Mel White Letter to Dr. James Merritt, President, Southern Baptist Annual Meeting, May 17, 2001

May 17, 2001

Dr James Merritt
President of the Southern Baptist Convention
Senior Pastor, Fellowship of Joy Southern Baptist Church
2400 East Main Street
Snellville, GA 30078

Dear Dr. Merritt,

On April 2, 2001, we wrote to you and to seventy members of your Executive Committee to share our concerns about the tragic consequences of the current Southern Baptist teachings and actions against God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children. We asked to meet with you or with your representatives before your Annual Meeting in New Orleans, June 12-13, 2001. If you didn’t receive our letter, please let me know so that we can send it again. If you did receive it and just haven’t had time to reply, forgive me for writing again, but almost seven weeks have passed and your meeting in New Orleans is now less than four weeks away.

As you know, hundreds of Soulforce volunteers stood vigil at last year’s Annual Meeting in Orlando. Dozens of us were arrested in a loving, nonviolent act of civil disobedience to protest your refusal even to discuss our concerns about the consequences of your anti-homosexual teachings and actions. We did not interrupt your assembly. We did not cause your delegates a moment of inconvenience let alone any reason to be fearful or angry. We spent thirty-six hours in jail. We were tried in public court and have been tangled in legal procedures for the past year. We put up more than twenty thousand dollars in bail and paid more than ten thousand dollars in fines. And we did it all hoping that our loving, sacrificial actions would help convince you of the sincerity of our concerns and that you would be moved to consider our request for dialogue.

We are your sisters and brothers, people of faith, like yourself, who have evidence that current Southern Baptist teachings and actions against sexual minorities lead to discrimination, suffering, and even death. In the words of Jesus, you have "trespassed against us" and in the spirit of Matthew 18:15-16 we have asked you to hear us, but you have refused.

Once again, we ask you to meet with us, before or during your Annual Meeting, June 12-13, 2001. If not, our Soulforce volunteers will put our bodies on the line again in New Orleans. We will appeal to the media to present our case to the nation. We will stand vigil day and night to win the minds and hearts of your Messengers. And we will conduct another nonviolent direct action, in the spirit of Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., facing arrest, possible time in jail and expensive fines hoping that you will be moved at last to hear our case against your anti-homosexual teachings and actions.

At the heart of our protest, on Wednesday, June 13, we will conduct a jazz funeral near the Superdome. This New Orleans tradition flows out of a saying that dates back to slavery: "We weep when a child is born into this cruel world. We sing and dance when the good Lord takes someone home." Soulforce volunteers will use the jazz funeral to tell your Messengers and through the media, to tell the world why we weep when a gay child is born into one of your Southern Baptist families or becomes a member of one of your Southern Baptist churches.

We know that you question our first assumption, that sexual minorities are shaped permanently by nature in their mother’s womb and by nurture during the first years of infancy. For too long church leaders have ignored the scientific, psychological, medical, historical, and pastoral evidence summarized by members of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors that "…an individual’s sexual orientation is present from very early childhood and could not be a matter of choice that represents either disease or sin."

It’s tragic to ignore the evidence, but it’s even more tragic to ignore the personal testimony of tens of thousands of your own young people who know from earliest puberty that they are lesbian or gay. Almost immediately, they become victims of your anti-homosexual teachings. Although they are among your best and brightest, these Southern Baptist youth are afraid to share their deepest feelings with their pastors or parents. They retreat immediately into closets of loneliness and guilt, certain that God condemns and rejects them, convinced that if their "secret" is discovered they will be condemned and rejected by their parents, pastors, and peers as well.

In junior high and high school the serious persecution begins. Ninety-seven percent of students in public high schools reported regularly hearing homophobic remarks from their peers. In ninety-seven percent of these instances, teachers fail to intervene. Fifty-three percent of those same students reported hearing anti-gay remarks by teachers and staff.*

Twenty-two percent of gay and lesbian youth skipped school in the past year because they felt unsafe at school compared to four percent of their peers. Twenty-four percent were in a fight that resulted in receiving medical attention compared to three percent of their peers. Gay students are three times as likely to have been threatened with a weapon at school. Twenty-eight percent of gay youth drop out of high school altogether. Forty-six percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students report that they considered or attempted suicide compared to nine percent of their heterosexual peers. And gay students are seven times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers.

For centuries religious leaders have been the primary source of misinformation against God’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender children. Stoned to death in antiquity, burned alive during the medieval era, and hanged from gallows until the mid-1800s, sexual and gender minorities continue to be the victims of church teachings that label them "sick" and "sinful". While the church argues it is only condemning same-sex practices, it is in the name of God rejecting the very essence, the whole personhood, the very soul of God’s GLBT children. To be feel condemned and rejected by the church and by God leads to wasted lives, ruined relationships, divided families, physical, emotional, and spiritual violence and even death.

Please, Dr. Merritt, meet with us. Hear our case. Then decide if it has worth. At least, conduct a joint press conference with us in New Orleans to condemn those who incite or commit crimes against sexual and gender minorities. I’m enclosing a complimentary copy of my autobiography, Stranger at the Gate, hoping that the Spirit of Christ will use it to help you better understand what it means to be gay and Christian in America.

Sincerely,

Mel White

* [All sources for the above data can be found at http://www.glsen.org]

Jazz Funeral Planned During Southern Baptist Annual Meeting

Soulforce to Mourn For Gay Southern Baptists

Protests and Vigils Against Southern Baptist Teachings to Take Place in New Orleans June 11 – 13, 2001

"Because Southern Baptist teachings turn even our friends and families against us, we weep when their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children are born." Mel White, Executive Director – Soulforce, Inc.

Soulforce Press Release, May 7, 2001
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell: 717-951-7712 soulforcemedia@aol.com

Laguna Beach, CA – Soulforce has announced specific plans regarding their presence in New Orleans to protest the anti-gay teachings of Southern Baptists at the Southern Baptist Annual Meeting taking place June 12 – 13, 2001. More than ten thousand Southern Baptist "messengers" gathering for their annual meeting at the Superdome will be met by Soulforce supporters holding vigils and non-violent protests at the same location.

Soulforce, an interfaith network of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender individuals and their families, friends and allies, is committed to applying the principles of nonviolent resistance as taught by Gandhi and King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities.

The culmination of two days of vigils will be a "historic jazz funeral", followed by a press conference and planned civil disobedience and arrests. The Jazz Funeral begins on Wednesday, June 13, 2001, beginning at 11:00 at the North End of the Superdome entry ramp on Poydras, marching around the Superdome until approximately 12:00. A Press Conference will be held in front of the main entrance at 12:00pm on June 13, prior to the planned civil disobedience and arrests "to draw attention to the anti-gay teachings of the Southern Baptists."

"Southern Baptist teachings are a primary source of misinformation about sexual and gender minorities," declared Rev. Mel White, co-founder and Executive Director of Soulforce. "Their teachings lead to discrimination, suffering, and even death. That’s why our Soulforce Direct Action in New Orleans includes an historic ‘jazz funeral’. Because Southern Baptist teachings turn even our friends and families against us, we weep when their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children are born."

Other Soulforce events in New Orleans include:

  • Sunday, June 10: A Journey to Justice Worship service at 12:15 pm at St. Marks Community Center, 1130 Rampart St., sponsored by the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) of Greater New Orleans.
  • Monday June 11: The Memorial Celebration & Preparation, including Music, Dance, Red Beans & Rice, Special Guests, Hands-On Justice Training in the non-violent principles of Gandhi and King.
  • Tuesday, June 12: All day "wake" and vigils outside of the Superdome, 6am-8pm.
  • Wednesday, June 13: Vigils begins at 8am. Jazz Funeral at 11:00. Press Conference at 12:00pm followed by civil disobedience and arrests. (see above for specific information on location)

"We are thrilled to have Soulforce coming to New Orleans to challenge the anti-gay teachings of the Southern Baptists," said Rev. Dexter Brecht, pastor of MCC of Greater New Orleans and Co-chair of the Soulforce Host Committee. "We are confident that residents of New Orleans will open their hearts and their homes to Soulforce, and join with them in the non-violent protests against the anti-gay teachings that leads to suffering and death."

For additional information on Soulforce, as well as details about the Jazz Funeral and other New Orleans events, see http://www.soulforce.org.

MEDIA PHOTO OPPORTUNITY: Jazz Funeral provides excellent photo opportunity for TV and Newsprint Photos, press conference to follow. Personal interviews can be pre-arranged by calling 717-951-7712.

A Soulforce Invitation: Jazz Funeral at the Superdome

Jazz Funeral
"We weep when a child is born into this world.
We sing and dance when the good Lord takes someone home."
- Mourner at a jazz funeral


Friday – Sunday, June 8-10, 2001

(OPTIONAL) On your own in New Orleans.
Rest! Relax! Sit by the Mississippi!
Drink Chicory Coffee. Eat Bignets.
Listen to Jazz!
Enjoy!

Monday Evening, June 11, 2001
6:30PM – 9:00PM

The Memorial Celebration & Preparation
Music, Dance, Red Beans & Rice, Special Guests, Hands-On Justice Training [St. Mark’s Community Center, 1130 Rampart St.]

Tuesday & Wednesday, June 12-13, 2001
8:00AM – 6:00PM

The Wake and Vigils
Invest 2 hours or 2 days in the Cause of Justice
[Meet under the trees, North End of Superdome entry ramp on Poydras]

Wednesday, June 13, 2001
11:00AM – 12:00PM

The Jazz Funeral
[Meet under the trees, North End of Superdome entry ramp on Poydras]

Wednesday, June 13, 2001
12:00PM – 2:00PM

The Civil Disobedience and Arrest
[Those arrested will move into arrest zone. All others will stand vigil in support.]


The Jazz Funeral Story

More than ten thousand Southern Baptist Delegates are coming to New Orleans, June 12-13, 2001, for their annual convention at the Superdome. Representing 16,000,000 members in 40,000 churches, Southern Baptists are a primary source of misinformation about sexual and gender minorities.

They believe sincerely that we are both sick and sinful; that the so called "gay agenda" threatens the American family; that our call for the rights/rites of marriage will undermine that "sacred institution;" that we should not be allowed to adopt or foster parent, to teach or coach children, to serve in the military, let alone be ordained for Christian ministry.

Southern Baptists are not our enemy, but their anti-homosexual teachings lead to discrimination, suffering, and even death. That’s why our Soulforce Direct Action in New Orleans includes an historic "jazz funeral." Because Southern Baptist teachings turn even our friends and families against us, we weep when their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered children are born.

During our last vigil we will march around the Superdome behind a New Orleans jazz band playing "When the Saints…" to help the Southern Baptists understand the tragic consequences of their anti-homosexual rhetoric. Please stand, walk, dance with us in this loving, nonviolent, carefully (and prayerfully) planned act of protest. In doing justice with Soulforce, you will find your own spirit renewed and our nation transformed.

If you can’t join us in doing justice in New Orleans, would you consider helping someone else attend (or helping an arrestee pay his or her bail) by sending a tax-deductible donation or air/hotel miles you’ve collected to Soulforce? Adopt a "jail bird for justice."

Also, you can help us get the word out by forwarding this email to your list. These actions DO change minds and hearts and the media coverage helps carry our message to the nation.

Dr. King warns us that "Time is on the side of injustice…" If we don’t take our stand now, when will we ever take it?

Mel White, Soulforce Executive Director
Jimmy Creech, Soulforce Board Chair

We will send you housing/transportation/and other information when you…
REGISTER or REQUEST INFORMATION atINFO@SOULFORCE.ORG
or WRITE Soulforce, Inc., P.O. Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA 92652
or CALL KARA at 1-(510)-594-2401