By Shannon Brennan
Lynchburg News and Advance
Monday, October 13, 2003
Under a brick arch across the street from Thomas Road Baptist Church, more than 30 couples and families received religious blessings Sunday morning.
While a handful of protesters stood across the street, gay and lesbian couples and their families were told God loves them despite the prejudice, resistance and denial they have faced.
For some, like Erin and Jennifer Adriel of Michigan, it was another affirmation of their love. The women have been together for 20 years, and were legally married in Canada in August.
"It makes a statement that we are families, too," Erin Adriel said of the blessing.
For others, like a gay couple from New York who declined to give their names because of local connections, it was the first time their union had elicited such loving words.
"Nobody has spoken those words to us," said one man, who fought back tears both during and after the ceremony. "The only words I hear are hate – from parents, siblings."
The men gave Jimmy Creech, a United Methodist minister defrocked for holding same-sex unions, a big hug.
"He gave us a word of blessing on a union we know in our hearts God has blessed," the man said of his partnership of six years.
Pam DeFusco, a licensed minister in the United Church of Christ in Union, Ky., performed the brief ceremony. In her church, same-sex unions are allowed, and she officiated over her first one a week ago.
"I think it’s hard for couples to come to the church in general because they have been hurt and don’t trust us," DeFusco said.
Several of the 150 members of Soulforce who lined the street opposite Thomas Road Baptist Church on Sunday morning said the same thing. The group has been coming to the city for four years to try to change hearts and minds at Thomas Road about their anti-gay rhetoric.
The Rev. Mel White, who founded Soulforce, lives in Lynchburg.
One woman walking down the street, however, said, "Tell them to go away. What’s the point? We’re not going to listen to them."
For Jake Reitan of Eden Prairie, Minn., the point is there are members of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s church who will hear the message, who are themselves struggling with their sexual orientation.
"We’re here today to help send out the message that homosexuality is one of God’s great creations," he said.
A student at Northwestern University in Chicago, Reitan was joined by his parents, Randi and Phil Reitan, who received a blessing as a family.
"We’re here because Jake is gay and it’s so important to us to see the churches change … and welcome all God’s children," his mother said. "We’ve seen the hurt and we’ve seen the pain, and we want to see it end."
Jake Reitan passed out letters to members of Falwell’s church that said, in part, "We are here to proclaim that our families are legitimate, that our relationships are true and loving, and that we know we are welcomed into the family of God without reservation."
But David and Jeanette Lytle also passed out literature Sunday morning, with the conviction that God hates homosexuals.
"We’re trying to save the souls of these people," said David Lytle, a Lynchburg man known for his anti-abortion activism. "We’re here to try to open their eyes to the truth."
Andrew Sansone of Amherst was by their side with a Ten Commandments sign. When asked which of the Ten Commandments homosexuality breaks, Sansone said all of them, to some extent.
"They’ve kind of made an idol into their sexual behavior," he said. "… We’re hoping to change hearts. I’ll be here every year."
There were also local supporters of Soulforce at the vigil. Molly McClenon was one of them. She said gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people should have the same civil rights as everyone else.
"I am here witnessing in front of a group of people who want to limit those civil rights," she said.
Douglas Hughes of Minneapolis stood beside her. Hughes said he is the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of John Adams, whose wife convinced him that doing justice is a requirement of Christianity.
"I’m outraged that anyone who would call themselves a Christian, would want other Christians in the chains that Christ came to set us free from," he said.
And while it’s hard to do, Hughes said he came to stand in front of Falwell’s church for one reason.
"You must first identify your enemies before you can truly love them," he said.
Contact Shannon Brennan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (434) 385-5561.