Chicago Free Press Article: "Soulforce Protests Episcopalians"

July 5, 2000

Chicago Free Press (glbt)
By Louis Weisberg, Staff writer

The Episcopal Church (USA) became the latest Christian denomination to hold a public wrestling match with homosexuality when representatives of the church gathered in Denver July 5 for a 10-day convention.

The 2.4-million-member ECUSA has an unofficial policy of allowing each diocese to decide independently whether to ordain lesbians and gays and whether to bless gay relationships. GLBT rights advocates want the church to endorse both same-sex unions and the ordination of open gays and lesbians, but opponents want those positions banned as inconsistent with biblical teachings.

The ECUSA General Convention was expected to address proposals on both issues before it closed. But even before it got underway, protesters with Soulforce, an ecumenical organization devoted to ending religious discrimination against GLBT people of faith, staged acts of non-violent civil disobedience July 4 on the steps of the Colorado Convention Center.

Police arrested 73 demonstrators wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, "stop spiritual violence." Among those arrested was the Rev. Jimmy Creech, a United Methodist minister who was defrocked in November for blessing a same-sex union. "Open your arms; open your doors; open your hearts," Creech said as he addressed a crowd of more than 100 protesters before he was taken into custody. "Stop the debate. Be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

"Although the (Episcopal) Church presents itself as ‘liberal’ and far ahead of other denominations, if justice and how it is applied toward LGBT members is used as a measure, ECUSA fares no better than other denominations," said Kate Bishop, Soulforce’s co-chair in Denver.

"For 30 years (the Episopalians) have been discussing this," said Soulforce co-founder the Rev. Mel White. "We’re asking them to resolve it."

Inside the convention, members of Integrity, an Episcopal GLBT organization, told the Episcopal News Service that while they respected Soulforce’s position, they believed their church was well on its way toward the full inclusion of gays and lesbians.

The Rev. Michael Hopkins, president of Integrity, told ENS, "We were in conversation with (Soulforce), so we knew that (the demonstration) was happening. We’re happy for them to be here. Our focus remains on the inside of the convention, and their ministry is to speak on the outside of the church and we’re happy for that."

Soulforce protesters were also arrested earlier this year in connection with demonstrations against the United Methodists, Presbyterians and Southern Baptists. The group plans to disrupt the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. in November.

Three days after the Soulforce demonstration, legendary folk singer Judy Collins announced that she was canceling a scheduled concert at the general convention to protest the church’s discriminatory policies against GLBT people. In a July 7 news release, Collins said she was "shocked" to learn that "the Episcopal Church, of which I’m a member and in which I was married, does not have an official national church policy allowing minister to officiate at same-sex unions or ordain openly gay people."

The same day Collins canceled her performance, the convention’s committee on church and human sexuality discussed a proposed resolution calling on the church to develop rites for couples who live in monogamous, committed relationships but do not get married. Committee members said the proposal would create rites for committed couple[s] while stressing the importance of monogamy. They hoped it would provide a middle ground for liberals and conservatives within the church.

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