May 17, 2001
Dr James Merritt
President of the Southern Baptist Convention
Senior Pastor, Fellowship of Joy Southern Baptist Church
2400 East Main Street
Snellville, GA 30078
Dear Dr. Merritt,
On April 2, 2001, we wrote to you and to seventy members of your Executive Committee to share our concerns about the tragic consequences of the current Southern Baptist teachings and actions against God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children. We asked to meet with you or with your representatives before your Annual Meeting in New Orleans, June 12-13, 2001. If you didn’t receive our letter, please let me know so that we can send it again. If you did receive it and just haven’t had time to reply, forgive me for writing again, but almost seven weeks have passed and your meeting in New Orleans is now less than four weeks away.
As you know, hundreds of Soulforce volunteers stood vigil at last year’s Annual Meeting in Orlando. Dozens of us were arrested in a loving, nonviolent act of civil disobedience to protest your refusal even to discuss our concerns about the consequences of your anti-homosexual teachings and actions. We did not interrupt your assembly. We did not cause your delegates a moment of inconvenience let alone any reason to be fearful or angry. We spent thirty-six hours in jail. We were tried in public court and have been tangled in legal procedures for the past year. We put up more than twenty thousand dollars in bail and paid more than ten thousand dollars in fines. And we did it all hoping that our loving, sacrificial actions would help convince you of the sincerity of our concerns and that you would be moved to consider our request for dialogue.
We are your sisters and brothers, people of faith, like yourself, who have evidence that current Southern Baptist teachings and actions against sexual minorities lead to discrimination, suffering, and even death. In the words of Jesus, you have "trespassed against us" and in the spirit of Matthew 18:15-16 we have asked you to hear us, but you have refused.
Once again, we ask you to meet with us, before or during your Annual Meeting, June 12-13, 2001. If not, our Soulforce volunteers will put our bodies on the line again in New Orleans. We will appeal to the media to present our case to the nation. We will stand vigil day and night to win the minds and hearts of your Messengers. And we will conduct another nonviolent direct action, in the spirit of Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., facing arrest, possible time in jail and expensive fines hoping that you will be moved at last to hear our case against your anti-homosexual teachings and actions.
At the heart of our protest, on Wednesday, June 13, we will conduct a jazz funeral near the Superdome. This New Orleans tradition flows out of a saying that dates back to slavery: "We weep when a child is born into this cruel world. We sing and dance when the good Lord takes someone home." Soulforce volunteers will use the jazz funeral to tell your Messengers and through the media, to tell the world why we weep when a gay child is born into one of your Southern Baptist families or becomes a member of one of your Southern Baptist churches.
We know that you question our first assumption, that sexual minorities are shaped permanently by nature in their mother’s womb and by nurture during the first years of infancy. For too long church leaders have ignored the scientific, psychological, medical, historical, and pastoral evidence summarized by members of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors that "…an individual’s sexual orientation is present from very early childhood and could not be a matter of choice that represents either disease or sin."
It’s tragic to ignore the evidence, but it’s even more tragic to ignore the personal testimony of tens of thousands of your own young people who know from earliest puberty that they are lesbian or gay. Almost immediately, they become victims of your anti-homosexual teachings. Although they are among your best and brightest, these Southern Baptist youth are afraid to share their deepest feelings with their pastors or parents. They retreat immediately into closets of loneliness and guilt, certain that God condemns and rejects them, convinced that if their "secret" is discovered they will be condemned and rejected by their parents, pastors, and peers as well.
In junior high and high school the serious persecution begins. Ninety-seven percent of students in public high schools reported regularly hearing homophobic remarks from their peers. In ninety-seven percent of these instances, teachers fail to intervene. Fifty-three percent of those same students reported hearing anti-gay remarks by teachers and staff.*
Twenty-two percent of gay and lesbian youth skipped school in the past year because they felt unsafe at school compared to four percent of their peers. Twenty-four percent were in a fight that resulted in receiving medical attention compared to three percent of their peers. Gay students are three times as likely to have been threatened with a weapon at school. Twenty-eight percent of gay youth drop out of high school altogether. Forty-six percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students report that they considered or attempted suicide compared to nine percent of their heterosexual peers. And gay students are seven times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers.
For centuries religious leaders have been the primary source of misinformation against God’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender children. Stoned to death in antiquity, burned alive during the medieval era, and hanged from gallows until the mid-1800s, sexual and gender minorities continue to be the victims of church teachings that label them "sick" and "sinful". While the church argues it is only condemning same-sex practices, it is in the name of God rejecting the very essence, the whole personhood, the very soul of God’s GLBT children. To be feel condemned and rejected by the church and by God leads to wasted lives, ruined relationships, divided families, physical, emotional, and spiritual violence and even death.
Please, Dr. Merritt, meet with us. Hear our case. Then decide if it has worth. At least, conduct a joint press conference with us in New Orleans to condemn those who incite or commit crimes against sexual and gender minorities. I’m enclosing a complimentary copy of my autobiography, Stranger at the Gate, hoping that the Spirit of Christ will use it to help you better understand what it means to be gay and Christian in America.
* [All sources for the above data can be found at http://www.glsen.org]