This email from Soulforce is both a homage to the great civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, and also reminds us that we are in the same battle for justice in fighting for full civil and sacramental rights for LGBT people.
A Special Message from the Executive Director of Soulforce
Dear Friend of Soulforce,
Today, on the fortieth anniversary of his assassination, we honor the tremendous impact of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy on our nation, even as we acknowledge that there is still much to be done to end racism and poverty in America. The life of Dr. King was cut short because he spoke truth to power and took justice to the streets through marches, vigils, rallies, sit-ins, bus boycotts, and other public demonstrations that exposed bigotry and discrimination. Many clergy leaders of that era tried to disguise the ugliness of their prejudices as "religious freedom" and repeatedly chastised King for his disruptive and uninvited interference.
But King understood that it was his moral obligation to get in the way of injustice. His constructive nonviolent strategies sought to create what he called "healthy tension" that forced a racist society to pause, reflect, and consider the indecency embodied in their discrimination. By exposing and dramatizing injustice so that it could no longer be ignored, King's direct actions forced the public to confront oppression and begin the necessary steps of negotiation toward full equality and freedom.
In his famous essay, Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King responded to religious leaders of his day who publicly criticized him for being "impatient" and "disruptive:"
"First, I must confess that over the last few years I have become gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season". Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."
Sadly, it appears that most religious institutions and denominations have not learned much from history or from Dr. King's teachings -- when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, the church still prefers "order" over justice.
In just three weeks, Soulforce and concerned citizens from across the country will converge on Fort Worth, Texas, for the general conference of the United Methodist Church. We come determined to continue the peaceful march toward freedom we began at the UMC general conferences of 2000 and 2004. While LGBT people defend their own dignity and struggle toward liberation, there are those within the Methodist denomination who would seek to attack the disenfranchised and label them "disrespectful, disruptive, and self-righteous." Take a look at this resolution against the people of Soulforce that some Methodists are planning to introduce during the upcoming general conference (link to full text of the petition at the end of this email):
...WHEREAS, Soulforce does not respect the right of religious bodies to make their own internal decisions concerning their beliefs and policies, but has become infamous for illegally disrupting and interrupting the activities of denominational conventions and religious institutions to demand that these religious denominations and institutions submit to allowing this outside group dictate a rewriting of their beliefs; and...
...WHEREAS, during a church trial for a self-avowed, practicing homosexual United Methodist minister in the Pacific-Northwest Conference in March 2004, dozens of Soulforce activists took illegal actions of "civil disobedience" to attempt to stop the due process required by our Book of Discipline, even physically blocking participating church leaders from entering the building where the trial took place (Melanthia Mitchell, "Wash. Trial Starting for Lesbian Minister," Associated Press, 17 March 2004; available from http://www.soulforce.org/article/54 ; accessed 17 October 2007); and
WHEREAS, Soulforce has loudly disrupted the 2000 and 2004 General Conferences of The United Methodist Church, taking valuable time away from our church proceedings to denounce our biblical teachings that sex is for marriage and to attempt to intimidate delegates to vote in line with their agenda; and...
...Be it therefore resolved, that the 2008 General Conference hereby declares its love for the United Methodist Church, even if Soulforce and some of its supporters may not love it; and
Be it further resolved, that we decry the disrespectful, disruptive, and self-righteous tactics of Soulforce as beyond the bounds of appropriate ways to express disagreement within religious communities; and
Be it further resolved, that we call on Soulforce to respect the right of The United Methodist Church to set its own standards of belief and policy without their uninvited interference; and
Be it further resolved, that we discourage all of our members from providing support to Soulforce.
In 1939, the Methodist Church told African Americans they were not welcome in the same church pews as whites and the Central Jurisdiction was formed as a racial compromise. During the years of Central Jurisdiction, blacks in the Methodist Church struggled for both desegregation in society and reform within the church. This insulting discrimination against African Americans was caused by the UMC's unwillingness to be one church. At their 2008 General Conference, the United Methodist Church will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the end of Central Jurisdiction (it was eliminated by action of the 1968 General Conference). In doing so, the Methodist church is acknowledging that it once was on the wrong side of justice when it came to racial equality -- until it had a change of heart. Meanwhile, this same denomination seems unable to learn from history and apply those lessons to the liberation of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people sitting in their pews. Rev. Jim Lawson, Rev. Phil Lawson, and Rev. Gil Caldwell, all leaders during the civil rights movement, will join Soulforce in Forth Worth to share their insights on the parallels between Central Jurisdiction and the current struggle for equality by LGBT people within the United Methodist Church.
Forty-five years ago, Dr. King said "So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice..."
Today, Soulforce asks: In another forty-five years, will the United Methodist Church proudly recall a history of becoming a bold headlight toward justice, or will it look back with shame for choosing to remain a tail-light? We call on the United Methodist Church to live up to its motto and truly welcome and affirm all people with "Open Minds, Open Hearts, and Open Doors."
Please join Soulforce in bringing truth and justice to the United Methodist Church. Go to www.soulforce.org/article/1314 for detailed plans, the daily activity schedule, and hotel information. The last day to make reservations at our discounted rate for the hotel on Friday night and Saturday night is April 18, so be sure to make your reservations soon.
Stand with us in Forth Worth -- together we can continue Dr. King's legacy of seeking justice and equality for all people.
Jeff Lutes, MS, LPC