Soulforce to Mark 10th Anniversary in 2008 with Direct Action at United Methodist General Conference

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Today the Soulforce United Methodist Planning Team released a statement announcing a planned direct action at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 26-27.

Today the Soulforce United Methodist Planning Team released a statement announcing a planned direct action at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 26-27. Signers of the statement include co-chairs Steven Webster and Dotti Berry, as well as Reverends Gil Caldwell and Phil Lawson. The complete text of the statement is included below.

"In 2008, the world will commemorate several watershed events in the history of human rights, including the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the 40th anniversary of The Poor People's Campaign that King initiated before his death. Observing these anniversaries provides an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come -- and how far we have to go -- in achieving equal dignity and rights for all human beings.

"The confluence of these anniversaries can also serve as a reminder of the connections between struggles and spur us to reaffirm a broad commitment to justice for all, regardless of economic status, race, nationality, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

"Ten years ago, in 1998, Mel White and Gary Nixon began laying the groundwork for a new social movement. Under the auspices of "Soulforce," a name adapted from the teachings of King and Gandhi, White and Nixon began to organize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans to study the principles of nonviolent direct action. This course of study led to the first Soulforce direct action, a historic 1999 dialogue between 200 members of Soulforce and the congregation of Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia.

"When the first Soulforce delegates began preparing for the journey to Lynchburg, they believed that true justice could only be achieved by addressing the misinformation about LGBT people that circulated under the guise of Christian doctrine. Just as King argued that legal desegregation alone could not end racial segregation, so the first Soulforce activists understood the need to confront the underlying beliefs that justify civil discrimination.

"As Soulforce prepares to celebrate its tenth anniversary, the landscape of religion-based bigotry is shifting. Recent research by the Barna group suggests that young Christians are increasingly uncomfortable with church-sanctioned hostility toward LGBT people. However, religion-based bias still exerts enormous cultural and institutional power in the United States and around the globe. Although much progress has been made, backlashes against the recognition of LGBT people as clergy and church members are dividing some major Christian denominations.

"For almost forty years, the United Methodist Church has struggled with fundamental issues of fairness and inclusion, including same-sex unions, LGBT clergy, and the status of LGBT lay members. In 2006, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church -- led by Surgeon General nominee James Holsinger -- issued Decision 1032, which granted sole authority to local pastors to deny church membership to gay men and lesbians and made a mockery of the official slogan of the United Methodist Church: 'Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.'

"Now, as 1,000 delegates prepare to meet for the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, some conservative groups within the church are attempting to portray justice for LGBT people as a distraction from important issues such as fighting global epidemics or ministering to children and the poor. Others are portraying fairness and inclusion for LGBT people as inevitably at odds with fairness and inclusion for African churches.

"At Soulforce, we affirm a notion of justice in which all are connected. In the words of Dr. King, we believe that "we are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality." In order to affirm that vision of global justice, Soulforce will join with progressive Methodist voices in a direct action at the United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth on April 26-27, 2008.

"In the same spirit, Soulforce will celebrate ten years of nonviolent direct action. We invite past and future Soulforce activists to come together in Fort Worth on April 25, 2008, to remember our accomplishments, to celebrate the love at the heart of our movement, and to re-commit to the struggle for dignity and justice for all members of the human family."

Steven Webster, Co-chair
Dotti Berry, Co-chair
Rev. Gil Caldwell
J. Michael Herrington
Rev. Phil Lawson
Jeff Lutes
Paige Schilt
Kara Speltz

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PAIGE SCHILT
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