Having been involved with Soulforce since its founding, and having been involved in several previous direct actions, I thought I knew what to expect in New Orleans during the Southern Baptist Convention. However, where there are no allies within the denomination, the experience is quite different.
We held vigil in varying numbers, on Tuesday, June 12, from 8 a.m. until the last Baptist had left the building. We passed out invitations to our jazz funeral on June 13. Those passing out flyers engaged in conversation and stated our case. Those standing vigil did so in silence.
Members of Fred Phelps’s family, that messenger of hate, who went to Matthew Sheperd’s funeral were there carrying a sign that read “Matt is in hell.” He goes everywhere we go. His venom and vicious signs only serve to make people aware that such hate exists. A project has started to pledge a specific amount of money (to go to whatever group he is picketing) for each minute that the Phelps crowd demonstrates. In New Orleans, pledges were made for over $10,000, to Soulforce for the 6 and a half hours that Fred and his children were on the scene.
In New Orleans we held a real jazz funeral, complete with band, coffin and floral spray. The symbolism was that we were mourning for all those who suffer and die because of the teachings of the Southern Baptist church. Thirty-four of us were arrested for attempting to take the coffin inside the Southern Baptist convention. The charges were dismissed – a first for Soulforce.
I would like to focus on the Soulforce members whose dedication makes what we do possible.
There’s Mel White, of course. He inspires us to attempt the impossible.
There’s Mel’s partner, Gary. He is an anchor of calm.
There’s Bill, who seems to be everywhere, taking care of those million and one details.
There’s Karen, who has been so violated by the Southern Baptists, in very significant ways, professionally and personally. Karen has co-chaired at least two of these events. She was just honored by the gay community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as an outstanding citizen.
There’s Kara, who handles the emails and makes sure everyone gets where they need to be.
There’s Jeanneane, the PFLAG mom from Seattle, who never misses a direct action and who asks telemarketers whether their companies discriminate against gays and lesbians.
There’s Gina, a petite police officer from Tennessee, who acts as liaison with the local police and keeps us out of trouble.
There’s Mary Lee, a minister, who has been performing civil disobedience in the pursuit of justice for about 30 years. She has been arrested nine times.
There’s Richard, who has single-handedly confronted D. James Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, and who has been able to maintain a cordial relationship in that difficult situation.
There’s Karen, our attorney, who doesn’t get arrested, but who makes sure we dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.
There’s Jean, who organizes us into squads for standing vigil and for getting arrested, so that we have manageable groups.
There’s Judy, a wonderful transgender who says her daughter introduces her. “This is my Dad, Judy.”
There’s Jimmy, everybody’s hero. He insisted on performing holy unions for gay couples, against the policies of the United Methodist Church. He was tried by a Methodist court and stripped of his ordination – defrocked.
There’s Chuck, a wizard with a camera and multi-media. He has the pictures ready by the time we get out of jail.
There’s Laura, our magnificent media coordinator, who can tell any reporter the name of the Soulforce person from his/her geographic area, and who can identify everyone’s photograph.
There are the supporters in the local churches who welcome us and provide a place for us to hold our training and worship services.
There are so many wonderful people who come to our Soulforce events. Gays, lesbians, PFLAG moms and dads, bisexuals and transgenders. There are people who have no connection to the gay community except a sense of what is fair and just and really Christian. We have such joy when we see each other each time. When someone is not able to come, that person is sorely missed.
Those of you who have never considered attending a Soulforce event don’t know what you are missing. If you have been injured by the teachings of your church, you need to be with us. If your family has rejected you because of what they believe about the Bible, you need to be with us. If you need to renew your own spirit and conquer the anger you feel toward the Fred Phelpses of this world, you need to be with us.
A year ago Soulforce performed civil disobedience at the Presbyterian General Assembly, where they voted to forbid pastors from performing holy unions for gay couple. That was not ratified by the Presbyterians across the country. This year the Presbyterians voted by 60% to ordain gays and lesbians to the ministry. This must be ratified by the congregations in their presbyteries. They elected a pro-gay moderator as the head of the Presbyterian church. The Presbyterians have two very strong groups within the denomination working for these changes. However, is Soulforce making a difference? What do you think?