News & Advance Article: "Disagreeing Agreeably"

Church Service Changes Perceptions
The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Virginia, October 25, 1999

The Rev. Jerry Falwell redeemed himself Sunday morning with the Rev. Mel White and his Soulforce group, many of whom felt wounded after Falwell’s remarks following their historic meeting Saturday.

Falwell welcomed White and his group, saying, "I’ve never met more courteous, gentlemanly and professional people. Mel White, my hat’s off to you." He gave his Thomas Road Baptist Church congregation a brief report on the forum. "We had a most fruitful meeting," Falwell said. "Mel never asked me to modify my preaching."

But, he said, he did not mean to offend his Soulforce guests. Falwell had compared homosexuals to alcoholics, drug addicts, pornographers and unwed mothers.

"We’re to be lovers of all men and women," he said. "We have not tried as hard as we should."

Falwell asked White and his Soulforce group to stand, while saying he was going to reach out in love to everyone for whom Christ died.

During his sermon on the Book of Proverbs, Falwell reiterated the importance of parents loving their children unconditionally.

"I don’t believe you can love your children too much," Falwell said.

He said he has been asked many times what he would do if his son were gay. He said he would be loving and supportive while trying to make him abandon that lifestyle.

"We believe the Bible is the infallible … word of God," he said, but he did not quote scripture on the wrongness of homosexuality.

He noted that the anti-violence summit was controversial.

"I’m well aware of what’s being said on the sidewalk," he said referring to the handful of protesters who greeted Sunday’s churchgoers with signs and screams. Falwell closed his sermon saying, "God loves you. Ignore what anybody else has said to you … God loves everyone alike. You may know some unfair people, but God’s not on the list."

White said Falwell could not have preached a better sermon.

"He treated us with civility … He preached a wonderful sermon," White said. "There was no spiritual violence today. We are disagreeing agreeably."

After the service many of the 200 delegates of Soulforce went out to lunch with members of Falwell’s 200 supporters.

During a final Soulforce session at First Christian Church Sunday afternoon, several Soulforce delegates said they had wonderful experiences, particularly with Liberty University students who attended the non-violence summit.

Gary Rimar
Soulforce delgate

Gary Rimar, a Jewish gay delegate from Michigan, said the student he met took him to Hyland Heights Baptist Church, where he received a warm welcome.

"They had never met normal gay people," he said. "They didn’t know what to do with me. It is impossible to hate gay people once you know them."

Saundra Farmer-Wiley, a lesbian delegate from Hawaii, had a similar experience with two Liberty students.

"I just made them see me as a person, not a sexual activity," she said.

Fred Hammond
Soulforce delgate

Fred Hammond, executive director of Interfaith AIDS Ministry in Danbury, Conn., said he also had lunch with two Liberty students.

"We found common ground very quickly," he said, including a Biblical discussion. "If I’m created in God’s image … I reveal a piece of it," he said. "They were able to embrace that."

All the delegates said they planned to keep in touch with the students they met. Angie Childers, a lesbian from Lexington, Ky., said she had a great conversation with Bill Merrell, vice present of the Southern Baptist Convention from Nashville, who had been invited by Falwell.

"He was very caring, very accepting," she said. "He does not condone, but he didn’t condemn."

Karen Solon, a Soulforce delegate and mother of a homosexual, said she wondered whether anyone had made the connection between the hate speech by the protesters on the sidewalks and the hate speech gay kids face every day.

"That goes on in our kids’ lives in the hallways in schools," she said. "Where are the churches to speak out against it?"

White took time Sunday morning to again thank Roger Zimmerman and Sandy Knodel of First Christian Church for their hospitality and help in organizing the weekend’s events, as well as other churches and pastors who lent support.

Mark Holdbrooks
Soulforce delgate

The Soulforce group raised $22,000 for a Habitat for Humanity house to be built in Lynchburg as well as $877 for the local food bank in thanks for the reception they received in the Hill City.

Several delegates said they were overwhelmed by the support of local clergy and the city’s mayor, as well as the security provided by the Lynchburg Police Department.

"My perception of this place has changed forever," said Mark Holdbooks, a gay delegate from Boulder, Colorado

Soulforce Group Promises More Direct Actions
The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Virginia, October 25, 1999

The Rev. Mel White woke up at 4 a.m. Sunday and decided it was time to take direct action.

He went on the "Today" show to announce a National Soulforce Campaign Against Spiritual Violence.

Soulforce is a non-violent movement based on the writings of Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

White said the Rev. Jerry Falwell called homosexuals sinners too many times to count, comparing them to alcoholics, drug addicts and unwed mothers during the press conference after Saturday’s anti-violence summit.

"We have to make a concerted effort against this kind of spiritual violence, but we have to do it non-violently," he said before attending Thomas Road Baptist Church Sunday morning.

Dr. Rodney Powell
Soulforce delgate

Rodney Powell, a Civil Rights leader who has joined White’s effort, agreed. "What we have done so far is a lovely walk in the park," he said. "With you, I sensed and shared your outrage yesterday, but don’t be discouraged. It was just the beginning."

Powell compared the summit with Falwell to the first time blacks went to the lunch counter for a hamburger and "they said no."

"There was a success yesterday," Powell said. "(Falwell) said, ‘Love your children.’

"Then he did this backsliding and we’re going to have to pull him forward again."

White said negotiations will continue with Falwell and he will be back to meet again. But Soulforce is also ready for direct action, he said.

Jimmy Creech
Methodist minister and
Soulforce delgate

The first action will be an attempt to block the trial of theRev. Jimmy Creech, a heterosexual minister with the United Methodist Church who faces loss of his orders for conducting a same-sex marriage ceremony in Nebraska.

Soulforce will be at his November trial, White said. He invited the Lynchburg 200 to join him or encourage others to come.

Creech, who attended the anti-violence summit, accused Falwell of committing spiritual violence when he compared homosexuals to alcoholics and drug addicts. His own church, he told Soulforce members Sunday afternoon, uses less hostile language, but it has the same result.

"I think this trial is about the prohibition, not Jimmy Creech," he said. "It’s about institutionalized bigotry within the United Methodist Church."

Creech, who was kicked out of the United Methodist Church in North Carolina in 1990 for his work with gay organizations, was invited to Omaha in 1996 by the United Methodist Church because of that work.

But he was later told it was OK to say what he was saying, but not to follow it up with actions, a concept he said he still cannot grasp.