Soulforce Launches Stage II in Stop Spiritual Violence Campaign to End Anti-Gay Rhetoric

Withholding Tithes/Offerings Strategy Announced on Dr. King’s Birthday

Soulforce Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Email: soulforcemedia@aol.com
717-951-7712

Laguna Beach – In a declaration made today to its members, Soulforce announced its intention to mobilize thousands of people of faith to withhold tithes and offerings from churches that oppress gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people through anti-gay policies and teachings. The project, called Stage II of the Soulforce Campaign to STOP SPIRITUAL VIOLENCE is based upon the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: "It is as much our obligation NOT to cooperate with evil as it is to cooperate with good."

In the past twelve months more than a thousand Soulforce volunteers have mobilized to seek equality for sexual and gender minorities at national religious meetings in Cleveland, Orlando, Long Beach, Denver, Washington, DC, and Rome. More than 500 have been arrested in carefully planned nonviolent acts of spiritual resistance during Stage I of the Soulforce Campaign to STOP SPIRITUAL VIOLENCE.

"These deeply moving vigils and symbolic arrests are just the beginning of our efforts to confront the teachings and actions of the Protestant and Catholic churches against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals," explains Jimmy Creech, Soulforce Board Chair. "Stage II is the next step to empower people to stand up against oppression and spiritual abuse."

According to the Soulforce web site, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and those who support them, are being encouraged to withhold their tithes and offerings to anti-gay churches and to place cards in offering plates stating that they will no longer take part in their own oppression. The campaign further encourages people to donate their time and talent to organizations that seek justice and work against oppression.

"The antigay teachings and actions of the Protestant and Catholic churches lead directly and indirectly to discrimination, suffering, and even death," says Dr. Mel White, Executive Director, Soulforce. "And yet year after year we continue to support our own oppression with our tithes, offerings and special gifts. We are hoping that thousands of people of faith will join us by withholding their financial support from the churches that oppress us until that oppression ends."

Homosexuals have been labeled "incompatible with Christian teaching" by the United Methodists, "sick" and "sinful" by the Baptists, and "objectively disordered" and "intrinsically evil" by the Roman Catholics. Most churches refuse to ordain or marry homosexuals.

"Withholding financial support is NOT meant to punish the churches," explains Karen Weldin, a Soulforce Vice-Chair. "Our tithes and offerings may not even make a dent in the church budget anyway. This act of spiritual resistance is for those of us who resist!"

Details of this next step in the Soulforce Campaign to STOP SPIRITUAL VIOLENCE can be found on the Soulforce web page: www.soulforce.org

Rome Photos: Day 4 (2 of 2)


Jimmy Creech, chair of the board of Soulforce, Rev. Mel White, executive director, are led in singing "Marciamo Nella Luce di Dio", the Italian words to "Marching in the Light of God", which we have learned this week in Rome. JD Sebastian leads the group on his guitar, as he has all week long.

We stand vigil in front of St. Peter’s, at the Vatican.

We stand vigil in front of St. Peter’s, at the Vatican.

Our vigil attempts to visit the Creche in front of the Vatican to leave our pictures there and to bless the baby Jesus. We are prevented from moving toward the Creche for our blessing by the police.

Mary Louise Cervone, president of Dignity/USA asks to place our demands on the door of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDR), Cardinal Ratzinger’s office.

We are told it is not possible to place our demands on Cardinal Ratzinger’s door, so Mary Louise throws them to the ground in St. Peter’s Square, declaring "Then we will deliver them right here". Note the tape on the back of the envelope, which was intended to affix it to the Cardinal’s door.

Police surround the Soulforce/ Dignity USA vigil, as onlookers watch.

Police lock arms around the Soulforce/Dignity USA vigil, to prevent the group from moving.

Vigilers sit in a circle on the ground when the police prevent them from moving, with the banner reading "No More Tithes/Offerings Until the Anti-Gay Teachings/Actions End" in the center.

Several onlookers join the vigil in solidarity.

The vigil has now grown considerably as many people in the crowd have stepped up to join the circle surrounding the Soulforce/Dignity USA banner lying on the ground in St. Peter’s Square.

Bread is blessed and Communion is distributed to vigilers and many in the crowd, who partake in solidarity with the vigil.

Soulforce/Dignity USA vigilers raise their hands in blessing toward the Papal apartments and the window from which Pope John Paul II blesses those in St. Peter’s Square.

As the vigil ends, three hours after it began, members of the vigil thank the police, who have been gentle yet firm in their resolve not to let our group move closer to the Creche and St. Peter’s church.

Emotions are strong as the vigil ends and Soulforcers embrace at the end of a long day.
 

Rome Photos: Day 4 (1 of 2)


We all wrote emergency contact numbers on our arms in ink so we’d have the numbers of our Italian contact and attorney in the event of arrest.

We walked from the hotel to St. Peter’s in small groups in case the police tried to stop us from arriving for our vigil. Mike carried one of our two banners under his shirt so it wouldn’t be seen as we walked.

Each of us carried a photo of ourselves with a message on the back. These photos were held up for blessing in the event a priest came to bless them. They will be delivered to Cardinal Ratzinger, with our message on each one.

Two Soulforcers, including Bill Carpenter, co-chair of the vigil at the Vatican, were detained by police for three hours at St. Peter’s Square, during the papal Mass in the morning preceding the Soulforce/Dignity USA vigil, apparently over the unjustified concern that they would disrupt the papal Mass. They were released just in time to join the vigil.

We arrive at St. Peter’s and kneel in vigil. Rev. Mel White holds a photo of Alfredo Ormando, a gay Roman Catholic who set himself on fire on Jnuary 8, 1998, out of despondency over the policies of the church against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Members of Soulforce and Dignity/USA hold pictures of themselves as they pray, asking the church to send a priest to bless each of them.

The Soulforce banners are unfurled at the Vatican in front of the basilica of St. Peter’s Church in St. Peter’s Square.

Soulforcers pray over their pictures, which have been laid in St. Peter’s Square.

We stand vigil in front of St. Peter’s, at the Vatican.

We stand vigil in front of St. Peter’s, at the Vatican.

We stand vigil in front of St. Peter’s, at the Vatican.

We stand vigil in front of St. Peter’s, at the Vatican.

We stand vigil in front of St. Peter’s, at the Vatican.

We passed out rolled "Why We Vigil" pamphlets, written in both Italian and English, explaining the reason for our vigil to the thousands who circled our vigil.

We distributed ceramic Rainbow Crosses and Hearts, hand made and hand painted by Jeanine, a member of Soulforce from Seattle, who has made Soulforce crosses for each of our actions during 1999, 2000, and now 2001.

We sing "Oh Lord, Hear our Prayer", a Taize worship song, as Rome/Vatican police look on.

Epiphany Saturday, January 6, 2001 – Today, Soulforce and Dignity/USA made history together

Rome

Rome Day 4Never before has a delegation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered people and our allies held a demonstration inside St. Peter’s Square. In fact, never in recent decades has there been any kind of demonstration in this amazing place. The Vatican has an ancient corcordat with Rome to prevent any kind of protest from taking place within site of the Holy See.

Our vigil coincided with two other major events happening today at St. Peter’s: 1) The Epiphany, which celebrates the Magi bringing their precious gifts to the Christ child and 2) The end of the Catholic Church’s Jubilee Year, which had as its theme: Open Wide the Doors.

On the three days leading up to the Epiphany, our Soulforce and Dignity /USA delegation came to the barrier outside St. Peter’s Square wearing shirts that read GOD’S GAY CHILDREN BRING GIFTS: BLESS THEM.

On the first day, we brought gifts for orphans. No one came to bless them, so after a prayerful vigil, we delivered them to a home for children living apart from their parents,

On the second day, we brought gifts for people living with HIV/AIDS. No one came to bless them, so after a prayerful vigil, we delivered them to an HIV/AIDS wing of a local hospital.

On the third day, we brought gifts for abused women in a battered women’s shelter. No one came to bless them, so after a prayerful vigil, we delivered them to the shelter.

Rrome day 4Today, the Feast of the Epiphany, the Pope solemnly closed the Jubilee Door to St. Peter’s which will not be opened again for another 25 years. And, today when we came bearing the gifts of ourselves, the door was also closed once again to God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered children..

We made but one request: that we be allowed to peacefully approach the large Nativity scene in the Square and leave our own pictures. This ritual was designed to symbolize the many gifts that sexual and gender minorities around the world bring to our families, to our neighbors, to our communities, to our countries and to our churches.

Instead of allowing us to proceed to the Nativity Scene with our gifts, we were surrounded by police and prevented from performing a simple act which thousands of others around were being allowed to do. How were we different? The only difference was that we wore shirts which proudly identified us as God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered children. We repeated our simple request many times as we stood and sat in prayerful vigil for almost three hours within yards of the giant Nativity scene. As we gathered in communion, we told our stories and sang our songs. Many in the crowd of other pilgrims around us listened as our stories were translated into Italian. Many onlookers eventually also joined us in our circle of prayer after hearing why we were there to vigil.

Rome Day 4After waiting for nearly three hours to offer our gifts to the Christ child at the Nativity scene and being refused, Soulforce announced a campaign to encourage Catholics, as well as Christians of other denominations, to withhold contributions of money, talents and service to Churches whose teachings and practices cause spiritual violence and promote legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Instead, Soulforce encourages people of faith who want to end the suffering to give their money, talents and service to ministries and organizations that help the poor, the sick, and the victims of injustice. By withholding contributions, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and their allies will no longer be complicit in the spiritual violence being waged against them by their own churches. Check this webpage often for information on how you can participate in this campaign.

Rome Photos: Day 3


JD Sebastian leads Soulforcers and members of Dignity USA in the singing of "Marching in the Light of God" as they arrive for Friday’s demonstration at the Vatican in St. Peter’s Square.

We stand, bearing gifts to be taken to a battered women’s shelter, as a crowd gathers around us.

Members of Soulforce and Dignity/USA hold gifts and sing as a crowd gathers to watch and listen.

Members of Soulforce and Dignity/USA hold gifts and sing as a crowd gathers to watch and listen.

Members of Soulforce and Dignity/USA hold gifts and sing as a crowd gathers to watch and listen.

Members of Soulforce and Dignity/USA hold gifts and sing as a crowd gathers to watch and listen.

Two PFLAG parents from Philadelphia who have come to Rome to join us in solidarity, bring their gifts to the growing pile

No one from the church came to bless our offerings. Each of us, one by one, bring the gift we brought to be blessed and place it in a pile on the ground in St. Peter’s Square.

We sing and some of us raise our hands in praise and blessing of the gifts as they lay in St. Peter’s Square before us.

Mary Louise Cervone, President of Dignity/USA, is interviewed by the National Catholic Reporter immediately after Friday’s demonstration.

A baby of one of the women at the Rome shelter at which we distributed gifts enjoys the attention of Soulforcers Mario Perez and Dennis Golbourne.

We sing as refreshments are brought to us by women from the shelter.

Soulforcers and women from the shelter sing joyfully as our gifts lie on the table, awaiting distribution.

Our Italian host and translator explains our mission to Rome to interested residents of the womens’ shelter as Soulforcers look on.

One of the shelter residents sings a rendition of "Oh Happy Day", in perfect English, as we listen appreciatively.

We sing children’s songs in a room decorated by two women from the shelter for the children who live there.

We spontaneously begin dancing with the women while we sing. A visit that started shyly and quietly has become a joyous celebration of life.

We gather to sing with the women in a hallway in the living quarters of the shelter.

We say goodbye to the women and children of the shelter as we return to our hotel for evening worship. Our spirits have been richly blessed by this visit.
 

Rome, Italy: Day Three – January 5, 2001

Today’s update has been written by Judy Osborne, Seattle, and Diana Westbrook, Richmond, Va., because the events of the day occurred in so many different locales that it was impossible for one person to be everywhere.

Rome Day ThreeThe sun shone on all Soulforcers the entire day, no matter where they happened to be. It was a sunny, glorious day, about 65 degrees, perfect Soulforce sweatshirt weather.

Morning

Ed, Peter, Bob, Dotti and I stuffed ourselves into the morning crush of the subway to catch the early sunshine on the Coliseum. The overwhelming presence of that relic, sculptured by early sunlight, assaulted our senses as we emerged from the station. After a few artsy photographs of arches and each other, we detoured to the nearby Basilica di San Clemente, where excavation is continuing on three levels.

Entering into the 12th century upper basilica, we were dazzled by the color and intricate detail of the apse mosaic and other Byzantine-style art. Descending into the next level, we found a labyrinth of naves and apses, intricate columns exposed in gaps between brick foundation walls, fascinating scraps of antiquity being fitted into archaeologic puzzle pieces, and intricate altars. Even further down we entered a fourth century B.C. temple to the early god, Mithras, including a beautifully carved altar displaying various animals being sacrificed. We even found a river down there. We were struck by the way later religions obliterated the remains of earlier ones without the least bit of respect for faiths that went before.

Needing to leave too soon for our noon action at the Vatican, we pulled ourselves reluctantly out of the deep remains to wander for a while through the Roman Forum. The area is huge, anchored at the end by Mussolini’s enormously obscene tomb of Victor Emmanuel. Each emperor built his own greater forum, while mostly preserving the earlier versions. All are still there in the remnants of history, and one can walk the paths of Caesar and the sacred spots of the vestal virgins. Too soon we needed to dash back to the subway, arriving at the hotel without anybody’s pocket getting picked, just in time to participate in the day’s planning.

Afternoon

Every vigil has its own personality, dictated by the weather, media coverage and what we collectively think would be the most fitting approach for that day. The vigils have been building in drama each day on the theme of gift-giving, leading to the giving of the most symbolic and important gift planned for Saturday: Ourselves.

We walked the 15 minutes to the Basilica along the narrow sidewalks with many others heading to St. Peter’s Square. We were carrying a rainbow-colored box we had crafted of gift-wrapping paper, in which we planned to deposit the gifts we were bringing for the residents of a shelter for battered women. After waiting to make sure the bus was safely in place to take us to the shelter afterward, we walked silently in single file (mostly) with wrapped gifts, gathered in a semi-circle and began to sing some of our favorite choruses.

We sang for 10 minutes, with people gathering round. Kara then walked to the center of the semi-circle and placed her gift there. The rest of us followed. After all the gifts were in the center, we sang one more chorus, and then picked up our gifts and began the short walk to the bus, singing all the while.

We boarded the bus and began our trek to the shelter through narrow, winding streets leading up the side of a hill. It was a beautiful part of Rome we hadn’t seen. The women’s shelter was a solid, salmon-colored building on a quiet street.

We were greeted by a diminuitive woman, who led us to a large room with a sofa and huge wooden dining table. She introduced us to the eight women who live there, seeking shelter from abusive home situations. The women stay no more than 100 days, receiving counseling and other support. One woman had two beautiful children.

photograph from shelterThe scene that followed defies description … singing all around, with J.D. accompanying us on his guitar. The Italian women sang folk songs and even opera, with great enthusiasm and expressiveness. They brought out strong espresso-like coffee, home-made raisin bread and cookies, and then we toured the shelter.

A spontaneous scene in the hallway transcended any barriers of culture and language. One woman suggested that we sing "Twist and Shout," and our interpreter, Guilia, took the lead and began doing the twist, which led into the rest of us forming a human tunnel and stooping-dancing through it. We finally left, out of breath … and reluctantly.

One particularly important moment came when the women offered that the struggle of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders was not unlike their own struggle to build a whole life despite the Church’s attempts to marginalize them. An amazing moment of recognition, an epiphany.

Evening

Time zone differences don’t permit a write-up of the evening worship service with our Italian hosts. But an update will follow … stay tuned.

U.S. Activists Will Risk Arrest on Saturday, January 6, in St. Peter’s Square

Soulforce-Dignity/USA Delegation To Intensify Their Resistance to Anti-Gay Teaching

Soulforce and Dignity/USA Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Email: soulforcemedia@aol.com
Rome Contact: 011-39-3807052353

(Rome, Italy) Soulforce and Dignity/USA volunteers plan to cross the police barriers on Saturday to St. Peters Square, carrying pictures of themselves to represent the gifts gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) individuals bring to the church and demanding that the church stop its spiritual violence against them.

A delegation of 24 activist leaders will intensify their weeklong vigils on Saturday, January 6, 2001, in protest of the anti-homosexual teachings and actions of the Roman Catholic Church.

The group plans to wait at the Square in front of the Nativity on Saturday until they are blessed by a Vatican official or arrested by police. The group came to Rome bearing gifts for orphans, people with AIDS, and battered women, requesting that a Vatican official bless their gifts. After three days of vigils, no blessings have been offered. Up until now, the group has cooperated with the police.

"It is time to stop supporting our own oppression. Saturday, we will refuse to move when asked by police. We will ask Catholics, straight and gay alike, to withhold tithes and offerings until the anti-gay teachings end and to stop their spiritual violence against us," said Rev. Mel White, Executive Director of Soulforce.

Immediately after the confrontation, Mary Louise Cervone, President of Dignity/USA will attempt to present a list of demands to Cardinal Ratzinger at The Congregation of The Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to stop spiritual violence against gay Catholics. If denied access, the demands will be taped to the gate inside St. Peter’s Square leading to the CDF office.

WHAT: A historic act of non-violent resistance at St. Peters Square: arrests are anticipated

WHERE: St. Peter’s Square, inside the barriers in front of the Nativity

WHEN: January 6, 2001 at 2:00 pm

WHO: Faithful Dissenters from the United States, protesting the anti-gay teachings and actions of the Roman Catholic Church

WHY: To launch stage two of the Soulforce Stop Spiritual Violence Campaign: withholding tithes and offerings until the anti-gay teachings end

Media is invited for interviews and to walk to St. Peter’s Square on Saturday with the delegation, starting at 1pm at the Hotel Spring House, Via Mocenigo 07, Rome.

Soulforce is an interfaith network committed to applying the principles of nonviolent resistance as taught by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities. Dignity/USA (www.dignityusa.org ) is the oldest and largest independent national lay movement of GLBT Catholics, their families, and friends.

Rome Photos: Day 2


Soulforcers arrive at Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican in the rain on day two.

Bearing gifts for patients at a Rome AIDS hospital, Soulforcers form a human "Christmas Tree" in front of the creche and Christmas Tree at the Vatican.

Singing "We Shall Overcome" as we wait for our gifts to be blessed by a priest, whose blessing never came.

As Vatican pilgrims wait under umbrellas in the rain to enter the Holy Door at St. Peters, Soulforce and Dignity/USA pilgrims wait in the rain for our gifts to be blessed.

As Vatican pilgrims wait under umbrellas in the rain to enter the Holy Door at St. Peters, Soulforce and Dignity/USA pilgrims wait in the rain for our gifts to be blessed.

As Vatican pilgrims wait under umbrellas in the rain to enter the Holy Door at St. Peters, Soulforce and Dignity/USA pilgrims wait in the rain for our gifts to be blessed.

As Vatican pilgrims wait under umbrellas in the rain to enter the Holy Door at St. Peters, Soulforce and Dignity/USA pilgrims wait in the rain for our gifts to be blessed.

After the Soulforce/Dignity USA action at St. Peter’s Square, Mary Louise Cervone, President of Dignity USA, is interviewed by the Associated Press as Rev. Mel White looks on.

We sing and distribute gifts at a hospital for AIDS patients in Rome.

A patient gratefully receives a blanket and other gifts from Soulforce and Dignity/USA delegates.

Judy Osborne presents a gift of an original animal totem drawing created by a Seattle artist to the hospital as our Italian interpreter, Guilia, looks on.

Our host at the hospital, one of its administrators, wearing one of Jeanine’s hand-crafted ceramic Soulforce crosses, looks on as we present our gifts.

Clutching his gift, a patient admires the totem drawing.

Soulforce chair, Rev. Jimmy Creech, and Diana Westbrook look on as the gifts are delivered in the hospital library.

JD Sebastian leads our group of well-wishers in song in a hospital corridor.

Soulforcers visiting patients at the hospital in Rome.

Soulforcers visiting patients at the hospital in Rome.

Soulforcers visiting patients at the hospital in Rome.

In one of the more amazing and wonder-filled moments of our visit, on our return from the AIDS hospital, our bus stops at the Coloseum (in background) and we find a local newspaper, the Metro, opened on a ledge in the rain to the picture and story of our vigil on day one. It was just lying there, open in the rain to the page with the article. We found it just as you see it in this picture. We have no idea how it got there, and yet we know very well and feel a strong sense of blessing as God’s rain falls on us.

Mary Louise of Dignity/USA and Laura of Soulforce, smile for a photo in front of the Coloseum. It was Laura who asked to stop at the Coloseum where we found the miraculous picture in the rain.

Article on the Soulforce/Dignity USA action, which appeared the next day in Corriere Della Sera, the Rome equivalent of the New York Times.

Article on the Soulforce/Dignity USA action, which appeared the next day in Corriere Della Sera, the Rome equivalent of the New York Times.

Article which appeared the day after our initial protest in the Rome newspaper, Metro. This is the article that we found open in the rain when we arrived at the Coloseum.

Article which appeared the day after our initial protest in the Rome newspaper, Metro. This is the article that we found open in the rain when we arrived at the Coloseum.

Rome, Italy: Day Two – January 4, 2001

Rome Day TwoThe rain, which kindly subsided on Day One early in the morning, pounded steadily all day on the Soulforce – Dignity/USA delegation on our second day in Rome. The morning was unscheduled, some sleeping due to jet lag, others taking advantage of the opportunity to stroll the streets of Rome, visiting sites or doing shopping.

At 11:30, we assembled at the hotel to prepare and wrap our gifts for the AIDS patients at a nearby hospital. Walking to the Vatican today as the rain beat down on our umbrellas proved more arduous than the day before, as thousands of "pilgrims" with their umbrellas also tried to stay dry on their trip to visit the Vatican.

Proceeding to the police barrier at the Via Della Conciliazione, our spot for the vigils, we put our umbrellas down, formed a "human Christmas tree", and held our gifts in the air. As we let the rain wash over us, we sang songs and praised God, waiting for the blessings of our gifts. No police came today, nor did a priest come to bless our gifts, but several tourists stopped to watch. After no blessing seemed forthcoming, we put our umbrellas up and headed for the AIDS hospital.

Cold and wet, the bus provided shelter from the rain and warmed our toes. Our gifts were as wet as we were, but it did not dampen our spirits. JD’s guitar finally arrived in Rome, after being lost by the airline. As we rode in the bus, he played his guitar and we sang songs as we prepared our spirits for the visit to the hospital.

Rome AIDS HospitalStill wearing our sweat-shirts that read "God’s Gay Children Bring Gifts … Bless Them", we were greeted warmly and graciously by the hospital administrator, a nun with a generous spirit and a warm heart. We met with several patients in the library of the hospital, placing our gifts in the center of the table. Feeling somewhat intimidated by the Americans bearing gifts, only a few patients gathered to see us there. Those that did, helped themselves to some of our gifts, as we sang songs and talked to them with the help of our translator, Julia.

After several songs, the hospital administrator decided to relax hospital policy, and lead us through the corridors to the patients. The joy on the faces of the patients was only exceeded by the joy of our delegation as we watched delight light up their eyes as we entered their rooms with gifts or serenaded them from the halls, led by JD on the guitar.

After giving out all our presents, the rest of the day was spent touring Rome from the warmth and dryness of the bus, stopping briefly for pictures at the Spanish Steps, the Forum and the Coliseum. Upon returning to our hotel, we worked out the plans for the next days actions, went to dinner, looked at the news reports and pictures in the Italian papers of our first day’s action, and chatted among ourselves about another successful day in Rome.

Tomorrow, the weather may not be any better, but we continue to look forward to the blessing we receive from God and from each other, whether or not we are blessed by the Vatican for our gifts as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and allied children of God..