Soulforce protests and civil disobedience action that I joined in New Orleans in June were not about Southern Baptist doctrine. It was about genocide. It was not about Southern Baptist polity and practices. It was about the life or death choices that multitudes of gay and lesbian young people face leading to suicide and other self-destructive actions caused by Southern Baptist religious abuse and misinformation about God, Jesus, the Bible, and the truth.
THE SOULFORCE TEAM
Mel White and Jimmy Creech led the Soulforce activities. An experienced and dedicated Soulforce team of specialists guided and taught us. Every leader was well prepared, calm, consistent and always appropriate. I was amazed at the competence of every person in leadership and teaching. I learned more in those few days than I ever expected and more of what I need to know than I would have thought possible.
The other over 100 Soulforce volunteers also were my teachers as all of us learned from each other and our leaders. A cheerful positive attitude prevailed. We learned details about the results of abusive religion against all people. We learned how to behave and participate most effectively in a vigil, a march, a non-violent protest and a civil disobedience arrest, which I experienced along with many others.
My life will never be the same after Soulforce in New Orleans.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, all of us participated in silent vigils outside the Southern Baptist Convention. We handed out “Invitation to a Jazz Funeral: To mourn for gay Southern Baptists and their families.” We carried a large banner at vigils and at the “jazz funeral” that proclaimed:
“SOUTHERN BAPTIST TEACHINGS ARE KILLING GOD’S GAY, LESBIAN AND TRANSGENDERED CHILDREN.”
During the first vigil on Tuesday, Don Hinkle of the “Baptist Press” interviewed me about who I was and why I was there. We had a great conversation. I gave him my brochure on “Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse” and he asked if he could quote me from the brochure. Of course I encouraged him to do so. He wanted a copy of my book, and I have sent him one. Don works out of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Later during the funeral procession, a reporter from Mobile, Alabama, interviewed me for her newspaper. Many others were interviewed by various news media covering the convention and our protests.
The final act of Soulforce protest was a dramatic attempt to enter the Southern Baptist Convention to request an opportunity for dialogue with the leaders about the suffering and death of Southern Baptist GLBT people and others.
A Jazz Funeral procession followed behind a casket that held the names and stories of wounded and dead Southern Baptist GLBT people. A large New Orleans Jazz Band led the procession, playing mournful music. The symbolism was powerful!
Before the arrests, several of us had the opportunity to speak to a press conference of our experiences of spiritual violence from Southern Baptists. I spoke briefly of who I am and why I was protesting genocide against gays that uses misinformed religious teachings to convince GLBT young people to fear, hate and kill themselves. I said that the casket in the funeral was much too small, because to contain all of the dead and mutilated bodies of gay Southern Baptists who had been victims of spiritual abuse and violence would require a casket a big as the Super Dome, which loomed over us like a mountain!
I added that according to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is still the leading cause of death of gay and lesbian teens.
When our group arrived at the entrance of the convention hall, the New Orleans Police stopped us. Mel White and Jimmy Creech stated our intention of going into the convention to request to be heard and to enter into dialogue with the SBC leaders about the tragic destruction and death that homophobia has brought upon gay and lesbian people. Television crews recorded all of this for many different networks and local stations.
A representative of the SBC refused our request and the police ordered us to leave or be arrested for trespassing. The order was repeated and we were given one minute to leave. During this time, Mel White and Jimmy Creech repeated our request for being heard and repeated our objection to the deadly consequences of religious abuse and homophobia against us.
When we did not move, the police ordered us to be handcuffed and taken into custody. 34 of us were handcuffed and one by one were escorted by to the waiting police van (bus) to be transported to the New Orleans City Jail. As I walked to the van in handcuffs escorted by a police officer, the crowd cheered and applauded. It was an incredible moment. All of us were very polite and were treated with utmost courtesy by the police.
After the casket was taken away, the New Orleans Jazz Band played “When the Saints Go Marching In.” That really got to me and made me cry. I never cry for myself. But I cried a lot on Wednesday as I was made to remember the many gay friends who have suffered and died because of neglect, rejection, misinformation, self-hate and other evils dumped upon us by sick abusive religion.
A police sergeant had been assigned to work with Mel White and Soulforce to plan this event and he told us how to conduct ourselves and was totally supportive of our right to free speech and our non-violent way of expressing our message. He met us at the jail and announced that the District Attorney had dropped all charges and that we were free to go. We were not booked and did not have to pay the $100 fine that each of us had brought along to pay. Instead, we gave the money to Soulforce.
As we rode in the police van to the police station, I could not sing. I was so emotionally overcome by what I was feeling. I felt totally unworthy to be in the company of the ghosts all around me: the ghosts of gay men wearing pink triangles being taken in busses to Nazi concentration camps and the gas ovens simply because of who they were. I wept for the black men who were taken by the police into remote areas of the Old South to be lynched by angry white people simply because of who they were.
I wept for the Jews of all sexual orientations who were transported by busses and boxcars by the millions to slave camps and then to the gas ovens simply because of who they were.
I wept for the Native Americans who were carried or driven from their own land into American concentration camps called reservations. I wept for the thousands of Native American men, women and children that were exterminated by the United States Army so efficiently that dozens of entire Native American Nations were totally wiped out simply because of who they were. Genocide is an ancient human tradition in many cultures, including ours.
When you want to exterminate vermin, you find a way to make them self-destruct. Religion in America has found a way to exterminate GLBT people, not by killing them, but by teaching and convincing them that they are an abomination to God and that they are evil and have no right to live. You don’t have to kill people you hate if you can make them kill and destroy themselves.
Genocide is “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.” (Webster’s Dictionary) You cannot protest genocide too much. “Racial, political, or cultural group” includes Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transsexuals. I have been basically a writer and teacher. I have always supported whatever protests my LGBT community has used to try to challenge and change the fear and violence of homophobia that is killing us by the thousands.
In New Orleans I had the great privilege and opportunity to join an act of open protest and civil disobedience with others in Soulforce and experience the increasingly harsh reality of closed minded and arrogant religion in my former religious affiliation of Southern Baptists. I have great respect and admiration for Mel and Gary, Jimmy, Laura, Gina, Richard, Dexter, Karen, Diana, Doug, Jean, Rodney, Bill and all of the others who led in many ways and were not listed on the program. I am grateful for everyone who attended my workshops and who shared personal experiences with me. Everybody in Soulforce was my teacher, and I am profoundly grateful.
Rev. Carolyn Mobley came to the Monday through Wednesday events even though her church office at Resurrection MCC in Houston was under two feet of water from the flood, which also flooded the new church sanctuary. Carolyn, a former Southern Baptist home missionary, is associate pastor at MCCR and has joined with me many times in ministry.
DID BAPTISTS HEAR US?
I think that many of them did. There is much unrest and a great disturbance in the force in the Southern Baptist Convention. A number of anti-gay resolutions were offered at this convention, but none of them were passed. I have had conversations recently with many past Southern Baptist leaders who feel as I do that the denomination that we love and once served and honored is now dead. God can raise the dead, and there is hope for Southern Baptists, whom I still love and pray for that they will enter into a new age of hope and love for all people.
The Spirit of God that was so evident to me in Soulforce people and actions is also in many Southern Baptists. The Spirit moves among and within us and brings us into understanding and awakening. Nothing is impossible with God. Even the most obstinately anti-gay religious group in America can change: one by one. The Holy Spirit is still working in all of us long after the convention and the demonstrations and the speeches are over. All that we can do is to testify to and demonstrate our truth in confidence and love. Then leave the results to God.
The author of Invitation To Freedom and Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse, Rev. Rembert S. Truluck served in Metropolitan Community Churches in Atlanta, San Francisco and Nashville from 1988 to 1996. He earned a doctorate in sacred theology from Furman University, serving from 1953 to 1973 as a Southern Baptist preacher. He resigned as a professor at Baptist College at Charleston (now Charleston Southern University) and became an MCC pastor after being outed to the college’s board of trustees.