Soulforce Invites You on a Journey to Justice at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly in Indianapolis, August 10-13, 2001

Journey to JusticeWill you help bring truth in love to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, August 10-13, at its Churchwide Assembly? Soulforce will be in Indianapolis along with ELCA advocacy groups (NETWORK, WINGSPAN, Extraordinary Candidacy Program, Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries, and Lutherans Concerned in North America,) working in cooperation with them to bring justice to the ELCA. The ELCA is the fourth largest Protestant denomination in the United States. They have worked hard to be inclusive for membership in the church. All persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are welcomed as full members. We are grateful for this. There still exists, however, a ban on ordination for gays and lesbians who are in committed love relationships. Church regulations allow gay/lesbian clergy to serve in a parish only if they take a vow of celibacy. Gay/Lesbian clergy are being silenced, censored, and removed from their churches. Their suffering and the suffering of all GLBT people in the church who are affected by this injustice must end and the ban must be lifted.

When you join a Soulforce action, your spirit will be renewed, and you play a part in transforming society! Help Soulforce change the minds and hearts of Lutheran clergy and lay leaders – they, too, are victims. Join us as we bring truth in love to the ELCA.

JOIN US IN INDIANAPOLIS, AUGUST 10-13
Do justice with us at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly. A powerful aspect of all Soulforce actions has been the presence of people of all faiths standing in solidarity. No matter what your faith tradition or denomination, everyone who signs our Soulforce Pledge to Nonviolence is welcome and needed! Register online.

SCHEDULE IN INDIANAPOLIS
FRIDAY EVENING, AUGUST 10
SOULFORCE HANDS-ON TRAINING AT SOULFORCE CENTRAL** IN INDIANAPOLIS

Even if the only thing you do is attend this workshop, your life will be changed and you will be empowered to make a difference when you go back home. We will be trained in the principles of nonviolent resistance, see dramatic videos and presentations of "soul force" at work, sing the songs of freedom and learn and practice the problem-solving techniques of Gandhi and King. When you go home, you will be able to apply what you have learned in your town, your church or synagogue, and your life.
5 pm Registration Begins
6:30 – 10 pm Soulforce Training

SATURDAY, AUGUST 11
VIGILS, TEACH-INS, MEDIA EVENTS OUTSIDE THE CHURCHWIDE ASSEMBLY

You will be given an opportunity to make a statement of love and join with those who cry against injustice in the ELCA. No one is ever asked to do anything that feels uncomfortable or inappropriate. Whatever you do (or don’t do), we guarantee that your life will be transformed just by being there.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 12
VIGILS IN THE MORNING AND TRAINING FOR POSSIBLE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE IN THE AFTERNOON

On this day of Christian Sabbath, we will have more opportunities to nonviolently state our love and concern for justice within the ELCA. Again, no one will be asked to do anything that feels uncomfortable or inappropriate. Whatever you do (or don’t do) we guarantee that your life will be transformed just by being there.

MONDAY, AUGUST 13
VIGILS IN THE MORNING AND POSSIBLE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE IN THE AFTERNOON DEPENDING ON THE RESULTS OF ELCA PLENARY SESSION

Don’t worry about being (or not being) arrested. At this time, we have NO civil disobedience planned, but if a nonviolent direct action is called for, you will be included in the planning and be free to join those being arrested (or those who stand in support). We are working with police and officials to be sure that everything we do will be done in order and with love and respect.


**SOULFORCE CENTRAL
Comfort Inn & Suites City Centre
530 South Capitol Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 48225
317-631-9000

TRAVEL AND ACCOMMODATIONS
6/25/01 POSSIBLE AIR FARES THROUGH A GLBT FRIENDLY TRAVEL COMPANY

Round Trip Sample Prices TO Indianapolis (August 10-13) FROM:
Seattle: $381.50
Miami $292.50
Atlanta $285.50
Philadelphia $289.50
Los Angeles $315.00

The above fares represent the lowest published fares as of 6/25/01 Airport tax and fuel surcharges are additional and depend upon routing. Day of week and minimum restrictions may apply.

Email: robert@adventure-bound.com
Address: 937 E Broadway Rd, Suite 3
Tempe, AZ 85282
Phone: 480-968-7889
Fax: 480-968-8811
Toll Free: (800) 308-2345

If Robert is unavailable, Vicki, the retail office manager, should be available for assistance.

SHARING LIMITED HOTEL RESERVATIONS
It is important that you try and share rooms in Indianapolis because there is a room shortage for Friday night.

AUGUST 10
There are only 20 rooms available at the Comfort Inn for Friday night. All training will take place at the Comfort Inn. You may need to stay at the Crowne Plaza Union Station Hotel (approx. 3 blks from the Comfort Inn) Friday night and move to the Comfort Inn for Saturday and Sunday night. YOU COULD stay all 3 nights at the Crowne Plaza if you prefer.

AUGUST 11-12
40 rooms are available at the Comfort Inn for Saturday and Sunday night. THIS SHOULD BE plenty of space FOR US if people are willing to share rooms.

HOTEL INFORMATION
Group Name: SOULFORCE
Cancellation: 72 hours prior to arrival

Comfort Inn & Suites City Centre – SOULFORCE CENTRAL
530 South Capitol Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 48225
For Reservations Call: 317-631-9000
Cut Off Date: July 30, 2001
Rate: $89 / $99 for suite
Note: There are a limited number of double bed rooms -
King size rooms have a sleep/sofa.

Crowne Plaza Union Station – (approx. 3 blks from SF Central)
123 W. Louisiana Street
Indianapolis, IN
For Reservations Call: 317-631-2221
Cut Off Date: July 10, 2001
Rate: $139 Executive Level (up to 4 persons)

HOW TO RESERVE A ROOM
Call either the Comfort Inn or Crowne Plaza and register under the group name SOULFORCE. Make note of the difference in rates of the two hotels as well as the cut off dates. The cut off date for the Comfort Inn is July 30. The cut off date for the Crowne Plaza is July 10.


HOW YOU CAN HELP!
CONTRIBUTE TO SOULFORCE

These events cost Soulforce, Inc. tens of thousands of dollars (still cheaper than buying one full-page ad in a newspaper or magazine). Support us by making a donation with a check, money order, or credit card by mail or donate online. All donations are tax-deductible. Your financial support makes you a part of a spiritual movement that has an impact across this country!

SHARE AIR MILES FROM YOUR FREQUENT FLYER ACCOUNT
Free tickets make a huge difference to those who don’t have funds for transportation. Call us if you have air miles to share at 510-594-2401.

PENCIL IN THESE OTHER SOULFORCE DIRECT ACTION EVENTS AT LARGE CHURCH CONVENTIONS IN 2001

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    October 5-7, 2001, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • National Conference of Catholic Bishops
    November 12-15, 2001, Washington, DC

Thanks for your friendship and faithful support.
WE ARE GRATEFUL.

MEL WHITE & GARY NIXON, CO-FOUNDERS, SOULFORCE, INC.
P.O. BOX 4467, LAGUNA BEACH, CA 92652


For information or to register on line: www.soulforce.org
For information or to register by phone:

Kara Speltz, Registrar: Phone: 510-594-2401
Laura Montgomery-Rutt, Media Contact: 717-951-7712
For email information: INFO@soulforce.org
For regular updates check the Soulforce web site.

PLEASE FORWARD AND/OR HARDCOPY THIS EMAIL, USE AS BULLETIN OR NEWSLETTER INSERT, DISTRIBUTE FREELY.

Mel White Letter to Dr. James Merritt, President, Southern Baptist Convention

June 26, 2001

Dr. James Merritt
President, Southern Baptist Convention
First Baptist Snellville
PO Box 647
Snellville, GA 30078

Dear Dr. Merritt,

Congratulations on your election to a second term. And sincere thanks for taking your stand publicly that Southern Baptists "deplore violence against anyone, regardless of their race, color, or even sexual preference." However, the phrase that includes us – even sexual preference — is rather dangerously misleading. I’m sure you meant no harm, but when you apply the principles of exegesis to those three words, what inferences are clear?

For example, by your use of the word even, you’ve set "sexual preference" as a category inferior to "race or color." What if you had said, "We love Baptists and Presbyterians, we even love Jews…" That clearly implies that it is easy to love Baptists and Presbyterians, but it is a lot harder to love Jews. So, people who hear your words against "physical violence" are left to wonder why is it harder for Southern Baptists to deplore violence against homosexuals than people of another race or color.

Worse, instead of sexual orientation you say sexual preference, which implies, against all scientific research, that homosexuality is a choice and not a given. We hope you don’t mean to imply the following, but this is the way our adversaries hear your words. "We deplore violence against anyone, regardless of their race, religion, or even sexual preference… though these people bring violence on themselves because they are sick and sinful by their own bad choice."

So, in your honest attempt to take a stand against making lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people victims of violence, you have demeaned us twice. And by refusing to meet with us, by refusing even to come out of your Annual Meeting for just five minutes to take your stand against violence with us, you’ve added a third dangerous inference, that homosexuals can be talked about, but don’t even bother to talk to them let alone with them.

If Jews had asked you to take your stand with them against anti-Semitic violence, you would have come out gladly. If women had asked you to take your stand against spousal abuse, you would have agreed without hesitation. So any one looking on wonders why homosexuals are so sick and so sinful that you couldn’t even meet with us or stand with us at a press conference against violence. Gay men, lesbians, and transexuals are the number one victims of hate crime violence in cities across the nation. Turning your back on us sets a tragic example for Southern Baptist pastors who then turn their backs on their gay parishioners or for Southern Baptist parents who turn their backs on their own gay children or for "gay bashers" who honestly believe they are doing God and the nation a favor by killing us.

You imply in your letter that you refused to meet with us because you don’t "respond to any kind of ultimatum." Read our letters again. We certainly didn’t intend them to be "ultimatums." We offered to take no action, to perform no protest in New Orleans if you would just meet with us and take a stand with us against violence. Our vigils were polite. Our materials were not inflammatory. Our Jazz Funeral was deeply moving. And our civil disobedience was conducted with respect and without interrupting your program or causing fear or anger to your Messengers.

If our words seemed like an "ultimatum" we apologize, but we’ve spent more than two years reaching out to Southern Baptists, trying to begin a dialogue about sexual orientation. We’ve tried time and again to demonstrate to you with photos and stories the tragic consequences of your teachings and actions against God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children. Isn’t it time to consider the issue of sexual orientation again when so much is at stake?

Tens of thousands of Southern Baptists have been crying out for decades, begging you to re-examine the evidence that homosexual orientation is just another variation of God’s mysterious creation. How many of them have killed themselves in their desperate desire to reconcile your teachings with their experience? How many lives have been wasted, families destroyed, churches divided because you refuse to even discuss the scientific, psychological, historical, pastoral and even biblical evidence that your gay clergy and laity are as normal as you are?

We don’t deliver "ultimatums." We’re working to save the soul of the Southern Baptist Convention in the same way Jesus tried to save the soul of the Pharisees. They knew the Law by heart, but they had forgotten the heart of the Law. The heart of the Law is this, said Jesus, "justice, mercy, and truth." Your antigay teachings are unjust. Your antigay actions are unmerciful. And though you quote over and over again those six ancient biblical sentences to caricature and condemn us, you refuse even to discuss the truth that we are God’s children, too, created and loved as we were created.

We’ll be back next year, Dr. Merritt, and the year after that and the year after that, until one day, the Spirit of Truth gets through to your hearts and minds. This is not an "ultimatum." This is a loving promise from people of faith who know all too well the tragic consequences of your anti-homosexual misinformation in the lives of our sisters and brothers and in your lives and in the lives of your families and friends.

Jesus has delivered the only "ultimatum" that concerns us. One day, He said, there will be a judgment. Those who care for the outcast will depart into eternal life. Those who refuse to care for the outcast, will depart into eternal damnation. You are making outcasts by your teachings and actions against sexual minorities. And by making outcasts out of us, you are making Christ Himself, an outcast. "When you refuse them," he warned, "you refuse me."

Please, Dr. Merritt, appoint that blue ribbon committee to hear the evidence. Talk to gay people in your congregation privately, hear their stories. Talk to the scientists, the researchers, the medical doctors. Talk to the pastoral counselors and psychologists. Talk to the biblical scholars. Talk to our loving Father. Your re-election gives you one more chance. Let the Spirit of Truth move in your heart and mind. Help us end the suffering.

Sincerely,

Mel

PS: During the next year, you and the members of your Executive Committee will receive stories and photos of Southern Baptists who love the SBC but who have been victims of its anti-homosexual teachings. The first will come from Karen Weldin, the Director of our "Bring Truth in Love Relentlessly to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, 2002." We would love to meet with you before that Annual Meeting. Name the time and place. We’ll be there.

Read additional letters…

Karen Weldin Letter to Dr. James Merritt, President, Southern Baptist Convention

June 25, 2001

Dr. James Merritt, President, Southern Baptist Convention
First Baptist Snellville
PO Box 647
Snellville, GA 30078

Dear Dr. Merritt,

I am Karen Weldin, Director of Operations for Soulforce, Inc. I will be Co-Chair of our Soulforce Journey to Justice in 2002 at your Annual Meeting in St. Louis. I’m writing to ask you officially for a meeting to talk. I want more than anything right now an opportunity to share with you a part of my story. I want more than anything an opportunity to sit down with you and visit. Will you please read my story below, call me and set a time to meet. Please let me share my heart with you. A part of my story follows.

I remember when I was a child walking into the First Baptist Church of New Lenox, Illinois. It was a mission at the time. We met at the Lions Club Building and there were less than one hundred people. I can still see the old building, hear the creaks of the wooden floors, hear the gospels being sung and feel the love of the people. We were family. That was especially important to me growing up. I was already a Christian. I wanted nothing more than to please God and live my life serving God. I was loved and embraced by the First Baptist Church of New Lenox. Leaders in this church guided me and helped me mature in my relationship with God. The foundation of my Christian life is rooted in this Baptist church.

I remember being a part of Girl’s Auxiliary and loving every minute of it. In those days, there were steps and I immediately began working the steps and continued all through High School. I was so proud to become a Queen Regent in Service. I loved studying about missions, reading scripture and memorizing Bible verses. I loved doing service work and helping others. I can remember, like it was yesterday, when I was sixteen and at Church summer camp feeling God’s call to special service. There was no doubt in my mind that God had a special plan for my life.

I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship for the Academy program at Oklahoma Baptist University between my Junior and Senior year in High School. I was so excited to be able to spend eight weeks at OBU in Shawnee, Ok. It was a wonderful experience. I couldn’t wait to graduate from High School and return to OBU the next year.

I returned to OBU in the fall of 1971 and it was there that I first learned the word lesbian. My four years at OBU were bitter sweet. I spent those four years torn between excelling and living with fear and torment that I might by gay. While my career at OBU began with me being very active and outgoing on campus, I soon withdrew and isolated myself struggling with trying to reconcile my spirituality and my sexuality.

During the summer between my sophomore and junior year at OBU I received a summer missionary appointment to Oakhurst Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia. That summer had a very profound effect on me. I was overwhelmed at the love, acceptance and inclusion of that church. The issues at the time were that of racial equality. I had never felt such grace and love in all my Christian experience up to that point. I went home not quite knowing how to integrate that experience into my life.

I graduated from OBU in 1975 with a B.A. in religion and planned to go to Southern Seminary in Louisville. However, by this time I had become more inclusive with my own beliefs about women’s roles in ministry in the church and society. My application was turned down at Southern. I was devastated. I went to graduate school at the University of Oklahoma instead. I started a career as a counselor and practiced as a Certified Alcoholism Counselor and Licensed Marital and Family Therapist until 1994.

From the age of twenty to thirty I struggled vehemently with accepting the fact I am a lesbian. I prayed, read the Bible, sought counseling and did all I could to deny that reality. I remember seeking help from the on-campus psychologist at OBU. He told me I was over reacting. He said that all persons have homosexual tendencies and that given the right time and place they would surface. This frightened me even more. I couldn’t figure out why I was so weak – why could others repress these feelings and thoughts and I could not? I sought help from another therapist and he told me I was not homosexual. I thought that would solve my dilemma. I had a therapist telling me I wasn’t a lesbian. However, even with that assurance, the feelings and thoughts would not go away.

I continued to struggle until I was thirty years old. The entire decade that I was in torment I continued to read the Bible, pray and earnestly seek God’s help. I remember so consciously deciding to pray a prayer every day. The prayer was, "God, please take my fears away and help me to be the person you want me to be." I was terrified of rejection from my Baptist family, childhood church and circle of friends. I slowly backed away from attending church and sought spiritual nourishment from other sources. I began to live a double life. When I finally realized I was a lesbian, surrendered to that reality, and accepted it, there was peace inside like I had never felt before. There was still fear, however, of rejection by people close to me, and because of this fear, I continued to live in the closet for another fifteen years. It took me fifteen years to come out and realize the true freedom of my spirit – true peace and serenity God had been trying to offer me all of my life.

I think what kept me in the closet for fifteen years was the fear of rejection of primarily two people – my Mother and my childhood spiritual mentor – my GA leader. I was so afraid of experiencing what I knew would happen.

I finally decided to face this fear in 1990. I had met a wonderful woman named Susanne and fell in love with her. I decided it was time to be honest with my Mother and come out to her. Living in fear had cost me any possibility of closeness with my family. Out of fear I had kept myself at a distance from them, out of fear I kept my personal life a secret. When I hurt there was not family to share this with. When I was filled with joy there was no one to share this with. Living in the closet was costing me my youth, my integrity, my authenticity, my freedom to serve God. When I came out to my Mother she immediately said "you know that is a sin against God." I was crushed that that was her first response, but it was also expected. That is what she had been taught, it was what I had been taught. It took me fifteen years to get to the point I could accept the fact I was a lesbian. I could not expect her to accept it in one day.

My Mother and I continued for the next seven years pretending we never had that discussion. My sexuality was never discussed, my personal life was never discussed – we lived by the rule of "don’t ask, don’t tell."

In 1994 I had a heart attack and was not expected, at the time, to live. A shift happened inside of me. While it took almost a year to rehabilitate myself to the point of being able to function, I knew in my heart I was still on a journey with God to live out a special service that was still unfolding. As a result of this experience, my fears were lifted. I had a new appreciation for time and a new awareness of my purpose on this earth like I never knew before. In 1997 I came out to my Mother again. This time it was in a counselor’s office. My older sister was there as well. They both reacted very negatively, but I knew that we had to deal with reality if we were ever going to have any type of meaningful relationship. My Mother has three daughters. I warned her at the time I believed that she had two daughters who were gay. She was adamant that I was wrong.

The next three years were spent alienated from my family. No family member was willing to deal honestly with who I was and I was unwilling to go back into denial.

All during this time I continued to have my membership at Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Oklahoma. In December 1999, I contacted Trinity and told them to take my name off of the membership list. Even though I came to the conclusion that there was not a Baptist church anywhere close to me that would accept me for who I was, I was reluctant to surrender that membership because my faith was rooted in the Southern Baptist Church. It was like giving up a part of me – giving up my family. In March of 1999, I began attending Metropolitan Community Church United in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I later joined.

In 1998 I began wrestling with the call to special service I had felt back in my youth. I began thinking once again about the desire to attend seminary and prepare myself for the ministry. I contacted Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK and began to make preparation to attend. I enrolled as a Master of Divinity student in the fall of 1999. I am still a student today and love every minute of it.

In the spring of 1999, I was praying and searching to know God’s will for my life. I found myself standing in front of the Gay and Lesbian bookshelves in a bookstore in Oklahoma City and Rev. Dr. Mel White’s book, "Stranger At the Gate," caught my attention. I purchased a copy, went home, and immediately began to read it. I related so much to his journey and struggles to reconcile spirituality and sexuality. I knew what Mel was saying because I had experienced so much of it in my own life. At the same time, I also knew that God had created me lesbian and that I had to embrace that reality and step out with courage to help others come to know that truth as well. I contacted Soulforce, attended the first trip to Lynchburg, VA to dialogue with Jerry Falwell, and have been a part of Soulforce ever since.

My life is an unfolding blessing after blessing since I surrendered my fears, stepped out in faith and trusted God to be who God created me to be. Soulforce has enriched my life and helped me to grow spiritually in leaps and bounds. My journey continues to renew my soul.

In December 2000, I received a telephone call from my younger sister. She is thirteen years younger than I, divorced with two children. She is also the sister I told my Mother and older sister I believed was also a lesbian. She called telling me that she was, in fact, a lesbian and that her ex-husband had just "outed" her to many people, including our Mother. She had received a telephone call from our Mother asking if it was in fact true that she was a lesbian. My sister said – yes. Thirteen days later, police arrived at my sister’s door with an order to remove her children from the home. My Mother had filed an emergency guardianship order to have the children removed. The entire case was motivated by fear and ignorance about sexual orientation. My sister called me and I rushed to be by her side as fast as I could. I will never forget the pain and anguish in her voice. I will never forget the pain and tears of her nine-year-old daughter screaming she did not want to leave her Mother and being torn from her arms. The guardianship case was dismissed, but the Father of the children immediately filed a custody case to continue what my Mother had started. The case was just over today. If sexuality were a choice, no Mother would put her children and herself through this kind of pain. Families are being torn apart and children are being scarred for life because of fear and ignorance. This is spiritual violence.

This past year I received a birthday card from my Mother. I share a paragraph with you from her letter enclosed in the card:
"I will not accept and cannot accept your sin and life-style. I LOVE you very much. I have given you back to God. He made you and loves you more than I ever could. I believe we are put here with a free will, and you my child have chosen to believe the biggest liar that ever was. I believe that one day, in God’s own time He will turn you around and bring you back into the fold and he is going to save your soul. It may be that He will take you out of this life, and that’s okay with me, as long as your soul is saved. I cannot change you. My job is to pray for you. He’s in charge. I’m not."
I love you,
Mom

Dr. Merritt, I love God, I am a Christian, and I daily seek God’s will in my life. As I reflect on my own life, what I learned in Southern Baptist churches and from my training and education I can only express gratitude to God and my teachers. If you look at the Acteens website today, it says that in Acteens girls grow towards becoming all they were created to be. It says girls are given an opportunity to grow in understanding God, themselves, and others. This happened for me. I was given the foundation to grow and become all I was created to be. I was taught that God’s plan is to reach everyone with the message of hope and love. I am committed to extend my witness in order to glorify God. I treasure my GA bracelet that is symbolic of a "queenly quest." I was given the opportunity to learn what a quest was all about. I learned to search for Truth to be willing to move forward on God’s journey for my life, and not be afraid. I truly believe I have developed Christ’s vision for a lost and hurting world. I have become more confident, courageous and creative. My character has grown and I have a passion for the Truth that motivates me to continue to live out my hearts desire to love God, show mercy and do justice.

Before I went to New Orleans, LA with Soulforce June 11-13, I wrote to Rev. Ted Kersh who is pastor of the church my Mother attends. I asked Rev. Kersh to visit with me. His response was this:

"I do not want to waste your time or mine in meetings that would just allow us to say what we think or feel about this issue. If meeting with you could help you come to a position of rethinking your lifestyle, I am interested, but other than that, I do not see any reason for us to meet together. Once again I hope you understand. I am not being harsh or difficult, but the fact is I have some deep convictions concerning the biblical teaching on homosexuality. Those convictions will not change."

I wish you the best in your life. Sincerely,
Ted Kersh

I don’t understand, Dr. Merritt. Is it not a part of our Christian responsibility to be open to Truth? Isn’t that why we commit ourselves daily to prayer and Bible study to allow God to continue to work in our lives and reveal more to us as we continue to mature in our relationship with God? Is it not our Christian responsibility to be willing to meet with our sisters and brothers in Christ and do all we can to reconcile our relationships? Is not the foundation of our faith based on soulfreedom and priesthood of the believer?

Last year I had an opportunity to go to Atlanta, GA with the Soulforce leadership team. My childhood GA leader and spiritual mentor, I spoke of earlier in this letter, retired and moved to a suburb of Atlanta. I was so excited to perhaps have an opportunity to visit with her and share with her what God was doing in my life. I wrote to her and asked if we could meet and visit. Her response was that would not be possible. She went on to say:

"Karen I want you to know that I love you. You will always be very special to me. As Ann of Green Gables would say ‘our souls were knit together.’ However, it saddens me about your life style. You know the Bible and know it (life style) is a sin. We cannot make the Bible say what we want it to say. God’s word is the same yesterday, today, and forever…I think the people who are living that life style are the one’s misinformed. Perhaps just not willing to change. Chapter 1 of Romans makes it very clear. V-32 is very plain…I hope you will consider turning your back on this life style. What a wonderful witness you could be…"

I can’t tell you, Dr. Merritt, how much this letter hurt. I know she believes with all her heart that she is right. My heart aches for her and the millions of Southern Baptists who believe this and are willing to throw away wonderful loving relationships in the process. I tried for twenty-five years to "turn my back" on God’s truth and reality for my life. The only result was I was restrained and limited in my witness for God. To have come to the point of reconciliation with my sexuality and spirituality is the ultimate gift God has given me. I thank God everyday that I can say – "I am free, I am free, I am free." I am free to love God, other people and myself. I am free to be open to God’s guidance and direction in my life. I am free to be fully who God created me to be.

The Southern Baptist church, embraced me, raised me and now has rejected me. I believe Jesus weeps because of this tragedy. I believe Jesus weeps over the alienation, pain, and suffering gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender persons are experiencing as a result of fear and ignorance. I believe Jesus weeps over the heartache and pain suffered by Southern Baptist families as a result of their reactions to their gay children. Millions are sitting in Southern Baptist churches afraid to speak. They are afraid to share their heartaches for fear of rejection, condemnation and alienation. Something must change. I ask you again to meet with me. Please, just be willing to get to know me and let’s share with one another from our hearts and pray together that God will lead us and guide us to Truth. I wait to hear from you.

In Christ’s Love,

Karen Weldin

"…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8

Read additional letters…

Jazz Funeral Rocks Southern Baptist Convention

Soulforce Message of Love and Suffering Heard by Thousands of Southern Baptists at Annual Meeting

Soulforce Press Release, June 13, 2001
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell: 717-951-7712 soulforcemedia@aol.com

Laguna Beach, CA – People from all over the United States joined together in New Orleans June 11 – 13, at the Southern Baptist Convention to protest the anti-gay teachings of Southern Baptists and spread a message of hope that hearts and minds can change to embrace gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. Soulforce, an interfaith network of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) 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.

During the two days of meetings, Soulforce supporters received training in non-violence, took turns standing vigil in front of the Superdome where the Southern Baptist Convention was taking place, and participated in a Jazz Funeral to mourn the suffering of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Southern Baptists.

Members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka stood nearby protesting Soulforce, and carrying signs reading, "God Hates Fags," and other anti-gay messages. Prior to going to New Orleans, Soulforce asked for pledges to help raise money based on the number of hours Westboro Baptists was present. Soulforce raised over $8,800.

The culmination of two days of vigils in New Orleans was a historic jazz funeral, followed by a press conference and civil disobedience and arrests. Hundreds of people lined the streets as over 100 Soulforce supporters followed a jazz band through the streets of New Orleans around the Superdome, mourning for the suffering and deaths of gay Southern Baptists. A coffin filled with letters from and about those who have been hurt by Southern Baptist teaching was also part of the procession.

"Southern Baptist teachings are a primary source of misinformation about sexual and gender minorities," declared Bill Carpenter, Soulforce co-chair of the event. "Their teachings lead to discrimination, suffering, and even death. We will continue to bring to light the suffering these teaching cause and pray for the day when all people will be embraced for who God created them to be."

After the press conference, supporters tried to take the coffin and the letters into the Superdome, but were stopped by police and ordered to leave. 34 individuals were arrested and taken to police headquarters to be booked on charges of trespassing. However, the New Orleans City Attorney dropped all charges against the Soulforce supporters who were arrested.