Soulforce Encourages Non-Participation on Controversial "Panel Discussion" Proposed by James Dobson and Focus on the Family on Biblical Text and Homosexuality

Soulforce Extends Fourth Invitation for Private Dialogue and Meeting with Dobson and Focus on the Family, and Invites Them to Meet 1000 LGBT Individuals, Couples, and Families at Picnic in Colorado Springs on May 1, 2005

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SOULFORCE MEDIA ALERT: March 30, 2005
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
717-278-0592 laura@soulforce.org
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(Lynchburg, VA) On May 1, 2005, over 1000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, couples, families, and their allies will be standing with Soulforce in Colorado Springs outside of James Dobson’s organizational headquarters at Focus on the Family. According to Soulforce, the purpose of this "MAYDAY" event is to draw attention to the untruths perpetuated by Dobson against LGBT families, and encourage him to "get to know" the children, parents, and friends he condemns with his anti-gay rhetoric.

According to Nori Rost, pastor of the Pike’s Peak Metropolitan Community Church in Colorado Springs, she received a phone call from a Focus on the Family (FOF) staff member, speaking on behalf of the organization, proposing a "panel discussion" on the Bible and Homosexuality for April 25, 2005, only 6 days before the Soulforce MAYDAY event is to take place.

"Dobson is fully aware that this Soulforce MAYDAY event is taking place. Yet, instead of acknowledging this event or answering requests for dialogue, Focus on the Family proposed a ‘debate-style’ panel discussion a few days before our arrival on a few proof-texted Biblical passages they believe address the issue of homosexuality," said Jeff Lutes, Family Therapist and Soulforce co-chair for this action. "It makes me wonder why he would prefer a ‘panel discussion’ than actually meeting with us and our children to see what we are really like."

A statement written and released by Soulforce on March 25, 2004 states, "For Soulforce, the debate about the worth, dignity, and Spirit evident in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people is over." The statement goes on to say, "If Dobson and Focus on the Family are truly interested in dialogue, we propose, once again, that James Dobson and Jim Daly (new president of FOF) agree to a private dialogue with Soulforce staff, and accept the Soulforce invitation to meet our families at the family picnic right outside the gates of Focus on the Family on May 1."

According to Soulforce, three previous attempts have been made to engage in private dialogue with either James Dobson or Jim Daly, and all attempts have been ignored or refused.

That statement also states, "We also encourage Dr. Dobson to allow our families to tour the Focus on the Family facility on May 2, so our families can meet his staff at Focus on the Family and share lunch with them in the cafeteria. In doing so, James Dobson and the staff at Focus on the Family may come to see that no matter what the structure, a committed and loving family is the greatest gift to society there is."

The full transcript of the statement, a Soulforce booklet documenting anti-gay statements by Dobson, a Soulforce booklet on "What the Bible Says and Doesn’t Say about Homosexuality", as well as documented attempts to dialogue with Dobson and Daly are available on the Soulforce website at www.soulforce.org.

Soulforce Statement, March 25, 2005

This is an open statement by Soulforce, Inc. (issued March 25, 2005) regarding a public "panel discussion" on the interpretation of Biblical passages concerning homosexuality and the Bible proposed by James Dobson’s organization, Focus on the Family for April 25, 2005:

It has come to the attention of Soulforce, Inc. that Focus on the Family has proposed a public "panel discussion" on the interpretation of Biblical text concerning homosexuality.

The "panel discussion" was proposed for April 25, 2005. James Dobson and Focus on the Family are well aware that Soulforce, Inc. and over 1000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, couples, families, and their allies will be in Colorado Springs the following weekend, May 1, 2005 for a picnic and rally outside the entrance to Focus on the Family.

Soulforce, Inc. strongly recommends that any invitation to participate in this "panel discussion" be politely turned down. Instead, we encourage those invited to participate in the public "panel discussion" to request a private dialogue with James Dobson and Jim Daly, while also extending an invitation to all parties involved to attend the picnic right outside Focus on the Family on May 1, 2005.

For Soulforce, the debate about the worth, dignity and Spirit evident in the lives of LGBT people is over! However, Soulforce has requested three times in the past four months to engage in private dialogue with James Dobson or Jim Daly, the new President and CEO of Focus on the Family.

One purpose for requesting these dialogues is to come to a better understanding of why Dobson and Focus on the Family misuse the Bible and social science research to spread unfounded and misguided fears about LGBT people. These tactics are deployed in an attempt to deny LGBT people equal civil rights and elect fundamentalist conservatives to public office.

The following attempts have been made to engage in private dialogue with either James Dobson or Jim Daly:

  • On December 3, 2004, a letter that was faxed and mailed to Dobson requesting a private dialogue was ignored.
  • In February, a mutual friend in the evangelical movement tried to initiate dialogue, and was refused.
  • On March 9, 2005, a letter that was faxed and mailed to Jim Daley requesting a private dialogue, and included an invitation to meet our families during the picnic on May 1, was ignored.

Both letters are documented on the Soulforce web site at www.soulforce.org/televangelists/dobson/2005action

If Dobson and Focus on the Family are truly interested in understanding the way in which some progressive Christians interpret Biblical text concerning homosexuality, a booklet is readily available on the Soulforce website, entitled,What the Bible Says, and Doesn’t Say, About Homosexuality by Soulforce founder and executive director Dr. Rev. Mel White.

If Dobson and Focus on the Family are truly interested in dialogue, we propose, once again, that James Dobson and Jim Daly agree to a private dialogue with Soulforce staff, and accept the Soulforce invitation to meet our families at the family picnic right outside the gates of Focus on the Family on May 1. We also encourage Dr. Dobson to allow our families to tour the Focus on the Family facility on May 2, so our families can meet his staff at Focus on the Family and share lunch with them in the lunchroom.

In doing so, James Dobson and the staff at Focus on the Family may come to see that no matter what the structure, a committed and loving family is the greatest gift to society there is.

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James Dobson’s organization, Focus on the Family, is a conservative religious/political nonprofit organization in Colorado Springs that uses a narrow interpretation of Biblical text, in an attempt to deny civil rights and condemn and demean lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, as well as activists and people of faith who support equal civil rights for LGBT people.

Soulforce, Inc. is a national interfaith non-profit whose purpose is "freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from political and religious oppression". Soulforce teaches and employs the nonviolent principles as taught by Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Alert 4 to Participants

March 23, 2005

Dear Soulforce Volunteers,

We’re just six weeks away from our time together in Colorado Springs, and there is a great deal of excitement in the air. Buses full of courageous and peaceful folks are coming in from Denver and other areas around Colorado Springs. Experienced Soulforce delegates, as well as first-timers, are coming in from Minnesota,, Washington, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Massachusetts, California, Florida, Virginia and many other states. We even know of a news crew, and a film maker, coming in from Canada.

The May 1 Picnic, Rally, and March around Focus on the Family will be a powerful opportunity for us to confront Dr. Dobson’s distortions about LGBT people, and educate the general public through the media. Several civil rights leaders are confirmed to speak, and we will be conveying more details about the rally, as well as plans for Monday, May 2, in a future alert.

This event is a go . . . rain or shine! The month of May in Colorado can be pleasant or snowing. So, watch the weather reports and come prepared with clothing for either situation. Be sure to bring an umbrella, just in case. Even heavy rains will not drown our spirits. In fact, it will just help our passion for justice grow as we show the world that "come hail, sleet, or snow" we are there to bring Dr. Dobson the truth.

When making your airline reservations, you might want to consider the costs of the shuttles:

  • The Denver airport is a little over an hour away from the hotel and just short of 80 miles.
  • The Colorado Springs airport is 22 miles from the hotel.
  • If you fly into Colorado Springs, the shuttle to the hotel is $35 (for up to 4 people going to the same address), after that it is an addition $5.00 for each additional person.
  • If you fly into Denver the cost of the shuttle is $45 for one, $70 for two and $90 for 3 people.

We have a block of 100 rooms at the Hilton Garden Inn and they are being reserved quickly, so please book your room if you have not already done so. For reservations, call 1-877-STAY HGI. There appears to be a scarcity of double rooms, so if a king-size would work for you, that will leave the doubles for those looking to share a room. If you need help in finding roommates, write kara@soulforce.org. She’s maintaining a list of those looking for roommates.

We’re working on community housing and have a few offers to date. If you need community housing or can offer community housing, again write to kara@soulforce.org.

Last, but not least: Remember to spend some time studying Step 4 on our website at www.soulforce.org/main/step4.shtml. Nonviolence is a learned process and not something that comes naturally to us, so preparation is important.

You are about to be a part of a national experience that will strengthen your spirit and provide healing to closeted souls, still living in fear, who will see you standing up for them in the news. Thanks for all you are doing, and will continue to do, to help us spread the word about this important event.

We can’t even begin to tell you how grateful we are for your conviction and your passion for doing justice.

Sincerely,

Jeff Lutes,
Co-Chair, Colorado Springs Direct Action

Stand UP Speak OUT: We are the Solution

Roby Sapp and Dotti BerryBush is not the problem, and Bush is not the answer. We are the problem and we are the answer. Why? During his inaugural address, Bush said, "Liberty will come to those who love it!" I see that as our challenge. Do you love liberty? How much?

Are you prepared to stand up, speak out, be visible and seek justice while empowering love through non-violent action? Check in with yourself and ask, "Am I out to everyone in every situation?" If not, what is stopping you? Do you value security over freedom?

If you find yourself thinking, "I don’t think that is necessary," think again. Plain and simple, it is no longer enough to be out to some and not to others. Why? It isn’t working. Consider the consequences. Ponder what happened during the last election and what President Bush proposes for our future. We are seeing his desires actualized on a daily basis as states continue to implement "one man/one woman" for marriage through constitutional amendments.

Our empowerment is not happening because we are giving away our power with our silence. We are held hostage by our anger at others, holding them accountable for changing our lives, when we are not willing to risk what we are asking them to risk. We must take 100% responsibility for our lives today, not tomorrow.

We have to begin to look at who is capable of making the biggest impact. We are.

Need proof? Read further. A Los Angeles Times poll, cited in an article by Deb Price of the Detroit News, noted that Americans knowing at least one gay person are almost four times more likely to support same gender marriage than those who don’t know anyone. That is the good news.

The bad news? A survey of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals conducted by Harris Interactive for the Human Rights Campaign found that although 77 percent say they are "out," a tiny 4 percent are out to everyone. Deb Price says, "Most gay people are still way too secretive. We’ve got to do more to push beyond our fear and shyness. To win more friends, gay people have to risk being more open. It’s just that easy and just that hard." I agree. What do you think?

Need another example? Read what one Devout Christian says:

"It seems to me that coming out of the closet is the greatest weapon that gays and lesbians have. If my own brother had never come out, my family would never have been forced to confront the deep-seated prejudices we were raised with…My husband and I joined HRC because we believe it’s time for heterosexual Christians with gay and lesbian family and friends to stand up and make our voices heard in support of our brothers and sisters."

Perhaps it is time to heed the words of these wise voices. Many GLBTA (yes, allies too) continue to encounter situations where they are negatively impacted in one way or another by the teachings of many (not all) religious institutions.

That we, the oppressed, hold the key to our freedom is not a new concept. The truth is the key is in our back pocket, but we haven’t found it because we are too busy pointing our fingers at others. We must dare to reach back there, grab it, and unlock the prison doors and walk free. We cannot depend on others to magically hand us the key any more than Rosa Parks could depend on others to invite her to the front of the bus to sit with them. It is important for us to recall that during the civil rights era, rights were won, not given. "Demanding" our rights, however, will not produce the results we want. "Commanding" our rights, through the choices we make, is the key to our freedom. This freedom happens through our willingness to stand up and speak out.

During the civil rights era, Dr. King admonished, "In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." His words ring as true today as they did then. And who is that "friend" about whom he speaks? That friend is you and I. Do you recognize yourself?

Based on the statistics from Harris Interactive, this concept of self-emancipation is one that our GLBT community has refused to embrace. Why? Because we can. We have often been able to have our cake and eat it too. We have perfected the art of remaining invisible while simultaneously holding onto many of the things that we "want" in life. The important things that truly matter, self-acceptance and the integrity that follows, have often eluded us.

We must learn to close the gap that is eating away at our spirit if we are to thrive, instead of merely survive. At the heart of every gap is an underlying belief or story that is limiting us.

One gap is the bait we took for agreeing to be invisible and remain silent. It hooked us hard as we played into the only situation in our society where lying is condoned, blessed, and embraced by all parties concerned. This silent treaty has served no one. We have all suffered, even if unknowingly. We have bloodied ourselves, smashing into the elephant in the living room, becoming more unconscious with each bloody blow to our bodies. We have refused to admit that our silence is our covert participation, and it has cost many their lives. We continue to blame "others" for the spiraling suicide rate of GLBT teen-agers, refusing to accept that our participation was forged through our silence in this disgraceful situation.

What can we do now is the question. Is history destined to repeat? Good people and friends remained silent during Hitler’s regime; good people and friends remained silent during the era of slavery in the United States. Are we willing to allow that scenario to happen again? What will it take to get people of good conscious, friends, to no longer be silent?

The irony is that the values of honesty and personal integrity are taught in our society and religious institutions. Society then denies rights to those GLBTA persons who adhere to these principles. Let’s not use this as an excuse for continuing to hide in fear. If we are interested in learning how to use this opportunity for self-emancipation, we will have to move beyond our stories of victim hood, and we will have to move beyond asking others in society to do what we are unwilling to do. Self-acceptance, taking the risk of being "known," and accepting that we have far more to gain than we could ever lose, have to become our rallying points.

Ask yourself: Are YOU being your authentic self "with each person and with each situation," the same as a heterosexual person would in similar situations? The opportunity in this challenge is to thoughtfully and respectfully consider what each of us can do differently in our lives in order to stand up, speak out, be visible, seek justice, and empower love.

If you have ever wondered, "How do I do that?" here are some ideas to consider:

  • Stand UP
    Allow your truth to evolve as a natural by-product of your authentic self. Refuse to defend or apologize for who you are. Being GLBT is not a "lifestyle" any more than being heterosexual is a "lifestyle." Call on local ministers and visit with them. Recently, when Robynne, my spouse, and I did that, the minister said, "This is the most interesting conversation I have had in a long time. Would you come meet with me so we could talk further?" He shared that he had never met anyone like us; he literally did not realize we existed except in the mythological and pathological version that he had been taught. During our encounter, a seed of renewal was planted in both him and us. We each will never be the same.
  • Speak OUT
    Be authentic and answer honestly; seek to discover the voice of your inner truth and speak it! Most people in society don’t "cover up and hide" a relationship of value of any kind. Check in and see if you are doing that. Concentrate on truth telling rather than cover-ups. Hey, if it didn’t work for Nixon, why do we believe we will fare any better?

    Visit, rather than avoid, your parents and your family members, and do share about your life … your REAL life … not the one you wear as a mask to earn a love that is based, not on "who you are," but on "who you are not." Take the risk of having them know you and give them an opportunity to ask questions. You may indeed provide them a space in which to grow in ways neither of you ever imagined! If you have a significant other, use their name and request that your family do the same. Request times for getting to know one another. Act as if you have every right to do this, because you do. If your family is abusive, physically, emotionally, or spiritually, draw appropriate boundaries. Refuse, however, to give up hope on them. Giving up hope only holds a person hostage to the manipulation, which is already harming them. Dr. King best modeled this principle when he never gave up hope on George Wallace.

  • Be VISIBLE
    Allow friends, neighbors, church friends, family, and business associates to witness your same gender "authentic love and care" for one another. If this is what they mean when they refer to our "lifestyle," then isn’t it time that the United States, particularly the 50% of Americans who have been divorcing, adopted it, rather than attacked it? As well, isn’t it time that we exposed our children to this "lifestyle of love and caring commitment," so that they will grow up feeling as if they have a genuine opportunity to experience a healthy and empowering relationship that lasts? Many of us can model that for our youth, no matter what their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

    Introduce your partner/spouse/significant other/date at church or other social activities in such a way that others understand you aren’t "just friends." Hold hands like other couples do when they care about one another. If people ask if you are single, and you are gay or bisexual, practice until you can naturally and without hesitation say, "I am currently single, but if you know a wonderful kind, compassionate and spiritual woman/man, I would love to meet her/him!" Isn’t that what the other part of society does when they are available for dating? It isn’t about sex; it is about sharing and caring and getting to know another human being. Let people know you are open and available for relationship with a same gender person. Friends and acquaintances are still our best source for introducing potential dating partners. If others ask if you are married and you are (yea for those who have chosen to be "legal"), or if you are in a committed relationship, answer "yes." If you are a man and they say "What is her name?" reply "His name is ____________" and vice versa.

  • Seek JUSTICE
    Participate in some form of non-violent activism that seeks justice for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. Allies, this is your time to step up to the plate too. Consider joining Soulforce (www.Soulforce.org) to confront rhetoric that is spiritually violent and at the root of oppression against GLBT.

    Participate in your state’s GLBT Lobby Day. I can’t think of a better way to spend time than talking with legislators in my home state of Washington. Consider doing the same. Your state legislators are voting on the laws that will affect all of us. Meet and greet them, utilizing this opportunity to make a difference for our society. You will be offering a personal face to GLBTA persons, so that the term "those people" takes on a new meaning.

  • Empower LOVE
    Allow others’ fears to be your guide for extending love. Roby and I were faced with a petition being passed around by some neighbors shortly after we moved there, after sharing that we were getting married at the end of the month. Although many had initially seemed welcoming, the fear of a few began to take hold of the entire neighborhood. What an opportunity it was! Thinking of what we had spoken in our recent wedding ceremony "We vow to change the world through the expression of our love," I took off work one morning, went to the florist and bought roses. I then went door-to-door, offering a rose and an invitation to dinner at our home that weekend. Having received not one definite "yes," I went back the next day with a printed invitation that included at the bottom, "How can we change the world if we don’t know our neighbors?" Our home was packed for our neighborhood gathering. While we are on our journey, Gay Into Straight America, guess who is taking care of our home? Yes, our neighbors. Various ones are taking a month at a time to care for our home while we are gone.

People reflect back to us who we are, or who we are not. If we feel confident in our acceptance and love of ourselves, in general, people will reflect that back to us. If we approach them in fear, most likely we will receive that back. Roby and I view fear as a "call for love," and have decided that we are open to both giving and receiving love.

President Bush referred to oppressed people throughout the world in his inaugural speech, assuring them, "When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you. " Let’s see if he means it. Let’s see if he means "us."

I remind myself, however, that it is not just about "us." Many people from the civil rights era stand with GLBT persons because they can never erase Dr. King’s words, "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality."

Being invisible and standing for liberty are not congruent. The two are diametrically opposed positions. Do you understand what your silence is costing all of us? Consider this a call to action, a plea for not one of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender or ally to remain invisible and silent any more! In order to acquire freedom, the time has come to call upon our friends and to put our words into action.

When Rosa Parks changed and said, "No more," the course of history changed because it had to. We, along with our allies, must become empowered in this manner. Rosa Parks showed us the way through the power of one. Let us choose to live that principle, making it dance in a way that would make her proud.
It is time for us to become wind changers, by becoming the wind and changing the finger of the decision maker who has his/her finger up to check the wind. Join us! Become a Stand UP Speak OUT Wind Changer. It is time to summon our courage and be bold. It is time to envision and accept that we are the answer, and we are the solution!

Learn as if you were going to live forever. Live as if you were going to die tomorrow. – Mahatma Gandhi


Dotti Berry is a Life & Relationship Coach who is finishing her doctorate work in Human Sexuality at Widener University. Visit her website, GLBT Coach. Dotti & her spouse, Robynne Sapp, were legally married March 7, 2004, in Portland, Oregon. Their civil wedding license was voided a year later by the State. Their spiritual ceremony was July 31, 2004. They are currently on a yearlong journey, Gay Into Straight America, the initial project of their non-profit, Stand UP Speak OUT, Inc. Their intention is to engage hearts and minds, create authentic connections, and dissolve differences that separate us.

Alert 3 to Participants

March 8, 2005

Dear Friend of Soulforce,

The weeks are flying by and before you know it we will all be doing justice together in Colorado Springs. In this update, we want to announce an exciting addition to our action and encourage you to do two important things in preparation:

Soulforce to invite local congregations to join us on May 1st:

We are in the process of writing a letter that will be mailed to many of the churches in Colorado Springs. We are asking them to identify one “ambassador family” from their congregation. We are inviting that family to attend the May 1st Family Picnic and Rally outside Dr. Dobson’s headquarters, go to dinner with us afterwards, and then be our guests at the Jason & deMarco concert that evening. We are not asking them to change their deeply held religious beliefs (most of them will likely have beliefs similar to Dr. Dobson’s). But, we are reminding them that scripture commands us to “love one another” even though we might disagree about sexual orientation. We are asking them to begin a real conversation in Colorado Springs before more families are ruined and more lives are lost. Our purpose in doing this is to create a dialogue around the city that will continue long after we are gone. We probably will not change their opinions about homosexuality, but we do have an opportunity to educate them about Dr. Dobson’s antigay rhetoric (by supplying them with specific quotes). They might still hold on to their religious beliefs about homosexuality, but we may create some “cognitive dissonance” when, for example, one of our beautiful same-gender couples together 10, 20, or 30 years shows them Dobson’s quote that “homosexual relationships are notoriously unstable and short lived”. Who knows what might happen in their hearts when they see a same-gender couple lovingly care for their child, while simultaneously reading Dobson’s quote, “Moms and Dads are you listening? This movement is the greatest threat to your children.”

Continue preparing your heart and mind

Remember that nonviolence is a process. So, we recommend you review Step Two from our website at www.soulforce.org/main/step2.shtml. If you have not already done so, please review Step One as well. We encourage you to begin spending some time each day in reflection, prayer, or meditation about this action. It is critical that we converge on Colorado Springs with nonviolent hearts.

Recruit one friend

Begin thinking about one friend or family member that you could recruit to join you in Colorado Springs. We hope for a large crowd at the May 1st Family Picnic and Rally, and our May 2nd plans to take the truth inside the Focus on the Family compound. Each of you can help make that a reality by simply recruiting just one courageous soul.

In future updates we will give you reminders about the hotel, climate, and directions. Much of this information is currently available on the Soulforce website at www.soulforce.org.

We hope that your life is being blessed and we trust that you will gain personal strength and spiritual renewal as you peacefully stand against one of the most dangerous voices of intolerance in America.

Another update will be coming your way soon!

Sincerely,

Jeff Lutes,
Co-Chair of Colorado Springs Direct Action