Why We Must Look For a New Church Home

Randi ReitanWhile Amy Gage’s Sept. 10 Seeker’s Diary "The courage to leave — or to stay" hit home with me, it doesn’t speak to the reason a person leaves a faith community.

Sometimes it is not the lack of courage but the fear of losing the very faith you hold dear. It is the fear of becoming bitter souls no longer able to live in the precious gift of grace Christ gave to us all.

Our family has a gay son. We have struggled with the issues surrounding that issue in our church as our denomination spent the last four years studying homosexuality. It was a difficult time as the church discussed our son and all in the gay community as subjects in a research project. But we held on to the hope that through education, the day of acceptance and understanding would dawn.

This August, at the national assembly, the Lutherans voted to keep in place their discriminating policies. They tried to open the door a little by stating the bishops don’t have to discipline a congregation that calls an openly gay noncelibate pastor, but what remains is simply discrimination. It teaches society to view our son and all in the gay community as either sick and sinful based on their sexual orientation or as lesser children of God.

We can no longer be Lutherans. We honor those who feel the pain yet continue to stay and work to change this church — but for us the pain is just too great and we have grown weary in this struggle. We need to nourish our battered souls in a church that lives in Christ’s teachings.

Our family has been Lutheran for generations and it is hard to leave behind our heritage in this church.

Phil’s family has Lutheran clergy in all generations. His great-grandfather preached in Swedish many years ago in Minneapolis; both his grandfathers were pastors here for many years; his father started as a pastor at Oak Knoll Lutheran Church, and his brother’s first parish was in Minnesota after graduating from Luther Seminary

My family life centered around our small Lutheran church in northern Minnesota. My dad was a surgeon and he wanted us to experience the mission field, so he took our family to Madagascar for a summer while he did surgery at Manamboro Lutheran Hospital. My mom was one of the pillars of our congregation, as well as leading programs on the conference level. There was never a Sunday morning our family wasn’t sitting in the fifth row on the left side in our little white church.

When it was time for me to go off to college, my dad said I could pick any college as long as it was Lutheran. Phil and I met and fell in love at that Lutheran college. We wanted to start our marriage in service and we spent a year teaching on the mission field in Chieng Mai, Thailand, through a Lutheran organization.

With thankful hearts, we brought our four dear children to the baptismal font and raised them in the Lutheran Church.

To leave this church, which was at the core of our family, is one of the most painful things we have done. But we can no longer worship in a church that treats God’s beloved gay children as sick and sinful based on their sexual orientation.

We can no longer sing songs of justice on Sunday morning, knowing the injustice this church lives each and every day with its policies against God’s beloved gay community. We can no longer hear pastors preach of God’s love for all people when the church policy treats its beloved gay members as lesser children of God. We can no longer hear words of love and concern spoken to us in private but never hear them spoken from the pulpit or never see the hierarchy of the church lead with justice.

We have prayed for guidance; we have met privately with the presiding bishop, many other bishops, pastors and lay leaders; we have stood vigil at church conventions, written hundreds of letters; we have helped with educational forums and luncheons; we have flown in speakers and held benefits in our home. We have tried at every level to see change come to this church that nourished our family for generations.

We are weary of fighting a battle that never should have taken place in God’s House.

We know without a doubt our gay son is God’s beloved. He is precious in God’s House. Now we must find a church home that truly understands that most basic truth.

Randi Reitan lives in Eden Prairie.

Soulforce Postpones the Washington D.C. Action in Favor of National Week of Prayer and Vigils, Nov. 7-12, 2005

SOULFORCE MEDIA ALERT: September 23, 2005
For Immediate Release
Contact: Robyn Murphy, 314-712-7431, robyn@soulforce.org

In response to recent Vatican announcements, Soulforce will postpone the Washington DC action at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in favor of allocating resources to the National Week of Prayer, Nov. 7-12, 2005. The two Vatican announcements of the impending visits to U.S. seminaries to root out gay priests and the Vatican’s approval of a new document of "instruction," stating that men with homosexual tendencies should not be ordained as Catholic priests, continues a policy of scapegoating gays rather than dealing directly with the pedophile scandal and the abdication of responsibility within the Church. According to a Sept. 19th Catholic World News Brief "The text, which was approved by Pope Benedict at the end of August, says that homosexual men should not be admitted to seminaries even if they are celibate, because their condition suggests a serious personality disorder which detracts from their ability to serve as ministers."

"Of course we’re in the seminaries!" says Soulforce founder Rev. Dr. Mel White. "Where but in the priesthood would a gay Catholic, called by God go to serve, blessed to live in the only church-sanctioned male community? What a miscarriage of justice to believe the world will not see this witch hunt as the Vatican’s ‘shiny object’, held up to divert the world’s attention from the larger issues facing the Church. It is the Vatican’s actions that are morally disordered and anarchical to the teachings of Christ."

Since Soulforce’s founding in 1998, we have been on the front lines of the fight for recognition and rights of the LGBT community. Soulforce took international media attention this month by holding a vigil at St. Peter’s Square in memory of Alfredo Ormando, a 39-year-old Sicilian who burned himself to death in protest of the Vatican’s anti-homosexual beliefs.

Soulforce continues to bring the tragic results back to their source through civil disobedience, letter writing campaigns, meetings with local Bishops, and vigiling outside the USCCB and local chanceries.

By focusing our attention to our National Week of Prayer and Vigils we hope to use local grassroots organizing as a springboard for ongoing local responses to the "Inquisition," for that is the essence of what the Vatican is planning.

Some National Week Suggested Activities

  1. Educational forums to help people understand the issues of concern on local diocesan issues as well as national and those emanating from the Vatican.
  2. Movie nights to view and discuss films such as Romero. (We will have a list of recommended films by the end of September.)
  3. Letter writing events to their bishops and local newspapers.
  4. Training programs in nonviolence.
  5. Vigils at chanceries, seminaries, cathedrals, and/or local parishes.

We continue, as well, to encourage the withholding of tithes and offerings until the Church ends its holy war against LGBT people. Please stay tuned over the next months as we develop new plans to address the actions of the Catholic Church.

Your prayers and participation are critical. For questions on the Soulforce National Week of Prayer and Vigils contact kara@soulforce.org

Soulforce’s Equality Ride to go to the Naval Academy

SOULFORCE MEDIA ALERT: September 21, 2005
Press Advisory: Equality Ride to go to the Naval Academy
Contact: Jacob Reitan, Equality Ride, Director
Soulforce, PO Box 3195, Lynchburg, VA 24503
Office: 434-384-7696 Cell: 952-212-8311, jake@equalityride.com www.equalityride.com/navy

Annapolis, MD – On October 21, concerned citizens from around the Washington, D.C. area will arrive by bus at the United States Naval Academy to take a stand against the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, banning the enlistment of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender midshipmen.

The direct action at the Naval Academy is part of Soulforce’s "Equality Ride," a nationwide bus tour to institutions of higher learning that discriminate against GLBT people. "The Naval Academy has over 4,500 midshipmen in training, none of which are allowed to come out as GLBT people," said Jacob Reitan, Director of the Equality Ride. "This is government funded and sanctioned discrimination and it must end."

The Equality Ride to the Naval Academy will provide an opportunity for those concerned about the military’s "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" policy to dialogue with those who live under it. "We are hoping that people from all around the DC area will take the day off of work or classes to stand with us as we fight for justice," said the Rev. Dr. Mel White, Executive Director of Soulforce.

"Soulforce and the Equality Ride hope that military commanders, midshipmen at the Academy and other leaders in our armed forces will join us in speaking out against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," Rev. White added. "The words of those inside the armed forces, and those who have previously served, have a great impact on decision-makers in our military and government. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is an insulting policy that is contrary to our national interests. We believe our men and women in uniform are ready and able to serve alongside openly gay Americans. We also anticipate we’ll learn as much during our visit to the Academy."

Amongst those taking a stand at the Naval Academy on October 21, will be the Rev. Tommie Watkins. In 1997, Rev. Watkins was a midshipmen at the Naval Academy who excelled in his course work and served as the President of his class. But after his commanding officers found out he was gay, Rev. Watkins was made to leave the academy, swiftly bringing an end to his military career. As Rev. Watkins states, "We should not be made to choose between our jobs and who we love."

But to add insult to injury, the federal government’s campaign against Rev. Watkins did not end after his discharge. Instead, they engaged Rev. Watkins in a three year legal battle for the money that had been invested in his education.

Rev. Watkins eventually succeeded in his legal battle but the experience was difficult. "The federal government’s three year legal battle sought to undermine who I am as a black gay clergyman," Rev. Watkins stated in reflecting on the event.

Rev. Watkins story makes clear the purpose of the Equality Ride to the Naval Academy. "As long as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is in place the sort of discrimination Rev. Watkins faced, could happen again at any moment to any other closeted midshipmen," Jacob Reitan stated. "That is why as a GLBT community, and as an American people, we must dedicate ourselves to ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and return the Naval Academy to the core values of ‘Honor, Courage and Commitment’ which they boldly declare in their school motto."

Important information on the event:

– Register for the event today. Training for the action to take place from 7 – 9 p.m. on Thursday Oct. 20 at the Human Rights Campaign building located at 1640 Rhode Island Avenue NW
– Buses for the Naval Academy will leave from the HRC building at 9:30 a.m
– For more information or to register for the event please go to www.equalityride.com/navy

Soulforce Asks You to Remember Our LGBTQ Families in Katrina Relief Efforts

Please give as you are able to help those in need.

Our hearts go out to all those who have suffered unimaginable loss due to the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Though we are all connected and part of the same human family, the reality is that our LGBTQ brothers and sisters can have unique legal and personal battles to face in such a monumental tragedy. We ask that you lift them up in prayer as they begin the difficult restoration process.

While most churches and religious figures have responded with genuine compassion, some fundamentalist groups just can’t help but use this national tragedy as a means to bash those with whom they disagree. Extremist groups have already issued warnings, claiming that God flooded the region because of pro-choice advocates and homosexuals.

Soulforce remains committed to confronting such outrageous claims and the toxic religious teachings that lead to so much unnecessary suffering. But for now, our primary focus must be on working together as a global community to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The staff and Board of Directors at Soulforce encourage you to donate generously to the emergency relief organization of your choice. If you are looking for a way to donate, please consider the National Youth Advocacy Coalition. Several organizations around the country have partnered together to support the Hurricane Katrina Emergency Relief Fund, which will provide emergency help to LGBTQ youth and families. You can donate and learn more about this fund by visiting www.nyacyouth.org.

Blessings from all of us at Soulforce.

365Gay.com Article: "Vatican Protest Remembers Gay Who Set Himself On Fire"

365Gay.com, 09/04/2005

(Vatican City) A small group of Americans held a silent vigil yesterday to remember Alfredo Ormando, a gay Catholic academic who set himself on fire in St. Peter’s Square in 1998.

The Americans, from the LGBT religious group Soulforce, were led by Rev. Mel White. They called on Pope Benedict to apologize for the treatment of gays by the Catholic Church.

A number of pilgrims to the Vatican stopped to ask the group about Ormando, but no officials approached the group.

On Jan. 13, 1998, Ormando entered the square, knelt, and set himself on fire. He died of his injuries 10 days later.

In his suicide note, Ormando wrote at length of how he felt rejected by the church and the pain it had caused him. To many gay Catholics he has become a symbol of what they see as the intolerance of Italian society and the Roman Catholic church.

Prior to his suicide Ormando wrote in a letter: "I ask forgiveness for coming into this world, for having poisoned the air I breathed, which now poisons you with my breath, for having dared to think that I could behave like a free man, for not having accepted a difference in me that I could not feel, for having considered homosexuality as natural, for having felt equal to heterosexuals and second to no one, for having striven to become a writer, for having dreamed, for having laughed."

Soulforce, a nondenominational group, regularly demonstrates at the US Bishops’ Conference and at gatherings of other denominations that are homophobic.

New regulations for the priesthood that would ban gays from seminaries were prepared by the Congregation for Catholic Education and Seminaries – the body that oversees all Catholic seminaries. The document has been given to Pope Benedict but he has yet to implement it.

Next month the Benedict will send investigators to the US to gauge the scale of the child abuse scandal that has rocked the American church and to determine how many gay priests are in the priesthood.

Since his election to the papacy in April, Benedict has reaffirmed the Church’s anti-gay stand. In June, he issued a stinging condemnation of gay and lesbian families.

Repeatedly driving home his point that marriage can only be a union between man and woman, the Pope called same-sex unions "pseudo-matrimony."

Before becoming Pope, Benedict had long history of attacking same-sex unions. As Cardinal Ratzinger he was the Vatican’s most outspoken opponent of gay marriage.

Ratzinger was the author of the a 2003 Vatican directive to priests around the world calling for a proactive stand to stop governments from legalizing same-sex marriage and for a repeal of those those already on the books that give rights, including adoption, to gay couples.

The 12 page document called on Catholic bishops and lawmakers to oppose the legalization of same-sex unions.

He opposes contraception and the use of condoms to combat HIV/AIDS, advocates a diminished role for women in the Church and has called for mandatory celibacy for priests.

In 1999 he ordered two Americans, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent, to end their associated with New Ways Ministry which provides educational programs for gay and lesbian Catholics nationwide.

Prior to the Pope’s visit to Cologne, as part of World Youth Day earlier this month, European gay groups tried to arrange a meeting with Benedict in an effort to resolve their differences. The Vatican never acknowledged the invitation.

365Gay.com 2005


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Associated Press Article: "Gay Activists Remember Vatican Protestor"

Associated Press, 09/03/2005

Vatican City (AP) – A small group of U.S. gay rights advocates gathered in St. Peter’s Square late last week in memory of an Italian man who burned himself to death to protest the church’s treatment of gays. Alfredo Ormando, a 40-year-old from Palermo, Sicily, set himself on fire in St. Peter’s on Jan. 13, 1998. He died of his injuries 10 days later. In his suicide note, Ormando wrote at length of how he felt rejected by the church and the pain it had caused him. To many, he has become a symbol of what they see as the intolerance of Italian society and the Roman Catholic Church. "We must continue to remind the world that the Roman Catholic Church is so anti-gay," Mel White, founder of U.S. gay rights group Soulforce, said during the tribute in St. Peter’s. "We say: Don’t give one more dollar to the church until their policies are changed," added White, who said his group comes to Rome every year to remember Ormando.

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Soulforce Holds Memorial Vigil at the Vatican

Soulforce volunteers begin to gather for protest in St. Peter's SquareWhen Rev. Dr. Mel White and a small cadre of Soulforce volunteers boarded the cruise ship Brilliance of the Seas, it was for activism first and pleasure second. Where better to recruit potential activists than from the captive audience of two thousand gay male passengers?

Together the small Soulforce team created invitations to an act of nonviolent resistance, planned for when the ship would arrive in Italy. They hung an invitation on every cabin door in the huge ship and were delightfully surprised when more than thirty men stood vigil, with dozens of others in the crowd still too timid to join in.

When the group arrived in Rome, Sept. 2, 2005, they laid flowers and prayer cards near the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square, in memory of Alfredo Ormando, a 39-year-old Sicilian who burned himself to death to protest the anti-homosexual policies of the Roman Catholic Church" The group chanted, "We will not forget Ormando!"

It is reported that on January 13, 1998, Ormando slipped into St. Peter’s Square in Rome, removed a can of gasoline, doused himself, and lit himself on fire. He began walking in the direction of St. Peter’s Basilica "like a giant torch," as one witness put it. Two police officers intercepted Ormando as he reached the steps. They wrestled him to the ground and extinguished the flames, which by then had covered nine-tenths of his body with burns. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he lingered for 10 days before dying.

Media reported "Gay rights activists argued that Ormando’s choice of St. Peter’s Square was not an accident — he was, they asserted, bringing his problems back to their source. For some gay Christians, Ormando has become a martyr."

Soulforce volunteers held signs in English and in Italian beneath the window of Bendedict XVI, asking him to recognize Alfredo’s death and to end this holy war that the Vatican is waging against lesbians and gays around the world. The signs concluded with these words: WE MUST NOT FORGET ALFREDO. Tourists and pilgrims approached the vigil to ask questions. Some joined in the protest. A lesbian from Rome brought red carnations to honor Alfredo’s death.

After a press conference Soulforce placed the flowers where Alfredo died and bowed heads in silent prayer. At that moment, six Italian policemen arrived and with only a glance at our signs asked us to leave St Peters Square immediately or be arrested. We gathered up our flowers, our signs, and our memorial cards signed by friends in America and Italy and moved them just outside the Square where protests are legal.

The Associated Press, the National Catholic Reporter and other Italian and American journalists appeared to cover the story. And though all 2,000 men did not join SF in protest, they all had a chance to read about Alfredo’s death and about Soulforce and the commitment to do justice nonviolently.

Throughout the cruise volunteers were approached by people asking about Soulforce. Mel White concluded, "The experiment was a success in many ways especially since we know for certain that once again our lives and the lives of those who stood with us were changed forever".

More About the 2005 Vigil in Rome:

Photos from Friday, September 2

Associated Press Article: Gay Rights Advocates Gather in St. Peter’s to Protest Vatican Policies Against Homosexuals

365Gay.com Article: Vatican Protest Remembers Gay Who Set Himself On Fire

National Catholic Reporter Article: Soulforce in Rome

National Catholic Reporter Article: "Soulforce in Rome"

John Allen, Jr., Vatican Correspondent
National Catholic Reporter, 09/02/2005

Just before 8 a.m. on Jan. 13, 1998, a 39-year-old Sicilian named Alfredo Ormando slipped into St. Peter’s Square in Rome. Ormando removed a can of gasoline, doused himself, and lit himself on fire. He began walking in the direction of St. Peter’s Basilica "like a giant torch," as one witness put it. Two police officers intercepted Ormando as he reached the steps. They wrestled him to the ground and extinguished the flames, which by then had covered nine-tenths of his body with burns. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he lingered for 10 days before dying.

Ormando, it emerged, was gay. He had been born into a poor village in central Sicily. Depressed by his family’s refusal to accept him, Ormando moved to Palermo where he aspired to be a writer — "an intellectual in a family of laborers," as his landlord recalled. He had little success, with only one book issued by a small local publisher.

Gay rights activists argued that Ormando’s choice of St. Peter’s Square was not an accident — he was, they asserted, bringing his problems back to their source. For some gay Christians, Ormando has become a martyr.

On Sept. 2, roughly a dozen American pro-gay Christians, part of a group called "Soulforce," laid flowers and prayer cards near the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square in memory of Ormando, on the spot where they say he "burned himself to death to protest the anti-homosexual policies of the Roman Catholic church."

The group chanted, "We will not forget Armando!" Philip and Randi Reitan of Eden Prairie, Minn., said they had symbolically "adopted" Ormando as their own son, since his natural family had rejected him. "We know so many young gay men like him, so hurt by the teachings of the church," Randi Reitan said. "When the church teaches people not to accept and to love their own children, it destroys a mother’s heart."

"If Alfredo had his family, society and church standing by him, this would not have happened," Philip Reitan said. The Reitans, who are Lutherans, said they were motivated to become involved in pro-gay activism because their own son, Jacob, 23, is gay.

Mel White, an MCC minister who heads Soulforce, said the group had arrived in Rome on board a gay cruise ship. They had tried to recruit participants in the cruise to attend the protest, he said, but few turned out. The event took less than 10 minutes, and was not interrupted by Vatican security officials. It was not Soulforce’s first stab at Vatican protest.

In January 2001, a small Soulforce group had threatened to force police to arrest them in St. Peter’s Square if a Vatican official did not meet with them to initiate a dialogue about church teaching on homosexuality. After two-and-a-half hours, however, they left voluntarily.

Since it was the Christmas season, they had wanted to process to the giant nativity set in the middle of the square in order to leave photos of themselves, as gifts, at the feet of the Christ child, but police politely turned them away. Before disbanding, the group applauded the police for their courtesy, and then extended their arms towards the papal apartments to bless Pope John Paul II.


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