"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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Soulforce Releases Video of Bishop Harry Jackson

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: May 30, 2008
For Immediate Release

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

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(Friday, May 30, 2008) Today Soulforce posted a video of Bishop Harry Jackson’s closing remarks at a dinner meeting with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) families at his Beltsville, Maryland church on May 24, 2008.

"I want to thank you for the spirit in which you have said you were going to operate and in which you have operated thus far," Jackson said to the assembled families.

The conciliatory and grateful tone of the remarks offers a sharp contrast to Jackson’s recent appearance on the Christian Broadcasting Network News, where Jackson characterized the families as "irrational," "heathen," and "aggressive."

The meeting was part of a nationwide fellowship outreach called The American Family Outing, which aims to open dialogue by inviting families at six American mega-churches to share a meal and conversation with LGBT and straight-ally families.

Prior to the meeting, a press release from Jackson’s High Impact Leadership Coalition mistakenly suggested that members of The American Family Outing planned to protest outside Hope Christian Church and that Jackson had invited the family members in to "hear the truth of the Gospel."

Jackson’s remarks to the LGBT families clarify the nature of the meeting: "I want to thank you tonight for coming. Again, if you had not invited us originally, if you had not insisted on the dialogue, it never would have happened."

Jackson concluded his remarks by saying "I believe that we have learned quite a bit from this time together."

View Jackson’s complete closing remarks. View the CBN interview.

Speaking to the discrepancy between the two videos, Paige Schilt, Soulforce Media Director said, "Sometimes, when our interlocutors are in the grip of profound misinformation, they do not treat us with respect and integrity."

"It is tempting to withdraw or become defensive — and yet we persist in our witness. Why? Not because we are naive, but because we believe that, ultimately, no misinformation or slander can obscure the goodness and authenticity of our families and our quest for justice," Schilt continued.

In previous weeks, AFO families have visited Lakewood Church in Houston and The Potter’s House in Dallas. In these successful visits, American Family Outing participants and church congregants have engaged in thoughtful and inspiring dialogue and fellowship. In weeks to come, LGBT families will visit Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois and Saddleback Church in California.

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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Soulforce Issues Statement on California Marriage Ruling

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SOULFORCE MEDIA ADVISORY: May 15, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
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(Austin, TX) — Soulforce commends the California Supreme Court in doing justice for same-gender couples by striking down the state’s ban on gay marriage. In a historic 4-3 decision today, the court ruled that the voter approved Proposition 22 is unconstitutional. The decision paves the way for California to join Massachusetts as the second state where same-gender couples can legally marry.
The 172-page opinion included the following:

"Accordingly, in light of the conclusions we reach concerning the constitutional questions brought to us for resolution, we determine that the language of section 300 limiting the designation of marriage to a union ‘between a man and a woman’ is unconstitutional and must be stricken from the statute, and that the remaining statutory language must be understood as making the designation of marriage available both to opposite-sex and same-sex couples."

Soulforce Executive Director, Jeff Lutes, stated, "The ruling today is the glorious result of decades of nonviolent activism by many brave souls, including our friend Rev. Troy Perry (founder of UFMCC) and his spouse Phillip Ray De Blieck, and LGBT activist Robin Tyler and her partner, Diane Olsen. We rejoice and give thanks for Troy, Phillip, Robin, and Diane who jointly brought this lawsuit, and we call on all Americans who care about equality to stand up, speak out, and even sit-in (civil disobedience) until justice is served in every state."

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.

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

Back to the Soulforce 10th Anniversary Reunion & Direct Action

Photos from the Ex-Gay Survivor’s Conference


LGBT Resource Center at the University of California – Irvine

Jeff Lutes speaks to the group

Jallen Rix performs

Peterson Toscano in Doing Time The Homo No Mo Halfway House

Paige Schilt directs the media

Kara Speltz handles registration

Registration

Jeremy Marks welcomes a friend

Mike Airhart and Ken

Gathering for the Chalk Talk

Discussing Registration

Jeff Lutes and Mel White

Sharing Ex-Gay Experiences

Peterson leads the Chalk Talk

Phil Lawson and Sylvia Rhue

Sharing Ex-Gay Experiences

Sharing Ex-Gay Experiences

Sharing Ex-Gay Experiences

Sharing Ex-Gay Experiences

Sharing Ex-Gay Experiences

Sharing Ex-Gay Experiences

Jim Burroway

Michael Bussee

Dee talks with a film-maker

Lisa and Anthony

Conference participants

Peterson, Christine, Pat, Paige, and Jeff

Students and Pat from the LGBT Resource Center at the University of California

Wayne Besen

Jason & deMarco

What a cute couple

Having a great time at the Ex-gay Survivor’s Conference

Christine Bakke at the ceremonial tree planting

Cutting the paper from the Sharing Ex-Gay Experiences into pieces to plant with the tree

Bill Carpenter

Rev. Steven Kindle

Cutting the paper from the Sharing Ex-Gay Experiences into pieces to plant with the tree

The tree is a Heavenly Bamboo

Cutting the paper from the Sharing Ex-Gay Experiences into pieces to plant with the tree

Mixing the pieces of paper with the soil. The tree will be planted on the campus of the University of California – Irvine

Soulforce Launches Letter-writing Campaign to Ted Haggard

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: November 14, 2006
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paige Schilt, Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
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(Austin, TX) — The social justice organization Soulforce has launched a campaign urging LGBT people and straight allies to write letters of concern and compassion to Rev. Ted Haggard, the deposed Pastor of New Life Church and former President of the National Association of Evangelicals.

"This is obviously a moment of personal, familial, and professional crisis for Rev. Haggard," said Paige Schilt, Soulforce Media Director. "We want to make sure that the voices of intolerance and homophobia are not the only voices that he hears during this difficult time. Through the Soulforce web site, members of our community can share their own experiences and affirm that LGBT people can and do live lives filled with faith, love, and happiness."

Haggard was dismissed as Senior Pastor of New Life Church on November 4, amid allegations of homosexual conduct. In a letter to his congregation, Haggard confessed to "sexual immorality" and indicated that the church’s board of overseers had directed him to James Dobson, Jack Hayford, and Tommy Barnett for "healing and restoration." Dobson has since bowed out of the team, but a spokesperson for Focus on the Family has continued to affirm the efficacy of counseling and prayer to change sexual orientation.

In fact, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association have all issued statements warning of the mental health dangers of so-called "reparative therapies." According to Dr. Jack Drescher, Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, "The American Psychiatric Association does not consider homosexuality to be an illness, nor should people be pressured to change their sexual orientation. Furthermore, even in the most optimistic studies, the majority of people who try to change their sexual orientation are unsuccessful. In cases where this "therapy" does not work, many patients have ended up feeling worse than when they started. This is one reason why the American Psychiatric Association, in opposing sexual conversion therapies, reminds therapists of their most important duty to patients: ‘First, do no harm.’"

"Haggard has now been referred to the same ‘reparative’ therapy that has threatened the mental and spiritual wellbeing of so many gay men and lesbians," says Schilt. "While we recognize that many in the gay community feel legitimate anger toward Haggard for his history of religion-based bigotry, we hope that many will see this as an opportunity to reach out in empathy."

For more information about the letter-writing campaign, please visit www.soulforce.org/letters/1.


Soulforce’s purpose 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.

Soulforce Urges Compassion for Haggard and Accountability for the National Association of Evangelicals

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: November 6, 2006
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paige Schilt, Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
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(Austin, TX) — In response to the news that Rev. Ted Haggard has been dismissed by New Life Church and resigned as President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), Soulforce Executive Director Jeff Lutes urged the gay community to be compassionate and simultaneously called on the leaders of the NAE to claim responsibility for their role in the crisis.

"Rev. Haggard is just one more tragic example of how lives are destroyed by the lies about gay and lesbian people perpetuated by the NAE, the Religious Right, and both the Protestant and Roman Catholic Church. Taught by the church to hate himself, the only option from his point of view was to lead a psychologically and spiritually damaging double life marked by denial and self-destructive behavior. Rev. Haggard is a victim of religion-based bigotry that regularly demeans and demoralizes gay and lesbian people and refuses to acknowledge that we are part of the American fabric, and that many of us form loving families and practice a deep faith in God."

The NAE holds that "homosexuality is a deviation from the Creator’s plan for human sexuality." In a 2004 policy statement, the organization opposes legislation that would protect gays and lesbians from hate crimes or employment discrimination on the grounds that "such legislation inevitably is perceived as legitimatizing [sic] the practice of homosexuality and elevates that practice to a level of an accepted moral standard."

Haggard submitted his resignation as President of the NAE on Thursday, shortly after allegations of homosexual activity were aired on Denver talk radio. On Saturday, Haggard was removed as pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. In a letter to his congregation, Haggard wrote "there’s a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all my adult life." He also wrote that the church’s overseers have required him to "submit to the oversight of Dr. James Dobson, Pastor Jack Hayford, and Pastor Tommy Barnett. Those men will perform a thorough analysis of my mental, spiritual, emotional and physical life. They will guide me through a program with the goal of healing and restoration for my life, my marriage, and my family."

In reaction to the unfolding events, Lutes said "Our community’s anger at Rev. Haggard’s hypocrisy is completely understandable. However, my hope is that our community will take the high road and extend an olive branch of friendship and support when he is ready to fully come out as a gay man. Dobson and the others will counsel him to bury, deny, and repress his sexuality even deeper than before. They will wound his spirit, and he is going to need our prayers and our compassionate message that God loves him, affirms him, and calls him to live his life openly with honesty and integrity."


Soulforce’s purpose 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.

New Jersey Court Affirms Equal Rights for Same-sex Partners: Soulforce Urges the State Legislature to Act Boldly to End Discrimination

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 26, 2006
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paige Schilt, Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
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(Austin, TX) — In a momentous decision yesterday, the New Jersey Supreme court ruled that "committed same-sex couples must be afforded on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples." While the court unanimously affirmed gay and lesbian couples’ constitutional right to equal protection, a majority opinion left it to the New Jersey state legislature to decide whether same-sex relationships will be recognized by the name of marriage.

Writing for the majority, Justice Barry T. Albin affirmed the state’s interest in providing full civil rights for gay and lesbian couples, arguing that "to the extent that families are strengthened by encouraging monogamous relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual, the Court cannot discern a public need that would justify the legal disabilities that now afflict same-sex domestic partnerships."

"The New Jersey court’s opinion belies the distorted reasoning that would frame protecting gay and lesbian families as a threat to the moral fabric of American society. In recognizing the equal needs and rights of same-sex couples and their children, this decision gives hope to all gay and lesbian Americans," said Paige Schilt, Soulforce Media Director.

The ruling gave the New Jersey legislature 180 days to either "amend the marriage statutes" to include same-sex couples or "create a separate statutory structure."

"As the New Jersey legislature responds to the court’s ruling, Soulforce hopes that they will learn from the painful lessons of American history," Schilt continued. "A ‘separate but equal’ system of rights is inherently unequal, and the legislature should act boldly to end discrimination in marriage."


Soulforce’s purpose 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.