Soulforce Infiltrates Southern Baptist Convention

12 Soulforce Supporters Take Pro-Gay Message Inside the Convention Center

June 11, 2002

Soulforce Press Release
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell: 717-278-0592

(St. Louis) Twelve nonviolent protesters were arrested today when they took their message opposing Southern Baptist teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people to the floor of the SBC’s annual meeting at the America’s Center in St. Louis. An additional 38 people were arrested outside the America’s Center trying to enter the Convention.

The nonviolent protests were organized by Soulforce, an interfaith movement committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

The action followed three years of efforts by Soulforce to discuss Southern Baptist policies and teachings which protestors believe lead to spiritual and physical violence against GLBT people.

"For three years we have tried to get James Merritt to hear our stories, to consider the evidence that shows that homosexuality is not a sickness and not a sin," said Rev. Jimmy Creech, Chairperson of the Board of Soulforce, Inc, and one of the 12 arrested inside the convention center. "Because of the suffering caused by their teachings, we were compelled to carry our message into the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting."

Soulforce was present at the SBC’s annual meetings in Orlando in 2000 and New Orleans in 2001 to protest their antigay policies and teachings. Soulforce participants were arrested at both those meetings as well. However, this marks the first time that Soulforce has participated in a direct action that took their message inside a meeting.

The twelve who were arrested inside the convention were booked on a felony charge of "Ethnic Intimidation" and a misdemeanor trespassing charge. The felony charge was dropped, and arrestees were allowed to go on their own recognizance. Those arrested on the outside were charged with 2 city ordinance violations, and released after a few hours. Bond was set at $200, and court cost will be added.

200 Soulforce participants had lined the entrances to the America’s Center and watched and cheered while the arrests were being made outside the convention. Many carried signs that said, "Stop Spiritual Violence", and a banner that said, "Southern Baptist Teachings are Killing God’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Children" was prominently displayed for all those who were watching.

Soulforce co-founder and director Rev. Mel White sent Merritt a letter dated May 23 asking him to join Soulforce in a press conference to denounce the anti-gay rhetoric of Southern Baptist Chief Justice Roy Moore. The letter stated that Soulforce supporters would try to take the message that "Southern Baptist teachings are killing God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children" inside the convention center if Merritt would not denounce Moore’s rhetoric.