LONG BEACH, Calif. — Eighty-one people were arrested on June 25, 2000 during a peaceful protest by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (GLBT) individuals and their families, friends, and allies outside of the opening worship service of the 212th General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Individuals locked hands and symbolically blocked an exit area at the Long Beach Convention Center Arena. They were arrested, taken to a nearby area for booking, given a summons for “Obstructing a Public Passage”, and released. According to the Presbyterian News Service, most of the people arrested today were Presbyterians.
Over 100 people had gathered together to protest church policies which exclude GLBT individuals from leadership in the church and to worship and stand together in solidarity during a Revival and Renewal Service prior to the arrests. The demonstration and service were organized by Soulforce, an ecumenical people of faith network committed to applying the principles of nonviolent resistance as taught by Gandhi and Martin Luther King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities. All participants were required to sign, wear, and uphold the Soulforce “pledge to nonviolence” used by Dr. Martin Luther King and his marchers in 1963.
Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr, National Evangelist and Executive Director of “That All May Freely Serve” and an openly lesbian minister said, “We are thankful for Soulforce, who invited us to be a witness to our church about the tremendous gifts of GLBT people. The church is suffering a great loss because our gifts are denied and we are not allowed to serve.” Rev. Spahr spoke during the Soulforce Revival Service and was arrested when she locked arms with 83 year old Elder Virginia Davidson, a former vice-moderator of GA; Rev. Dr. Bear Ride, Director of the Peace Center; Bill Thompson, a former moderator and former stated clerk of the Presbyterian General Assembly; Rev. Hal Porter, a retired Presbyterian minister, and many others, all of whom also spoke during the revival service.
“This civil disobedience is only the beginning of a campaign to empower GLBT individuals to take a stand against oppressive and non-supportive churches and denominational policies,” said Mel White, co-founder of Soulforce. `The tragic influence of these unjust Presbyterian policies against God’s children must end.”
This is the third time this year that Soulforce has been a presence at a national denominational gathering. 191 people were arrested in Cleveland OH, during a Soulforce action at the United Methodist General Conference in May. 28 people were arrested in June at the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando.