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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
May 2001


Charitable Choice Letter

On April 24, Americans United for Separation of Church and State released this letter to the President and Congress signed by 850 clergy, including Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, Rev. Marcia Bailey, Rabbi Sandy Parian, and Rev. Marcus Pomeroy (IWG letterhead). If you are a member of the clergy and would like to add your name, please contact Rena Levin, levin@au.org, and copy your email to iwg@iwgonline.org.

We welcome the goal of empowering communities of faith to work effectively with government and other civic institutions. As leaders from traditions representing the diversity and breadth of the religious landscape in our nation today, we affirm the critical role of faith as a source of healing in our society. Whether by commandment from Holy Scriptures or lessons from prophets and messengers, we share a calling to care for those who are suffering, to help those who have been left behind and to embrace those who have been forgotten.

It is out of our commitment to the success of such faith-based enterprises that we are writing today to express our serious reservations about the provisions commonly referred to as "Charitable Choice" in the Administration's Faith-Based Initiative. The "Charitable Choice" proposals would inject government dollars and bureaucratic oversight directly into houses of worship and other pervasively religious organizations. We believe this portion of the Faith-Based Initiative poses numerous dangers to both religion and government.

These provisions would entangle religion and government in an unprecedented and perilous way. The flow of government dollars and the accountability for how those funds are used will inevitably undermine the independence and integrity of houses of worship. Allowing government officials to pick and choose among religions for limited government funds will foster an unhealthy competition between religions and could lead to an insidious form of political abuse. Exempting government-funded religious initions from employment laws banning discrimination on the basis of religion weakens our nation's civil rights protections for those seeking to provide assistance to those in need.

Such new legislation is not necessary. For decades many houses of worship have set up separate religiously affiliated institutions to perform government-funded social services, a system that has protected both the autonomy of houses of worship and the integrity of government programs.

Partnerships between religion and government must be undertaken with great caution so as not to undermine the very integrity and freedom that allows both the followers and the institutions of religion to practice and keep faith in our nation.

We urge you to protect the sacred role of religion in our nation by rejecting this avenue of infusing government funds into America's religious institutions.


Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Bishop Paul W. Egertson, Bishop of the Southern California West Synod, wrote a letter to inform Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson that he had "accepted an invitation from St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church, St. Paul, MN, to participate with others in the ordination of Anita Hill." The ordination was attended by over one-thousand, with a laying on of hands that included more than two-hundred clergy "from Roman Catholics to Presbyterians and Baptists--even a rabbi and a Buddhist," according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

In Egertson's letter (available at www.llgm.org) he writes, in part, "...I know that I am crossing an implicit and explicit boundary line of trust within this church. That is what makes my heart heavy. But that is also the point. I do this consciously and conscientiously in protest of a church law I perceive as unjust. I do so in both fear and faith. My fear is that this action may stimulate forces of resistance to new levels of reaction and move the cause backward rather than forward. My faith is that, in the long run, this action will help our church more fully become the inclusive fellowship we intend it to be. Until gay and lesbian people in committed relationships are fully accepted in our pews and pulpits, that outcome will never be realized."

Marriage in Massachusetts

Seven same-gender couples from five Massachusetts counties, recently denied marriage licenses at their city or town halls, filed a joint suit in Suffolk Superior Court on April 11 seeking the right to marry in Massachusetts. The plaintiff couples are represented by New England's Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD). The defendant is the Department of Public Health, which has the ultimate responsibility for enforcing all state laws governing marriage.

United Methodist Church

In All Things Charity, the national ministry of Chicago's Broadway United Methodist Church that was led by the Rev. Greg Dell, will be turning its work and resources over to the Reconciling Ministries Network.

The United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns have requested $200,000 from the General Council on Ministries for a "series of dialogues on homosexuality and church unity," according to an April 23 United Methodist News Service report.

Responding to D. James Kennedy

Soulforce announced that the Rev. D. James Kennedy met with gay Christian activist Richard Murphy after Murphy's Easter weekend prayer vigil outside Coral Ridge Presbyterian. This was his second vigil outside Coral Ridge, preceded by a published open letter to Kennedy and Coral Ridge appealing to them to "reopen dialog...jointly appoint a blue-ribbon panel [and] place an immediate moratorium on the oppression and holy war presently being waged by Kennedy and Coral Ridge Ministries against God's gay children." According to Murphy, Kennedy agreed to reopen dialog with gay Christian advocates and their allies and begin searching for willing participants from his ministries to take part in a joint "blue-ribbon" panel to discuss untruths, false witness, inflammatory language and spiritual violence.

Presbyterian Church (USA)

In response to the defeat of Amendment O and other recent disagreements within the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Presbyterian Lay Committee has announced the creation of a Confessing Church Movement. It is unclear what relationship this might have to the Confessing Movement in the United Methodist Church, other than a similar theological outlook to the UMC movement concerning issues of sexuality and gender. The conservative movements in the mainline denominations are linked through the Institute on Religion and Democracy's Association for Church Renewal, and on April 12 the Layman published a story which called the United Methodist Confessing Movement a sister movement.

An April 18 PCUSA News Service story entitled "Battle over PC(USA) ordination standards is expected to dominate General Assembly," noted that the Presbyterian Lay Committee is "calling for a loyalty oath that all Assembly program staff members would be required to sign, endorsing three 'essential confessions:' the infallibility of Scripture, Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation, and heterosexual marriage as the only permissible form of sexual expression."

In stark contrast is the just-announced Affirmation 2001, a movement to "reclaim the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for the principles and person, Jesus Christ, on which it was founded." (Go to www.auburnspirit.org.)

The Butler (PA) Eagle reported that the pastor of Glade Run United Presbyterian Church left the denomination (presumably over the defeat of Amendment O) and took two-hundred parishioners with him.

Florida

In Florida, a state legislator reportedly told a group of visiting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, "God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and he is going to destroy you and a lot of others;" and also said, "I don't understand why the gay population is becoming so vocal. You are going to cause the downfall of this country that was built on Christian principles." The story has received extensive media coverage. A letter in defense of the legislator to the editor of the Orlando Sentinel from the Executive Director of the Christian Coalition of Florida concluded, "If people want to 'blame' someone for helping others understand God's commands, perhaps they should take it up with Him."

Focus on the Family and Bible Clubs

Focus on the Family recently issued an alert claiming that the California Board of Education has adopted new regulations "requiring Bible clubs to grant membership privileges to homosexual students." They quoted the President of the Pacific Justice Institute (with the ellipses): "The assumption by many is that homosexual activists would stay away from a Bible club, but the actual agenda trend in the homosexual movement these days is to infiltrate . . . society."

Boy Scouts of America

Steven Spielberg announced that he is resigning from the advisory board of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). In April, United Church News published a story about the reactions that four different UCC congregations had to the Scouts controversy. On April 1, the New York Times reported on a decision by a United Church of Christ congregation in Cornwall, CT to drop sponsorship of its Cub Scout pack. On April 16, the Raleigh News and Observer reported that the BSA refused to renew the sponsorship charter of Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church of Chapel Hill, NC because the church wanted to honor its own non-discrimination policy. On April 23, the Journal News of White Plains, NY reported on deliberations at two Reform synagogues. On April 24, gay.com reported that the Communication Workers of America has ended their relationship with the BSA, and on April 25 the Santa Barbara News-Press reported that "Jewish leaders have ousted the county's only Jewish Boy Scout troop from the annual Santa Barbara Jewish Festival."

Colorado Episcopalians

The search committee of the St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Park Hill, CO, resigned after Colorado Bishop Jerry Winterrowd "ruled that no gay clergy would be hired in the diocese," according to the Denver Post. The paper quoted local Integrity Director Jack Finlaw: "There is nothing in canon law to prohibit a gay person from being a pastor."

School Bullying in Washington State

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer said that an anti-bullying/harrasment bill failed in Washington's legislature "after Christian Conservatives complained that it amounted to a gay rights measure." The state Christian Coalition website cites the PA State College case [March, 2001].

Baptist Disagreement

The Alliance of Baptists has asked the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's Coordinating Council to "rescind a new 'organizational value' that forbids direct funding of groups that condone gay and lesbian relationships" according to a report in the Associated Baptist Press.

Public Schools and Bibles

The ACLU of Louisiana filed a lawsuit in Alexandria LA, on behalf of an 11-year-old Muslim girl who was given a Bible by the principal of her public school, who, when the girl initially declined the offer, told her to "just take it." The girl was also allegedly called a "Jesus hater" by some classmates; the teacher responded that the girl "believed in Jesus, just 'not the same Jesus.'"

Southern Poverty Law Center

The Southern Poverty Law Center's Spring Intelligence Report has a feature on Fred Phelps and his home city of Topeka (KA), entitled: "A City Held Hostage," as well as a report about an attempted takeover of the Presbyterian Church in America by the League of the South, a pro-Confederate, pro-slavery, theonomist organization.

YES!

A coalition of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and allied spiritual people from diverse communities are planning an day-long conference in Philadelphia on October 6. The coalition has three committees (agenda, finance, outreach) all of which would welcome new members. To join a committee, contact Kathy Stayton, by sending email to yes.coalition@juno.com.

Yeshiva University

The New York Court of Appeals will hear the case of gay students who have been barred from Yeshiva University's housing for married students. According to the Jewish World Review, the students are supported by the ACLU, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the National Council of Jewish Women, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Asian American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

GLAAD and TVC

GLAAD's recent announcement of AM/FM Activism described it as "a community resource program that builds on the success of last year's highly successful Local Laura Activism: Step by Step, enabling local activists to combat defamatory radio programming in their own communities." On the other hand, it was characterized by the Traditional Values Coalition as "a nationwide spy network to target conservative or Christian talk show hosts for harassment."


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