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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