Soulforce Infiltrates Southern Baptist Convention

12 Soulforce Supporters Take Pro-Gay Message Inside the Convention Center

June 11, 2002

Soulforce Press Release
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell: 717-278-0592
email: soulforcemedia@aol.com

(St. Louis) Twelve nonviolent protesters were arrested today when they took their message opposing Southern Baptist teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people to the floor of the SBC’s annual meeting at the America’s Center in St. Louis. An additional 38 people were arrested outside the America’s Center trying to enter the Convention.

The nonviolent protests were organized by Soulforce, an interfaith movement committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

The action followed three years of efforts by Soulforce to discuss Southern Baptist policies and teachings which protestors believe lead to spiritual and physical violence against GLBT people.

"For three years we have tried to get James Merritt to hear our stories, to consider the evidence that shows that homosexuality is not a sickness and not a sin," said Rev. Jimmy Creech, Chairperson of the Board of Soulforce, Inc, and one of the 12 arrested inside the convention center. "Because of the suffering caused by their teachings, we were compelled to carry our message into the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting."

Soulforce was present at the SBC’s annual meetings in Orlando in 2000 and New Orleans in 2001 to protest their antigay policies and teachings. Soulforce participants were arrested at both those meetings as well. However, this marks the first time that Soulforce has participated in a direct action that took their message inside a meeting.

The twelve who were arrested inside the convention were booked on a felony charge of "Ethnic Intimidation" and a misdemeanor trespassing charge. The felony charge was dropped, and arrestees were allowed to go on their own recognizance. Those arrested on the outside were charged with 2 city ordinance violations, and released after a few hours. Bond was set at $200, and court cost will be added.

200 Soulforce participants had lined the entrances to the America’s Center and watched and cheered while the arrests were being made outside the convention. Many carried signs that said, "Stop Spiritual Violence", and a banner that said, "Southern Baptist Teachings are Killing God’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Children" was prominently displayed for all those who were watching.

Soulforce co-founder and director Rev. Mel White sent Merritt a letter dated May 23 asking him to join Soulforce in a press conference to denounce the anti-gay rhetoric of Southern Baptist Chief Justice Roy Moore. The letter stated that Soulforce supporters would try to take the message that "Southern Baptist teachings are killing God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children" inside the convention center if Merritt would not denounce Moore’s rhetoric.

Soulforce Prepares to Confront Anti-Gay Rhetoric at SBC’s Annual Meeting in St. Louis June 11

Merritt refuses to repudiate "execution statement"

Soulforce Press Release
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell: 717-278-0592
email: soulforcemedia@aol.com

On June 11, hundreds of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals and allies will converge on the America’s Center during the first day of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC’s) annual meeting to distribute flyers, hold a press conference, and conduct civil disobedience. This is the third year in a row that Soulforce has been present to protest anti-gay Southern Baptist teachings during their annual meeting.

A Soulforce press conference will take place on June 11 at 10:45, in front of the America’s Center, just prior to the scheduled address of SBC President Dr. James Merritt to the entire Southern Baptist Convention.

According to a letter faxed to Dr. Merritt on May 23, Merritt was invited to join the Soulforce press conference on Tuesday to denounce the anti-gay rhetoric of influential Southern Baptist Justice Roy Moore. Alabama Chief Justice Moore stated in a "legal opinion" in February of this year that, "The state must use…confinement and even execution" to prevent gays and lesbians from influencing children.

"Southern Baptist anti-gay rhetoric, policies, and teachings lead to suffering and death for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children of God," said Dr. Rev. Mel White, Executive Director and co-founder of Soulforce. "We have asked James Merritt to join us to denounce the violence caused by this rhetoric, but he has refused."

"The fact that James Merritt refuses to repudiate Justice Moore’s ‘execution statement’ should horrify the 15 million members of Southern Baptist Churches. It is our hope that his silence a not sign that all Southern Baptists condone violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people," said Soulforce spokesperson, Laura Montgomery Rutt.

Additionally, Fred Phelps, minister of the Westboro Baptist Church has vowed to picket the Soulforce presence in St. Louis, with signs that proclaim "God hates fags."

"Southern Baptists may not use the same language as Fred Phelps, but the message they send is the same, said Karen Weldin, Soulforce Director of Operations and a former Southern Baptist. "We plan to do whatever it takes to get the message out that Southern Baptist teachings are killing people."

Prior to the vigil, press conference, and civil disobedience, supporters of Soulforce will be trained in the principles of relentless nonviolent resistance as taught by Gandhi and King. From June 7-10, trainings and workshops will be taking place at Centenary United Methodist Church, 55 Plaza Square in St. Louis, Missouri.

Saturday, June 8: Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi will be keynote speaker at Centenary from 11am – 12:30pm. He is the founder of the M.K. Institute of Nonviolence.

Monday, June 10: Sharing Our Stories – hear "tragic true stories" of personal suffering by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals that resulted from "anti-homosexual Southern Baptist teachings and actions."

PRESS IS INVITED AND ENCOURAGED TO ATTEND ALL EVENTS.

For more information on Soulforce, or for a more detailed schedule, please see www.soulforce.org