A Soulforce Open Letter to Members of the United Methodist Church

On April 30, 2008, delegates to your General Conference meeting in Ft. Worth, Texas, voted to keep these words in their Book of Discipline: "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching." Since 1972 United Methodists have used these words to deny lesbian and gay Methodists the rights of ordination and of marriage. As I write clergy can even use these words to deny lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christian the rights of membership in a local church.

For 36 years lesbian and gay United Methodists and their allies have worked tirelessly to replace these words with words of affirmation and acceptance. Once again a UMC General Conference has decided to keep those words in place even though they lead to intolerance, discrimination, suffering and even death. In his book "Why We Can’t Wait," Martin Luther King, Jr. describes the 1963 struggle for civil rights that climaxed with legislation that ended segregation in the United States. Dr. King’s book might have been titled, "Why We Didn’t Wait," for he describes the "disappointments" that drove African-Americans into the streets – "disappointments" that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans know all too well.

We lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans are also disappointed in the Congress and the courts; disappointed in both political parties and their leadership; disappointed in the lack of change in the United States when European nations are granting their gay and lesbian citizens the full rights of citizenship; but especially we are disappointed in our churches for ignoring the empirical and biblical data that homosexuality is not a sickness to be cured nor a sin to be forgiven.

We, too, are tired of slow change and token changes, tired of defending ourselves against the claims of moral inferiority, tired of being victims of public laws and private humiliations, tired of intolerance and inequality, tired of suffering and dying just because we are different. The historic civil rights legislation of 1964 came just eight years after Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott. It’s been almost 40 years since the Stonewall protest in New York City and 36 years since the United Methodists decided that they "…do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."

With all the changes we can celebrate, the real problem remains the same: the antigay religious teachings and actions that support intolerance and discrimination are still powerfully in place in the United Methodist Church and in most other Protestant and Catholic Churches. These antigay, religion-based teachings and actions have become the primary source of misinformation against sexual and gender minorities.

Most antigay initiatives and antigay court decisions (local, statewide and national) flow out of those same religious teachings. They give license for gay bashers to harass and harm us and motive for God’s gay children to kill ourselves. Instead of changing minds and hearts, the 36 year war of words by leaders of the United Methodist Church has seen those antigay religious teachings harden into place. When will we realize that the antigay teachings cannot be "studied" or "debated" away? It will take another civil rights revolution to end them.

In "Why We Can’t Wait" Dr. King makes it clear: "The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people." It is not the Institute for Religion and Democracy who have kept these tragic words in place. We can’t condemn the Confessing Movement for this current dilemma. It is the silence of the good people of the United Methodist Church that is to blame.

But there is a way to end that silence without anger, hatred or violence. Guided by Gandhi’s soul force principles, the principles of relentless nonviolent resistance, Dr. King led the people of Birmingham on a journey into justice that "stirred the conscience of the nation." We don’t have to wait for a consensus at the next general conference. We can stand for justice now in ways that will empower us and change minds and hearts in the process.

We call on the United Methodist Bishops who know the tragic consequences of those words to refuse to enforce them or to resign in protest. Gandhi said "It is as much our obligation not to cooperate with evil as it is to cooperate with good." Every day a Bishop remains a Bishop he or she gives tacit support to the teachings that are killing us.

We call on the United Methodist clergy who know the tragic consequences of those words to take their stand against them. Welcome us. Marry us. Ordain us. Confront and condemn your fellow clergy who dare to use those words to deny membership to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians. We ask you to take steps immediately to join the Reconciling Ministries Network and to make it known to your community that you are an Open and Affirming Congregation.

We call on members of the United Methodist Church to support your local congregation if it is (or is rapidly becoming) a Reconciling Congregation. But we call upon you to leave your church if your pastor continues to enforce the words that "…do not condone." At least refuse to pay your tithes and offerings until your church opens their doors to all people as Christ commands.

We call on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender United Methodists, their families and friends, to refuse to finance your own oppression by giving your tithes and offerings to a church that refuses to see you as fully human. How can we continue to support a local congregation where the pastor insists that our relationships are impure or unholy and thus refuses to marry us or insists that we are not really called by God to serve the church and thus refuses to ordain us? How can we even think of staying in a congregation that denies membership to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons? And as you leave, take down that sign or banner that reads "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors." Store it until the United Methodist Church earns the right to use it once again.

Whatever you do to take your stand against those words in the UMC Book of Discipline, do something. We cannot wait for the next General Conference. While those words remain in place lives are being ruined, talents are being wasted, families are being divided and whole generations are being lost to the United Methodist Church. Even worse, how many people have given up their faith in Christ because His church has become a primary source of intolerance and discrimination? Don’t wait for a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King, Jr. to lead us out of this wilderness. Whatever you decide to do, your simple act of conscience will make a difference.

One Sunday an African-American pastor was proclaiming those tragic words from the pulpit. "We do not condone…" "…Incompatible with Christian teaching…" "Sick and sinful…" Having heard enough, the gay organist stood up and said loudly, "There will be no more music today." With that he gathered up his music and walked out of the church. After a moment of breathtaking silence, one by one the choir followed. Just seven words and a brief walk down the aisle and a choir was empowered to do justice and a congregation was changed forever.

Rev. Dr. Mel White
President of the Board

Jeff Lutes
Executive Director

Paige Schilt
Media Director
(512) 659-1771
paige@soulforce.org

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Gil Caldwell: Of Rights and Rites

The Soulforce 10th Anniversary Reunion and Direct Action at the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church

Of Rights and Rites

By Gilbert H. Caldwell
Special to the Star-Telegram

Eight years ago, at the age of 66, I was arrested at the United Methodist General Conference in Cleveland. I was arrested twice: first as part of a demonstration outside the meeting place, and later with my fellow United Methodist clergy and lay persons who disrupted the legislative session inside.

This was by no means my first demonstration at General Conference. But in the past, issues of racial justice motivated my protest.

At the 2000 conference, I joined many others in seeking justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Standing up for LGBT rights did not always come easily to me.

As a young "foot soldier" in the civil rights movement, I was inspired by the writing and activism of Malcolm Boyd, a white Episcopal priest who wrote Are You Running With Me, Jesus? One day I read that Boyd had come out as a gay man.

As I digested the news, I discovered some unsettling emotions. Although I was deeply committed to civil and religious rights for black people, I realized that I had reservations about those rights being granted to gay people. I wondered, "Do I deny the impact his life had upon me, burn his books, turn from being an advocate to an adversary?"

After a day of reflection and prayer, my faith, reason, and common sense came alive! I could not and would not deny his influence. Just as so many white people became allies of the civil rights movement for racial justice, I determined that I would be a black, straight advocate of civil and religious equality for LGBT people.

These issues came to the forefront at the 1972 General Conference, when new legislation affirmed that "homosexuals no less than heterosexuals are persons of sacred worth." When this proposal reached the floor, a last-minute amendment added the words, "… though we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."

In the decades that have followed, the "incompatibility amendment" has become the basis for undermining the very equality that was affirmed in 1972, and lesbian and gay people have gradually been excluded from the life of the church: first from ordained ministry (1976), then from marriage (1996), and finally from membership (2006).

Since my first ordination as a deacon in the Methodist church in 1956, I have seen us move from racial segregation to racial integration, and from excluding women from the clergy to ordaining them. In each of these instances of progress, the state preceded the United Methodist Church in extending equal rights.

Today, slowly but surely, civil rights for lesbians and gays are becoming a reality. Civil unions are legal in many states, and marriage equality is the law in Massachusetts.

Whole denominations now affirm the equality of gay and transgender people. The United Church of Christ declared full equality five years ago and recently announced growth in both membership and giving for the whole denomination.

Equality is possible — in churches and society. But to get there, we must quell our fears that the church or society will collapse if we treat others fairly. To get there, we must die to old ideas.

In 2000, I nearly died from a brain tumor. I survived with a nerve-damaged leg, a cane and a drive to use my time well. Since then, my ministry has centered on writing and speaking about the connections between different forms of discrimination. Simply put, my message is about justice.

Some ask if I will get arrested at this General Conference. I don’t know, but I do know that I will act in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. who said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Now more fervently than ever, I pray that this General Conference will lead the way in doing justice for those it has so long denied.

The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell is a retired United Methodist minister and an active member of Soulforce, a national LGBT social justice organization. He is a former chairman of Black Methodists for Church Renewal and a co-founder of United Methodists of Color.

This op-ed originally appeared in the April 30, 2008 edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, www.star-telegram.com/245/story/613555.html.

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Black Clergy Allies to Show Support for LGBT Methodists

As UMC Commemorates the End of Segregation, Panel Reflects on Racism and Heterosexism in the Church

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SOULFORCE MEDIA ADVISORY: April 23, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
******************************************

On Sunday, April 27, delegates to the United Methodist General Conference will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the end of official segregation in the church. Created in 1939, Central Jurisdiction was a race-based, non-geographical unit that formalized the exclusion of African Americans from white Methodist congregations and the exclusion of African American leaders from the governance of the denomination. It was abolished in 1968 — 14 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separate is inherently unequal.

In 2005, the supreme court of the United Methodist Church granted local pastors sole authority to deny church membership to lesbian and gay applicants, effectively authorizing a new form of segregation. Prior to that decision, existing church policies already excluded gays and lesbians from the full life of the church by forbidding the celebration of same-sex unions and barring gays and lesbians from sharing their gifts as ordained ministers.

On Sunday afternoon, shortly after the UMC’s official recognition of the end of Central Jurisdiction, four esteemed United Methodist clergy will share their reflections on the connection between racism and heterosexism in the church and add their voices to the calls for the United Methodist Church to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender United Methodists in marriage, membership, and ministry.

 
What: The Struggle Continues: Racism and Heterosexism in the Church.
When: Sunday, April 27, 2008, 12:30-1:30pm
Where: General Worth Square in downtown Fort Worth (9th and Main)
Who: Rev. Dr. James Lawson (retired), former President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and one of the architects of the Civil Rights movement.
  Bishop Melvin Talbert (retired), former President of the National Council of Churches and former Director of Black Methodists for Church Renewal.
  Rev. Gil Caldwell (retired), Former chairperson of Black Methodists for Church Renewal and former Co-convener of United Methodists of Color for A Fully Inclusive Church.

 

Soulforce is a national social justice and civil rights organization. Our vision is freedom from religious and political oppression for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people through relentless nonviolent resistance.

Soulforce has been a voice for justice at General Conference since 2000, when Yolanda King and Arun Gandhi lead 200 people in an act of civil disobedience to call attention to the suffering caused by the UMC’s anti-gay policies. One hundred ninety-one people were arrested on a single day, including two United Methodist Bishops. In 2004, Soulforce and its allies led a negotiated disruption of General Conference business.
For more information, visit www.soulforce.org.
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Soulforce Events Urge Methodists to Open Hearts, Minds, and Doors

UM General Conference Can Make a Historic Shift Toward Justice for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People

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SOULFORCE MEDIA ADVISORY: April 11, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
******************************************

In 2006, the highest court in the United Methodist Church granted sole authority to local United Methodist pastors to deny church membership to lesbian and gay applicants. On April 23-May 2, 2008, delegates to the United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth will have the opportunity to revisit this exclusionary decision, to reconsider bans on same-sex unions and the ordination of gay clergy, to make new policy regarding transgender clergy, and to reexamine language in the UM Book of Discipline that describes homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Soulforce has been a voice for justice at General Conference since 2000, when Yolanda King and Arun Gandhi lead 200 people in an act of civil disobedience to call attention to the suffering caused by the UMC’s anti-gay policies.  One hundred ninety-one people were arrested on a single day, including two United Methodist Bishops. In 2004, Soulforce and its allies led a negotiated disruption of General Conference business.

Preliminary Soulforce Schedule for General Conference 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008  
12:30pm

Picnic in the Park with Transgender People of Faith (open to delegates and the public) * General Worth Square (9th and Main)

 

Saturday, April 26, 2008  
7:00am

Nonviolent Response to the UMC’s Anti-LGBT Violence: a Training with Rev. Jimmy Creech and Rev. Dr. Mel White * General Worth Square (9th and Main)

 

7:30-11:00am

Vigil outside the Fort Worth Convention Center * 9th St. entrance

 

8:00pm

Free outdoor screening of For The Bible Tells Me So. Producer Dan Karslake, Rev. Dr. Mel White, Rev. Jimmy Creech, and Mary Lou Wallner (all featured in the film) will be in attendance * General Worth Square (9th and Main)

 

Sunday, April 27, 2008  
12:30pm The Struggle Continues: Racism and Heterosexism in the Church with Rev. Dr. James Lawson, Bishop Melvin Talbert, Rev. Phil Lawson and Rev. Gil Caldwell * General Worth Square (9th and Main)
April 28-May 2, 2008  
7-9:30am

Ongoing morning vigil at the Convention Center * 9th St. Entrance

 

12-2:30pm Ongoing lunchtime vigil at the Convention Center * 9th St. Entrance
   

Soulforce is a national social justice and civil rights organization. Our vision is freedom from religious and political oppression for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people through relentless nonviolent resistance.

For more information, visit www.soulforce.org.

###

 

Schedule for the Direct Action at the 2008 UMC General Conference

The Soulforce 10th Anniversary Reunion and Direct Action at the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church

Schedule for the Direct Action at the 2008 UMC General Conference

This schedule is subject to change, so please check back frequently.

Updated 4/18/2008

Friday, April 25, 2008
12:30pm – 2:00pm Picnic in the Park with Transgender People of Faith featuring Soulforce Board Member Judy Osborne, UM Affirmation Spokesperson Diane Delap, Rev. Drew Phoenix, and many others. Join us for lunch, listen to moving personal stories, and ask questions in an informal environment. Free lunch for GC delegates and volunteers sponsored by Soulforce, Transgender Advocates of Central Texas, UM Affirmation, and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources.
General Worth Square (9th and Main, across from the Convention Center)
6:00pm Registration
Marriott Dallas/Fort Worth Airport South – 4151 Centreport Boulevard, Fort Worth, Texas
7:30pm Soulforce 10th Anniversary Reunion
Celebrating a Decade of Relentless Nonviolent Resistance!
Marriott Dallas/Fort Worth Airport South – 4151 Centreport Boulevard, Fort Worth, Texas
Saturday, April 26, 2008*
6:00am Bus Departs Marriot Dallas/Fort Worth Airport South for downtown Fort Worth
7:00am – 7:30am Training in Nonviolent Resistance – General Worth Square (corner of Main & 9th Street – directly across from the Fort Worth Convention Center – site of the UMC Conference) – featuring Rev. Jimmy Creech and Rev. Dr. Mel White
7:30am – 11:00am Vigil outside the Fort Worth Convention Center – 1201 Houston Street.
11:00am – 1:00pm
(tentative)
Join Haven Herrin and her team from Soulforce Q for the Youth and Young Adult Rally and March of the Reconciling Ministries Network. Details TBA.
1:00pm Bus departs to return to hotel.
2:00pm – 5:00pm Soulforce Volunteer Forum – "Envisioning the Second Decade Together" – led by Marsha McDonough, Ph.D. (Be part of the planning process as we discuss our goals for the future)
6:00pm
(optional event or dinner on you own in downtown area)
Soulforce to join the Affirmation OUT Awards Dinner in Fort Worth (Intermodal Transportation Center, 1001 Jones Street). The dinner is $20, payable at the door, and is available to the first 75 Soulforce volunteers that make a reservation (due to space constraints at the dinner). To reserve a space at the Affirmation dinner, please type "Affirmation Dinner" in the comments box when you register for the Soulforce 10th Anniversary. If you plan to attend the dinner you need to do this by no later than April 18. (If you have already registered for the Soulforce 10th Anniversary and want to attend the dinner, please send an email to kara@soulforce.org.) Come help Soulforce support the great work of Affirmation!
8:00pm Free outdoor screening of For The Bible Tells Me So (General Worth Square – corner of Main & 9th Street). Soulforce will sponsor dessert for the Methodist delegates and the Dallas/Fort Worth community and begin the free screening of this prize-winning film at dusk. Producer Dan Karslake, Rev. Dr. Mel White, Rev. Jimmy Creech, and Mary Lou Wallner (all featured in the film) will be in attendance.
Sunday, April 27, 2008*
6:00am Bus Departs for Downtown – Fort Worth Convention Center – 1201 Houston Street
7:00am – 11:00am Vigil outside the Fort Worth Convention Center – 1201 Houston Street (site of the UMC General Conference).
11:00am – 12:30pm Lunch on your own in downtown area
12:30pm – 1:30pm The Struggle Continues: Racism and Heterosexism in the Church – a panel discussion featuring Rev. James Lawson, Bishop Melvin Talbert, Rev. Phil Lawson, and Rev. Gil Caldwell – General Worth Square (corner of Main and 9th Street)
2:00pm Reconciling Worship with Reconciling Ministries Network, First United Methodist Church, Preacher: Don Guest of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church
Conclusion of worship service Bus returns to hotel. Those staying the weekend only will depart.
Monday, April 28, 2008*
7:00am – 9:30am Vigil outside the Fort Worth Convention Center – 1201 Houston Street. Sign up to vigil here.
9:30am – 12:30pm Break
12:30pm – 2:30pm Continue vigil outside the Forth Worth Convention Center. Sign up to vigil here.
2:30pm Return to hotel – evening free
Tuesday, April 29, 2008*
7:00am – 9:30am Vigil outside the Fort Worth Convention Center – 1201 Houston Street. Sign up to vigil here.
9:30am – 12:30pm Break
12:30pm – 2:30pm Continue vigil outside the Forth Worth Convention Center. Sign up to vigil here.
2:30pm Return to hotel – evening free
Wednesday, April 30, 2008*
7:00am – 9:30am Vigil outside the Fort Worth Convention Center – 1201 Houston Street. Sign up to vigil here.
9:30am – 12:30pm Break
12:30pm – 2:30pm Continue vigil outside the Forth Worth Convention Center. Sign up to vigil here.
2:30pm Return to hotel – evening free
Thursday, May 1 and Friday, May 2, 2008*
  Soulforce will provide supportive collaboration in planning activities with the Reconciling Ministries Network. Details TBA. Sign up to vigil here.

*Scheduled activities are tentative and subject to change based on the events that occur within the UMC General Conference. Schedule changes and updated times will be reviewed and communicated to Soulforce volunteers on a daily basis. If possible, please plan to stay all week and help us to peacefully challenge the injustice within the United Methodist Church.

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A Call to Action From Gil Caldwell

The Soulforce 10th Anniversary Reunion and Direct Action at the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church

A Call to Action From Gil Caldwell

A few years ago I saw the Slave Narratives, a presentation of some of the stories that were told by my African ancestors who were slaves. There were nine words in that presentation that I will take with me to my grave; "They used the Bible like a stick against us". This was a graphic way of saying that Christian slave masters living in what is called the "Bible Belt", used the Bible to commit unspeakable crimes against slaves. Paul’s, "Slaves be obedient to your Christian masters…" became justification for demanding obedience and exerting punishment, whenever a Black slave did not please the wishes and needs of his/her master.

When I heard those words I reflected upon how anti-Semitism, sexism, classism, punishment of Methodist clergy who smoked and consumed alcohol, and of course slavery and racial segregation, all of this and much were perpetrated by those who used sections of Scripture as justification for their prejudices and acts of discrimination. In time most Methodists realized it was a desecration of the Bible to use it to support and sustain personal and cultural prejudices. But sadly, the United Methodist Church continues to utilize a narrow Biblical literalism and prejudicial interpretation of Scripture to justify its Book of Discipline language that demeans same gender loving persons.

I first heard Martin Luther King, Jr. at a Prayer Pilgrimage in May of 1957 in Washington, DC. That exposure to him motivated my participation in the Civil Rights Movement. I am convinced that Dr. King who spoke out against the Vietnam War and initiated the Poor People’s Campaign and spoke so many times of the necessity to create the "Beloved Community", if he were alive today, would challenge the Church and Government for their insensitive judgmental approach to LGBT persons.

I will be participating with Soulforce at the General Conference in Ft. Worth as we seek to contribute to the liberation of the United Methodist Church, urging it, "To be the Church". Martin Luther King asked more than once, "Why is the Church always the taillight and not the headlight" (on issues of human justice)? I am saddened that as a fourth generation Methodist, my United Methodist Church (in the 21st century!) desecrates the mission and ministry of Jesus in its attitudes and actions toward LGBT persons.

I invite all persons, especially persons of color and women who have awareness and experience of the Church "using the Bible like a stick" upon those before them and upon them personally, because of race and gender, to be present with me and Soulforce in Ft. Worth.

-Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell (retired)

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A Call to Action From Phil Lawson

The Soulforce 10th Anniversary Reunion and Direct Action at the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church

A Call to Action From Phil Lawson

Fifty-eight years ago, in 1950, I attended my first non-violent direct action with Bayard Rustin and George Houser who organized the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) so that youth and young adults would come to Washington D.C. to confront the discrimination and segregation laws in the nation’s capital.

In April 2008, as a proud Board Member of Soulforce, I will participate in non-violent direct actions at the United Methodist Church General Conference in Ft. Worth, Texas.

In my many years of ministry in the United Methodist Church, from welfare rights organizing, to the Black Panthers in Kansas City, to living wage marches, from jail in Kansas City protesting police injustices, to jail in Oakland for anti-apartheid, to jail in Cleveland at the 2000 United Methodist General Conference, to the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, it has been my great honor to be in solidarity with the pain and suffering of LGBT-Queer communities. The oppression of LGBT-Queer communities by the United Methodist Church through its false Declaration that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings, that such persons are not eligible for membership, or to the rights granted heterosexual persons such as the right to marry and the right to become ministers – indeed, the church denies LGBT-Queer communities the Right to Be!

Christian teachings have been historically wrong about many human conditions, from slavery, to poverty, to drinking strong drinks, to divorced persons being ministers, to women’s rights to be full human beings, from domestic violence, to war. According to Christian teachings, Blacks were not even human beings!

The United Methodist Church is in sin as long as it continues to oppress the LGBT -Queer communities. As long as the church is in sin, I will be in solidarity with my sisters and brothers of Soulforce in non-violent direct action declaring Justice – Not Just Us!

-Rev. Phil Lawson

Photo courtesy of East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO)

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Soulforce to Mark 10th Anniversary in 2008 with Direct Action at United Methodist General Conference

Planning Team Affirms "Global Vision of Justice"

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: January 2, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paige Schilt, Director of Public Relations and Media
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
******************************************

Today the Soulforce United Methodist Planning Team released a statement announcing a planned direct action at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 26-27. Signers of the statement include co-chairs Steven Webster and Dotti Berry, as well as Reverends Gil Caldwell and Phil Lawson. The complete text of the statement is included below.

"In 2008, the world will commemorate several watershed events in the history of human rights, including the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the 40th anniversary of The Poor People’s Campaign that King initiated before his death. Observing these anniversaries provides an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come — and how far we have to go — in achieving equal dignity and rights for all human beings.

"The confluence of these anniversaries can also serve as a reminder of the connections between struggles and spur us to reaffirm a broad commitment to justice for all, regardless of economic status, race, nationality, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

"Ten years ago, in 1998, Mel White and Gary Nixon began laying the groundwork for a new social movement. Under the auspices of "Soulforce," a name adapted from the teachings of King and Gandhi, White and Nixon began to organize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans to study the principles of nonviolent direct action. This course of study led to the first Soulforce direct action, a historic 1999 dialogue between 200 members of Soulforce and the congregation of Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia.

"When the first Soulforce delegates began preparing for the journey to Lynchburg, they believed that true justice could only be achieved by addressing the misinformation about LGBT people that circulated under the guise of Christian doctrine. Just as King argued that legal desegregation alone could not end racial segregation, so the first Soulforce activists understood the need to confront the underlying beliefs that justify civil discrimination.

"As Soulforce prepares to celebrate its tenth anniversary, the landscape of religion-based bigotry is shifting. Recent research by the Barna group suggests that young Christians are increasingly uncomfortable with church-sanctioned hostility toward LGBT people. However, religion-based bias still exerts enormous cultural and institutional power in the United States and around the globe. Although much progress has been made, backlashes against the recognition of LGBT people as clergy and church members are dividing some major Christian denominations.

"For almost forty years, the United Methodist Church has struggled with fundamental issues of fairness and inclusion, including same-sex unions, LGBT clergy, and the status of LGBT lay members. In 2006, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church — led by Surgeon General nominee James Holsinger — issued Decision 1032, which granted sole authority to local pastors to deny church membership to gay men and lesbians and made a mockery of the official slogan of the United Methodist Church: "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors."

"Now, as 1,000 delegates prepare to meet for the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, some conservative groups within the church are attempting to portray justice for LGBT people as a distraction from important issues such as fighting global epidemics or ministering to children and the poor. Others are portraying fairness and inclusion for LGBT people as inevitably at odds with fairness and inclusion for African churches.

"At Soulforce, we affirm a notion of justice in which all are connected. In the words of Dr. King, we believe that "we are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality." In order to affirm that vision of global justice, Soulforce will join with progressive Methodist voices in a direct action at the United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth on April 26-27, 2008.

"In the same spirit, Soulforce will celebrate ten years of nonviolent direct action. We invite past and future Soulforce activists to come together in Fort Worth on April 25, 2008, to remember our accomplishments, to celebrate the love at the heart of our movement, and to re-commit to the struggle for dignity and justice for all members of the human family."

Steven Webster, Co-chair
Dotti Berry, Co-chair
Rev. Gil Caldwell
Bill Carpenter
J. Michael Herrington
Rev. Phil Lawson
Jeff Lutes
Paige Schilt
Kara Speltz


Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.

Hotel Info for the Direct Action at the 2008 UMC General Conference

The Soulforce 10th Anniversary Reunion and Direct Action at the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church

Hotel Info for the Direct Action at the 2008 UMC General Conference

Important: Deadline for reservations is Friday, April 18th.

MARRIOTT DALLAS/FORT WORTH AIRPORT SOUTH
www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/dfwam-dallas-fort-worth-airport-marriott-south

4151 Centreport Boulevard
Fort Worth, Texas 76155 USA
Phone: 1-817-358-1700
Fax: 1-817-358-1800
Toll-free: 1-800-228-9290
Group Code is: SOULFORCE

For online reservations, follow this link: http://marriott.com/dfwam?groupCode=sousoua&app=resvlink

Rate is $99 plus 15% tax (1-4 p/room) – does not include breakfast

Free shuttle to/from airport

Update: For those attending the UMC action from Sunday through Friday (4/27 – 5/1), a small block of rooms is reserved at the DAYS INN on University Drive. You may contact the hotel directly to make your reservation (there is no group name…just make your own individual reservation) or you may contact Kara Speltz at kara@soulforce.org).

Days Inn Fort Worth
1551 S University Drive
I-30, Exit #12A-Univ Drive S
Fort Worth, TX 76107 US
Phone: 817-336-9823
Fax:817-348-0134
Online reservations

Note: The 2008 United Methodist General Conference is being held April 23 – May 2, 2008 in downtown Fort Worth at the Fort Worth Convention Center, 1201 Houston St., Ft. Worth, TX 76102. For more information, visit the conference website at: www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.2336161/k.1E1C/General_Conference_2008.htm

Transportation from the Marriott Dallas/Fort Worth Airport hotel to the Fort Worth Convention Center is available on the TRE (Trinity Railway Express) at a fare of $1.50 each way. For maps, schedules and more information, go to the TRE website at www.trinityrailwayexpress.org

Back to the Soulforce 10th Anniversary Reunion & Direct Action

The Soulforce 10th Anniversary Reunion & Direct Action at the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church

The Soulforce 10th Anniversary Reunion and Direct Action at the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church

A Soulforce Open Letter to Members of the United Methodist Church

Gil Caldwell: The United Methodist Church, it’s deja vu all over again [pdf]

Photos from the 10th Anniversary Reunion & Direct Action

Reconciling Ministries Photos at flickr.com

Soulforce Tenth Anniversary Video

Video from "The Struggle Continues: Racism and Heterosexism in the Church"

Celebrating a Decade of Relentless Nonviolent Resistance

April 25 – 27, 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas

Soulforce 10th Anniversary & Reunion Gala
Friday, April 25, 2008, at 7:30pm

Soulforce is pleased to announce our 10th Anniversary & Reunion Gala at 7:30pm on Friday, April 25, 2008, at the Marriott Dallas/Fort Worth Airport South Hotel (hotel info) – near Fort Worth. The evening will be an opportunity for us to connect with old friends, share stories from direct actions during Soulforce’s first decade, and think ahead about the challenges we face in the next decade. This upbeat evening will include refreshments, video, music, and guest speakers, with an opportunity to celebrate our history before we join together to begin the more serious and focused work of challenging the injustice within the United Methodist Church on Saturday and Sunday. More details coming soon! Register now!

Direct Action at the 2008 UMC General Conference

Saturday & Sunday, April 26-27, 2008

Schedule of Events

Read the personal invitation from Rev. Dr. Mel White.

Read the call to action from civil rights leader Gil Caldwell.

Read the call to action from civil rights leader Phil Lawson.

Soulforce will continue our history of resisting injustice within the United Methodist Church with a direct action at the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. The decision makers that Soulforce needs to reach are the 1000 clergy and lay delegates of the General Conference. Most of the delegates are from the U.S., but many come from Africa (the two largest regional conference delegations), Europe, Asia and elsewhere around the world.

The United Methodist Church, a global denomination, is the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States (after the Southern Baptist Convention). The neoconservative, Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), based in Washington, D.C., has played a key role in fomenting misinformation about LGBT persons and same-gender families within the United Methodist Church.

United Methodists who are prominent in U.S. politics include Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, John Edwards and Dick Cheney. The denomination expresses its openness to a broad range of viewpoints in the church with its official slogan of "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors". Many United Methodists recognize the insincerity of this declaration in light of the exclusion of LGBT persons.

The current Surgeon General nominee, James W. Holsinger, a leader of an IRD-backed renewal group, the "Confessing Movement," presides over the Judicial Council ("Supreme Court") of the United Methodist Church which issued "Decision 1032" in 2006. In Decision 1032 the highest church court in the United Methodist Church granted sole authority to local United Methodist Church pastors to deny church membership to LGBT persons.

Progressives and moderates in the United Methodist Church have rallied in opposition to Decision 1032. But progressives are now on the defensive — with little hope of pressing for LGBT ordination, they are now forced to petition General Conference to overturn the anti-LGBT membership "law" established by the UMC Judicial Council.

Your presence is vital to creating a visible presence and strong voice for justice. Come to Fort Worth and be a part of continuing Soulforce’s history of seeking justice within the United Methodist Church. Register now!

The Soulforce History of Seeking Justice within the United Methodist Church:

1999 – Soulforce staged a direct action at the UMC Church Trial of the Rev. Jimmy Creech who was defrocked for performing same-gender marriages.

2000 – At the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, almost 200 Soulforce volunteers were arrested in a nonviolent direct action. Prominent participants included Arun Gandhi, Yolanda King, the Rev. James Lawson, and the Rev. Phil Lawson. Two United Methodist Bishops were among those who volunteered to submit to arrest.

March 2004 – Soulforce conducted a direct action at the UMC Church Trial of the Rev. Karen Dammann, put on trial for being a "self-avowed" lesbian, but found "not guilty."

May 2004 – Soulforce was at the 2004 General Conference. Church legislation was passed supporting civil legislation banning same-gender marriage. More anti-LGBT language was added to the church’s Book of Discipline (book of church laws), especially related to church trials. Attempts to recognize dissenting opinions in the church were rejected. In response, Soulforce led a nonviolent mass disruption of the General Conference during its final days.

December 2004 – Soulforce vigiled at the UMC Church Trial of the Rev. Beth Stroud. Beth was stripped of her clergy credentials by the Trial Court, but has continued to be employed by her local congregation as a lay minister.

June 2007 – President Bush nominated Dr. James W. Holsinger as Surgeon General. Soulforce issued a press release exposing Holsinger’s history of anti-gay bigotry in his official roles as a member of the United Methodist Committee to Study Homosexuality (1988 to 1992) and as President ("Chief Justice") of the United Methodist Judicial Council ("Supreme Court").

More Information:

Press Release 4/23/2008
Black Clergy Allies to Show Support for LGBT Methodists

Press Release 4/11/2008
Soulforce Events Urge Methodists to Open Hearts, Minds, and Doors

Press Release 1/2/2008
Soulforce to Mark 10th Anniversary in 2008 with Direct Action at United Methodist General Convention