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the Front Range of the Culture War
Reflections on the Soulforce Action
against Focus on the Family, May 1, 2005
"We are all participants
in same-gender relationships."
--Rev. Gil Caldwell, a 72 year-old straight grandfather from
Coming into Colorado Springs for Soulforce's
action against Focus on the Family, my quiet cab ride was disturbed by
two signs that I had landed in a 'red' state.
The first was an impassioned plea on the radio from James Dobson, encouraging
Colorado voters to contact Senator Ken Salazar to tell him to end his
support of the Democratic filibuster of Bush's judicial nominees. The
second was driving past the New Life Church, a massive shopping center
house of worship with a giant neon sign out front proclaiming JESUS. I
got that familiar sinking feeling as someone from a flyover state who
is constantly trying to defend my heritage to East and West coasters:
I guess we are really that bad after all.
The next day dawned with the flanks of the Front Range hidden under
cover of snow and clouds. It was a freezing May first, surely not a good
sign for turning out numbers to what was billed as a "May Day family picnic"
in front of the Focus headquarters. But as the time for the rally approached,
clutches of people descended on the scene. Square-state stereotypes fell
away as hundreds of Colorado residents, fed up with the self-appointed
spokespeople of family values, showed up to the rally to dance, eat, and
shiver for freedom.
The usual crowd of lefties was there - Young Democrats, neo- and proto-hippies,
anti-war protesters. There was a pride parade contingent of spiky-haired
lesbians and leather and glitter gay boys. But then three charter buses
pulled up, and church groups started filing out: straight couples with
children, grandparents with P-FLAG pins, clergy in collars. They set up
card tables with hot chocolate and snacks, and it actually started to
look like a church picnic.
At the press conference, I denounced Focus' "Love Won Out" ex-gay programs
on behalf of the Religious Leadership Roundtable and the Task Force. One
of the most powerful speakers at the press conference and the rally was
Reverend Gil Caldwell, an African American United Methodist pastor who
was part of the 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi. He stood in front
of the crowd and proclaimed, "We are all participants in same-gender relationships."
It was a statement that, if I had made it, would have meant nothing, but
coming from a 72-year-old straight grandfather, it meant everything.
The most emotional speech came from Mary Lou and Bob Wallner. Mary Lou,
a former fundamentalist Christian, lost her lesbian daughter to suicide
in 1997. Next to her pleas for Christians to repent from their deadly
homophobia, Focus' statements in the local papers the next day -- that
they love gays but the Bible rejects homosexuality -- came off as especially
By the time we started marching around the Focus headquarters, the popular
liberal church song, "We Are Marching in the Light of God," had morphed
into, "We Are Freezing in the Light of God." It was a long hike; Focus
has a massive headquarters. As we rounded the final stretch of the march,
we looked into windows at their in-house publishing department, a warehouse
of books and pamphlets dripping with vitriol.
On Monday morning, 23 year-old Soulforce staffer Jake Reitan and his
parents, Randi and Phil Reitan, marched up to the Focus headquarters to
deliver a letter to James Dobson. The letter was one of a thousand "Dear
Dr. Dobson" letters Soulforce collected which described the pain Dobson's
activities have caused in the lives of families. On Mondays, the Focus
headquarters are usually open to the public, but because of the protest
they had closed their doors and even covered the sign in the driveway
with a tarp. After the Reitans read their letter, this small clan of hot-dish
Minnesota Lutherans, right off 'A Prairie Home Companion,' deliberately
trespassed onto Focus property. They were handcuffed in plastic binders
by police, and led off to a waiting prisoner van while about 250 Soulforce
protesters sang "Amazing Grace."
Focus leadership had continually denied requests to meet with Soulforce,
claiming schedule conflicts and travel plans. Yet somehow, several of
their vice presidents and spokespeople appeared in all the media stories
on the event, even though they weren't technically there. The siege mentality
of the religious right was truly apparent as they huddled behind their
shuttered doors, issuing useless press statements against this small contingent
of peaceful protesters.
And perhaps they were right to dig in: if all it takes is a bunch of
liberal grandmas and hippy college students to shut down a multi-million
dollar operation for a day, maybe they aren't as strong as we thought.
As I participated in the activities over the weekend, I kept thinking
about Jesus' words to his disciples, that they must be, "innocent as doves
and shrewd as snakes." It seems Soulforce has put the pieces together
for being both prophetic and strategic. But the other thing that struck
me is just how vital this work is. As Soulforce founder Mel White spoke
at the rally about conducting funeral services for young gay Christians
who had taken their lives, it became apparent there is a toxic culture
that has grown up around American religion.
Whatever we may do in our various denominations and religions as lesbian,
gay, bisexual, transgender and supporting people of faith, we must remember
that we are working to save lives.
Lindsay is the spokesperson for the National Religious Leadership
Roundtable of the National
Gay and Lesbian Task Force, an interfaith collaboration of
more than forty denominations and faith-related organizations. First convened
in 1998, the Roundtable seeks to reframe the public religious dialogue
on issues involving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT)
community by amplifying the voices of LGBT-affirming people of faith,
countering religious voices of bigotry and intolerance, and working to
advance full equality for all.
Copyright © by the author
All Rights Reserved
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