Southern Voice, "Soulforce Worships With New Birth"

Soulforce worships with New Birth

Long says his anti-gay stance ‘mischaracterized’ by press
By MATT SCHAFER, Southern Voice | Jun 4, 6:46 PM

After weeks of negotiation and anticipation, the gay Christian activist group Soulforce peacefully met June 1 with Bishop Eddie Long, the leader of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, the largest church in Georgia.

Long, who returned to the U.S. that morning after a weeklong trip to Dubai, met with Soulforce members after 17 hours of travel followed by an emotional sermon.

Long made national headlines in 2004 when he led thousands of people through downtown Atlanta in a march protesting several issues, including gay marriage.

Soulforce met with Long for roughly 30 mintues after the 10:30 a.m. worship service. The meeting was closed to the press, but both New Birth and Soulforce representatives said it was a productive, civil and sometimes emotional conversation.

"From the respect of New Birth, I can tell you that they thought it was productive. They were happy to have them worship with them," New Birth Spokesperson Dan Renee said.

Soulforce member Dr. Dionne Bates, an Atlanta area psychologist, attended the meeting with her partner Dr. Kathi Martin, a pastor at the First Metropolitan Community Church in Atlanta.

"Not only was [Long] open with regards to talks about homosexuality, he was able to say that there are some things that he does not know, and some things that he has to learn," Bates said.

"One of the things that he expressed is that his name has really been bashed in the media as far as the gay and lesbian community," Bates said. "What I would like to walk out of this meeting with is that people’s consciences are changed. We don’t want to go back, but we want to go forward."

Long reportedly told Soulforce and the New Birth leaders at the meeting that several of his actions and comments have not been understood.

"It’s not just the gay community, there are a number of issues that he feels the press has mischaracterized," Renee said.

The church has repeatedly declined to schedule an interview with Southern Voice, but Renee said he would pass along a new invitation.

During the meeting, Rev. Troy Sanders, an Atlanta pastor of preach2me.com, said his estranged godmother made a public apology to Sanders and the larger gay community.

"We haven’t worshiped together in five years, and had not talked in two," Sanders said. "Our relationship was strained because of LGBT issues. When I tried to come out to her she kind of shut down and pulled away."

The meeting ended with Soulforce members offering to lead workshops at New Birth on human sexuality. Renee said the church is considering its options.

"There’s not going to be a sudden change of everything. I think you’re going to see a gradual exploration of those topics," he said.

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