Controversial Gay Rights Activists Move to Lynchburg, VA – Home of Religious-Right Leader Rev. Jerry Falwell

Soulforce Co-founders, Rev. Mel White and partner Gary Nixon join with others to confront the "untruths" of Jerry Falwell

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

Lynchburg, VA – Rev. Mel White and his life partner of more than twenty years, Gary Nixon, co-founders of Soulforce, Inc., have leased a home in Lynchburg, VA, right across the street from Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church. Falwell, a conservative minister, televanglist, and chancellor of Liberty University, is notorious for his condemnation of gays and lesbians.

"When we met with Falwell and his supporters in 1999, he promised us that he would tone down his rhetoric against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people," said Rev. Mel White, co-founder and Executive Director of Soulforce. "We have been carefully monitoring his untruths, and it has only gotten worse. We can not let this misinformation go unanswered."

Soulforce announced the move today after Rev. White delivered adinner invitation to Falwell’s office, informing him that White and his partner were now neighbors "in fact as well as in spirit." White, who wrote Falwell’s autobiography, and White’s life partner, plan to begin attending Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church this Sunday.

In the coming weeks, White and Nixon will be joined by Soulforce supporters from Lynchburg and all across the United States. Supporters intend to help restart a PFLAG Chapter in Lynchburg for parents of gay and lesbian children, meet with members of Thomas Road Baptist Church to give them the opportunity to hear real-life stories of tragedy and inspiration from gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, and go door-to-door in an effort to "take the truth" about GLBT people to Lynchburg.

"The truth is that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people can and do lead happy, healthy, and productive lives, we love our families, and we are committed to building lasting relationships with our partners. Conversely, Falwell’s untruths waste lives, destroy families, and lead to terrible suffering," said Karen Weldin, Director of Operations for Soulforce. "People of Lynchburg need to know us and hear the truth about us!"

Additionally, hundreds of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and allied Soulforce volunteers from across the nation will gather in Lynchburg, VA October 25 – 27, 2002. This will mark the three-year anniversary of the initial Soulforce event in Lynchburg, when 200 Soulforce volunteers met with 200 members of Thomas Road Baptist Church.

Plans for October include a march for equality around Lynchburg; a display of untruths uttered by Falwell answered by truths from mental health professionals, scientists, and Bible scholars; and trainings in non-violent civil disobedience.

Soulforce, Inc. is an interfaith movement committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people.

Mel’s Dinner Invitation to Jerry

September 12, 2002

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, Senior Pastor
Thomas Road Baptist Church
701 Thomas Road
Lynchburg, VA 24502

Dear Jerry,

By now you know that Gary, my partner for more than twenty years, and I have moved to Lynchburg. We’ve signed a year’s lease on a little cottage across the street from your Church on Thomas Road. Now we are your neighbors not just in spirit but in fact.

We will be attending your services, studying the Bible and worshipping with you and your people. Our goal is simple: We have come to bear witness to the truth that gay people love God, this nation, and their partners with as much integrity and commitment as you and your people do.

Two by two, Gary and I will be inviting members of your congregation as well as staff and students from Liberty University to share a meal, meet for coffee, or just sit around our little living room not to debate or even discuss the topic that divides us, but to just get acquainted.

During the next six weeks, Sunday after Sunday, we will be joined by more and more friends (gay and straight alike) who will unite with us in this witness. On October 25, hundreds of our allies will gather to present our printed and video response to the charges you’ve made against us. We’ll go door-to-door to the entire community.

We believe that your congregation, your students and staff, and the people of Lynchburg are interested in hearing both sides of this controversial question and that they can and will make their own decisions based on the data they find most convincing. You’ve never explained to them that there is another side, that most scholars, researchers, mental health professionals, Bible scholars, and thousands of clergy and lay leaders believe that homosexuality is another mystery of creation, that homosexuals should accept their sexual orientation as another of God’s gifts, that homosexuals should not be asked to change, that when they are loved, accepted, and given support, most live healthy, happy, even holy lives.

On Sunday, October 27, after we have presented our case, hundreds of us will attend your services and sit beside your people to sing, pray, and hear the Word read and proclaimed. We are planning a picnic that same afternoon and hope you and Macel, members of your congregation and students from Liberty University will join us in Riverside Park on Rivermont for that occasion.

We know that your views are sincere, though we find them sincerely wrong about sexual and gender minorities. Consider our presence a kind of gift to you. We know that you have often been the first to change, to take a stand, to lead the way. We want to be your allies in that process. We know that you probably won’t be convinced by the growing mountain of scientific, historic, or even biblical evidence that disproves your anti-homosexual beliefs.

But one day you will be changed because of one special homosexual person you know and love whose spiritual commitment and responsible, productive life cannot be denied. We’re going to surround you with such people and at the same time pray daily that God will bless you with a gay grandson or lesbian granddaughter. When that day comes, truth will triumph over untruth. And you will realize at last the terrible mistake you’ve made all these decades in caricaturing and condemning God’s beloved gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children.

In the meantime, will you and Macel come to dinner any night next week, September 16-20? I promise you, we will limit our conversation to the happy memories we share from working together on your autobiography. We’ll call to confirm. Greetings to Ron. We hope he’ll join us on a separate (or the same) evening. Gary is a great cook and we promise you an evening to remember.

Sincerely,

Mel White and Gary Nixon, 636 Thomas Road, Lynchburg, VA 24502 (434) 237-3743