Soulforce to Vigil and Demonstrate for 4th Year in a Row During Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting in Phoenix, June 15-18

Trainings in Grassroots Organizing and Nonviolence, Press Conference, Dialogues with SBC Messengers, and Vigils Planned

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Soulforce Press Release, 05/20/03
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell 717-278-0592 email:soulforcemedia@aol.com
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(Phoenix, AZ) – For the fourth year in a row, Soulforce, Inc. will be on the front lines of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting trying to dialogue with SBC messengers, handing out educational materials, and giving Southern Baptists the opportunity to meet out and proud gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) persons. Also present will be allies and ministers from the Phoenix area and all across the United States. This year’s SBC annual meeting is being held at the Convention Center in downtown Phoenix.

Soulforce, Inc. is a national interfaith movement committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people. Soulforce was also present at the SBC meetings in Orlando in 2000, New Orleans in 2001, and St. Louis in 2002.

“Being raised Southern Baptist and graduating from a Baptist university, I know first hand the pain that GLBT people suffer because of the homophobia and misguided teachings of Southern Baptist leaders,” said Soulforce director of operations, Karen Weldin. ” If all we accomplish in Phoenix is saving one gay Southern Baptist from committing suicide, or getting just one person to reconsider his or her interpretation of Scripture, then we have succeeded monumentally.”

Starting on Sunday morning, June 15 at 9am, a two-day workshop will be held in grassroots organizing for potential Soulforce local group leaders. Soulforce currently has a network of 20 licensed local groups active throughout the United States, and this workshop is designed to expand and support that network. The workshop is being held at the Days Inn at 3333 Van Buren in Phoenix.

A SOULFORCE PRESS CONFERENCE WILL BE HELD on Monday, June 16 at 6pm, in front of the Convention Center at 3rd and Monroe. Speakers will include individuals from:

  • Soulforce, Inc.,
  • No Longer Silent – a 100+ clergy network in Phoenix that supports equality for GLBT people,
  • P-FLAG – Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays,
  • Community Church of Hope – the largest GLBT centered ministry in Phoenix
  • Wingspan Anti-violence Project, and others.

Additionally, several gay and lesbian former Southern Baptists will be present to speak with reporters.

Also on Monday, June 16, beginning at 6:30pm, a training in nonviolence based on the principles of Gandhi and King will be held at the Days Inn. Those planning to participate in the vigils are required to participate in the training designed to “bring truth and justice” to the Southern Baptists.

Vigils will take place Tuesday and Wednesday, June 17-18 in front of the Convention Center. Soulforce is encouraging Southern Baptists to take the time to talk with Soulforce supporters who will be standing outside the Convention Center.

“Over the course of the last four years, we have tried to dialogue with the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, we have sent letters and video tapes to the SBC messengers, and we have invited them to hear the stories of those growing up gay in Southern Baptist churches and stand with us to denounce violence against GLBT people,” said Mel White, director and founder of Soulforce, Inc. “So far, it hasn’t worked. How great it would be if they would just take the time to get to know us!”

For more information, see www.soulforce.org. For media interviews, call 717-278-0592.

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Laura Montgomery Rutt
Director of Communications
Soulforce, Inc
Laura@soulforce.org
www.soulforce.org

Mel White’s Letter to SBC President Jack Graham, May 7, 2003

May 7, 2003

Dr. Jack Graham
President, Southern Baptist Convention
% Prestonwood Baptist Church
6801 W. Park
Plano, Texas 75093

Dear Dr. Graham,

Soulforce volunteers from across Arizona and around the nation will be gathering on Sunday afternoon, June 15, to begin training for yet another nonviolent response to the anti-homosexual words and actions of the Southern Baptist Convention. Southern Baptist influence continues to wreak grave injustice and spiritual harm to multiplied thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender peoples, sons, daughters, moms, and dads, and extended family members and friends. This seems so out of character to the historic Baptist commitment to world missions, and to the compassion I know you have for the precious souls of our people. So, I’m appealing to you to meet with me, and several concerned Baptists, and have a conversation about our differences. My great hope and fervent prayer is that such a gathering will preclude the need for any direct action at all.

Dr. Graham, I am fully committed to your First Amendment Right to gather with other Baptists and to speak freely and passionately. Indeed, I will do what I can to protect that very right, a basic principle of our constitutional way of life. Yet, I believe we agree, as Christian brothers, that we share a common stewardship for our decisions and behaviors. Words and actions often carry serious and tragic consequences. I’m proposing that we respect our sincere differences, bury the hatchet, and work together seriously and prayerfully to model the best in Christ-like relationships and behavior for the world to see. What a difference we could make, and God only knows the lives who could be redeemed!

Last week, I was stunned to learn that fellowship was being withdrawn from a Southern Baptist congregation because they baptized two gay men. Could that be true? Has it come to this? Isn’t it time to consider embarking on a bold new dialogue between us? Would you consider asking a small group of Baptist leaders to meet with us in Phoenix sometime between Sunday, June 15, and Wednesday, June 18? I know, talk often seems futile, and yet, according to Gandhi’s "soul force" principles, "to give up on your adversaries is an act of violence against them." We need to talk. Let’s not give up on one another.

For four years Soulforce volunteers, including many Baptists, have gathered at your Annual Meetings to plead with you to dialogue with us. We conducted nonviolent direct actions in Orlando (2000), New Orleans (2001), and St. Louis (2002). We distributed thousands of "Why We Vigil" pamphlets to your Messengers and to the general public. We held press conferences about Baptist teachings and actions, forewarning the Messengers and the public of their tragic consequences. We stood silent vigil in all three cities. Many godly men and women, parents, and entire families have been arrested simply trying to tell their stories to you. We’ve paid tens of thousands of dollars in fines, served time in local jails, and even sacrificed our careers, all to help you understand the tragic consequences of your harmful influence and confusing testimony.

Southern Baptist leaders can help us end this cycle of anger, hurt and misunderstanding by giving us a serious chance to tell our stories, to prayerfully listen to your concerns, and to move toward resolution. Will you pray with me about this, and then arrange a time for us to meet?

Sincerely,

Mel White