From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Bishop, 170 others arrested in protest over church's gay policies
10 May 2000 12:24:01
CLEVELAND (UMNS) - More than 180 people, including a United Methodist
bishop, were arrested May 10 for engaging in civil disobedience as a way of
protesting United Methodist policies regarding homosexuality.
The arrests followed a rally and a march around the Cleveland Convention
Center, where delegates to the United Methodist General Conference are
meeting through May 12 to set church policy for the next four years. Inside
the building, the 992 delegates were in worship, then heard a sermon by
Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey.
Outside, about 300 people participated in a rally organized by Soulforce, a
coalition of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people and
heterosexuals from a variety of faith backgrounds. The group is pushing the
United Methodist church and other mainline denominations to fully accept
sexual minorities in the life of the church.
After the rally, the protestors marched around the building, singing "We Are
Marching in the Light of God." Afterward, groups of 13 to 25 people took
turns blocking the convention center driveway and were led away by police.
They were charged with aggravated disorderly conduct, according to police
Commander James Davidson.
Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, head of the denomination's Northern Illinois
Annual (regional) Conference, was among the first protestors arrested. At
least nine other active or retired United Methodist bishops participated in
the rally but did not appear to have been arrested.
"This is just a kick-off," said the Rev. Mel White of Laguna Beach, Calif.,
co-founder of Soulforce. At the 2004 General Conference, he said he plans on
having 1,000 people arrested - one for every delegate. White is a member of
the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.
As of 1:30 p.m. Eastern time, about 185 people had been logged by the
Cleveland police, and they were still being booked, said Lt. Sharon MacKay.
She had no information at that point on whether some of the protestors had
During the rally, he said Soulforce would encourage people to withhold their
tithes and offerings, and support only churches that are reconciling
(belonging to the Reconciling Congregations Program, an unofficial United
Methodist group that advocates full inclusion of homosexuals in the life of
the church), are becoming reconciling or are willing to talk to gays and
The demonstrators included many United Methodists, among them the Rev. James
Lawson, the civil rights leader who worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King
Jr.; the Rev. Greg Dell of Chicago, who was convicted in a March 1999 church
trial for performing a same-sex ceremony and suspended; and Jimmy Creech, a
former clergyman who lost his orders after being convicted in a November
church trial of a similar charge. All three men were arrested for blocking
the convention center exit.
Others participating in the rally and march included Arun Gandhi, grandson
of Mohandas Gandhi; Yolanda King, the eldest daughter of the late civil
rights leader; and Rodney Powell, another co-worker of Martin Luther King's
in the 1950s and '60s.
Bishop Susan Morrison, of the church's Albany (N.Y.) Area, described her
participation in the demonstration as a "sign act of gracious hospitality."
"It was a nonviolent way to be in solidarity with some of God's children who
are excluded," she said. "I feel as a person of faith and as a bishop there
is a need for that presence."
She believes change is coming, she said. "It's inevitable, but it may take a
new generation to do it." It may require "people letting go of their fear"
and the church taking a stand, she said. "Too often, the church is not a
leader in that."
"The church is being unfaithful to its own preaching and teaching of love
and hospitality," Lawson said. Language in the Book of Discipline regarding
homosexuals is negative and should be removed, just as the church has tried
to cleanse the book of references that are racist or sexist, he said. The
book, which contains the denomination's bylaws, states that homosexuality is
incompatible with Christian teaching.
Lawson said he wants the General Conference to declare a moratorium on the
negative language regarding homosexuals in the Book of Discipline and on
"any witch-hunting" of clergy members who are engaged in ministry to gays
and lesbians. Pastors should be able to decide themselves how to minister to
their own congregations, he said.
He described the movement for inclusion of gays and lesbians as a
continuation of the civil rights struggles of other groups in the United
States - African Americans, women, the elderly, Latinos, the disabled. Like
the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, this effort is nonviolent
and rooted in faith, he said. "These are all baptized people."
He drew other parallels to the civil rights movement, noting that people on
the political and religious right are demonizing gays and lesbians by
calling them immoral, just as blacks were demonized. "Immorality is the
charge aimed at the black community for 400 years," Lawson said.
"We have done as much as we can working within the system," said Marilyn
Alexander, executive director of the Reconciling Congregations Program, an
unofficial United Methodist group that supports full inclusion of
homosexuals in the life of the church. "Now we are at the point where it
will take something out of the ordinary to jog people to see how important
If the 2000 General Conference doesn't change the church's rules, "it's
going to be another horrible four years of pain" for the gay and lesbian
community, Alexander said.
Inside the convention center, before worship, a group in the balcony rose
and chanted, "Extend the table." Holding a rainbow cross, they sang, "We Are
Marching In The Light of God." Some delegates on the floor stood, some
clapped, some sang in support.
Protestors began gathering on the convention center's mall before 7 a.m.
Many of them wore shirts that said, "Stop the spiritual violence. The debate
must end. We are God's children too." They sang hymns, and prayed for the
Archbishop of Canterbury and other church leaders in the convention center.
They also prayed for all denominations that have restrictive policies
regarding gays and lesbians.
Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour event, a heckler shouted obscenities at
them, and other counter-protestors held up signs with messages such as
"Methodist Fag Church."
During the rally, White passed the microphone to several speakers, including
King, Lawson, Gandhi, Dell, Creech, Alexander, Powell, the Rev. Gilbert
Caldwell, organizer of the United Methodists of Color for Full Inclusivity,
the Rev. Don Fado, who led a group of 68 California-Nevada clergy members in
performing a same-sex union in 1999, and Bishops William Dew, Jesse DeWitt,
Calvin McConnell and Mary Ann Swenson,
"I am just here to encourage tolerance and compassion," King said. Her hope
is directed at the United Methodist Church but also to denominations across
the nation, she said.
"This is where we need to be," Dew said. "I was asked by a reporter, 'Why
are you here?' And I answered, 'Why isn't everybody here?' "
"We are involved in a pastoral act that is claiming the gospel for all
people," Sprague said.
White led the crowd in chanting, "We love the United Methodist Church."
Then, singing, the group walked around the convention center, holding a
banner that proclaimed: "The spirit of Christ cannot remain where all God's
children are not welcome. Don't make the flame go out." Some held signs that
read "No exit without justice."
The marchers stopped at the building's driveway, symbolically blocking the
convention center exit. That was a way of telling the delegates, "Stay in
there until you get it right," White said.
The arrests were orderly. White had told the protesters that they would be
fingerprinted and fined $180 after being arrested.
# # #
United Methodist News Service
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