Gil Caldwell: Of Rights and Rites

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

Of Rights and Rites

By Gilbert H. Caldwell
Special to the Star-Telegram

Eight years ago, at the age of 66, I was arrested at the United Methodist General Conference in Cleveland. I was arrested twice: first as part of a demonstration outside the meeting place, and later with my fellow United Methodist clergy and lay persons who disrupted the legislative session inside.

This was by no means my first demonstration at General Conference. But in the past, issues of racial justice motivated my protest.

At the 2000 conference, I joined many others in seeking justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Standing up for LGBT rights did not always come easily to me.

As a young "foot soldier" in the civil rights movement, I was inspired by the writing and activism of Malcolm Boyd, a white Episcopal priest who wrote Are You Running With Me, Jesus? One day I read that Boyd had come out as a gay man.

As I digested the news, I discovered some unsettling emotions. Although I was deeply committed to civil and religious rights for black people, I realized that I had reservations about those rights being granted to gay people. I wondered, "Do I deny the impact his life had upon me, burn his books, turn from being an advocate to an adversary?"

After a day of reflection and prayer, my faith, reason, and common sense came alive! I could not and would not deny his influence. Just as so many white people became allies of the civil rights movement for racial justice, I determined that I would be a black, straight advocate of civil and religious equality for LGBT people.

These issues came to the forefront at the 1972 General Conference, when new legislation affirmed that "homosexuals no less than heterosexuals are persons of sacred worth." When this proposal reached the floor, a last-minute amendment added the words, "… though we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."

In the decades that have followed, the "incompatibility amendment" has become the basis for undermining the very equality that was affirmed in 1972, and lesbian and gay people have gradually been excluded from the life of the church: first from ordained ministry (1976), then from marriage (1996), and finally from membership (2006).

Since my first ordination as a deacon in the Methodist church in 1956, I have seen us move from racial segregation to racial integration, and from excluding women from the clergy to ordaining them. In each of these instances of progress, the state preceded the United Methodist Church in extending equal rights.

Today, slowly but surely, civil rights for lesbians and gays are becoming a reality. Civil unions are legal in many states, and marriage equality is the law in Massachusetts.

Whole denominations now affirm the equality of gay and transgender people. The United Church of Christ declared full equality five years ago and recently announced growth in both membership and giving for the whole denomination.

Equality is possible — in churches and society. But to get there, we must quell our fears that the church or society will collapse if we treat others fairly. To get there, we must die to old ideas.

In 2000, I nearly died from a brain tumor. I survived with a nerve-damaged leg, a cane and a drive to use my time well. Since then, my ministry has centered on writing and speaking about the connections between different forms of discrimination. Simply put, my message is about justice.

Some ask if I will get arrested at this General Conference. I don’t know, but I do know that I will act in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. who said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Now more fervently than ever, I pray that this General Conference will lead the way in doing justice for those it has so long denied.

The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell is a retired United Methodist minister and an active member of Soulforce, a national LGBT social justice organization. He is a former chairman of Black Methodists for Church Renewal and a co-founder of United Methodists of Color.

This op-ed originally appeared in the April 30, 2008 edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, www.star-telegram.com/245/story/613555.html.

Back to the Soulforce 10th Anniversary Reunion & Direct Action

Soulforce Releases Letter from Bakker to Osteen

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SOULFORCE MEDIA ADVISORY: April 24, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
******************************************

"As a child growing up, I saw a side of the church that to me did not always reflect God’s grace. This experience has led me to be concerned for our brothers and sisters in Christ who sometimes may feel rejected and left out of the church." -Jay Bakker

(Houston, TX) Today Soulforce released an open letter from Pastor Jay Bakker of Revolution NYC church to Rev. Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. Originally mailed in January 2008, the letter invites Osteen and families from the Lakewood congregation to share a meal with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight-ally families over Mother’s Day weekend.

Bakker is one of the clergy leaders of a nationwide fellowship effort called The American Family Outing. Co-organized by Soulforce, COLAGE, the National Black Justice Coalition, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, the project aims to create dialogue between LGBT families and families at six American mega-churches.
Several mega-church congregations, including Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, which is ranked the most influential congregation in America by Church Report magazine, have responded to similar invitations with interest and graciousness.

"We remain hopeful that the congregation and staff at Lakewood will extend true Christian hospitality and share a meal and conversation with our families," says Jeff Lutes, Soulforce Executive Director. "Our faith requires us to reach across the aisle, have difficult conversations with those with whom we might disagree, and take a stand for fairness."

Jay Bakker is the son of Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, and the co-founder of Revolution Church. His non-traditional approach to ministry achieved national attention in the Sundance Channel documentary One Punk Under God, which documented his journey to become an LGBT-affirming Christian. Jay is dedicating the Mother’s Day visit to Lakewood to the memory of his mother. (Full letter below.)

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.

The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) is an international fellowship of Christian churches with a special ministry to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The National Black Justice Coalition(NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering Black same-gender-loving, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. The Coalition works with our communities and our allies for social justice, equality, and an end to racism and homophobia.

COLAGE is a national movement of children, youth and adults with one or more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer parents. We build community and work toward social justice through youth empowerment, leadership development, education, and advocacy.

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From the desk of
Jay Bakker

190 Bedford Avenue, Suite 211
Brooklyn, New York 11211

January 17th, 2008

Rev. Joel Osteen
Lakewood Church
3700 Southwest Freeway
Houston, TX 77027

Subject: The American Family Outing

Dear Rev. Osteen and the congregation of Lakewood Church,

My name is Jay Bakker. I am pastor of Revolution Church in Brooklyn, New York. You
may know me as the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

As you might have heard, I lost my mother this year after a long battle with cancer. This
has led me to reflect on the importance of family, as well as the lessons my mother
taught me regarding the unconditional love of God. It is in her memory that I write you
this letter today.

As a child growing up, I saw a side of the church that to me did not always reflect God’s
grace. This experience has led me to be concerned for our brothers and sisters in Christ
who sometimes may feel rejected and left out of the church.

It is for these reasons that I have decided to be a part of a plan to bring dozens of
lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families from around the country, as well as
heterosexual families that support them, to visit your congregation on Mother’s Day
Weekend (Saturday May 10 and Sunday May 11th, 2008) to create meaningful dialogue
about homosexuality and Christianity.

This visit is part of the American Family Outing, a collaborative project between
Soulforce, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, the National
Black Justice Coalition, and COLAGE. It is my understanding that the Executive
Director of Soulforce, Jeff Lutes, sent you an initial letter, dated December 3, 2007.
I wanted to follow-up to let you know of my involvement in this important effort to
bring true hope and prosperity to all God’s children.

So many look to you for leadership, and therefore you and your congregation have an
exceptional opportunity to advance respectful and Christ-centered conversation on a
topic that too often divides our families and our nation. As Jeff expressed in his letter,
we hope that you will collaborate with us in structuring our time together at your
church. I invite you to match the families I bring, with a roughly equal number of
families from your congregation, and ask that we arrange to share a meal together on
Saturday, May 10th or Sunday, May 11th, followed by structured and educational
conversation. We are also planning to attend your worship service on Sunday, May 11th.

Together, we can make this an experience that will bless the lives of so many. Please
contact me or Jeff Lutes so that we can work together on planning the details.

In John 13:35, Jesus said that your love for one another will prove to the world that you
are my disciples. I invite you to reflect Christ’s unconditional love and participate with
us in this event.

In Grace and Hope,

Jay Bakker, Pastor
Revolution NYC
jay@revolutionnyc.com

cc: Victoria Osteen, Paul Osteen, M.D., Dodie Osteen, Kevin Comes, Lisa Comes,
Duncan Dodds, Marcos Witt.

Black Clergy Allies to Show Support for LGBT Methodists

As UMC Commemorates the End of Segregation, Panel Reflects on Racism and Heterosexism in the Church

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SOULFORCE MEDIA ADVISORY: April 23, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
******************************************

On Sunday, April 27, delegates to the United Methodist General Conference will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the end of official segregation in the church. Created in 1939, Central Jurisdiction was a race-based, non-geographical unit that formalized the exclusion of African Americans from white Methodist congregations and the exclusion of African American leaders from the governance of the denomination. It was abolished in 1968 — 14 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separate is inherently unequal.

In 2005, the supreme court of the United Methodist Church granted local pastors sole authority to deny church membership to lesbian and gay applicants, effectively authorizing a new form of segregation. Prior to that decision, existing church policies already excluded gays and lesbians from the full life of the church by forbidding the celebration of same-sex unions and barring gays and lesbians from sharing their gifts as ordained ministers.

On Sunday afternoon, shortly after the UMC’s official recognition of the end of Central Jurisdiction, four esteemed United Methodist clergy will share their reflections on the connection between racism and heterosexism in the church and add their voices to the calls for the United Methodist Church to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender United Methodists in marriage, membership, and ministry.

 
What: The Struggle Continues: Racism and Heterosexism in the Church.
When: Sunday, April 27, 2008, 12:30-1:30pm
Where: General Worth Square in downtown Fort Worth (9th and Main)
Who: Rev. Dr. James Lawson (retired), former President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and one of the architects of the Civil Rights movement.
  Bishop Melvin Talbert (retired), former President of the National Council of Churches and former Director of Black Methodists for Church Renewal.
  Rev. Gil Caldwell (retired), Former chairperson of Black Methodists for Church Renewal and former Co-convener of United Methodists of Color for A Fully Inclusive Church.

 

Soulforce is a national social justice and civil rights organization. Our vision is freedom from religious and political oppression for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people through relentless nonviolent resistance.

Soulforce has been a voice for justice at General Conference since 2000, when Yolanda King and Arun Gandhi lead 200 people in an act of civil disobedience to call attention to the suffering caused by the UMC’s anti-gay policies. One hundred ninety-one people were arrested on a single day, including two United Methodist Bishops. In 2004, Soulforce and its allies led a negotiated disruption of General Conference business.
For more information, visit www.soulforce.org.
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Soulforce: A Brief History, 1999-2006

Cover of the Soulforce History Book
Order

This 76-page book covers the beginning of Mel White and Gary Nixon’s dream of Soulforce through the fall of 2006. Included are many voices and hundreds of photos of Soulforce events.

Free Download
You can download a PDF file of Soulforce: A Brief History, 1999 – 2006.

Order Hard Copies Online
You can order hard copies of Soulforce: A Brief History, 1999 – 2006 at the cost of $10.00 per copy from the Soulforce Store.

Order Hard Copies by Mail
Indicate the number of copies needed and send a donation of $10.00 per book to:

Soulforce
PO Box 3195
Lynchburg, VA 24503

Bulk Orders
For inquires about discounted bulk orders (more than 20 copies) please send an email to gary@soulforce.org.

Christian Youth: An Important Voice in the Present Struggle for Gay Rights in America

by James Deaton, Jamie McDaniel, and Jacob Reitan

Order

This 48-page booklet was prepared especially for the Soulforce action at the Southern Baptist Convention. It contains two Bible studies, an article on the failings of ex-gay ministries, open letters to Southern Baptist youth from young Christian leaders in other denominations, and more!

Free Download
You can download a PDF file of Christian Youth: An Important Voice in the Present Struggle for Gay Rights in America.

Order Hard Copies Online
You can order hard copies of Christian Youth: An Important Voice in the Present Struggle for Gay Rights in America at the cost of $6.00 per copy from the Soulforce Store.

Order Hard Copies by Mail
Indicate the number of copies needed and send a donation of $6.00 per booklet to:

Soulforce
PO Box 3195
Lynchburg, VA 24503

Bulk Orders
For inquires about discounted bulk orders (more than 20 copies) please send an email to gary@soulforce.org.

Soulforce Events Urge Methodists to Open Hearts, Minds, and Doors

UM General Conference Can Make a Historic Shift Toward Justice for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People

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SOULFORCE MEDIA ADVISORY: April 11, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
******************************************

In 2006, the highest court in the United Methodist Church granted sole authority to local United Methodist pastors to deny church membership to lesbian and gay applicants. On April 23-May 2, 2008, delegates to the United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth will have the opportunity to revisit this exclusionary decision, to reconsider bans on same-sex unions and the ordination of gay clergy, to make new policy regarding transgender clergy, and to reexamine language in the UM Book of Discipline that describes homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Soulforce has been a voice for justice at General Conference since 2000, when Yolanda King and Arun Gandhi lead 200 people in an act of civil disobedience to call attention to the suffering caused by the UMC’s anti-gay policies.  One hundred ninety-one people were arrested on a single day, including two United Methodist Bishops. In 2004, Soulforce and its allies led a negotiated disruption of General Conference business.

Preliminary Soulforce Schedule for General Conference 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008  
12:30pm

Picnic in the Park with Transgender People of Faith (open to delegates and the public) * General Worth Square (9th and Main)

 

Saturday, April 26, 2008  
7:00am

Nonviolent Response to the UMC’s Anti-LGBT Violence: a Training with Rev. Jimmy Creech and Rev. Dr. Mel White * General Worth Square (9th and Main)

 

7:30-11:00am

Vigil outside the Fort Worth Convention Center * 9th St. entrance

 

8:00pm

Free outdoor screening of For The Bible Tells Me So. Producer Dan Karslake, Rev. Dr. Mel White, Rev. Jimmy Creech, and Mary Lou Wallner (all featured in the film) will be in attendance * General Worth Square (9th and Main)

 

Sunday, April 27, 2008  
12:30pm The Struggle Continues: Racism and Heterosexism in the Church with Rev. Dr. James Lawson, Bishop Melvin Talbert, Rev. Phil Lawson and Rev. Gil Caldwell * General Worth Square (9th and Main)
April 28-May 2, 2008  
7-9:30am

Ongoing morning vigil at the Convention Center * 9th St. Entrance

 

12-2:30pm Ongoing lunchtime vigil at the Convention Center * 9th St. Entrance
   

Soulforce is a national social justice and civil rights organization. Our vision is freedom from religious and political oppression for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people through relentless nonviolent resistance.

For more information, visit www.soulforce.org.

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American Family Outing Seeks to Dispel Divisive Tactics

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: April 8, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
******************************************

On Thursday, April 3, 2008, The Gay City News reported on a Family Research Council (FRC) fundraising letter devoted to the American Family Outing, a project that aims to create dialogue between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) families and members at six American mega-churches. The letter, dated March 2008 and signed by FRC President Tony Perkins, asks for $50,000 to create “Church Crisis Response Teams” to react to same-sex couples and their children who have expressed a desire to attend church and share a meal with families at the mega-churches between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day 2008.

“The frantic tone of the letter is a testament to the vital need for the American Family Outing.  For too long, fear and dehumanization have kept people of faith divided over issues of sexual-orientation and gender-identity,” says Jeff Lutes, Soulforce Executive Director.  The American Family Outing is a collaboration between Soulforce, COLAGE, the National Black Justice Coalition, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

In late 2007, the four partner organizations wrote letters to:

  • Rev. Joel Osteen and the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas
  • Bishop T.D. Jakes and The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas
  • Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. and Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland
  • Bishop Eddie Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia
  • Rev. Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois
  • Dr. Rick Warren and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.

The letters propose a date when the LGBT families will attend a worship service.  The letters also invite each Pastor “to match our families with an equal number of families from your congregation” for a meal and conversation.

In contrast to the alarm bells sounded by Perkins, reaction from the churches and America’s diverse evangelical community has been more positive.

“We want those Christian brothers and sisters who have read terrible untruths about us to meet us and to know who we really are.  We are those children of God who happen not to be straight and their straight allies like myself, who grieve the fact that those who judge us do not really know us,” says Peggy Campolo, Baptist author and editor. 

Campolo is one of several Christian leaders who are helping The American Family Outing reach out to the six mega-churches.  Other clergy supporters include Rev. Jay Bakker, son of Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Bakker-Messner, Rev. Gil Caldwell, Rev. Phil Lawson, and Rev. Troy Sanders.

Although The American Family Outing is a collaborative effort, the Family Research Council fundraising letter named only COLAGE, a social justice organization for children, youth, and adults with LGBTQ parents.

“Tony Perkins probably knows, as well as we do, that when children, youth and families speak truth to power, we expose the injustice of the Family Research Council’s discriminatory agenda,” shared Beth Teper, COLAGE Executive Director. “His letter and fundraising ploy demonstrate the great significance of a simple invitation — for six mega-church communities to meet our members and hear our message of acceptance and unity.”

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.

The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) is an international fellowship of Christian churches with a special ministry to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The National Black Justice Coalition(NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering Black same-gender-loving, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. The Coalition works with our communities and our allies for social justice, equality, and an end to racism and homophobia. 

COLAGE is a national movement of children, youth and adults with one or more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer parents. We build community and work toward social justice through youth empowerment, leadership development, education, and advocacy.

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