May 23, 2002
Dr. James Merritt, President, Southern Baptist Convention
First Baptist Snellville
PO Box 647
Snellville, GA 30078
Dear Rev. Merritt,
For the past three years Soulforce leaders have written and faxed you relentlessly, urging you to meet with us to discuss the tragic consequences of the anti-homosexual words and actions by members of the Southern Baptist Convention. And for the past three years you have refused.
If you doubt the sincerity of our request, consider what it has cost hundreds of us in time, money and inconvenience to be present at your SBC Annual Meetings in Orlando (2000), in New Orleans (2001), and again this coming June 10-11 in St. Louis (2002). In Orlando, alone, we spent thirty-six hours in a miserable jail and almost $50,000 in bail monies hoping that our sacrifice would move you to meet with us.
You may be hoping that in time, we will simply give up and go away. It will not happen. Quite to the contrary, the tragic true stories we are gathering continue to convince us that Southern Baptist teachings about sexual and gender minorities lead to intolerance, suffering, and even death for God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children. By refusing to consider the latest psychological, historical, scientific, pastoral, and even biblical evidence, you cause great pain to the people you are called to serve and you break the heart of God who has called you to that service.
For three years you have refused to consider the written evidence. This year, we’re bringing the evidence to you live and in person. On Monday, June 10, from 9AM – 5PM, at the Centenary United Methodist Church in St. Louis, at least twenty-five Southern Baptists and former Southern Baptists (clergy and laity alike) will share the stories of their own personnel suffering that resulted from anti-homosexual SBC teachings and actions. We are asking you and at least five members of your Executive Committee to attend an hour or more of these hearings. Those stories will be taped and distributed to the nation.
And though you disagree with us about homosexuality and homosexuals, in St. Louis we are also giving you an opportunity to take a stand against false and inflammatory anti-homosexual rhetoric by a Southern Baptist that is unquestionable dangerous, misleading and truly un-American. On Tuesday, June 11, at 10:45AM, just prior to your 11AM keynote to the Annual Meeting, we are holding a press conference at the entrance to the America’s Center to repudiate these words of your fellow Southern Baptist, Judge Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. "The state must use…confinement and even execution to prevent the subversion of children towards this criminal [homosexual] lifestyle." We are asking you to repudiate that ignorant and hateful statement with us.
Martin Luther King, Jr., makes it clear that when an adversary refuses to discuss one’s grievances (let alone negotiate a settlement) it’s time for serious (but nonviolent) direct action. Our "direct actions" in Orlando and New Orleans were serious but rather symbolic. The vigils, protests and arrests were carefully coordinated with local police and convention officials. Because you have refused to hear our concerns about the tragic consequences of the SBC’s anti-homosexual words and actions, we must escalate our protest in St. Louis.
If you refuse to attend the Monday hearings and if you refuse to join us in repudiating Judge Moore’s inflammatory rhetoric at our Tuesday press conference, our entire delegation will kneel to pray on the sidewalk at the entrances of the America’s Center; while a small Soulforce delegation (made up primarily of volunteers with Southern Baptist roots) will carry our case against anti-homosexual SBC teachings to the podium hoping that you will stand aside just briefly to allow us to express our concerns directly to the Messengers in a brief public address.
We are sending copies of this letter to our police liaison in St. Louis and to America’s Center officials and will notify them of your decision immediately upon receiving word from you. We hope that you and members of your Executive Committee will attend the hearings on Monday and stand with us on Tuesday to repudiate Judge Moore’s terrible threat of imprisonment and death to homosexuals. If not, we have no choice but to carry our concerns directly to your Messengers inside the Center who have been denied access to critical information that affects their lives and the lives of those they love simply because you have refused to meet with us.
Mel White, Executive Director, Soulforce, Inc.