We at Soulforce have been roundly criticized for our act of civil disobedience at Cleveland’s United Methodist General Conference. One critic dismissed our efforts as “media-driven street theater.” We accept that as a compliment. For thirty years Protestant and Catholic leaders have debated the homosexuality issue. That debate itself has become a primary source of suffering for millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Soulforce volunteers are using “media-driven street theater” at denominational gatherings this summer to send a clear message that for us this endless debate must end.
No longer will we sit silently in church conferences, conventions, assemblies or congregations where the Bible is used to caricature and condemn us. No longer will we stand by in anger and grief while our relationships are demeaned and our ministries denied. No longer will we appear on church panels or media broadcasts with people from ex-gay “transforming” ministries who believe our sexual orientation is a sickness and a sin that can and should be changed. The debate is over. The verdict is in. Homosexuality is not a sickness, not a sin. We, too, are the children of God, created, redeemed, sustained, and accepted without reservation by our loving Creator.
Our nonviolent demonstration at Cleveland is just the first step. These acts of “media-driven street theater” signal the launch of a long-term Soulforce program of civil disobedience and non-cooperation at other national and regional church conferences, conventions and assemblies. Call it what you will but plan for it at your denominational headquarters, at your seminaries and colleges, and even at your individual churches across the country that still see our lives as “incompatible with Christian teaching,” that refuse to bless our relationships or honor our call to service.
We are committed to the nonviolence teachings of Jesus, Gandhi, and King. We refuse to demonstrate violence of the heart, tongue, or fist. We will bring truth in love relentlessly to those who misunderstand and condemn us. We will love our adversaries and take on ourselves any suffering that our direct actions may cause. (In Cleveland, for example, those of us arrested were honored with a permanent police record. We spent a day in paddy wagons, jails, and courtrooms across the city and at $150 each paid collectively over $30,000 in fines.) And we are willing to pay a whole lot more in time, money and energy to see the suffering end. We invite your readers to join us or at least to hear our side of the story at www.soulforce.org.
By the way, those who the 191 people of faith who were arrested in Cleveland at our “banal protest” included everyone of the “genuine” United Methodist heroes proclaimed in your editorial. We stood proudly with Jimmy Creech, Gregory Dell, Don Fado and many of the “Sacramento 67” as well as heroes from the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s including Dr. Jim Lawson (the man who trained the students who integrated the lunch counters and rode the Freedom Busses) and Arun Gandhi, the steward of his grandfather’s legacy in nonviolence.
I’m grateful that your editorial mentioned “Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The primary thrust of that amazing document was not to define civil disobedience or to proscribe its use as a tool of spiritual resistance in future civil rights movements. At the heart of that historic letter is the author’s terrible disappointment with the “white church” for its refusal to do justice for racial minorities. At our Soulforce event in Cleveland, Dr. King’s eldest daughter, Yolanda, expressed a similar concern that white and black churches alike refuse to do justice for sexual minorities and quoted deeply moving passages from her father’s writings that apply directly to our cause.
“The contemporary Church,” Dr. King writes, “is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the Church as never before. If the Church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early Church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”
We at Soulforce say, “Amen and amen!”
A behind-the-scenes member of the evangelical Protestant movement from the 1960’s-1980’s, Rev. Mel White came out in 1994, publishing the book Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America. He was awarded the ACLU’s National Civil Liberties Award in 1997 for his efforts to apply the “soul force” principles of Gandhi and King to the LGBTQI movement and founded the organization Soulforce in 1998 to continue that work.