General Conference of the nation’s second largest Christian denomination in Cleveland, Ohio.

Those arrested included United Methodist Bishop C. Joseph Sprague (Northern Illinois) and Bishop Susan Morrison (Northern New York), civil right leaders from the ’50s and ’60s, members and clergy of The United Methodist Church, and Soulforce activists from 24 states. It also marked a first arrest for Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, who traveled to Cleveland to help launch the ecumenical, interfaith Soulforce campaign to end the "holy war" against homosexuals being waged by Catholic, Protestant, and Mormon churches.

The May 10 civil disobedience coincided with an ecumenical worship service addressed by the (Anglican) Archbishop of Canterbury and attended by 5,000 United Methodists and heads of 20 other denominations with anti-homosexual policies in place. The arrest of 191 people of faith continued for ninety minutes as a dozen different Soulforce "Prayer Squads" blocked the exit from the Cleveland Convention Center in a Silent Vigil carrying signs that read "No exit without justice." Hundreds of supporters sang hymns and applauded as each "squad" was arrested. Nearby, anti-gay protestors shouted obscenities and waved signs reading "God Hates Fags" and "Got AIDS Yet". Officials from the Cleveland Mayor’s Office and Police commended the large Soulforce delegation for their disciplined and peaceful act of civil disobedience.

"For three decades Catholic and Protestant leaders have debated our issue," explained Dr. Mel White, Soulforce Founder and the last person to be arrested. "Each debate ends with another act of injustice. They’ve declared our lives ‘incompatible with Christian teaching.’ They’ve refused to ordain us for ministry, to bless our loving relationships, or to budget funds for programs that assist or welcome our sisters and brothers. We’re blocking this exit to say to the 1,000 Methodist delegates and their ecumenical guests, ‘This debate is over. The suffering has gone on too long. Stay in there this time until you do justice. And if you don’t, we give you fair warning that we love the church too much to stand by in silence. We are launching a plan today in the loving, nonviolent spirit of Jesus, Gandhi, and King that will demonstrate our determination to end the injustice forever."

The 191 Soulforce delegates who were arrested spent the day in jails across Cleveland. They were fingerprinted and photographed. Some were handcuffed. By evening, each person had appeared before a local judge to pay a $155 fine. Soulforce activists paid almost $30,000 in fines and court costs to take this stand for justice. Thursday, May 11, when the delegates voted to maintain their anti-homosexual policies twenty-seven United Methodist leaders were arrested the second time after staging a Pray-In on the stage of the Convention Center.

At a press conference and debriefing held Thursday, May 11, Greg Marlan and Karen Weldin, Co-Chairs for the Soulforce action in Cleveland, joined Dr. White to announce – RELIGHT THE FLAME – a four-year Soulforce strategy to help end discrimination against sexual minorities by the United Methodist Church. Soulforce will be working for justice at the upcoming Presbyterian and Episcopal Conventions later this summer.

ABOUT SOULFORCE:
Soulforce (www.soulforce.org) is an ecumenical, interfaith coalition dedicated to applying the principles of relentless nonviolence as taught by Gandhi and King on behalf of all who suffer injustice, especially sexual minorities.

CONTACT: Dr. Mel White, (949) 455-0999 or RevMel@aol.com

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Civil Disobedience Planned for Presbyterian Assembly. Join Soulforce Direct Action in Long Beach June 25

A Soulforce Alert, May 15, 2000

Volunteers Needed for Arrest and Non-Arrest Tasks.

(Laguna Beach, May 15) At its 212th General Assembly in Long Beach, California, June 24-July 1, the 2.5 million member Presbyterian Church U.S.A will debate (once again) the role of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Christians in their churches. Their current discriminatory policies exclude sexual and gender minorities from ordination, marriage, and ministry.

At the opening Sunday morning service, June 25, 9:30 a.m., a nonviolent Soulforce direct action will confront these unjust policies before an estimated 15,000 Presbyterians gathering for worship at the Long Beach Convention Center.

"This debate must end," explains the Rev. Dr. Mel White, Soulforce Chairman. "These tragic and misinformed policies lead to discrimination, suffering and even death. The Presbyterians, like the United Methodists, have had three decades to do justice for God’s GLBT children. Our civil disobedience, June 25, is planned to send a clear message to our Presbyterian sisters and brothers that we cannot wait patiently any longer."

On May 10, in Cleveland, Ohio, 191 Soulforce volunteers were arrested during a peaceful civil disobedience protesting United Methodist anti-homosexual policies at their General Conference. Gandhi’s grandson, Arun, Martin Luther King’s daughter, Yolanda, leaders from the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, and hundreds of Soulforce volunteers from 24 states were present to speak and act on behalf of equal rights for sexual and gender minorities. Dignitaries planning to be present June 25 will be announced on June 21st.

"We are inviting people of faith from across Southern California and around the country to join us in this nonviolent act of spiritual resistance," explains Jean Holsten, a Presbyterian attorney who is a Co-Chair of the June 25 event. "We will be training volunteers for this Sunday morning civil disobedience by email, and in person on Saturday, June 24, or early Sunday morning, June 25. You don’t have to be arrested to take part in this event but it would helpful if you are considering joining us to sign up on line."

At the June 25 act of civil disobedience, Soulforce Presbyterians will announce a follow-up plan to take their acts of "spiritual resistance" to anti-GLBT congregations across the country. "Gandhi says, ‘It is as much our moral obligation NOT to cooperate with evil as to cooperate with good,’ White adds. "Even while they’ve called us ‘sick’ and ‘sinful’ we’ve played their organs, lead their choirs, taught their Sunday School classes, and given our tithes and offerings faithfully. Those days are over. By making outcasts of sexual and gender minorities, the Presbyterians have broken Christ’s heart. We come in His name and for His sake to help save the soul of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A."

There will be a half-day training in nonviolence, June 24, 9:00-12 noon, for volunteers interested in being monitors on Sunday, June 25 (or interested in knowing more about the Soulforce approach to nonviolence) at a site in Long Beach to be announced. Others can be trained in 90 minute sessions Saturday afternoon, June 24: 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 7 p.m. or Sunday morning, June 25, 7 a.m. For details, watch the Soulforce web page or call (949) 455-0999.

Contacts:
The Rev. Dr. Mel White, Co-Founder, Soulforce: (949) 455-0999 RevMel@aol.com
Jean Holsten, Co-Chair, June 25 Event: (530) 758-6741 jaholsten@yahoo.com

ABOUT SOULFORCE:
Soulforce is an ecumenical people of faith network committed to applying the principles of nonviolent resistance as taught by Gandhi and King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities. Wherever you are on your own "journey of faith" you are welcome to study and apply the principles with us.

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

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Yahoo! News Article: "187 Arrested Protesting Methodists"

Thursday, May 11, 2000
Yahoo! News
187 Arrested Protesting Methodists

SUMMARY: Civilly disobedient l/g/b/t crusaders went to jail to make an impression on the United Methodists and their special guest the Archbishop of Canterbury. Some 187 protestors including relatives of Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr were arrested on the morning of May 10 in Cleveland, Ohio outside the site of the General Assembly of the United Methodist Church (UMC), in a peaceful planned civil disobedience action seeking equal treatment from religious groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. About 100 more demonstrated inside the convention center, briefly disrupting a service led by Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. George Carey, head of the worldwide Anglican communion, in observance of the General Assembly’s "Ecumenical Day."

The General Assembly, which meets every four years, is the top policy-making body of the UMC, and on May 11 it will be voting on key l/g/b/t issues. Currently the UMC, the third-largest religious group in the U.S. with 8.4-million members, considers homosexual acts incompatible with Christian teaching; prohibits ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians; and bars its ministers from blessing "homosexual unions."

Outside the Hall
The civil disobedience was organized by Soulforce, gay Reverend Mel White’s group which seeks to confront discriminatory practices using non-violent tactics. Discussions had begun well in advance with Cleveland’s mayor’s office and police force and with UMC leaders, and all participants in the action were trained in advance to ensure a peaceful process.

First, there was a rally with about 300 participants, which climaxed with a march around the building while singing We Are Marching in the Light of God. Among the various speakers was Reverend Don Fado, who organized last year’s "ecclesiastical disobedience" in which more than ninety UMC ministers joined together in Sacramento to bless the relationship of a lesbian couple.

Then, those who chose to assume what White called the "redemptive suffering" of being arrested blocked the convention hall’s taxi ramp by linking arms in groups of one or two dozen. Police simply told them they were under arrest and ordered them to follow officers who booked them without using handcuffs. The charges were aggravated (meaning persistent) disorderly conduct, which carries a maximum penalty of $250 fine and 30 days in jail. By agreement with prosecutors, arrestees pleaded no contest to the lesser charge of disorderly conduct and were fined $100 plus $55 court costs. Arrestees still had to spend about six hours in jail while their individual case files were developed.

During the protest, about a dozen anti-gay counter-demonstrators shouted at those involved in the civil disobedience. One report identified Charles Spingola, an Ohio preacher who led the group that tore down and burned the rainbow flag outside the Statehouse during Columbus’ annual pride march in June. Another identified professional homophobe Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps of Topeka, Kansas. [Ed. note: The previous day, Phelps and some other members of his Westboro Baptist Church — most of them his relatives — demonstrated at Oberlin College in picturesque Oberlin, Ohio to protest its tolerant policies and openly gay athletics director; they were intentionally ignored by hundreds of students and local residents who were "celebrating diversity" twenty yards away with a picnic and live music from the bandstand in the town square.]

Who Was Arrested
Those arrested included some famous names in civil rights, many of whom spoke at a press conference the night before. One was Arun Gandhi, grandson of the father of India’s independence Mohandas K. Gandhi, who said that his own process in overcoming anti-gay prejudice had included dealing with being sexually assaulted by a man when he was 10 years old. Another was Yolanda King, a daughter of the late African-American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Other notable veterans of that civil rights movement who had worked closely with King included now-retired United Methodist minister Dr. James Lawson and Lutheran minister Dr. Robert Graetz, a white man whose support of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott led racists to bomb his home. Other King co-workers arrested were Dr. Rodney Powell and Dr. Gloria Johnson-Powell, leaders of student movements of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

The largest number of those arrested were ordinary citizens — gay and non-gay — who came from all over the U.S. in response to Soulforce’s call.

In addition to Dr. Lawson, another UMC leader arrested included Bishop C. Joseph Sprague of the denomination’s Northern Illinois region. Reportedly he was not the only UMC bishop to participate; Bishop Susan Morrison of the UMC’s Albany Area was not arrested but participated in the rally as what she called "a sign act of gracious hospitality… a nonviolent way to be in solidarity with some of God’s children who are excluded."

Also arrested were leaders of three gay-supportive networks within the UMC: the Reconciling Churches Program’s interim executive director Marilyn Alexander; the Methodist Federation for Social Action executive director Kathryn Johnson; and United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church convenor/founder Reverend Gilbert H. Caldwell. Along with Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns, these groups form the AMAR coalition, which has been working to advance equal treatment of gays and lesbians within the UMC. At least four other UMC ministers and 26 other UMC laypeople were arrested, plus Jimmy Creech, the Omaha, Nebraska minister whose credentials were withdrawn this year after he was found guilty of disobedience in his second trial for presiding at same-gender couples’ commitment ceremonies.

Reverend Gregory Dell of Chicago’s Broadway United Methodist Church, now finishing a suspension of one year after being convicted of disobedience for presiding at a same-gender couple’s commitment ceremony, spoke with the Associated Press after his release. He said that if the General Assembly votes May 11 to retain its anti-gay policies — as a legislative committee has recommended — there will be further protest actions designed to "interrupt the general conference." Soulforce had asked to be allowed to be present during plenary votes and UMC bishops were willing to take that request to the floor, but it would have required the approval of 2/3 of the 992 delegates, which White said would have been disruptive for the General Assembly and painful for his own group.

White is already looking ahead to the 2004 General Assembly, when he hopes to gather 1,000 people for non-violent action.

Inside the Hall
While the civil disobedience was going on outside, about 100 members of the gay-supportive AMAR coalition carried out a brief "Action of Alliance" inside during Archbishop Carey’s ecumenical morning worship service. Divided between the balcony and the floor, they sang out a call-and-response litany whose refrain was, "Wide is God’s welcome – Extend the table!"

Archbishop Carey, who has weathered numerous protests back home in Britain including disruption of his annual Easter sermon by the direct action group OutRage!, continued calmly with the service. In his sermon, which revolved around the theme of unity between the churches, he said he had "abandoned a long time ago a theology of unity that assumes it means uniformity and sameness." Citing South Africa, the Sudan and Northern Ireland as examples, Carey said that "the best demonstrations of unity have been prophetic situations of witness when churches have stood together for people and the gospel." However the closest he came to mentioning the subject of the demonstrations inside and outside the conference hall was a brief reference to "issues to do with personal freedom and its limits," including homosexuality and abortion.

As White had explained earlier, "We are not in Cleveland to protest the presence of these Christian leaders [Carey and others present for Ecumenical Day]. They are our sisters and brothers. We are marching on the Convention Center to protest their policies against God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered children and to help them understand the tragic consequences of those policies."

[Ed. note: Soulforce recently estimated the total cost of its week long campaign at the UMC General Assembly at $60,000, even though participants paid for their own travel and lodging. The group has put out a desperate call for funds, and those who wish to help can make a tax-deductible contribution with a credit card online or by check to Soulforce, PO Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA 92652. Donations of airline mileage points are also welcomed.]

Des Moines Register Article: "Methodist Bishops Rally with Gays – Protesters at the Church Conference Say Jesus in on Their Side"

Des Moines Register
May 11, 2000
Des Moines, Iowa
By Stephen Buttry, Register Staff Writer

Cleveland, Ohio – Several United Methodist bishops joined hands Wednesday with gay activists and veterans of the civil-rights movement to protest the United Methodist Church’s policies on homosexuality.

"If Jesus were here, he’d stay outside with us," said Denver Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, one of at least 10 bishops who joined the protest march outside the Cleveland Convention Center.

Inside the convention hall, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church is planning to deal this week with divisive matters such as same-sex unions and ordination of gays. The church does not ordain noncelibate gays and lesbians, forbids its clergy to officiate at same-sex unions, and bars such ceremonies in its churches. Although delegates surveyed before the conference identified homosexuality as one of the most pressing issues, hundreds of other matters came up for debate ahead of the major petitions dealing with gays and lesbians. The major debate on sexuality is expected today, though one vote was taken Wednesday.

"We just want everyone to understand that the policy is hurting other people," said Matt Kaler, one of two Grinnell College sophomores who traveled from Iowa to join the March. Kaler, a Unitarian, and Bryan Lake, a United Methodist, were among nearly 200 people arrested for blocking the driveway in front of the convention center. They were charged with aggravated disorderly conduct. Most of the bishops did not block the driveway, but Bishop C. Joseph Sprague of Northern Illinois joined the blockade and was arrested.

Iowa Bishop Charles Wesley Jordan, who has not taken a public position on whether the church should change its stances on homosexuality, didn’t join the march. Paster Len Sjogren of Sioux City, an alternate in the Iowa delegation, was among the marchers, as was Rich Eychaner of Des Moines. Eychaner, who is gay, stopped going to the United Methodist Church because of its policies regarding gays. Neither man joined in blocking the driveway.

Demonstrators began gathering before 7 a.m. in a large outdoor mall in front of the convention center. Many wore white T-shirts saying, "We are God’s children, too." Others wore clerical collars and some wore purple shirts identifying them as bishops. As Cleveland police led each group of protesters away to be booked, supporters applauded loudly and sang, "Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around."

The marchers were joined by Arun Gandhi, grandson of Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Yolanda King, daughter of slain civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Soulforce, the gay civil-rights group that organized the march, teaches the nonviolent resistance tactics of Gandhi and King. Arun Gandhi, who heads the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in Memphis, Tenn., said his grandfather would have joined the protest. "He didn’t like any kind of discrimination or oppression."

A small group of men shouted epithets as the group marched. "You sodomites should be stoned!" screamed Chuck Spingola of Newark, Ohio, waving two children’s action figures attached in a depiction of anal sex. Carlos Jayne, an Iowa delegate and the lobbyist for the Iowa United Methodist Conference, said he doubted delegates would be swayed by the demonstration. "I doubt it has a whole lot of effect."

Delegates are expected to start debate today on the three most divisive sexuality questions: whether to ordain noncelibate gays and lesbians, whether to allow same-sex unions and whether to change the church’s policy that same-sex relations are "incompatible with Christian teaching." After a brief debate Wednesday evening, delegates rejected a proposal to create a ministry for "those wishing to leave the homosexual lifestyle."

Akron Beacon Journal Article: "Cleveland Rally is Show of Unity"

Akron Beacon Journal
May 11, 2000
Akron, Ohio
BY WILLIAM CANTERBURY, Beacon Journal staff writer

CLEVELAND – Chanting religious and civil rights songs of solidarity, demonstrators joined hands and formed phalanxes to block an exit ramp at the Cleveland Convention Center. As each group of up to 15 protesters was arrested peacefully, new demonstrators took their place.

The defiance, which resulted in 190 arrests yesterday morning for disorderly conduct, capped a march by up to 400 men and women around the Convention Center. It was a show of unity to try to influence delegates to the United Methodist Church General Conference to change church policy on issues involving homosexuality.

"I’m out here to try to change the hearts and minds of the Methodists,” said demonstrator Chris Merritt just before police took away his group. Merritt, a Presbyterian and 48-year-old self-employed computer contractor from suburban Atlanta, said he is gay.

Holding his hand in the line was Marylee Fithian, a retired United Methodist minister from Minneapolis, who said she is a heterosexual who opposes discrimination by the church. "Some of my friends cannot minister because of sexual orientation and I find that to be a sin,” Fithian said. She called herself a reconciling person, "who accepts all people regardless of race and sexual orientation, so I’m here for my people.”

As demonstrators blocked the ramp, police officers announced that they were breaking the law by blocking an access to the building and that they were being arrested for failing to disperse. After about five minutes, each group walked peacefully away with an officer to go to court, while their supporters clapped and continued chanting songs.

Raucous jeers and obscenities rained down on them from anti-gay protesters positioned on a wall overlooking the ramp and sidewalk. These taunts were mainly coming from a group accompanying the Rev. Fred Phelps from Topeka, Kan. Phelps also held up signs against homosexuals at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was murdered in Wyoming.

About an hour after the march began, all of the arrests for the collective act of civil disobedience had taken place, police said. In Cleveland Municipal Court, the initial charges of aggravated disorderly conduct – a fourth-degree misdemeanor carrying possible penalties of up to $250 in fines and 30 days in jail – were reduced to minor misdemeanors of disorderly conduct. All of those arrested were pleading guilty or no contest and being fined $100, the maximum on that offense, a court official said.

Although seven United Methodist bishops had joined in the march, only one, C. Joseph Sprague from Chicago, was arrested for blocking the exit, police said.

The demonstration was coordinated by Soulforce, a coalition of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and heterosexuals dedicated to seeking equality for sexual minorities. "The Bible was used to keep African-Americans out of white churches 50 years ago, by the same people and in the same way they’re keeping gays out of the United Methodist Church," said the Rev. Mel White, the founder of Soulforce, who was among those arrested yesterday. "We’ve wept and we’ve grieved, and we’ve complained, and this signals the beginning of a whole new truth and love attack against the Methodist Church."

He said the group hoped its symbolic acts would help "reclaim the Methodist Church in all its grandeur, in all its history and glory. We’re going to keep them from coming out – our saying for the day is, ‘No exit without justice,’ and stay in there till you get it right." He vowed that if nothing changes to liberalize the policy against homosexuals, the group would return in four years when the next General Conference of the church is held.

"If they don’t drop these (anti-gay) policies, this is just a cakewalk," White said. "And we will be back and picket their churches between now and then and ask people to withdraw their tithes, and give them to someplace that deserves them."

Akron Beacon Journal Article: "Gays Ready to Take a Stand. Nonviolence Advocates Help Coalition to Plan for Civil Disobedience at Methodist Meeting"

Akron Beacon Journal
May 10, 2000
Akron, Ohio
By Colette M. Jenkins, Beacon Journal staff writer

CLEVELAND: Don and Jean Presian are prepared to go to jail for what they believe. "God calls for the church to be inclusive but in the institutional church, the majority of its members don’t buy that homosexuality is a gift," said Don Presian, 72. "If we, as minority folks who recognize that it is a gift, don’t say so, the word will never get out."

The Presians, of Ravenna, were expected to meet this morning with other supporters of gay rights issues in a peaceful civil disobedience at the Cleveland Convention Center, where the United Methodist Church is holding its General Conference through Friday.

Last night, many of the same people gathered at a press conference and rally featuring civil rights speakers. Those speakers included civil rights activists Yolanda King, daughter of slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi.

"Much of the discrimination against gays and lesbians is generated by the church. Religion is about reuniting people and bringing people together," said Gandhi, 66, of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in Memphis. "Religion should be concerned with taking humanity toward salvation and God, but the church is very divisive on this issue."

Gandhi and the other speakers urged people of faith to change policies that they view as discriminatory against homosexuals.

Today’s action and last night’s rally were coordinated by Soulforce, a coalition of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and heterosexuals dedicated to seeking equality and justice for sexual minorities. The organization was established in 1998, by the Rev. Mel White and his partner, Gary Nixon, on the nonviolent principles of Gandhi and King.

White said today’s plan included marching around the Convention Center and blocking the entrance, which could lead to being arrested.

He said the civil disobedience was scheduled to coincide with an ecumenical worship service inside the Convention Center, where Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey was to give a sermon. Other heads of denominations with anti-gay policies in place also were expected to be in attendance, he said.

"We want to send a message to the church in general — if they are not gay friendly, they can expect us to be there," said White, 60. "They can either end these policies or lose gay and lesbian people and the spirit of Christ because if they lose us, they lose Jesus. We are not here to condemn the church. We are here to save the soul of the church. After a meeting yesterday with Soulforce leaders, Bishop William Oden, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, issued a statement saying: "We have hoped that everyone knows our doors are open, but we wanted Soulforce to be told by us personally."

But United Methodist Pastor James Lawson doesn’t believe his church will warmly accept homosexuals. Lawson, a Massillon native who pastors in Los Angeles, said he would stand with White and the other protesters. Lawson, who was a close friend and co-worker of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., also spoke at last night’s rally.

"So much of the hatred toward homosexuals is coming out of the mouth of Christians and the United Methodist Church has participated by putting language into the Discipline and teaching it," said Lawson, 71. "It is time for it to stop. The United Methodists — and the church in general — must purge itself of the language and the attitudes."

Lawson said he would welcome the United Methodists leading the way in eliminating prohibitive language against gays from its Book of Discipline, which contains the denomination’s rules and policies.

The nearly 1,000 delegates meeting in Cleveland through Friday make up the denomination’s top policymaking body. They are expected to address rules that prohibit the ordination of practicing homosexuals and forbid its ministers to perform same-sex unions and its facilities to be used for such ceremonies.

On Monday, the General Conference voted 705-210 to reject a proposal that would require all pastors to sign a statement professing that homosexuality is not of God’s will. It also declined to add language to the Discipline that would have made the performance of a same-sex union a chargeable offense in a state where such ceremonies are legal.

The Presians, who are members of the United Church of Christ and the parents of a gay son, said they are happy to see the United Methodist Church show sensitivity toward minority groups. But they are waiting to see how the church will respond to gays.

"This issue is more than an internal thing with the United Methodists. Gays and lesbians need to be accepted in the church and society in general," said Jean Persian, 69. "I feel God is calling us to stand up for what we believe because people need to be accepted for who they are not who we want them to be."