50 Soulforce Protesters Arrested at ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Indianapolis

Restrictions against Gay and Lesbian People Called to Ministry Left in Place during 4 Year Study Period

Soulforce Press Release
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell: 717-951-7712 soulforcemedia@aol.com

Indianapolis, IN – Fifty people were arrested yesterday during a civil disobedience outside the Indianapolis Convention Center at the Evangelical Church in America Churchwide Assembly. The protesters were disheartened because a ban requiring gay clergy to vow celibacy in the ELCA will remain in place while the church studies the issue for four more years.

Indiana ActionThose arrested were supporters of Soulforce, an interfaith movement committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Soulforce was working in cooperation with the Lutheran Alliance for Full Participation, which includes The Network for Inclusive Vision, Wingspan, Extraordinary Candidacy Project, Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries, and Lutherans Concerned/North America.

"I am greatly saddened that our church has voted not to end the suffering caused by this tragic policy of discrimination and is delaying full participation of gays and lesbians," said The Rev. Jeff Johnson, who was among the first openly gay Lutheran pastors to be "irregularly" ordained in violation of the official policy of discrimination. "As a gay man, I am tired of being studied. It is time for our church to take action to end this spiritual violence against God’s children."

ELCA policy demands that gay/lesbian individuals vow celibacy in order to be eligible for ordained ministry. Those who refuse to lie about their significant relationships or who renounce a vow of celibacy are excluded from official consideration for ministry within the ELCA. Currently, 27 clergy/candidates have refused to pledge celibacy.

After it became obvious that the church was not going to change this policy, 150 people who were vigiling outside the convention center proceeded to a nearby park and held a press conference. After the press conference, protesters got on their knees on a sidewalk in front of the convention center. Police ordered protesters to stop blocking the sidewalk on which they were kneeling for prayer. After 3 warnings, a large group of protesters remained. Arrestees were charged with failing to obey a police order (to disperse), fined $100 then released.

Those arrested included Rev. Johnson; Bishop Emeritus Paul W. Egertson, who resigned from the office of Bishop last month a consequence of participation in the irregular ordination a lesbian pastor in a committed relationship; Rev. Jimmy Creech, a former United Methodist minister who was defrocked for performing a holy union for two men; Jacob Reitan, a 19-year old openly gay Lutheran youth, and his parents Randi and Phil from Eden Prarie Minnesota; Robert and Jeannie Graetz, a couple who stood with Martin Luther King during the Montgomery Bus Boycotts; and Rev. Mel White, co-founder and Executive Director of Soulforce.

"We had hoped that our presence at the Churchwide Assembly would end up being a celebration that justice has been done at last," said Rev. Mel White. "Instead, our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are being denied the opportunity to serve the church in the capacity they have been called. We pray that their continued study will prove to the leaders of the ELCA what we already know, that God loves gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people just the way they are and they are ready for ministry now!"