Article on Soulforce in Columbus Dispatch: “Religious urged to help gays achieve equality”
Religious urged to help gays achieve equality
By JoAnne Viviano The Columbus Dispatch • Monday February 10, 2014 7:06 AM
The co-founder of a national advocacy group for gay people challenged those gathered at a Downtown church yesterday to do more to seek justice and end suffering.
The Rev. Mel White of Soulforce commended members of First Congregational Church United Church of Christ for the work they already have done. He encouraged them to do more.
White gave the sermon at First Congregational’s service, capping a weekend forum at which Soulforce considered ways to achieve equality for gay, bisexual and transgender people in religious institutions and in society at large.
White, who came out as gay publicly in 1994, has worked as a pastor, seminary professor, author and filmmaker. He also served as a consultant and writer for leaders of the religious right.
He said he tried to overcome his homosexuality with prayer, aversion therapy, electric-shock treatment, exorcisms and heterosexual marriage. He came to accept himself after he slashed his wrists in a suicide attempt and parted from his wife.
“All those years, I was a victim of the religion that had taken the Bible and misused it to condemn rather than to bring light to the world,” he said.
With inspiration from the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Old Testament prophets and Jesus, he said he and partner Gary Nixon decided to use nonviolence to pursue love, justice, mercy and truth. They founded Soulforce, based in Abilene, Texas, in 1998.
The Rev. Margaret Hawk, pastor of New Creation Metropolitan Community Church on the South Side, said her predominantly gay church is now attracting members who are not gay.
“More and more straight folks are just tired of the politics of the church,” said Hawk, who was unable to attend the forum but said she supports the work of Soulforce.
While some are called to stay in other denominations to try to effect change from within, others “need a place where they can say, ‘We’re done fighting,’” she said.
“We affirm God’s love for all people. We help people find a way to develop their spiritual lives, so they pay that love forward in the world.”
The weekend symposium was focused on looking beyond same-sex marriage rights to other needs within the community, said Soulforce spokesman Richard Lindsay. Concerns include the treatment of transgender people, Lindsay said, noting last year’s slaying of a transgender woman in the Cleveland area.
“We’re very much supportive of marriage equality,” he said. “It’s just sort of a matter of some other issues not getting enough attention, and the transgender community is sometimes the last to get attention.”
White told those gathered today that he had traveled to high schools and colleges, spreading the message that “You are loved by your creator.”
“GLBT would break into tears or they would applaud,” he said. “The church had done so well in making sure that nobody in the gay world knows that God loves them.”
Through demonstrations that led to arrests, he said, he sought to help others who were suffering and to learn to love his enemies and reconcile with them.
“You stand for justice and something happens to you,” he said. “I think that’s what Jesus was saying: Love your enemy because it’s going to do great things for you. It’s going to make you feel different about yourself and different about your enemy.”
White asked those in his audience to consider how they had experienced suffering and to ask themselves: “How can I help those who suffer?” and “How can I help cut off suffering at its source?”
He said he feared not those who would bomb or fly planes into buildings but the “holy terrorists” of the Christian right.
“I’m just terrified,” he said. “And I think Christ’s church is called to do something.”