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

July 28, 2001

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

Dear Dr. Merritt,

On June 25, 2001 I wrote you and asked you to read my letter, read my story, and to contact me to set a meeting to talk. I regret that I have not heard from you. I still want to meet you. I am willing to come to Snellville or any place you designate. You name the time and place and I will be there.

In Dr. Mel White’s letter of June 26, 2001 he stated that during the year between your conventions, you would be receiving stories and photos of Southern Baptists who love the SBC but who have been victims of its anti-homosexual teachings. My letter and photo was the first. I have enclosed another story in this letter. The story is about Mike Herrington, a Texas Baptist.

Dr. Merritt, we are not going away. You will continue to hear from me, and Soulforce will be at the convention next year in St. Louis. We will continue to try and contact you until the Spirit of Truth and Love tugs at your heart. We make this commitment because we know first hand, and too well, the sufferings and violence that takes place because of fear and misinformation. Jesus never advocated exclusivity. I plead with you to sit down and begin to talk with us. I believe with all my heart that together we can make a huge difference towards ending violence against God’s gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender children. Pray to our loving God. Contact me today and set a time to meet. I am pleading with you as a sister in Christ to reach out and help end the suffering of so many people.

In Christ’s love and peace,

Karen Weldin
Director of Operations
Soulforce


Mike Herrington is another first time attendee to a SOULFORCE direct action. He tells us:

I always considered myself to be a God-fearing, born-again, Bible-believing Texas Baptist. I am from rural central west Texas and a graduate of the world’s most prestigious Southern Baptist University, Class of 1964. Being gay was simply not an option. In some sense I knew for a very long time that my primary physical attraction (it was more than sexual) was to those of my own sex. I was determined to be a good person so I felt very confused.

I was a farm boy who made his confession of faith at a little country church. Because I wanted the best Christian teachings, I persuaded my parents to attend church in town where I faithfully attended Sunday school, Training Union, and Wednesday night prayer services, revivals twice a year and, as a high school senior, was elected president of the associational Youth Rally. I was blessed with a few very fine teachers who knew their way around the Bible. Some of them would even admit that there seemed to be some contradictions in the Scripture. Almost all assured me that what was most important was that God is love and that, through the grace of Jesus Christ, all were welcomed into the family of God. The majority, though, did not seem so inclusive in their message.

I did not see or hear much ever said about homosexuality. If it was ever slightly mentioned, it was suggested that only strange, deviant type persons were attracted to having sex with their own gender. The topic of sex alone was almost as taboo as during the Victorian era. How could I hope to get accurate information or understanding for my feelings and for who I seemed to be?

My mother once guessed that my attachment to one of my dearest male Baylor friends was not totally "normal." I dodged her inquiry like a hail of bullets. I dated much more at Baylor than I had in high school. I had some very good female friends. For years I would believe that I was unusually blessed with the ability to respect female virginity. I did not consider the fact that I was not that interested in being physically intimate with a female.

I did plan on marrying eventually not only because it was the natural course of things but also because I very much wanted to have children of my own. Compared to a number of my peers, I was late marrying. I was blessed with a wonderful, beautiful, educated woman who was everything I could imagine in a wife and the mother of my children. We seemed to have a lot in common. We were quickly blessed with the births of three children. For the first few years, the marriage went seemingly well, but the relationship began to slide downhill for no particular reason that I could identify.

Both of us took our Christian parenting of our children very seriously. Both of us were very active in our church. We tried very hard to have a good life together. I feel that we did love and care for one another as human beings and as partnered parents, but something was definitely missing. I suffered from depression off and on for years; but then it became more intense. I began to feel guilty: first, for being depressed; second, for having moved my family to a new location in search of elusive happiness; and third (probably most important), for my inability to be totally honest with myself. I thought of many excuses: things that would make everything okay. It was not that simple.

I began to seek out both pastoral help and professional medical intervention. Something was still missing. Trying a career switch did not bring the solace that I hoped it would. I struggled to tell my spouse that I had "inappropriate" sexual feelings for men. I thought if I could just say the truth to someone that I could get better. She probably never knew exactly how to react. She was not cruel, but she did ignore my hints. Being ignored can be very painful.

When my job situation became critical, our marriage rapidly worsened. Ultimately, even though I did everything within my power to fix the situation, the marriage was doomed. Marriage was something I had desperately hung on to like a lifeline. I did not think I could survive its demise, but I did. Still I worked hard at being a moral person and a good divorced father. I became almost asexual. I had no difficulty remaining totally celibate, though most everyone made jokes about the sexual freedom of the divorced man.

I danced around the possibility that I was gay. I tried to find a mental health person who would allow me to discuss my questions about my sexuality. It was a difficult search. Once I did find someone, I could move ahead in accepting. Ultimately I chose to move home to Texas and to allow myself to be. I soon found more accurate information as well as support and affirmation. I was 57 years old; but, surprisingly, I felt as though I had come home.

Read additional letters…

Letters to Lutheran Bishops and Council Members

July 15, 2001

As part of our ongoing commitment to change the hearts and minds of those in leadership within the ELCA, we asked our volunteers who are coming to Indianapolis to write to the Bishops and Councilmembers. Here are some of those letters:

Bishop-Elect Dean W. Nelson
First Lutheran Church
2900 Carson Street
Torrance, California 90503

Dear Bishop Nelson:

My name is Ken Gies and I am writing from Kansas City, Missouri. I was raised in Denver, Colorado by Godly and loving parents. The two people I admired most and sought to please were my father and my pastor. They were my role models and garnered my deepest love and respect. I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was eight years old and made a public confession of faith and was baptized, moreover, I knew from an early age that God had called me into the ministry. I gave my life to following that call, all the while struggling with the pain of another realization. As I grew into my adolescent years, I knew that I was gay. Maybe not in that term, but I knew nonetheless. As I entered college and seminary, those I counseled with assured me that with enough faith and prayer, I would get over this sickness. So I prayed, I fasted and begged God, with tears flooding down my cheeks, yet the feelings persisted. I lived a celibate life, hoping that this horror would end, but it just would not go away. I married a wonderful Christian woman and tried to build what everyone said was a ‘normal’ relationship, only to fail once more. I enrolled in ex-gay programs and began therapy starting with counseling, progressing through aversion therapy and ending with shock therapy. Yet again, that which was at the core of my being continued to be a struggle between God, who, I believed hated me and feelings, over which I had no control. Was God being cruel, not to answer my prayers and pleadings? Was I still doing something wrong? Did I not know the right words, or did I lack faith? I begged to know the answer and God honored that plea.

Bishop Nelson, please know one thing about me, I love the ministry, I love the church and most of all, I love God! I DID NOT choose to live with this horrible dichotomy. One day, at the point of desperation, calling on God to cure me or kill me, I began to re-read a number of the scriptures that I had been so very familiar with and of which I was so afraid. Somewhere, in the depths of that suicidal depression, God began to move on my heart. Fear began to lift, light began to shine in areas that I had kept well hidden for so many years. It was there, and I believe this as deeply as anything I have ever believed, that God moved in the depths of my broken spirit, convincing me that my sin was in not trusting how God had created me. Today, I live a life free of fear, guilt, and shame. A life that stands before God, robed in grace, loved by God and yes, still gay, but with the full knowledge that who I am is neither a sickness, nor a sin.

Right now, there are thousands of people, young and old, men and women, true believers who live life in the same fear, shame and guilt that almost destroyed me. Those who are so afraid of their dark secret that they often choose suicide over living lives filled with outrageous fear, guilt and shame. You and the thousands of other men and women of God, hold the answer to the cry of these brokenhearted, broken spirited people. They wait for a word of acceptance, a word of real, divine, non-judgmental love.

I will be in Indianapolis with a group called Soulforce during the days of your Convention. Soulforce is dedicated to finding ways of opening a dialog and resisting the darkness of ignorance while proclaiming the brightness of God’s everlasting love, light and life. I would very much like to meet you and get acquainted. This is not an ambush, but just the two of us, in a public venue, over a cup of coffee, fellowshipping and sharing our kinship in Christ. Throughout the days of the ELCA Convention, I will carry a sign with your name on it, reminding me to pray for you specifically as you do your part in the Convention. Please know I have no ulterior motives and am not looking for an argument or a fight. I just want to meet you, share my story and listen to what you have to say, praying together for God’s gracious leading. Will you join me there? I would love to hear back from you. Meanwhile, you are in my daily prayers and on my heart as your prepare for your journey to Indianapolis.

God Bless You!

Yours, In the Boundless Love of Jesus,

Ken Gies


Bishop Donald H. Maier
5519 Phinney Ave. N
Seattle, WA 98103

Dear Bishop Maier:

My name is Arnold Milne. I write to you as a member of the Soulforce team that plan to come to Indianapolis in August, at the time of the Evangelical Lutheran Conference. Soulforce represents, what I consider, just a small representation of the many Gay/Lesbian Christians who are prayerfully concerned about the tragic consequences of exclusive stances taken by your denomination against God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children. I understand that there are forces in our society that do not want to hear of God’s welcome to Gay/Lesbian individuals, as whole sexual beings. None-the-less, we cannot standby while such fearful and exclusionary voices continue to preach their ill informed convictions in the name of our loving God and our individual denominations.

I am an active member of the Interdenominational Riverside Church in New York City. Twenty five years ago, as a gay father with a young son, I found Riverside Church to be an important spiritual community of support to both my son and myself during the years that he was growing into manhood. My son is now 28 years of age and has a three year old daughter of his own. I am in a long term relationship (twenty years) with my companion who has also been a vital helpmate in raising my son and rejoicing in our grandchild. Our relationship of human intertwining has been a basis for much spiritual blessing and mutual growth in our lives together. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that my Savior’s blessing is on our relationship. I believe that it is serious offense when gay and lesbian Christians are excluded from church family in the name of God…when our Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters are told that they must live lonely and relation less lives because of their sexual orientation. God’s love is inclusive. It is man’s limited vision that puts limits on it.

I am coming to Indianapolis because I believe that God calls me there. We have had enough of silence, while denominations debate on the fate of God’s Gay/Lesbian Children…and children continue to grow up in our congregations hating one another and themselves. I expect to be in Indianapolis on August 11-13th. It would be great if I could meet with you, for coffee and to get acquainted, during those days. I will be in prayer over these concerns and look forward to hearing from you if you should be inclined to meet with me. While on vigil with Soulforce in Indianapolis, I plan to carry a small sign with your name on it. This would be a way for you to pick me out "of a crowd," so to speak. It is my intention to be praying especially for you during this convention.

May God Bless You.
Sincerely,

Arnold


Bishop Mark R. Ramseth
2415 – 13th Ave. S.
Great Falls, Montana

Dear Bishop Ramseth,

My name is Cris Elkins. I am a gay man committed to stopping the abuse of God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children. The mistreatment of homosexuals by the Church is perhaps the worst heresy of the Christian faith. The spiritual violence must stop! My sexual orientation is an integral part of who I am. The Church taught me to hate who I was. I was a victim of legalistic, judgmental, and abusive religion. I struggled with my homosexuality for 24 years.

Then I fell in love with a man and I knew that I was whole and created the way God meant me to be. There was nothing evil about loving someone of the same sex. The struggle was over for me but the emotional, psychological, and spiritual scars remain. I am committed to seeing that the next generation does not suffer as I have. Heterosexuals are as much a victim of homophobia as homosexuals. William Sloane Coffin, a great theologian and civil rights activist, says, "Nothing scares me like scared people, for while love seeks the truth, fear seeks safety, the safety so frequently found in dogmatic certainty, in pitiless intolerance. So I believe the captives most in need of release, those today whose closet doors need to be flung open, are really less the victims than their oppressors-the captives of conformity, the racists, the sexists, the homophobes, all who live in dark ignorance because their fears have blown out the lamp of reason."

I am a member of Soulforce, a group committed to the nonviolent struggle for gay civil rights. We are prepared to put our bodies on the line for justice. We will be working to bring justice to the ELCA at your Churchwide Assembly, Aug. 10-13, in Indianapolis. This will be my fifth Soulforce action and I am committed to bring the truth in love for as long as it takes. Thanks to the work of Lutherans Concerned, the ELCA has made great progress in the struggle for acceptance and affirmation of God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children. I do not know how far along you are in this struggle.

I hope you will take the time to share your thoughts with me. Sometimes it is helpful to put a face to the issue. Perhaps we could meet for coffee or share a meal while in Indianapolis-my treat! Better still why not consider doing justice! Join me as we stand vigil and in civil disobedience if necessary. Gene Hannold, my partner of 27 years, and I will be carrying a small sign with your name on it as we stand vigil at the Churchwide Assembly. If you cannot find me, anyone with Soulforce will relay a message. I anxiously await my Soulforce journey into justice and a chance to meet and talk with you. I call on you to help end the turmoil the church causes to those families with gay and lesbian children. Enclosed is an account of the recent Soulforce action at the Southern Baptist Convention by Rembert Truluck, a gay defrocked Baptist and author of "Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse". His account is a moving testament to the power of doing justice.

In all things love,

Cris F. Elkins


Bishop Steven L. Ullestad
P.O. Box 804
Waverly, IA 50677

Dear Bishop Ullestad,

I am writing to introduce myself to you prior to the Lutheran conference in Indianapolis.

I will be there with Soulforce. We are a group who perform direct actions at Christian denomination conferences. Our cause is the inclusion of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians who are being shut out of their traditional church homes. Sometimes these dedicated Christians have chosen a different faith tradition from that in which they were raised, but few denominations welcome these people and their gifts.

I am not a member of the glbt community. I am a heterosexual mother of three, step-mother of three. Those who believe the gay population is 10% or less of the population might be surprised that 1/3 of my children are gay. My oldest son is gay, as is my oldest step-daughter.

I was raised in a fundamentalist atmosphere. I studied the Bible in depth for many years with a group called Bible Study Fellowship, founded by a British missionary named Audrey Wetherell Johnson. It was not in my nature to look for meanings in scripture other than the traditional ones.

However, all that changed when I learned that my dedicated Christian son was a homosexual. Both he and I agonized over that discovery. He has turned his back on Christianity because he was tired of being told God did not love him. I struggled to understand how the God of love, mercy and reconciliation could cast out my child because of something over which he had no control. My son went through an exorcism to cast out the demon of homosexuality. He was desperate to change his sexual orientation.

Because I know first hand the suffering caused in families over this issue, I am part of the Soulforce family, consisting of approximately 1/3 gay men, 1/3 lesbians, and 1/3 heterosexual allies like me. I have a daughter who is a Pentecostal who disapproves of what I am doing and of her brother. It is only by God’s infinite grace that our family maintains a close and loving relationship.

One of my heroes is Rev. Robert Graetz, a Lutheran minister who has participated with Soulforce in several of our direct actions and who was instrumental in bringing Soulforce to Indianapolis. Rev. Graetz and his wife will be inside your convention hall.

If it is at all possible, I would like to take you to lunch on Saturday, August 11. If that is not convenient, perhaps we could have coffee. Soulforce will be standing vigil outside the convention center. I will be carrying a sign with your name on it.

I have no wish to be confrontational with you. Perhaps you are already a supporter of our cause. Perhaps not. My wish is to have a few moments of your time to share more of my motivation for being a part of the Soulforce family.

I look forward to meeting with you. Thank you for considering my request.

God bless you,

Luann


July 8, 2001

Dear Presiding Bishop Anderson,

"We are born children of a fallen humanity; in the waters of Baptism we are reborn children of God and inheritors of eternal life. By water and the Holy Spirit we are made members of the Church which is the body of Christ."

We brought our son, Jacob Philip Reitan, to Messiah Lutheran Church. He was baptized in water from the Jordan River brought by his grandparents from the Holy Land. His Uncle Mark, our pastor, baptized him. Jacob was surrounded by a huge family that loved him. They traveled from many cities and states to celebrate this most special day with us. So many were coming we thought we should have a service of our own for the baptism. But Uncle mark reminded us of how important it was to have the whole congregation there to witness the baptism and to welcome Jacob into the Church Family. Our 2 oldest sons played a role in the service. They helped light the candles. All 3 of Jacobs’s siblings gathered with us at the baptismal font to watch their brother become a child of God. Our daughter held the napkin made by the members of Messiah to wipe Jacob’s head . It was important to us to have our children be an intimate part of Jacob’s baptism.

"Jacob Philip, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

At that moment Jacob was claimed by God. Nothing can separate the love God has for our dear Jacob. Nothing can take away the promise that Jacob is a child of God. Jacob was raised up to a new life through this holy sacrament. Jacob was given the "spirit of wisdom, and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy…"

"Jacob Philip, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever."

Forever, Jacob Philip, you are a child of God.

Forever, you are a child of God.

Do you know how many times I have said that in my mind these last years? Forever means this promise is always with my son. But the ELCA has chosen to take part of that promise away from Jacob. They have said he is not like the other "children of God" — he is different. He doesn’t quite measure up. Jacob is gay.

As Jacob’s parents we also made promises. We promised to "faithfully bring him to the services of God’s house, and teach him the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments." We also promised to place in Jacob’s hands the Holy Scriptures and we promised to provide for him instruction in the Christian faith. We kept our promises.

The Church also prayed for us, as Jacob’s parents, when Jacob was baptized. They prayed that we would rejoice in Jacob’s life. We have rejoiced and thanked God every day for the most wonderful gift of Jacob. They prayed that we would be teachers and examples for Jacob to follow. We have been Jacob’s teachers in the classroom and in life every day. And they prayed that we would be strengthened in our own baptism so we may share eternally with all our children the salvation God has given us through Jesus Christ our Lord. We have called upon that strength so many times in recent years.

The congregation, for the Church, also made promises that Sunday in March 19 years ago. They welcomed Jacob into the Lord’s family. They received him as a "fellow member of the body of Christ, children of the same heavenly Father, and workers with us in the kingdom of God." They have not kept that promise. Jacob is not viewed as a fellow member of the body of Christ in the same way as his brothers and sister are accepted. He can not be a worker in the kingdom of God in the same way they can. That is a promise broken by the Church.

As Philip and I look at the Baptismal Service as printed in our hymnal we don’t see any fine print and we don’t see any asterisks that say if your child discovers he is gay we will have to limit his participation in God’s house. We can not find any place that says homosexuals are a step lower than the Children of God.

By water and the Holy Spirit we are made members of the Church which is the body of Christ. As we live with him and with his people, we grow in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God."

Phil and I were able to grow in faith, love and obedience to the will of God. We were encouraged by the church. How can our children grow in faith, love and obedience when their brother Jacob is labeled as an outcast by the Church, the body of Christ? The stand that the ELCA has chosen separates them from the body of Christ. This stand separates so many loving families from the body of Christ. It is hard to grow in faith when it is not sustained in a community of believers. Christ would not shut Jacob out. We are not truly disciples of Christ when we treat fellow members as outcasts.

We promised in the Baptismal Service, as Jacob’s parents, to help him in any way as God gives us opportunity. We will not stop until the day the ELCA realizes the promises the Church has made to all the children like Jacob. There are so many families like ours that are hurting. They are crying out for justice. To be cast aside by the Church is the ultimate injustice.

We are all asked to be examples for Jacob to follow during the Baptismal Service. We pray for the day all in the Church will truly be examples for our children to follow as we journey to the Promised Land.

God has claimed Jacob. We know Jacob is marked by the cross of Christ forever. We just want the Church to understand it. If they truly acknowledge that they received Jacob as a fellow member of the body of Christ then Jacob should be able to claim all the rights and privileges given to a child of God in the ELCA.

As the ELCA Churchwide Assembly draws near we ask you to read through the Baptismal Service. Use the name Jacob as you read it. Remind yourself of the promises made to Jacob. And pray that God will open your heart to Jacob and all the other wonderful children like him.

Philip and I plan on attending the Assembly as visitors. Jacob will travel from his studies at Northwestern University to join us. We would be happy to visit with you if you have the time. We pray to see the changes made in the ELCA. So many are suffering. It is so hard to understand the position of the ELCA. It is something we talked bout as a family long before Jacob told us he was gay. We have never been able to understand the ELCA position. We feel guilty we waited to act until it personally affected our children. One of the most loving messages we received when we told our families that Jacob was gay was a yellowed newspaper clipping my mother sent. It was a story on Ruth Frost and her ordination. My mom wanted us to know that she was so ashamed of the stand the ELCA had taken against the gay community.

We have been Lutherans all our lives. It is a heritage that goes back many generations. We have many pastors in our family. Phil and I have served the church as Sunday School teachers, Confirmation teachers, Social Ministry workers, Family Night and Family Camp organizers, Call Committee member, Council member and President of the congregation. When Phil and I were first married we served with World Brotherhood Exchange as teachers in Chiang Mai, Thailand. My family had experienced the mission field with my father when he served with them as a surgeon in Madagascar. Philip and I wanted to start our marriage with a year of service. We want you to know our history so you can see why we went to stay in the Lutheran Church.

All distinctions are washed away in the waters of Baptism. It is time for the ELCA to wash away all distinctions and truly welcome the gay community into the full and complete fellowship of the Church. Bishop Anderson, you will be in our prayers.

A sister in Christ,

Randi Ann Reitan

Soulforce to Support Lutheran Gay-Affirming Groups at ELCA Churchwide Annual Meeting

Vigils, Trainings, Celebrations and possible Civil Disobedience to take place in Indianapolis: August 10-13, 2001

Soulforce Press Release, July 15, 2001
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell: 717-951-7712 soulforcemedia@aol.com

Laguna Beach, CA – Hundreds of people from all over the United States will be coming together in Indianapolis on August 10-13, 2001 at the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to urge the ELCA to remove unfair and discriminatory restrictions against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) individuals called to ministry. Soulforce supporters and the Lutheran Alliance for Full Participation will be holding a celebration of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Lutheran heros/sheros, daylong vigils, trainings in non-violence, and a possible civil disobedience.

Current ELCA policy demands that gay/lesbian individuals vow celibacy in order to be eligible for ordained ministry. Those who refuse to lie about their significant relationships or who renounce a vow of celibacy are excluded from official consideration for ministry within the ELCA. Currently, 27 clergy/candidates have refused to pledge celibacy.

"We are prepared to put our bodies on the line to help end the suffering caused by this tragic policy of discrimination by participating in civil disobedience and risking arrest," said The Rev. Jeff Johnson, who was among the first openly gay Lutheran pastors to be "irregularly" ordained in violation of the official policy of discrimination. "However, we hope that our presence at the Churchwide Assembly will end up being a celebration that justice has been done at last."

Groups within the Lutheran Alliance for Full Participation, which includes The Network for Inclusive Vision, Wingspan, Extraordinary Candidacy Project, Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries, and Lutherans Concerned/North America, encourage congregations to defy official policy by interviewing and hiring openly, non-compliant, GLBT people as their pastors. The congregations they serve risk ELCA discipline for extending "irregular calls".

Soulforce, an interfaith network of GLBT individuals and their families, friends and allies committed to applying the principles of nonviolent resistance as taught by Gandhi and King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities, is working in cooperation with the Lutheran Alliance for Full Participation.

On July 13, 2001, a letter was sent to the Rev. H. George Anderson, Presiding Bishop, Dr. Addie Butler, Vice President, and the Rev. Donald J. McCoid, Chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops, asking them to takes steps to remove standing policies of discrimination. The letter was signed by leaders representing Soulforce and members of the Lutheran Alliance, including the Rev. Jeff Johnson.

"We who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and our allies can no longer justifiably wait," the letter states. "Since the early 50’s, Lutherans have been studying gay and lesbian persons. The time for this technique of postponing action through study has come to an end."

Rev. Mel White, Founder and Executive Director of Soulforce, added, "We celebrate the fact that the ELCA is working for ‘full participation’ of gays and lesbians in the church. However, they have been ‘working for’ and talking about full participation for too long while our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are being denied the opportunity to serve the church in the capacity they have been called. The debate must stop and the ELCA must stop requiring celibacy and begin ordaining their gay and lesbian children."

MEDIA: To schedule an interview or for additional information, please call 717-951-7712

Registration will take place at 5 pm on August 10 at the Comfort Inn & Suites City Centre, 530 South Capitol Avenue, Indianapolis. For more information or to register, see http://www.soulforce.org.

Letter to ELCA Conference of Bishops

July 13, 2001

The Rev. H. George Anderson, Presiding Bishop
Dr. Addie Butler, Vice President
The Rev. Donald J. McCoid, Chair, Conference of Bishops
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
8765 Higgins Road
Chicago, IL 60631

Dear Bishop Anderson, Dr. Butler and Bishop McCoid,

We greet you in the name of Jesus, the Christ.

In a few short weeks, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will be convening in Indianapolis. At this Assembly, the Voting Members will be asked to make highly significant decisions that will have major impact on the lives of members of congregations within the ELCA. We are writing specifically to address the ELCA’s policies of discrimination and exclusion faced by many of God’s beloved children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (lgbt) and who experience daily the spiritually deadening effects of having the legitimacy of their relationships demeaned and their calls to the ordained Word and Sacrament ministry challenged.

Openly gay and lesbian pastors now serve ELCA congregations faithfully. Many more are in seminary preparing for call to ordained ministry. While some of these pastors and seminarians have forsaken partners and committed relationships to comply with the unconscionable demand to live celibate lives, or have kept their relationships secret, many others live openly with partners in congregations and synods throughout this church with the acknowledgement, encouragement and acceptance of their Bishops, councils and division executives.

In 1996, the Conference of Bishops issued a Pastoral Letter to the lesbian and gay community in which was stated: "We also call attention to the action of the 1991 Churchwide Assembly that declared ‘gay and lesbian people, as individuals created by God, are welcome to participate fully in the life of the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.’ "

The ELCA’s policy of discrimination as well as its inconsistent and irregular enforcement undermines the very participation you seek. It is time for the leadership of the ELCA to move beyond the rhetoric of "welcome" into the invitation unto "full participation."

Full participation is precluded by the ELCA’s policy of discrimination that specifically prohibits non-celibate lgbt people from serving in the rostered ministries of this church. These prohibitions must be lifted for "full participation" to be a reality. The time to implement such a change is the present. While conversation will continue in the days and years to come as we deepen our participation, action in the present can no longer be delayed.

We who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and our allies can no longer justifiably wait. Since the early 50’s, Lutherans have been studying gay and lesbian persons. The time for this technique of postponing action through study has come to an end.

What is necessary at this moment in history is that you make good on your public invitation to "full participation."

We call on you and other leaders within the ELCA, to take the kind of steps our Presbyterian sisters and brothers in common communion took when they met for their national convention earlier this summer: remove the standing policy of discrimination. Resolutions are before this assembly, which, if passed, would restore the Lutheran Church to a position of leadership in the continuing reformation of the whole body of Christ.

Therefore we call upon you to stop ELCA sponsored spiritual violence against baptized sisters and brothers in Christ, and at this time to move the church toward full participation:

  1. We urge you to provide leadership and support to the amendment of Vision and Expectations: Ordained Ministers in the ELCA (page 13) to hold lgbt clergy to the same standards of sexual conduct as all other clergy. We support language such as the following: "…Married ordained ministers and those in committed relationships are expected to live in fidelity to their spouses/partners, giving expression to sexual intimacy within a marriage/committed relationship that is mutual, chaste, and faithful." The following statement must be removed from this document: "Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships."
  2. We urge you to provide leadership and support to the amendment of Definitions and Guidelines. The following statement must be deleted from this document: "Practicing homosexual persons are precluded from the rostered ministries of this church."
  3. We urge you to renounce and to distance yourselves from the false teachings concerning the sexuality of lgbt persons reflected in ELCA statements and the social statements of our predecessor church bodies and to adopt in their place Gospel-centered teachings such as the following: "To love our neighbor means open affirmation of gay and lesbian persons and their mutually loving, just, committed relationships of fidelity."
  4. Finally, we urge you to implement in regards to lgbt people the ELCA’s policy requiring that the church "provide structures and decision-making processes for this church that foster mutuality and interdependence and that involve people in making decisions that affect them" (ELCA Constitution 4.03.o) by explicitly including openly identified single and partnered lgbt people in these structures and decision making processes that affect us.

To this end, will you:

  1. Meet with us prior to the convening of the 2001 Churchwide Assembly to discuss these ways of implementing your publicly expressed invitation to "full participation?"
  2. Invite the Church Council to consider the changes necessary to lift the policy at their meeting prior to the Churchwide Assembly?
  3. Arrange for specific and reliable guidance from ELCA legal and parliamentary authorities to be provided in writing and in advance to the Voting Members on options available to them at this Assembly for removing the ban on the ordination of non-celibate lgbt persons?

As you are aware, Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries and the Extraordinary Candidacy Project in cooperation with Lutherans Concerned/North America, The Network for Inclusive Vision and Wingspan Ministry, have invited Soulforce (www.soulforce.org) to join us at the Assembly in Indianapolis from August 10-13. Hundreds of us will stand quiet, respectful vigil during those first days, inviting Voting Members to attend an open-air celebration of our Lutheran civil rights heroes from the past and present on Sunday afternoon, August 12. We will also be training those volunteers for a nonviolent act of spiritual resistance (and possible civil disobedience) on Monday, August 13, if it becomes apparent that the Churchwide Assembly is deciding to postpone justice yet again or worse.

We hope that our presence at the Churchwide Assembly will end up being a celebration that justice has been done at last. If not, we are prepared to put our bodies on the line to help end the suffering caused by this tragic policy of discrimination.

We write to you, our brothers and sisters in Christ, with the knowledge that while we may not agree on all matters, we share a commitment to full partnership in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Would you be so kind as to respond to Dr. Mari Irvin or the Rev. Jeff Johnson, our ELCA Indianapolis Co-chairs. We have included their phone numbers, email and postal addresses after their signatures. We would be grateful if you would contact us before July 23rd with your questions or comments and date/time suggestions for our meeting with you.

Let us work together to make this a present tense reality for lgbt persons striving for faithfulness in their call to rostered ministries and in their lives and partnerships as baptized believers.

Sincerely in Christ,

On behalf of the Lutheran Alliance for Full Participation:
Dr. Mari G. Irvin
ELCA Indianapolis Co-chair
655 Corbett Avenue # 507
San Francisco CA 94114
MariGIrvin@aol.com
209-483-9956

The Rev. Jeff R. Johnson
University Lutheran Chapel, Berkeley
ELCA Indianapolis Co-chair
134 Prague
San Francisco CA 94112
prjeff@earthlink.net
510-757-3652

Dr. Margaret Moreland, President
Extraordinary Candidacy Project

The Rev. Dr. Cindy Witt, Chair
The Network for Inclusive Vision

Mr. Greg A. Egertson, Co-chair
Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries

Ms. Lynn Mickelson, Co-chair
Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries

Mr. Tim Feiertag, Co-chair
Lutherans Concerned/North America

Ms. Janelle Bussert, Co-chair
Lutherans Concerned/North America

Ms. Emily Eastwood, Chair
Wingspan Ministry

On behalf of Soulforce:
The Rev. Dr. Mel White, Founder
Soulforce

The Rev. Daphne Burt, Associate Dean
Rockefeller Chapel University of Chicago
Soulforce Indianapolis Co-chair

Ms. Beth H. Meyer
Soulforce Indianapolis Co-chair

Read second letter.