Soulforce Turns 10!

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 27, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
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(Austin, TX) This spring, Soulforce celebrates 10 years of relentless nonviolent activism for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) freedom. In keeping with Soulforce’s "take it to the streets" ethos, a mix of formal events and grassroots action will mark the milestone anniversary:

  • On Saturday, April 5, Equality Virginia will present the Fifth Annual Commonwealth Award to Soulforce Co-founders Rev. Dr. Mel White and Gary Nixon.
  • On Friday, April 25th at 7:30pm, Soulforce hosts a 10th Anniversary Gala and Reunion at the Marriott Dallas/Fort Worth Airport South.
  • On Saturday, April 26th, at 7:00 am, Soulforce invites all who care about justice for LGBT people to gather in downtown Fort Worth’s General Worth Square for a training in nonviolence and a vigil outside the United Methodist General Conference.

Looking Back

Ten years ago, Rev. Dr. Mel White and his partner Gary Nixon began laying the groundwork for a new social movement. Under the auspices of "Soulforce," a name adapted from the teachings of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas K. Gandhi, White and Nixon began to organize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans to study the principles of nonviolent direct action. This course of study led to the first Soulforce direct action, a historic 1999 dialogue between 200 members of Soulforce and the congregation of Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Selected Soulforce Timeline

1998: White and Nixon convene the first Soulforce Board of Directors.

1999: In Lynchburg, Virginia, 200 Soulforce members attend an unprecedented meeting with 200 members of Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church; later that year, 74 are arrested for blocking the entrance to the United Methodist church where Rev. Jimmy Creech is being tried for marrying same-sex couples.

2000: In Cleveland, Arun Gandhi and Yolanda King lead civil disobedience inside the United Methodist General Conference to protest the denomination’s anti-gay policies. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas, is among the 191 arrested.

2001: In Rome, Soulforce and Dignity/USA bring photographs representing the gifts of faithful LGBT Catholics to the Vatican for The Epiphany.

2002: In St. Louis, Soulforce activists disrupt business at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention to call attention to the suffering caused by the denomination’s anti-gay teachings.

2005: In Colorado Springs, more than 1,000 people join Soulforce outside Focus on the Family headquarters to hold James Dobson accountable for his ant-gay rhetoric. The Reitan family is arrested for trespassing, as documented in For the Bible Tells Me So.

2006: Nationwide, the first Soulforce Equality Ride bus brings hope and truth to 18 colleges that silence or exclude LGBT students. Soulforce Q, the young adult division of Soulforce, is born.

2007: In Irvine, California, 200 ex-gay survivors come together for the first Ex-gay Survivor Conference, a powerful rebuttal to the annual meeting of Exodus International. Three former Exodus leaders issue a formal apology for the harm caused by ex-gay programs.

Looking Ahead with Hope

As Soulforce prepares to celebrate its tenth anniversary, the landscape of religion-based bigotry is shifting. Recent research by the Barna group suggests that young Christians are increasingly uncomfortable with church-sanctioned hostility toward LGBT people. But in spite of these positive changes, an old guard of radical right-wing organizations continues to use sexual orientation and gender identities as wedges to divide mainline denominations and our nation. In April 2008, the Soulforce Vigil for Justice at the United Methodist General Conference will stand up to these divisive voices, encouraging the United Methodist Church to live up to its slogan "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors," by including LGBT people in marriage rites, ministry, and membership.

Then, between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day 2008, delegations of LGBT families will initiate dialogue with a new generation of Christian leaders. The American Family Outing will ask nationally known pastors, including Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes, to exercise positive leadership in ending physical and spiritual violence against LGBT people.

In fall 2008, the Third Annual Equality Ride will visit the American South. The itinerary will include seminaries and several faith-based Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Through education, outreach, and direct action, these courageous young activists will illuminate the destructive effects of religion-based bigotry and sow the seeds of a more inclusive campus culture. A true youth movement, the Equality Ride is empowering a new generation to challenge tradition and secure a brighter future for everyone.


Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.
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Celebrities Come Out to Support Equality Ride in NYC

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SOULFORCE MEDIA ADVISORY: March 20, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Alexey Bulokov, Soulforce Q
Cell: 212-203-5774
alexey@soulforce.org
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What: Award-winning recording artist Ari Gold will perform an exclusive benefit concert for the Soulforce Equality Ride. Special guests include Anthony Rapp from the original Broadway cast and the motion picture Rent, fashion designer Jack Mackenroth from the Bravo series Project Runway, and Emmy award-winning comedienne Judy Gold, creator of 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother.

When: April 16 at 8pm

Where: TOUCH Nightclub, 240 West 52nd Street, New York, NY, (646) 290-8266

Who: People magazine says that Ari Gold’s new album, Transport Systems, “takes the listener to fresh places” and Clive Davis says Ari “writes from the heart.”  Born and raised in the Bronx, the Award Winning Independent Recording Artist released his first album in 2000, receiving critical attention from Billboard, HITS and VIBE for being the first openly gay R&B/Pop artist to be out in his music from the beginning of his career.   His #1 Sirius Radio hit, “Where The Music Takes You” is the Overall Grand Prize Winner of the USA Songwriting Competition and the accompanying video was voted the #1 Video of 2007 on LOGO.

Why: Since 2006, the young activists of the Soulforce Equality Ride have visited 52 colleges and universities across the country that silence or exclude LGBT students.   Through education, outreach, and direct action, these courageous young adults illuminate the destructive effects of religion-based bigotry and sow the seeds of a more inclusive campus culture. The fall 2008 Equality Ride will focus on the southern United States. The itinerary will include seminaries and several faith-based Historically Black Colleges and Universities. More information is available at www.equalityride.com

"Growing up as an orthodox Jew, I am acutely aware of the prejudices that religious communities and organizations need to be educated about. Challenging homophobia and hatred of any kind has been the number one passion in my music which is why I am so excited to be working with Soulforce for this special benefit concert,” says Ari Gold.

This event is co-produced by Soulforce Q, SoulforceNYC, PlanetOut/Gay.com and Young People For. Benefit tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at www.soulforce.org/concert.

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Letter to Derek McCoy of Hope Christian Church

The American Family Outing

Letter to Derek McCoy of Hope Christian Church

March 20, 2008

Derek McCoy
Hope Christian Church
PO Box 505
College Park, MD 20741-0505

Dear Derek,

Hello and greetings from all of us at Soulforce, COLAGE, the National Black Justice Coalition, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

On December 3, 2007, our four organizations sent a letter to Bishop Jackson, Pastor Michele Jackson, and several others on your staff. In that letter, we shared our plans to bring approximately a dozen couples and families to visit Hope Christian on Saturday May 24 and Sunday, May 25, 2008. We also expressed our sincere desire to share a meal with families from your congregation and have heart-to-heart conversations about faith, family, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In the last several weeks, Sylvia Rhue and I have been trying to reach you by phone. We understand that you are very busy, yet hope that we can connect with you soon.

Our families seek first to understand, and then to be understood, as we engage families within your congregation in this important conversation. We are grateful for the inspirational and courageous leadership your church has demonstrated in reaching out to those in need who are so often rejected or forgotten by society. Despite our differences on the issue of homosexuality, we believe Hope Christian Church has the potential to be a positive force in ending the physical and spiritual violence perpetuated by some people against LGBT people and their families. It is our prayer that we can discuss our differences and somehow find a bit of common ground as God guides our time together. This issue has become so divisive in America – especially within our faith communities. We hope our meal and conversation can be one small step in reducing the fear and misunderstanding that so often divides neighbors and families.

In fact, we are aware that some faith groups opposed to us having this conversation have disseminated inflammatory and untrue remarks about us, which appear to be designed to frighten and divide, rather than bring us together. However, while the dialogue may be intense as we seek common ground, we want to assure you that we intend to engage you in the same way we believe you will seek to engage us – with Christ-like love and respect. We believe Hope Christian Church and our families can model the kind of hospitality and concern for others that is mandated by Scripture and our shared faith values.

Within the next few days, we will contact you by telephone to work out the details of our visit. Should you prefer to call me, I can be reached at (private number). Our families will be in Atlanta the whole weekend of May 23-25 and we remain flexible in terms of the day and time of our meeting and meal together. We seek to collaborate with you on deciding these details so that our visit is beneficial and meaningful to all the families who participate. We are also greatly looking forward to attending your worship service on Sunday, May 25, 2008.

Blessings,

Jeff Lutes, MS, LPC
Executive Director
www.soulforce.org

Cc: Bishop Harry Jackson, Pastor Michele Jackson, Brenda Williams, Pastor Rudy DePass, Pastor Dave Parlette

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Forum to Kick-off "Right to Marry" in Hudson Valley

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SOULFORCE MEDIA ADVISORY: March 14, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Haven Herrin, Soulforce Q Director
Cell: 469-867-5725
haven@soulforce.org
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What:  The Town + Gown Marriage Meet-up

Soulforce Q and ACT OUT Vassar invite local students, businesspeople, clergy, and activists to learn about Right to Marry, a campaign that asks Hudson Valley business leaders to publicly express their support for marriage equality.

The Town + Gown Marriage Meet-up will introduce a weekend of trainings and discussion about the Bible, marriage, and activism.  All are welcome to sign-up to learn and participate in the campaign.

When: Thursday, March 27, at 7 pm
 
Where:Vassar campus, room TBA

Why: Small businesses may know better than anyone the need for community support and protection in order to succeed. The Right to Marry Campaign will ask Hudson Valley businesses to show support for their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender neighbors. Their participation will provide meaningful evidence of community support for marriage equality with chambers of commerce, city councils, mayors, and local politicians.

Who: ACT OUT aims to create a dialogue within and outside of the Vassar community in hopes of encouraging active participation in the national campaign to end gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (GLBTQ) oppression.

Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through relentless nonviolent resistance.

For more information, visit www.righttomarry.org.

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Soulforce and Beyond Ex-Gay Welcome Change at Exodus

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 6, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
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In a March 4, 2008, interview with Ex-Gay Watch, Alan Chambers — President of Exodus International — confirmed that the world’s largest network of ex-gay ministries has refocused its priorities and will move away from political lobbying.

In spring 2007, Exodus hired a Director of Political Affairs, and Exodus representatives were vocal opponents of the Matthew Shepherd Act. However, Chambers indicated this week that the Political Affairs position no longer exists: "In August, 2007 after a lot of prayer, deliberation and listening to friends and critics alike –but mostly the Lord — we decided to back out of policy issues and our Director of Government Affairs took a position with another organization."

Chambers’ comments suggest that the change in priorities happened directly on the heels of the Ex-gay Survivor Conference in late June 2007 and the Soulforce Survivor’s Initiative in July 2007. Both projects utilized multiple formats, from press conferences to private conversations, to reach out to Exodus leadership with the stories of "ex-gay survivors" — men and women who believe that attempts to change their sexual orientation did more harm than good.

Christine Bakke, co-founder of Beyond Ex-Gay, was among a small group of ex-gay survivors who met with Exodus leaders over dinner during the Ex-gay Survivor Conference; she welcomed Chambers’ comments: "I feel deep satisfaction that Exodus leaders heard us when we met over dinner and through our more public statements, and I hope that they continue to listen to those of us who invested so much of our lives in the ex-gay experience and found another way," said Bakke.

Jeff Lutes, Soulforce Executive Director, also hailed the impact of survivor testimony. "Survivors of ex-gay programs have demonstrated remarkable courage by sharing their experiences in countless small acts of nonviolent witness. This decision from Exodus, and the acknowledgment that ex-gay survivors’ voices are being heard, is also courageous."

But Lutes added that there is still more work to be done. "We will continue to share the human stories of harm caused by ex-gay ministries and to find new ways to share the message that our sexual orientations and gender identities are gifts from God that can be lived with dignity and grace."

Bakke also gestured to the work ahead. "I welcome the news that Exodus has moved its focus from politics to people. Now, by listening to the people who have been negatively affected by their ministry and messages in the past, Exodus can deepen the discussion to consider their pastoral care needs and necessary next steps."

The Ex-gay Survivor Conference and the Soulforce Survivor’s Initiative were expressions of a growing ex-gay survivor community that includes writers, artists, researchers, and clergy. For more information about these events, and to learn about upcoming projects, visit www.soulforce.org and www.beyondexgay.com.

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Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.

Beyond Ex-Gay is an on-line community and resource for those of us who have survived ex-gay experiences. For more information go to www.beyondexgay.com.

 

 

A Personal Invitation From Rev. Dr. Mel White

The Soulforce 10th Anniversary Reunion and Direct Action at the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church

A Personal Invitation From Rev. Dr. Mel White

Gary and I are hoping that you will seriously consider joining us in Ft. Worth, Texas, April 25-27, and if you can, stay through the following week until Friday, May 2. You will have a rare opportunity to stand with us on the front lines of our struggle to end religion-based oppression.

On Friday evening, April 25, we will celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Soulforce with laughter and tears, food and drink, special music and a documentary film looking back at the first ten years on the frontlines with Soulforce. The entire Soulforce team will be there to meet and greet you. Dan Karslake, the producer of For The Bible Tells Me So will be there to shake your hand, and we will sponsor a showing of that prize-winning film (featuring the work of Soulforce) on Saturday night, April 26. Former Soulforce Board Chairman, Jimmy Creech, who stood with us in the very first Soulforce actions, will be there to welcome you as well. We owe it to ourselves to spend this quality time together remembering the amazing work you have done to peacefully confront injustice during our first decade.

However, we are not going to Fort Worth just to party. Our Soulforce visit coincides in time and place with the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, with 8.5 million members – the country’s second largest denomination. Sadly, it is becoming more and more apparent that a majority of the more than 1,000 United Methodist delegates gathering at this historic General Conference are determined to keep in place their ban against the ordination and marriage of LGBT members. We expect a number of other discriminatory policies to be introduced that would signal a giant step backwards into intolerance and oppression.

Saturday and Sunday, April 26-27 will offer another of those rare opportunities to stand vigil with Soulforce as thousands of United Methodist – delegates, clergy, bishops and laity from across the US and around the world – converge on the Ft. Worth Convention Center for their weekend General Conference events. Soulforce will support the Reconciling Ministries Network, Affirmation, and other LGBT Methodist groups who are working tirelessly to end the injustice within their denomination.

Just standing in an elegant, silent, Soulforce vigil is guaranteed to change your life. How often do you have the chance to actually do justice, to put your body on the line, to transform your words into actions? Remember, both Gandhi and King remind us that taking this step may or may not change the minds and hearts of our adversaries; but standing in that vigil will change your mind and heart forever.

If you are feeling courageous on those weekend morning vigils, you and a partner, trained in nonviolence earlier in the day, will distribute our case against the antigay policies of United Methodist Church to the very men and women who create and enforce those policies. They are not evil. They are victims of misinformation as we have been. We are there to liberate United Methodists from the burden of their intolerance. We will stand vigil at the front doors of that Convention Center because we love United Methodists enough to spend time and money helping them discover the truth that homosexuality is not a sickness nor a sin and that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith serve as UMC clergy and laity across the country and around the globe.

During the weekend, you’ll also have a chance to spend some quality time brainstorming about the future of Soulforce with each other, with our esteemed board of directors, with me, Jeff, and the entire Soulforce staff. Through a carefully guided process, we invite you to share your vision as together we shape the next decade of our important future.

If you can stay with us Monday, April 28, through Friday, May 2, you will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of creative actions against the unjust and discriminatory United Methodist Church policies. Whatever powerful response we plan together you can be certain that our words and actions will be guided by the principles of relentless nonviolent resistance as developed by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. If you’ve ever considered taking that next step, this may be your chance. You’ll be part of our ongoing efforts to end the dehumanizing injustice within the United Methodist Church.

In 1999 in Grand Island, Nebraska, Soulforce stood vigil and engaged in civil disobedience at the trial of Rev. Jimmy Creech, who was defrocked for marrying a gay couple. In 2000, more than 200 Soulforce volunteers were arrested during a peaceful protest at the UMC General Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. In 2004 Soulforce conducted nonviolent direct actions at two trials of UMC pastors, the Rev. Karen Dammann and the Rev. Beth Stroud, who came out as lesbians in committed relationships.

Soulforce must continue to assist UMC members who are struggling against the advances of the antigay forces within their denomination. Check www.soulforce.org to register and for regular news updates.

Gary and I look forward to seeing you in Fort Worth!

-Rev. Dr. Mel White

Back to the Soulforce 10th Anniversary Reunion & Direct Action

The American Family Outing

The American Family Outing

Soulforce, the National Black Justice Coalition, COLAGE and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches are proud to present …

The American Family Outing

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People & Their Families Create Dialogue with Six of America’s Most Influential Evangelical Leaders & Their Mega-Churches

Reports from the American Family Outing

Meet the families taking part in the American Family Outing

Find out how your family can participate!

Between Mother’s Day Weekend and Father’s Day Weekend, 2008, diverse families from around the country will create meaningful conversations about faith, family, and LGBT people. We seek first to understand, and then to be understood, as we engage the families at six of America’s leading mega-churches. We visit these churches because we recognize the enormous influence each has within Christianity and the larger culture, through ministries, radio and television programs, and books that reach millions. We believe these churches have the potential to be a positive force in ending the physical and spiritual violence perpetuated by some religious voices against LGBT people and their families. Some of these churches have exercised inspirational leadership on social issues such as poverty and AIDS, and we believe they can exercise comparable, courageous leadership in ending spiritual and physical violence against LGBT people.

Same-gender couples with or without children, supportive straight couples and families, single-parent families, and single individuals who want to participate with a member of their extended family, are invited to apply for one or more church visits. To apply and learn more about the clergy and families leading each visit, please visit the AFO page for each church below.

Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church

Friday, May 9 – Sunday, May 11, 2008 (Mother’s Day Weekend) Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas

Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. Lakewood is North America’s largest and fastest growing church averaging more than 42,000 attendees at weekly services, and a television program reaching over 100 million households in over 100 nations. He was featured as one of Barbara Walters’ "10 Most Fascinating People of 2006" and was named "Most Influential Christian in America" in 2006 by the readers of The Church Report Magazine. His television ministry is the most watched inspirational program in the United States.

Read more on the visit to Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church.

Bishop T.D. Jakes and The Potter's House

Friday, May 16 – Sunday, May 18, 2008 Bishop T.D. Jakes and The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas

Bishop T.D. Jakes, founder and senior pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas, a multiracial, nondenominational church with over 30,000 members, nearly 400 staff members, and more than 50 outreach ministries to millions around the globe. A best-selling author, Jakes has been featured on the cover of TIME Magazine and was named "America’s Best Preacher" by the magazine.

Read more on the visit to Bishop T.D. Jakes and The Potter’s House.

Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. and Hope Christian Church

Friday, May 23 – Sunday, May 25, 2008 (Memorial Day Weekend) Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. and Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland (near Washington, D.C.)

Bishop Harry R. Jackson, Jr., the African-American pastor of Hope Christian Church with 3,500 members in Beltsville, MD, just outside Washington, D.C. Jackson was named one of the top 50 most influential Christians in 2005 by the Christian Post. His radio commentary can be heard daily on 400+ stations nationally. Jackson is a fervent opponent of gay rights and founded the High Impact Leadership Coalition to promote his "Black Contract With America on Moral Values," a six-point platform which includes the prohibition of same-sex marriage.

Read more on the visit to Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. and Hope Christian Church.

Eddie Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church

Friday, May 30 – Sunday, June 1, 2008 Bishop Eddie Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia (near Atlanta)

Bishop Eddie L. Long, the African-American pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church with over 25,000 members and 40 ministries, frequently teaches that "homosexuality is a manifestation of the fallen man" and that God can "deliver" homosexuals. Bishop Long was honored by the Center for Disease Control and the National HIV/AIDS Partnership (NHAP) for his outstanding work in fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS. He was chosen by the family of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 2006 to host and officiate the funeral of Mrs. Coretta Scott King, which was attended by four Presidents.

Read more on the visit to Bishop Eddie Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.

Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church

Friday, June 6 – Sunday, June 8, 2008 Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois (near Chicago)

Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois with 30,000 members. The church has been listed as the most influential church in America the last several years in a national poll of pastors. Hybels started the Global Leadership Summit in 1995 as an annual training event broadcast live from the Willow Creek campus in suburban Chicago to 100+ video sites across America, plus later via delay for another 70 international sites. 80,000 attendees were part of the 2006 Leadership Summit.

Read more on the visit to Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church.

Rick Warren and Saddleback Church

Friday, June 13 – Sunday, June 15, 2008 (Father’s Day Weekend) Dr. Rick Warren and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California

Dr. Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life and founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, one of America’s largest and best-known churches with a membership of over 16,000. Warren was named one of "America’s Top 25 Leaders" by U.S. News and World Report in 2005. He was elected by TIME Magazine as one of "15 World Leaders Who Mattered Most" in 2004 and one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2005.

Read more on the visit to Rick Warren and Saddleback Church.

More Information:

Frequently Asked Questions about the American Family Outing

Join us on the American Family Outing

The American Family Outing

Join us on the American Family Outing

Consider joining us on the American Family Outing as we work to create meaningful conversations about faith, family, and LGBT people with six of America’s largest churches. Fill out an application form today!

  1. Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church
    Houston, Texas
    May 9 – May 11, 2008
  2. Bishop T.D. Jakes and The Potter’s House
    Dallas, Texas
    May 16 – May 18, 2008
  3. Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. and Hope Christian Church
    Beltsville, Maryland
    May 23 – May 25, 2008
  4. Bishop Eddie Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church
    Lithonia, Georgia
    May 30 – June 1, 2008
  5. Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church
    South Barrington, Illinois
    June 6 – June 8, 2008
  6. Dr. Rick Warren and Saddleback Church
    Lake Forest, California
    June 13 – June 15, 2008

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Frequently Asked Questions about the American Family Outing

The American Family Outing

Frequently Asked Questions about the American Family Outing

1. What is the American Family Outing?

The AFO is a campaign between Mother’s Day Weekend and Father’s Day Weekend in which LGBT families and supportive straight families will seek peaceful and heart-to- heart dialogue with six of today’s most influential evangelical leaders and their mega- churches about faith, family, and LGBT people. We seek first to understand, and then to be understood, as we engage families and staff within these congregations.

2. Who are the sponsors of the American Family Outing?

The AFO is a collaborative project between Soulforce, The National Black Justice Coalition, COLAGE, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

3. Why is it important for LGBT people and our families to dialogue with these mega-churches?

The six pastors we plan to visit during the AFO have been ranked by Christian organizations as among the 50 most influential Christian leaders in America. In addition to pastoring large churches whose memberships often exceed tens of thousands, each has an enormous influence on American culture through best-selling books, radio and television programs that reach millions of homes, and frequent speaking engagements in packed churches and large coliseums in cities across the country. While some are actively involved in American politics, all have significant influence on public opinion and therefore, the rights of LGBT people and their loved ones. In some of these churches, LGBT people are welcomed – but they are not affirmed – often meeting resistance from church leaders when they offer their spiritual gifts and seek to take a more active role within the life of the church. Soulforce and our partnering organizations care deeply about the emotional, mental, and spiritual welfare of those in the LGBT community who choose to attend these churches. We want them to know that God loves and affirms them exactly as they are and that each of us can live lives of service filled with dignity and grace, regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity. Our vision is that one day; every church sanctuary in America will truly be a sanctuary for ALL people.

4. Does Soulforce consider these churches and leaders to be our enemy?

Absolutely not. These churches are filled with good and loving people who want, as we do, to make the world a better place. The leaders of these churches are victims of misinformation, as we all have been, about sexual orientation and gender identity. Our ultimate goal is reconciliation – not victory. We believe these churches have the potential to be a positive force in ending the physical and spiritual violence perpetuated by some religious voices against LGBT people and their families. Some of these churches have exercised inspirational leadership on social issues such as poverty and AIDS, and we believe they can exercise comparable, courageous leadership in ending spiritual and physical violence against LGBT people. We believe that each of these churches will grow and prosper by welcoming us; recent research shows that a majority of young Christians are alienated by some churches’ hostility to gay and lesbian people. More and more people of faith now understand that there are all kinds of families in America, and what really matters is our love and commitment to one another.

5. What are the requirements if my family wants to participate?

a) If you welcome and affirm all people regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, then you may participate with your family. Couples with or without children, single-parent families, supportive straight families, and single individuals who wish to participate with a member of their extended family (a parent, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, etc) may participate. All families must pre-register online.

b) Your family must attend a brief training in nonviolence prior to the church visit for which you register. The nonviolence training will be scheduled in the same city/area as the church we are visiting and will occur on the same weekend as our scheduled visit. The exact date, time, and location of the training will be emailed to each family once their online registration has been approved.

c) At the local training in nonviolence, each member of your family must sign the Soulforce Pledge to Nonviolence. Your signed copy of the pledge will be placed inside your name-badge holder during the meetings with the church. The Soulforce Pledge of Nonviolence was originally written by Martin Luther King, Jr., and was modified by Soulforce in 2003. "Soul force" comes from Gandhi’s term "Satyagraha" and the nonviolent principles for change taught by both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. The Pledge to Nonviolence reads:

"As I prepare for this direct action, I will meditate regularly on the life and teachings of Gandhi and King and other truth-seekers. I will remember that the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation-not victory. I will walk and talk in the manner of love and nonviolence. I will contemplate daily what I can do so that all can be free. I will sacrifice my own personal wishes that all might be free. I will observe with friend and foes the ordinary rules of courtesy. I will perform regular service for others and for the world. I will refrain from violence of fist, tongue, and heart. I will strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health. I will follow the directions of Soulforce leaders during this direct action."

6. What are the plans for caring for our children?

We believe that these churches will agree to loving and respectful conversations at all times, despite our differences. All of these churches care deeply about families and children, and we believe they want to engage in dialogue in a manner that honors the human dignity of all children, regardless of the sexual orientation or gender-identity of their parents. We seek to share a meal with representative families, clergy, and leaders at each of these churches. If we have a more in-depth conversation after the meal, we will negotiate to have our children placed in the church’s childcare facility, with supervision by both church members and some parents from our delegation. This plan should address the needs of our children, and the children from the church, especially younger ones who may not have the attention span for such an adult conversation. Our transportation will be waiting outside the church at all times with childcare volunteers in place, should parents decide to leave the conversation for any reason. Again, while the dialogue may be intense as we discuss our differences and seek common ground, we expect that each of these churches will engage us as we seek to engage them – with love and respect.

Additionally, for youth who are older than 11, COLAGE is providing training and support for those who wish to take part in the conversations with the churches. We recognize that the voices of young people are powerful and that they can authentically share their experiences as children of LGBT parents. COLAGE will help youth and young adult participants in the American Family Outing have the tools and support they need to participate in the outings.

7. Where will my family sleep during the weekend if we are traveling from outside the city?

Soulforce will negotiate a reasonable room rate at a comfortable hotel nearby. The details of these hotel arrangements will be emailed to approved registrants once finalized.

8. Do I have to be a Christian to participate in the American Family Outing?

No. However, most of our family leaders (whose profiles can be viewed on this site) do identify as strong people of faith. We are seeking families who know how to have respectful conversations about differences, and are able to take religion and the Bible seriously since our dialogue will often be based in Scripture. Each family must be willing to educate themselves and attend the local training in nonviolence.

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