Karen Weldin, SFU Co-Chair
Greg Marlan, SFU Co-Chair
SOULFORCE UNIVERSITY AT GC2000
"End the Debate! Stop the Suffering! Welcome Us Home!"
May 6-12, 2000, Cleveland, Ohio
WHAT IS SOULFORCE UNIVERSITY?
S.F.U. is a rare, one-week opportunity for people of faith to learn and apply the "soul force" principles of nonviolence on behalf of God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered children.
WHAT IS GENERAL CONFERENCE 2000?
Every four years United Methodist leaders from around the world gather to make policy for their historic denomination. GC2000 will convene in Cleveland, Ohio, May 2-12. This important "congress" will make decisions about their homosexual members that will have consequences for us all.
WHY IS S.F.U. BEING HELD SIMULTANEOUSLY WITH GC2000?
Soulforce is an informal network of people of faith committed to applying the principles of nonviolence (taught by Gandhi and King) to the liberation of sexual minorities. The most effective way to teach the principles is in a place and time where they also need to be applied. GC2000 is just such a place.
WHY DO THE PRINCIPLES NEED TO BE APPLIED AT GC2000?
Historically, Methodists have cared about the poor, the homeless, and the outcast. Sadly, decisions made by their General Conferences over the past three decades have ended that tradition of caring and made outcasts of God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered children. We hope to help end those unjust and discriminatory policies.
WHAT IS THE OFFICIAL U.M.C. POSITION ON HOMOSEXUALITY?
For thirty-two years United Methodist leaders have debated the issue of homosexuality. Too many of their delegates have ignored the historic, scientific, psychological, pastoral and even biblical evidence that homosexuality is neither a sickness nor a sin. As a result, with almost every General Conference the U.M.C. has hardened its anti-homosexual position. That position leads to discrimination, suffering, and death. Sadly, this is where the denomination now stands:
From The U.M.C. Book of Discipline, The Social Principles Paragraph 65 G: Human Sexuality-
"…Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching, we affirm that God’s grace is available to all."
Paragraph 65 C: Marriage-
"…Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."
- From The Book of Discipline, Chapter Two
"The Ministry of the Ordained"
Paragraph 304: 3.
"…Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."
- From The Book of Discipline, Chapter 5
Paragraph 806: 12.
"The council shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality…"
Recent Rulings by the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church
- After the first Jimmy Creech trial in 1998, the Judicial Council of the UMC made conducting a same-gender Covenant Service a "chargeable offense." (JC Decision #833)
- A 1999 ruling prohibits local churches from using either the "reconciling" or "transforming" labels. (JC Decision #847)
WHY FOCUS ON THE U.M.C. WHEN OTHER CHURCHES ARE ALSO ANTIGAY?
With more than 9,000,000 members, the United Methodist Church is the third largest denomination in the nation (after the Roman Catholics and the Southern Baptists). The tragic consequences of its anti-homosexual policies reach far beyond United Methodism into the lives of GLBT people across the nation and around the world. With its traditional commitment to justice and social action, we are hoping and praying that the UMC will reverse its anti-homosexual position and lead the entire Christian community to justice, mercy, and truth for sexual minorities.
WHAT ARE YOU HOPING TO ACCOMPLISH AT GC2000?
We are praying that God will use our presence to help the United Methodist Church to understand that homosexuals are God’s children, too; that God has created us and loves us as we were created; that we love God and serve the UMC (and all other faith communions) with courage and commitment; that UMC anti-homosexual policies break God’s heart and drive millions of innocent people from Christ’s body, the church. We are convinced that if the UMC could see the truth and have the courage to act upon it, they could lead the entire Christian church out of this heresy of exclusion into a new era of love and acceptance.
ISN’T SOULFORCE INTERFERING IN UNITED METHODIST BUSINESS?
Many of our Soulforce delegates are life-long members of the United Methodist Church. And, we are working together closely with AMAR, a coalition of GLBT advocacy organizations within the UMC (Affirmation, the Reconciling Churches Program, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, and In All Things Charity). Besides, we must never forget that in spite of its divisions, the body of Christ is one body. What wounds any part of that body wounds us all. If delegates to GC2000 decide against us, the media will broadcast that news to the world. That news would lead to discrimination, suffering, and even death. We must all work together to help prevent that tragedy.
WHAT WILL SOULFORCE DO AT GC2000?
Gandhi and King teach us that seeking justice requires two very different steps. The first step is to negotiate our differences, (Plan A). Working closely with AMAR, we are doing everything we can to change the minds and hearts of the anti-homosexual delegates. They are our sisters and brothers, good people who are victims of misinformation. Our work to help them see the truth about God’s GLBT children will continue throughout the May 2-12 event. But if negotiations fail and the delegates to GC2000 vote to support or even strengthen their unjust and discriminatory policies against homosexuals, we will move to step two, direct action, (Plan B).
WHAT DIRECT ACTION WILL YOU TAKE AT GC2000?
The "soul force" principles teach us that a direct action (Plan B) has one goal: reconciliation. The nonviolent direct actions of Gandhi and King were designed to win the minds and hearts of their adversaries. We are not considering any kind of angry or violent response. We will not demean or dehumanize our adversaries. We don’t know exactly what form our direct action will take (if it proves necessary); but we promise that it will demonstrate in ways that are loving and nonviolent that we are God’s children, too, and that we are determined to end these unjust policies that exclude us from Christ’s church.
COULD YOU BE MORE SPECIFIC?
Actually, we cannot be more specific, at least not yet. We aren’t sure if a direct action will be necessary in Cleveland, let alone what kind of direct action it would be. I have listed the "soul force" rules for negotiation and direct action in another location. Please take time to read them. It will help you better understand the guidelines we will follow in Cleveland.
Whatever our direct action, delegates will have to memorize those rules and then sign a pledge to follow them in Cleveland. In Gene Sharp’s The Methods of Nonviolent Action the author lists 793 direct actions that have been taken by nonviolent civil rights activists over the centuries. Whether we will follow one of the old ways or invent the 794th is still a mystery to all of us.
WHY CAN’T YOU ANNOUNCE THE DIRECT ACTION IN ADVANCE?
Because we honestly don’t know what it will be. Ask yourself, "What could Soulforce do in Cleveland that would help change the minds and hearts of those who still believe that homosexual practice "is incompatible with Christian teaching," that our relationships should not be blessed by the UMC, that we should not be ordained or even considered for Christian ministry?" We are asking it daily.
An angry response to a GC2000 decision would not advance the cause of truth. It would only confirm our adversary’s fears and escalate our adversary’s anger. Speeches by our most articulate allies, colorful signs, cheering crowds, plenty of cameras, and even a sound bite or two on the evening news will not change the minds and hearts of anti-homosexual United Methodists.
Besides, at General Conferences over the last three decades, our UMC friends and allies have performed all kinds of creative and courageous direct actions in response to the anti-homosexual decisions. It would be very difficult to improve on what they have already done; and yet untruth still prevails in the UMC.
SO WHY NOT GIVE UP ON THE UNITED METHODISTS?
First, there are a lot of courageous United Methodists who have not given up on us. We must not fail them now.
Second, there are thousands of closeted UMC clergy and hundreds of thousands of UMC members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered. We must help end their suffering by cutting off the suffering at its source. [I’m hoping many of them will join us in Cleveland.]
Third, according to Gandhi and King, giving up on our adversary is "an act of violence." We cannot give up on the United Methodist Church even though that historic denomination has become a primary source of suffering for God’s GLBT people.
Fourth, neither can we remain silent while some United Methodists continue their campaign against us. This debate has gone on for at least thirty-two years. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been damaged, ministries wasted, relationships ruined, homes divided, churches split. When debate becomes a kind of warfare, "soul force" activists over the centuries have used nonviolent direct actions to change the minds and hearts of their adversaries. We must act, if for no other reason, to say to our sisters and brothers we cannot sit by in silence for another four years of suffering.
BUT IS IT WISE TO ARRIVE ON SCENE WITHOUT A SPECIFIC PLAN?
We won’t be the first to gather on the site of a potential injustice without a specific plan of response. And we are seriously considering (and preparing for) all kinds of options. Gandhi and King instruct us to go to the scene, to mobilize and train our volunteers in nonviolence, to pray, fast and seek God’s guidance together. Then, they say, take the direct action that seems best (even if we are unsure) and the response of our adversary will show us what to do next.
Gandhi’s followers marched on a salt works without knowing how their adversary would respond. The bloody beatings that followed changed the minds and hearts of the world looking on and led directly to an independent India. King’s followers marched on Birmingham’s City Hall without knowing how their adversary would respond. The police dogs, fire hoses, and jails filled with children changed the minds and hearts of the world looking on and led directly to the end of segregation.
Our adversaries will not resort to wooden clubs or fire hoses. If we force the police to arrest us for trespassing on the Convention Center or for interrupting the closing worship, what will we have gained? We may have to face arrest just to signal our sincere determination, but we are searching for a better way to say to the United Methodists and to the world looking on, "End the debate. Stop the suffering. Welcome us home!"
We are hoping that hundreds of United Methodists (including lay and clergy delegates) will join us in taking that stand. We’re hoping that you will join us, too.
Registration to be a scholar at SFU for the entire week of May 6-12 has ended. You may register up to the last minute to be an Associate for the May 9-10 event. However, if you would like to make a personal appeal to be included as a Scholar for May 6-12, send your request directly to: GMarlan@aol.com.
HELP US UNDERSTAND THE SYMBOL YOU WILL USE AT GC2000?
The United Methodist logo is a cross and a bright red flame symbolizing the active presence of Christ’s Spirit, the Spirit of Truth and Justice. Our symbol is a cross and a plume of smoke with the words, "Relight the flame. Welcome us home!"
Obviously, the Holy Spirit is still at work in the lives of members of the UMC, but we are using this logo with the flame extinguished to raise the question, can the Spirit of Christ remain much longer at the heart of a community of faith where all God’s children are not welcome?
ARE YOU REALLY HOPING THAT CLOSETED UMC CLERGY WILL JOIN YOU?
Yes, closeted clergy and laity alike. There are an estimated 2,000-3,000 ordained clergy in the UMC who have hidden their sexual orientation in order to obey their call to serve Christ. And there’s no way to estimate how many hundreds of thousands of UMC lay leaders and members remain in the closet.
Our closeted UMC sisters and brothers have the power to end this struggle for justice overnight. If a thousand, or five hundred, or even several hundred of them would join us at GC2000, they would change the course of history and find new freedom in their own lives and ministries.
We are making special rainbow sashes for GLBT people of faith and our allies to wear at GC2000 as a sign of their commitment to justice and truth. We are also planning to honor and bless those who may come out with the presentation of their rainbow sash. If you are a UMC clergy or laity who has hidden your sexual orientation and would consider joining us, contact the Rev. Dr. Mel White personally at RevMel@aol.com to discuss the possibilities with him.
HOW CAN WE GET MORE INFORMATION ABOUT SOULFORCE UNIVERSITY?
Whether you may want to attend the entire, week-long event, drop by for a day or two, or just participate in our direct action, you must sign up on the web.
WHAT IS A SOULFORCE SCHOLAR?
Soulforce scholars will spend the entire week, May 6-12, living in community and studying together the "inward" and the "outward" journeys of our spirit. We will share intimate learning experiences with Arun Gandhi, Jim Lawson, John Graetz, and other primary leaders of "soul force" nonviolent movements of the past. We will live, work, worship and act together. Scholars who attend the entire week will have the opportunity to be certified to teach and apply the principles in their communities.
CAN PEOPLE ENROLL FOR JUST PARTS OF THE S.F.U. EXPERIENCE?
Yes. Everyday there will be events open to the public. A schedule will be released on our web page in April. There will be no charge for registration or for attending our SFU classes, worship experiences, musical concerts or the film festival. We are trusting that people who believe in what we are doing will get the vision and help cover our expenses through an unsolicited tax-deductible gift to Soulforce, Inc. (by check in Cleveland or by mail, or by credit card through the web page donation). Even if you can’t attend, you can help us create a powerful spiritual presence with your prayers (and help us pay our bills with your donations).
Those who register in advance will have priority for meals and for the limited seating events. Registering in advance on line will also save time for participants. A preregistration badge will be prepared for them and available at our registration office.
WHO CAN PARTICIPATE IN THE SOULFORCE DIRECT ACTION?
On May 9, 10, and 11 two-hour training sessions will be held for those who want to participate in our Soulforce direct action. Attending one of those training sessions is a requirement for participation. If a direct action is called for, it will probably be held on May 12. Because it may involve civil disobedience and arrest, we are working closely on all details with the office of the honorable Mike White, Cleveland’s Mayor. Watch the web page towards the end of April for more details.
WHO CAN WE CALL FOR INFORMATION IF WE ARE NOT ON LINE?
Call our Soulforce offices in California for information at 949-455-0999. Or email any of our S.F.U. leaders at the S.F.U. web site.
HOW DO WE ARRANGE HOUSING?
Local friends of Soulforce will be offering housing, May 5-13. For a while there are still rooms available in nearby hotels. But all options (local homes, or nearby hotels) must be requested by registering at the web page.
Our housing coordinators will try to accommodate each request. You are also free to make your own arrangements in homes or hotels and just notify us accordingly on your registration form. If you have transportation, there will be hotels available in and around Cleveland even at the last minute.
WHAT ABOUT MEALS?
We are serving breakfast and dinner. Any extra meal tickets will be available at the Registration desk on a first come, first served basis. There are also restaurants, cafes, and fast food facilities available in the area.
WHAT ABOUT TRANSPORTATION IN CLEVELAND?
There will be transportation pools to care for scholars without cars. Hopefully, everyone will arrange for his or her own transportation around Cleveland. If you need transportation, indicate it on your preregistration form. Bring comfortable shoes.
IF YOU HAVE FURTHER QUESTIONS:
Please contact any of our S.F.U. staff. Their names and email addresses are listed below.
FOR SPECIFIC INFORMATION ABOUT HOUSING: CONTACT Karen@cwis.net
FOR INFORMATION ABOUT MUSIC: CONTACT LeeGEllis@aol.com
FOR INFORMATION ABOUT COURSES: CONTACT GMarlan@aol.com
FOR GENERAL INFORMATION: CONTACT Info@Soulforce.org
To contact Soulforce by mail (or to make a tax-deductible contribution by check):
Write to: Soulforce, PO Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA 92652
Telephone: (949) 455-0999 Fax: (949) 455-0959
For further information contact:
For media information and a press kit contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
To Contact Mel White or Gary Nixon, Partners in Soulforce: