"Our War of Words Has to End. Too Many Caught in the Deadly Crossfire."
A Soulforce News Alert – October 14, 1999
On October 23 at 4p.m. in Lynchburg, Virginia, 400 people of faith will make history. The Rev. Jerry Falwell and 200 of his Baptist friends and associates will break bread with the Rev. Mel White’s Soulforce delegation of 200 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people of faith and their allies.
"Breaking bread is better than breaking heads," says Dr. White, a gay Christian clergyman who spent the last seven years pursuing Jerry Falwell and other leaders of the religious right hoping and praying that this day might come. "Our war of words has to end," he says sadly. "Too many innocent people on both sides are being caught in the deadly crossfire."
Falwell has promised not to "compromise his position on homosexuality," but he supports White’s primary goal. "Mel sincerely wants to lower the rhetoric on both sides," he said. "And that is exactly what we want as well."
"We’ll give Jerry the time he needs to learn the truth about God’s gay children," White replies quietly. "But we’ll not stop telling him that truth until he does."
The unusual dinner/forum is being widely praised, but protestors from both sides have promised to be in Lynchburg to make their opposition public. Bob Kunst, gay activist from Florida says, "Falwell’s already been beaten and by resurrecting his reputation, White has compromised himself and is trying to take the rest of us down with him." Fred Phelp’s, of "GodHatesFags" fame, condemns both Falwell and White for the event. "In meeting with those who commit such things as are ‘worthy of death’ (Rom. 1:32)," Phelps writes, "Falwell is guiltier than White."
Although they will discuss their very different views on sexual orientation, Falwell, White, and their 400 allies are primarily seeking ways to help end "hate speech" whatever its source. "Jerry and I disagree on many things," White admits, "but we agree on this: we must work together to help end the rhetoric that leads to anger, fear, and acts of violence."
"We’ll be sitting at round tables in mixed groups of ten," White explains. "Our gay and lesbian delegates from the Hawaii Marriage Project are bringing 200 tea-leaf leis in the spirit of Aloha (friendship). A PFLAG mother of a gay man has created 400 pottery angels, one for each place setting, to remind us of the innocent men and women who have been shot, strangled, stabbed, or beaten to death. After a meal and a time of getting acquainted, people of faith from both sides will share our stories and the stories of our friends and families who have suffered from this never-ending war of words."
At the press conference following the dinner/forum, surrounded by photos of the dead, Falwell and White plan to read the names of hate crime victims from Matt Shepard to the evangelical teenagers killed in the sanctuary of their Fort Worth Baptist Church. Mary Lou Wallner, a mother whose lesbian daughter committed suicide, will join other guests in describing the effects of "hate speech" in their lives and in the lives of their families. Falwell, White and the 400 delegates are expected to take a united stand against careless words that lead to suffering and death. They will invite others to join in that pledge.
Mel White and his life-partner, Gary Nixon, are Co-Founders of Soulforce, Inc., an ecumenical, interfaith network of people of faith committed to the principles of nonviolence as taught by Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The 200 members of their Soulforce "Journey to Lynchburg" will conduct a memorial service and candle light vigil 7 p.m. Friday evening, Oct.22, at their temporary Soulforce Central (Lynchburg’s First Christian Church on Rivermont Avenue). On Saturday morning, Oct. 23, from 8-12 they will participate in advanced training in nonviolence.
Besides meeting with Jerry Falwell and his allies, the Soulforce delegation is contributing $20,000 to Habitat for Humanity in Lynchburg and 1,000 cans and packages of food to Lynchburg food banks. The delegates from 30 states will spend Saturday afternoon picking up trash on a section of Rivermont Avenue adopted by their hosts. On Sunday they will worship with Jerry Falwell at his 25,000 member Thomas Road Baptist Church. Following the service, the Soulforce delegates hope to take their new friends from Falwell’s church to lunch in restaurants across Lynchburg.
To contact Jerry Falwell or for information about the Forum, call Jeremy Blume (770) 813-0000. Fax requests for media credentials on letterhead to (770)-813-8887.