An Open Letter to American Pastors on Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill by Soulforce Founder Mel White

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AN URGENT OPEN LETTER FROM MEL
February 5, 2010

Open Letter from Soulforce to Jan and Paul Crouch, founders of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and the Evangelical Christian broadcasters who are featured on Lighthouse Television, TBN’s affiliate in Uganda, including:  Matthew Crouch, Joyce MeyerAndrew WommackBenny HinnKenneth CopelandJoel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, and Franklin Graham:

By now you are well aware of the anti-homosexual bill pending before the Parliament of Uganda. We urge you to denounce this bill.  Use your personal friendships with President and Mrs. Museveni, with MP David Bahati (your Christian colleague who proposed this bill) and with Stephen Langa, (the Ugandan Christian organizer behind the bill) to take a public and passionate stand against it.

The media are blaming the visit to Uganda by three of your colleagues for this despicable and truly un-Christian law.  In fact, for years you have used your Lighthouse Television programs, your radio broadcasts and your massive public meetings to warn Ugandans of the so called “threat homosexuals pose to Bible-based values and the traditional African Family.”

In no small part, you are already responsible for the current call by Ugandan leaders to enforce the old law condemning lesbian and gay Ugandans to up to 14 years in prison. This new law increases that sentence to life imprisonment and even death by hanging.  Denounce this new bill or the blood of lesbian and gay Ugandans will be on your hands.

It isn’t just the “liberal media” who are condemning the bill.  In mid-November, Exodus International, the ministry that promises to assist homosexuals in overcoming homosexuality, warned,  "If homosexual behavior and knowledge of such behavior is criminalized and prosecuted, as proposed in this bill, church and ministry leaders will be unable to assist hurting men, women and youth who might otherwise seek help in addressing this personal issue.” While Soulforce does not agree with Exodus that lesbian and gay people need to be "cured," we wholeheartedly agree with their position on this hateful bill.

Warren Throckmorton, a member of the Clinical Advisory Board of the American Association of Christian Counselors warned that this legislation would make their mission “to extend the love and compassion of Christ to all” a difficult if not impossible task.

Your colleague, mega-church pastor Rick Warren, in a very public video appeal to his fellow clergy in Uganda, gives five reasons why Ugandan Christians should not support the bill: (1) it is “unjust, extreme and un-Christian; (2) it would “force pastors to report their pastoral conversations with homosexuals to authorities; (3) “…it would have a chilling effect on your ministry to the hurting… homosexuals who are HIV positive will be reluctant to seek or receive care, comfort and compassion from our churches out of fear of being reported; (4)  “All life, no matter how humble or broken, whether unborn or dying, is precious to God… It would be inconsistent to save some lives and wish death on others…” And (5) “the freedom to make moral choices, and our right to free expression, are gifts endowed by God.” Warren reminds the clergy that Uganda is a democratic country “…and in a democracy everyone has a right to speak up.” Warren concludes by urging them “to speak out against the proposed law.” *

The People of Soulforce urge you to take these warnings seriously.  It is very possible that your silence on this matter will convince the people of Uganda that it is God’s will to condemn homosexuals to life imprisonment or even death by hanging. Your powerful media voices have made you superstars to Ugandans. We implore you to use your power to denounce this bill. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this time you and the Christian community behaved in the manner of love and justice rather than fulfilling the stereotype of the “liberal media” as ‘hate-filled bigots?

You often ask others, “What would Jesus do?”  This is the perfect time to ask yourselves that question.

The People of Soulforce

Mel White, Founder | Bill Carpenter, Interim Executive Director | Chuck Phelan, Board Chair


* We wish to express our thanks to the Rev. Rick Warren for taking this rather courageous step on behalf of the lesbian and gay people of Uganda. Pastor Warren did everything in his power to avoid meeting with our gay and lesbian parents and their families in 2009 during the Soulforce American Family Outing. We have tried on many occasions to help him understand the tragic consequences of his own teachings about homosexuality and homosexuals. And though we continue hoping that he will meet with a Soulforce delegation to hear the scientific, historic, psychological and personal evidence that homosexuality is one of God’s gifts, we pause in our pursuit just long enough to give him thanks for reaching out to save the lives of our lesbian sisters and gay brothers in Uganda. Thank you, Pastor Warren. We are grateful!

ADDENDUM 1: EXAMPLES OF OTHERS WHO CONDEMN THE BILL

      This bill has been condemned by leaders of Western nations including the Prime Ministers of Canada, Australia, and Great Britain and the President of the United States. The European Parliament passed a resolution against the bill and threatened to cut financial aid to Uganda if it is enacted. They described the bill as “state-legislated genocide.”

      The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch urge Uganda to shelve the bill and decriminalize homosexuality.

      The 16,000 members of the HIV Clinicians Society of South Africa and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS warned that excluding marginalized groups would compromise efforts to stop the spread of AIDS in Uganda where 5.4% of the adult population is infected with HIV.

      The Sunday Times in South Africa warned Uganda that it is in danger of being "dragged back to the dark and evil days of Idi Amin.”
      The New York Times stated unequivocally “that such barbarism (in the bill) is intolerable and will make Uganda an international pariah.”
      The Washington Post labeled the bill "ugly and ignorant", "barbaric", and "that it is even being considered puts Uganda beyond the pale of civilized nations.”
      The Los Angeles Times warned that the bill would cause gay Ugandans to face an "impossible, insulting, historical, cruel and utterly false choice of having to choose between being gay and being African.”

      The Anglican Reverend Canon Gideon Byamugisha said that the Bill "would become state-legislated genocide.”

      The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has said in a public interview that he did not see how any Anglican could support it: "Overall, the proposed legislation is of shocking severity and I can’t see how it could be supported by any Anglican who is committed to what the Communion has said in recent decades. Apart from invoking the death penalty, it makes pastoral care impossible – it seeks to turn pastors into informers."

      The Vatican legal attach塚ィヘ妺ィヘ塚蔘_妺見 to the United Nations stated that "Pope Benedict is opposed to ‘unjust discrimination’ against gay men and lesbians.”

ADDENDUM 2: AS IN THE U.S., PAUL CAMERON IS THE PRIMARY SOURCE OF THE HALF-TRUTH, HYPERBOLE AND LIES ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY AND HOMOSEXUALS UPON WHICH THE BILL IS BASED

      Stephen Langa, the March 2009 workshop organizer, specifically cited an unlicensed conversion therapist named Richard A. Cohen who states in a book that was given to Langa and other prominent Ugandans,

“Homosexuals are at least 12 times more likely to molest children than heterosexuals; homosexual teachers are at least 7 times more likely to molest a pupil; homosexual teachers are estimated to have committed at least 25 percent of pupil molestation; 40 percent of molestation assaults were made by those who engage in homosexuality.”

      These statements were based on faulty studies performed by Paul Cameron who has been expelled from the American Psychological Association, the Canadian Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association. Cohen, himself, confirmed the weaknesses of these studies, stating that when the book will be reprinted, these statistics will be removed.

ADDENDUM 3: OUR SOURCES

Jeffrey Gettleman, writing for theNew York Times, January 4, 2010, reported on “Americans’ Role in Uganda Anti-Gay Push.”
      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/04/world/africa/04uganda.html

Erin Roach, posted on Baptist News, November 18, 2009, the news that “Exodus Opposes Uganda’s Proposed Anti-Gay Law.”
      http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=31715

Baptist Press, December 13, 2009, announced that “Mega-Church Pastor Rick Warren Condemns Uganda Anti-Gay Bill.
      http://www.opposingviews.com/i/mega-church-pastor-rick-warren-condemns-uganda-anti-gay-bill

The editors of Wikipedia have assembled the best history of this bill and the world’s response:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uganda_Anti-Homosexuality_Bill

YouTube carries the complete video of Rick Warren’s Open Letter to the Clergy of Uganda*
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jmGu9o4fDE

 

ADDENDUM 4: CONTACT INFORMATION

Trinity Broadcasting Network 
http://www.tbn.org
Business Office: (714) 832-2950
Trinity Broadcasting Network
P. O. Box A
Santa Ana, CA 92711

Matthew Crouch
matthewcrouch@matthewcrouch.com &
mwc@8c.com

Joyce Meyer  
P.O. Box 655
Fenton, MO 63026
Phone: 1-800-727-9673
(636) 349-0303 (outside the U.S.)

Andrew Wommack
850 Elkton Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80907
Admin. Phone: (719) 635-2111
Fax: (719) 635-1777 ,  Andrew Wommack Ministries, Inc.
awommack@aol.com

Benny Hinn Ministries Headquarters
P.O. Box 162000
Irving, TX, 75016-2000
1-800-433-1900
  
Kenneth Copeland
Kenneth Copeland Ministries
Fort Worth, TX 76192-0001
Telephone: 800-600-7395
Fax: 817-252-3499
http://www.kcm.org

Joel Osteen, 1-888-567-JOEL
PO BOX 4600
Houston, TX 77210
http://www.joelosteen.com

T. D. Jakes Ministries, Inc.
The Potters House

http://www.tdjakes.com
P. O. Box 5390
Dallas, TX  75208

1.800.BISHOP.2   

Franklin Graham:
Samaritan’s Purse
P.O. Box 3000
Boone, NC 28607
Phone (828) 262-1980
Fax (828) 266-1056
http://www.samaritanspurse.org/


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"Gay Days" at the Mega-churches: LGBT Families & Allies Reflect on the American Family Outing

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: June 24, 2008
For Immediate Release

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

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On Father’s Day 2008, a group of LGBT and straight-ally families attended services at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. The next day, a smaller group of about 8 families met with pastors and other staff of the influential mega-church for lunch and an earnest conversation about faith, family, and the status of LGBT people in the church.

The visit was the conclusion of a six-week family road trip to initiate dialogue with mega-church congregations across the nation. In December 2007, organizers of the project — which is called The American Family Outing — invited the leaders of six mega-churches to match families from their congregations with LGBT and straight-ally families for a meal and conversation. Then, on Mother’s Day 2008, the outing began with a visit to Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas.

"Through the American Family Outing, we were able to share our families and our lives as out and proud LGBT people of faith with some of the most influential religious leaders in America," says Paige Schilt, Soulforce Media Director and one of the lesbian moms who participated in the project. "Along the way, we learned a great deal about the state of mainstream evangelical culture."

"On the one hand, there’s still a tremendous amount at stake for high-profile churches to meet publicly with LGBT families. They took a lot of heat just for talking to us, and we appreciate that.

"We also learned that an openly gay or lesbian person cannot become a member or serve in most of the churches we visited. When LGBT people hear that ‘all are welcome’ at a mega-church, we encourage them to investigate the quality of that welcome.

"On the other hand, we also learned that support for reparative therapy and other kinds of ex-gay programs seems to be diminishing. We heard more talk about celibacy and less talk about change.

"We also heard, from many of the churches, a sincere interest in continuing the conversation with LGBT justice seekers," Schilt concluded. "We look forward to future dialogues, public and private."

Nationwide, more than 50 LGBT and LGBT-affirming families took part in this remarkable journey to build bridges with mainstream and conservative evangelical communities, which visited churches in Texas, Georgia, Maryland, Illinois, and California.

One of the people who participated in the meeting with Saddleback Church was Bob Bednar, a straight, married father of two.

"Being there showed me in a powerful way exactly how brave my LGBT team members were to go into that kind of atmosphere and insist that church leaders recognize their pain and start to see it as their own pain, too," said Bednar.

"As a straight ally, it was inspiring to work alongside them. But the experience also showed me how far we have to go," Bednar concluded.

The American Family Outing is a collaboration between Soulforce, COLAGE, National Black Justice Coalition, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

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.

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Chicago Tribune, "Gay Christians Meet with Rev. Bill Hybels"

Gay Christians meet with Rev. Bill Hybels and others at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington

Soulforce urges understanding on a tour of mega-churches across the nation

By Robert Mitchum and Manya A. Brachear | Tribune reporters
9:17 PM CDT, June 8, 2008

For Dotti Berry, healing the rift between religious conservatives and gay-marriage advocates could be as simple as replacing both sides’ stereotypes with a human face.

"You can’t hate someone whose story you know," Berry said Sunday in Fox River Grove. "My hope is that by meeting people, they’ll come to realize that what they might have been taught is not computing."

Berry — visiting from Blaine, Wash., with her partner of 7 years, Roby Sapp — had just returned from testing that theory Sunday afternoon at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, one of the Midwest’s largest churches. Alongside a group of gay Christians, their family members and clergy — including Jay Bakker, the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker — they met with Willow Creek leadership, hoping to begin a cordial dialogue about how the church views homosexuality.

The effort was one of six visits this spring organized around the nation by the gay-rights advocacy group Soulforce, each attempting to bring together gay families with leaders and members of influential mega-churches to discuss religious attitudes about homosexuality.

Members of the group that visited Willow Creek was optimistic after their meeting with the church’s leaders, including senior pastor Bill Hybels. They were treated with respect and open ears, even if only limited common ground was reached, they said. "It was a good first step today," said Berry, 54.

Willow Creek was one of the first to welcome Soulforce, which is based in Lynchburg, Va., to worship and engage in dialogue with Hybels, church elders and staff, said Jeff Lutes, executive director of Soulforce.

"Bill Hybels is to be commended," Lutes said. "They were the first church that responded to our letters and to begin to have conversations with us and show willingness to meet face to face. By being willing to sit down at the table with us, they’ve demonstrated courage."

Other pastors have not been as welcoming. Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., accepted the invitation but at the last minute insisted on a debate, and Rev. Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston did not respond to Soulforce. But he welcomed Bakker when the group showed up to worship.

Bakker, 32, who has led his own Revolution Church since 1994, said he was drawn to help Soulforce’s efforts by the group’s willingness to engage religious leaders, not fight them.

"I liked it because it wasn’t protesting, it was trying to have conversation," Bakker said Sunday. "I know from experience what happens when Christians start gossiping and rejecting other Christians."

Bakker said he came under fire when he supported homosexuality and gay marriage three years ago. But he commended Willow Creek leadership for Sunday’s meeting.

"They listened, they ate with us, when a lot of churches struggle to show hospitality to these groups," he said.

Betty Schmidt, an elder at Willow Creek, described Willow as a hospitable congregation, even though the church does not accept gay and lesbian members who don’t stay celibate.

"It’s a very warm and welcoming atmosphere," she said. "It would certainly be my experience that we would never single out or identify or discriminate against anyone."

Schmidt said she feels strongly that people do not choose to be gay, and many in the Soulforce group said they were happy to hear similar sentiments from several church leaders Sunday.

But others said such influential churches as Willow Creek could do more to adjust their views on homosexuality and treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families.

"I think for instance Bill Hybels could say just a few words from his pulpit without either opposing us or condoning us to make the world a lot safer for my children," Lutes said.

Gay Dads to Celebrate Father’s Day at Saddleback Church

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: June 4, 2008
For Immediate Release

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

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(Lake Forest, CA) This Father’s Day, June 15, a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and straight-ally families will spend their holiday in a way that is simultaneously extraordinary and profoundly commonplace: they will attend services at Saddleback Church, the mega-church founded by Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life.

The following day, the families will join leaders from Saddleback Church for a private meal and conversation. Warren and his wife Kay are expected to attend.

The visit is the conclusion of a six-week journey, a gay-friendly family road trip, to initiate dialogue with mega-church congregations across the nation. In December 2007, organizers of the project — which is called The American Family Outing — invited the leaders of six major mega-churches to match families from their congregations with LGBT families for a meal and conversation. Then, on Mother’s Day 2008, the outing began with a visit to Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas.

As of June 16, 2008, The American Family Outing will have met successfully with all six of the churches. The meetings have ranged in size and depth; Lakewood Church welcomed the families to worship but would only meet privately with one of the Family Outing’s clergy leaders, Pastor Jay Bakker. In contrast, Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia met personally with LGBT families from Atlanta and around the country.

"The meetings have been an occasion to clear up misperceptions on both sides and to begin to focus on what we have in common," says Jeff Lutes, Executive Director of Soulforce and one of the organizers of the American Family Outing.

Lutes and his partner, Gary Stein, along with their three kids, will be participating in the visit with Saddleback Church. Members of the Lutes-Stein family have also visited Lakewood Church and The Potter’s House in Dallas. They will also join families visiting Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois on June 8.

"It’s not your average summer vacation," says Lutes. "But it has been an amazing experience. In the end, we’re doing it to make a safer world for our kids, so it’s all worth it."

Clergy leader Jay Bakker will also join the families for the visit with Saddleback.

To read press coverage of The American Family Outing, go to: https://soulforceactionarchives.org/article/1367

To find out more about California dads participating in the visit to Saddleback, contact Paige Schilt, paige@soulforce.org.

The American Family Outing is a collaboration between Soulforce, COLAGE, National Black Justice Coalition, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

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.

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Bishop Long Meets with LGBT Families: A Story of Family Reconciliation

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: June 2, 2008
For Immediate Release

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

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(Atlanta, GA) — Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, attended a Sunday meeting with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) families. The meeting, which also included New Birth elders and staff, was part of a nationwide fellowship project called The American Family Outing, which aims to create dialogue between LGBT families and families at six American mega-churches between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day 2008.

At least one family was literally reconciled through the meeting. Rev. Troy Sanders, an openly gay minister from Atlanta, was surprised to find his estranged godmother, a member of New Birth, in the meeting. The two shared a public and emotional reunion.

"Before, she didn’t know how to talk about me being an openly gay man," said Sanders, "and I interpreted that as rejection."

"Yesterday she was clear that, while she doesn’t agree with everything theologically, her love for me is not negated as a result of that. For both of us, there is a desire to remain connected," said Sanders.

For Sanders, who has participated in three of the American Family Outing visits, this one had a special character: "The element of family and connectedness seemed to come across very clearly. Whether or not we see eye-to-eye, that connection is not destroyed."

According to several participants in the meeting, Bishop Long made a special effort to be present, in spite of having just returned from Dubai.

In previous weeks, AFO families have visited Lakewood Church in Houston, The Potter’s House in Dallas, and Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD. In these visits, American Family Outing participants and church congregants have engaged in thoughtful and inspiring dialogue and fellowship.

Next week, LGBT families will visit Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois. The American Family Outing concludes at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, on Father’s Day.

The American Family Outing is a collaboration between Soulforce, COLAGE, National Black Justice Coalition, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

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.

The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) is an international fellowship of Christian churches with a special ministry to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The National Black Justice Coalition(NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering Black same-gender-loving, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. The Coalition works with our communities and our allies for social justice, equality, and an end to racism and homophobia.

COLAGE is a national movement of children, youth and adults with one or more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer parents. We build community and work toward social justice through youth empowerment, leadership development, education, and advocacy.

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Washington Times, "Christians, Gays, Not of One Accord"

Christians, Gays, Not of One Accord

Julie Duin

It was a meeting of opposites: 30 conservative black Pentecostals from Hope Christian Church in Beltsville dining with 30 activists from Soulforce, a pro-gay religious group.

While there was no rancor or overt anger, there also was no meeting of minds. After nearly 90 minutes of debate Saturday night, no one on either side of the question of what the Bible teaches about homosexuality would admit to changing their minds.

"It was noncombative, nonpunitive dialogue," said the Rev. Troy Sanders, a gay black pastor from Atlanta who was one of the Soulforce speakers. Soulforce members queried after the dinner said they were pleased with their reception, and several said they would attend Hope Christian’s Sunday service.

Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of the 3,000-member church, acknowledged the evening was "historic" but made no promises about any changes in teaching or policy. "We’ll have to pray about discrimination issues in the gay community," he said.

Soulforce has targeted six megachurches with its gospel of "freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual and all transgender people," and Hope Christian was their third stop on a six-week nationwide tour called the "American Family Outing," Soulforce’s campaign to showcase gay couples with their children.

On Dec. 1, Soulforce leaders contacted Bishop Jackson, asking for a "dialogue on homosexuality and Christianity."

"Even though we disagree on the Bible," said Jeff Lutes, Soulforce’s executive director, "we can relate about our kids. We’re trying to reach out across that divide, make a connection and see what happens from that. Typically, fear goes down when people make connections."

Soulforce got a chilly reception May 18 from the Rev. Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston; He refused to meet with the group. The reception was better May 11 with the Rev. T.D. Jakes and members of the Potter’s House Church in Dallas. Coming visits include the Rev. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and Bishop Eddie Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga.

Bishop Jackson was chosen because of his high profile among the religious right. He heads the High Impact Leadership Coalition of conservative black church leaders, instigated the 2005 "Black Contract with America on Moral Values" and co-authored the recent book "Personal Faith, Public Policy."

The Beltsville church hosted Soulforce at a dinner Saturday night, along with a debate in which each side asked the other eight questions. The church posed queries such as "Why do you think gay marriage is sanctioned by God?" and "Why do you think pastors who preach against gay rights are bigots?"

Soulforce questions included "If your child came out to you, how would you want your child to be treated?" and "What programs do you have in place for same-gender-loving couples?"

"We have no programs," Bishop Jackson quickly responded. Rather, they use the services of the ex-gay group Exodus International because homosexuals "need ministry," he said.

That comment did not go over well, judging by the stony looks on the faces of Soulforce attendees.

The bishop acknowledged he was suspicious when Soulforce first wrote him to say they were showing up, uninvited.

"Some of the history of your organization has confrontation with it," he said. "I have been threatened with physical harm by people who are openly gay."

Soulforce representatives got incensed at one question that mentioned survey data on the relative wealth of the gay community and asked why homosexuals "have hijacked the civil rights movement."

Michelle Freeman, a Houston resident attending the dinner with her lesbian lover, informed the group they could not marry, nor get tax breaks, "so in the eyes of the law, we are not equal," she added. Homosexuality "is not a choice, it’s biology. So it’s a civil rights violation."

Dallas Morning News, "Gay Rights Group Visits the Potter’s House"

Gay rights group visits the Potter’s House

Saturday, May 24, 2008
By Sam Hodges

Dallas megachurch the Potter’s House had the welcome mat in place last Sunday for a visiting gay rights delegation but didn’t give ground on such issues as gay marriage.

"We were treated very well," said Jeff Lutes, executive director of Soulforce, a national group that pushes for full inclusion of gay people in churches.

"I think it was an important first step."

Soulforce and three other groups with a gay rights focus have had members visiting prominent megachurches, including Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, in a campaign called the American Family Outing.

A 30-person contingent, consisting in part of gay couples with children, attended the 11 a.m. service at the Potter’s House, a 30,000-member congregation.

"They seated us on the third row, and there were no questions or issues around the fact that some of us were clearly couples," said Deneen Robinson, an elder in Living Faith Covenant Church, a predominantly black church in Dallas that is "welcoming and affirming" to gay people.

After the service, some of the visitors met with staff of the Potter’s House. Bishop T.D. Jakes, the well-known founder and pastor of the church, was recovering from back surgery and did not attend. But he did call Mr. Lutes.

"Bishop Jakes responded favorably to our request for ongoing conversation," Mr. Lutes said.

Both sides agree that they have differences, including on gay marriage.

"Our theology is based on the Bible, and in the Bible it states that a union is between a man and woman," said Curtis Coats III, a spokesman for the Potter’s House.

Mr. Coats and Mr. Lutes said the visitors and church staff found common ground on such issues as the importance of HIV testing, something Bishop Jakes has promoted as part of an extensive outreach ministry.

Shayne Lee, a Tulane University sociologist, said Bishop Jakes’ pragmatism was clear in how the meeting was handled.

"It does show on his part a willingness to engage with people who are different, and, strategically, to keep that dialogue low key," said Dr. Lee, author of the book T.D. Jakes: America’s New Preacher.

Reports from the American Family Outing

The American Family Outing

Reports from the American Family Outing

Photos:

Photos from the Saddleback Church visit

Photos from the Willow Creek Community Church visit

Other Sheep’s Photos from the New Birth visit

Photos from the Hope Christian visit

Other Sheep’s Photos from the Hope Christian visit

Photos from the Potter’s House visit

Photos from the Lakewood visit

Email Alerts

Email Alert 6/20/2008
American Family Outing Concludes with Visit to Dr. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church

Email Alert 6/13/2008
American Family Outing visits Bill Hybels & Willow Creek

Email Alert 6/6/2008
Report on the American Family Outing Visit with Bishop Eddie Long

Email Alert 5/30/2008
A Spirit of Integrity and a Gospel of Deception: The Starkly Different Theologies of Bishops T.D. Jakes and Harry Jackson, Jr.

Email Alert 5/22/2008
Bishop T.D. Jakes Agrees to Ongoing Dialogue with LGBT & Straight-Ally Families

Email Alert 5/15/2008
Jay Bakker Meets with Joel Osteen on Mother’s Day

Email Alert 5/9/2008
American Family Outing to Six Mega-Churches Has Begun

Press Releases:

Press Release 6/24/2008
"Gay Days" at the Mega-churches: LGBT Families & Allies Reflect on the American Family Outing

Press Release 6/4/2008
Gay Dads to Celebrate Father’s Day at Saddleback Church

Press Release 6/2/2008
Bishop Long Meets with LGBT Families: A Story of Family Reconciliation

Press Release 5/30/2008
Soulforce Releases Video of Bishop Harry Jackson

Press Release 5/30/2008
New Birth to Meet with LGBT Families

Press Release 5/27/2008
LGBT Families Share Their Witness with Hope Christian, Bishop Jackson

Press Release 5/22/2008
Soulforce Releases Letters to Bishop Jackson, Seeks to Dispel Misinformation

Press Release 5/20/2008
"A Real Exploration of Common Ground": AFO Opens Dialogue with The Potter’s House

Press Release 5/15/2008
LGBT Families to Meet with The Potter’s House

Press Release 5/12/2008
American Family Outing Begins Dialog with Lakewood

Press Release 5/7/2008
LGBT Families to Host Families from Lakewood Church

Press Release 4/24/2008
Soulforce Releases Letter from Bakker to Osteen

Press Release 4/8/2008
American Family Outing Seeks to Dispel Divisive Tactics

Press Release 2/15/2008
Jay Bakker to Join Gay and Transgender Families at Austin Training

Press Release 1/8/2008
LGBT Families Ask Six Mega-Churches "Can We Talk?"

Back to the American Family Outing

Soulforce Releases Letters to Bishop Jackson, Seeks to Dispel Misinformation

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: May 22, 2008
For Immediate Release

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

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(Thursday, May 22, 2008) Today Soulforce released letters to Bishop Harry Jackson and staff at Hope Christian Church. The letters, which were written on December 1, 2007, and March 20, 2008, invite Bishop Jackson and members of his Maryland church to share a meal and "heart-to-heart" conversations with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) families as part of a nationwide fellowship effort called The American Family Outing.

The letters were released in response to a press release from Jackson’s High Impact Leadership Coalition, which mistakenly suggests that members of Soulforce plan to protest outside Hope Christian Church on Sunday.

"We have had a series of conversations with Bishop Jackson and his staff that would not warrant the tone of their press release," said Dr. Sylvia Rhue, Director of Religious Affairs for the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC).

"As the letters show, The American Family Outing is about conversation between families and civil discourse on common ground," Rhue continued. "The letters document that we have reached out to Hope Christian Church in good faith, and we will continue to do so with integrity."

The American Family Outing is a collaborative project of Soulforce, COLAGE, NBJC, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

In the letter dated March 20, 2008, Soulforce Executive Director Jeff Lutes wrote: "we want to assure you that we intend to engage you in the same way we believe you will seek to engage us – with Christ-like love and respect. We believe Hope Christian Church and our families can model the kind of hospitality and concern for others that is mandated by Scripture and our shared faith values." (Links to full text below.)

Today Lutes indicated that the families of The American Family Outing will attend the planned dinner with Hope Christian Church on Saturday, May 24.

The American Family Outing (AFO) aims to open dialogue between LGBT families and families at six American mega-churches. In previous weeks, AFO families have visited Lakewood Church in Houston and The Potter’s House in Dallas. In weeks to come, LGBT families will visit Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois and Saddleback Church in California.

For more information, go to www.soulforce.org.

To read the full text of the letter dated December 1, 2007, go to: www.soulforce.org/article/1368

To read the full text of the letter dated March 20, 2008, go to: www.soulforce.org/article/1369

Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization dedicated to freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.

The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) is an international fellowship of Christian churches with a ministry to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The National Black Justice Coalition(NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering Black same-gender-loving, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. The Coalition works with our communities and our allies for social justice, equality, and an end to racism and homophobia.

COLAGE is a national movement of children, youth and adults with one or more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer parents. We build community and work toward social justice through youth empowerment, leadership development, education, and advocacy.
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Creator’s Syndicate, "A Gay Friendly Message to Mega-churches"

"A Gay Friendly Message to Mega-churches"

by Deb Price

When Michelle Freeman fell in love with a woman 12 years ago, she felt compelled to leave her predominantly African American church.

"The last sermon I heard as a practicing Baptist was very anti-gay," recalls Freeman, 42. "I had internalized homophobia. But when I met Georgia, I wanted us to worship in a place where we could be ourselves."

Her partner, Georgia Chambers, had also grown up in a predominantly African American church with anti-gay messages. The Texas couple transferred their spiritual gifts and needs to the Metropolitan Community Church, a gay-friendly denomination.

Strengthened by their relationship and spiritual growth at MCC, the couple recently decided to join an outreach mission that, between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, will visit six influential mega-churches. "I am taking a stand for the God I love, who I know made us all equal," explains Chambers, 39.

The "American Family Outing" has four sponsors: Soulforce, which adapts the principles of nonviolence honed by Mohandas Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to challenge anti-gay messages in places of worship; the National Black Justice Coalition; MCC; and COLAGE, whose members have gay parents. (To participate, go to soulforce.org.)

The sponsors have asked the six mega-churches to welcome Outing’s gay and gay-friendly families for meals, conversation and worship.

But even if the mega-churches don’t extend the hand of fellowship, they will be visited. Respecting the six mega-churches’ work on such issues as poverty and AIDS, the Outing visitors hope to sow seeds of love and understanding so that, one day, mega-churches will help to end physical and spiritual violence against gays.

The outreach comes at a pivotal moment in the evangelical movement: the passing of the old guard — signaled by the deaths last year of the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. D. James Kennedy — and the rise of a new generation of mega-church leaders, who reach mega-millions through massive worship services, TV and radio shows, books and CDs.
The new generation tends to be less fiercely anti-gay. Their subtle softening of anti-gay rhetoric and shifting of priorities reflects polls showing that evangelicals in the pews care more about issues like health care and the Iraq war than about gay marriage.

Three mega-church preachers to be visited largely avoid gay issues: Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest church in America, Lake Wood Church in Houston; Rick Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California and author of a Christian classic, "The Purpose-Driven Life"; and Bishop T.D. Jakes, the African American senior pastor of The Potter’s House in Texas, who was dubbed "America’s best preacher" by Time magazine.

Two others serve up a more familiar anti-gay message: Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., the African American pastor of Hope Christian Church in Maryland, and Bishop Eddie Long, the African American pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia.

In between is Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois.

Freeman, who plans to visit New Birth and Hope Christian with her partner, wants to worship and talk with families there.

"Our relationships are just as sacred to us as yours," she plans to say. "The only difference, at the end of the day, is instead of a man and a lady, we are two ladies."

Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues. To find out more about Deb Price and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.