Infiltrating the Southern Baptist Convention

My husband and I spent June 7-11, 2002 with Soulforce studying the nonviolent teachings of Martin Luther King and Gandhi. One of our teachers was Arun Gandhi, the fifth grandson of Mohandas Gandhi. We were choosing to spend our own 35th wedding anniversary preparing to bring to the Southern Baptists our message that their practices and teachings about homosexuality causes spiritual and physical violence and death to our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender friends and pain to their families. We were determined to do something to help make this a better world for our gay son.

On June 10, our actual anniversary Bob and I attended separate training sessions. He prepared to vigil outside the Southern Baptist Convention while I prepared to infiltrate the convention itself. During this time 12 Soulforce trainees were isolated from the main group and trained by our lawyers, policewomen and our spiritual leaders. I began to feel some of the fear, anxiety and stress that I have heard expressed by my GLBT friends when they must hide who they are. We were preparing to trespass. Together we appeared as six heterosexual Southern Baptists couples. We proudly represented the GLBT community and allies. We wanted to fit in so we were naturally concerned about our clothing. Sunday best was suggested. We planned strategic seating positions. We practiced nonviolent ways to defend ourselves if we were physically attacked. We prepared mentally to control our own violence of tongue and heart.

For three years we have sent our stories in letters, tapes, and emails to all the messengers that come to the convention asking them to simply meet with us. This year we asked them to denounce Judge Roy Moore, a Southern Baptist for his life threatening statements that included execution of GLBT people. They refused. By their silence the Southern Baptists teachings perpetuate killing, intimidation, and hate crimes against people that I love.

My partner was Jimmy Creech, the straight Methodist minister who lost his church and ordination in 1999 when he performed a holy union for a gay couple. Both of us spent restless nights. We were anxious but determined to do our parts. Per instructions we made no eye contact with our Soulforce friends stationed at the entrance to our hotels. We felt guilty and pained when we deliberately turned our eyes away from our comrades.

Purposely ignoring our orderly Soulforce friends Jimmy and I entered the arena expecting to be snatched away by security at any moment. It occurred to me that this must feel somewhat similar to hiding your sexual orientation or gender identity at home or work or church. My palms were wet and my mouth dry. We were prepared to cover up our participation in Soulforce for only a few hours. How horrible it must feel to have to hide every day.

We found seats where we had planned. We discussed whether we should lie about who we were if someone asked our names. Should we invent more things? We decided to be as truthful as we could. My stomach churned. The music was beautiful and very energetic. I felt Jimmy about to break into dance and thought if he wiggles just a little more we will be caught. As I looked around people were reacting to it very conservatively and there was no dancing. We conformed.

We clapped when everyone else clapped but even in our clapping we were lying. We did not agree with statements denouncing our GLBT friends. We did not agree politically, but we clapped. We endured the verbal insults from the speakers and from those behind us. Then it began and our first couple, which included a transgender woman, started yelling their message. We were in front and could barely hear them. The ushers and police were swift and removed them.

By the time it was our turn Jimmy and I had a little different plan. We were the last couple to go. We wanted to reach the podium and deliver our message but we could see that it would be nearly impossible. So, instead of going together we decided to deliver ours a few seconds apart. With our hearts racing, palms sweating, we began. Jimmy started forward. I waited a few seconds and while seated I simply turned to those around me and deliberately looking each person in the eyes said, “My gay son is not sick.” The Southern Baptists were polite and shocked. I stayed down in my seat delivering my message over and over, face to face, until one woman started waving her hand and then I stood up yelling for all I was worth. In seconds a hand firmly grabbed my elbow and quickly rushed me from the auditorium. I continued to shout my message.

I joined my Soulforce friends in a back hallway and was handcuffed. We were joyful and thrilled. Our fear and anxiety was gone. We were doing justice and willing to pay the consequences. Eventually we were booked on a felony charge with discrimination. It constituted a hate crime to disrupt and point out that Southern Baptist teachings kill our GLBT friends and children. The charges were later reduced. We had complete confidence in our Soulforce lawyer who works with the city attorneys. Eight hours in smelly jail cells, singing freedom songs was little to pay to help get the truth to our Southern Baptist friends.

We were able to tell our stories to many people while in St. Louis. We talked to police, waitpersons, hotel clerks, store clerks and many more on our plane ride to and from St. Louis. We told our stories to each other. When GLBT people are called unfit parents, pedophiles, murderers or unchristian, etc it is our moral obligation to show and tell the truth. My husband and I are determined to remain on this journey of justice until our son has a safe and equal place in this world.

We are determined to let our faith community know that their silence also contributes to this spiritual violence. We invite you to see the Soulforce website and see how we have been inspired.

There were 50 arrested in St. Louis but hundreds stood outside in solidarity. We need those who will stand in support and make a difference. I do this not with numbers in mind but for the strength and pride that I feel when I know that this is just and right. “My gay son is not sick.” He makes me proud just the way he is.

By the way, my straight son is just as beautiful and should anyone treat him unfairly I would be back on the battle lines for him too. Bob and I agree that this was a memorable anniversary and we would not have wanted to celebrate it anywhere else with anyone else.

Seattle can be proud that four participants were from here. Mike Perez, Judy Osborne, and myself were arrested from inside the Southern Baptist Conference. Just as important the fourth Seattle participant my husband Bob stood in solidarity with hundreds in vigil in front of the hotels, and at the conference. Please help grow this movement and join us in local training. “Soulforce In Washington” is officially formed and we are prepared to train in nonviolence. We intend to focus on these issues locally and support our national movement too.