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May 6, 2000 GC-029

Demonstrators rally against church’s anti-homosexual policies

CLEVELAND (UMNS) — Waving rainbow-colored banners and crosses and brandishing placards that read "Gay and Christian: Not an Oxymoron," a gathering of about 400 people vowed to open the total United Methodist Church to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people.

After singing, taking communion and cheering a handful of speakers, gatherers at the May 6 rally formed a circle around the Cleveland Convention Center. The event was organized by the Reconciling Congregations Program, a national network of United Methodist churches and organizations that welcome people regardless of sexual orientation.

The circle of love, said speakers, was a reminder to the 992 General Conference delegates working inside that "we are a part of this church and we’ve been invited to God’s table." Taking part in the circle were several United Methodist bishops and other church officials took part in the circle.

The demonstration comes at the mid-point of the denomination’s 10-day quadrennial legislative session, where debates over the church’s prohibition against ordaining homosexuals and related issues are major agenda items. Whether or not church decision-makers vote to maintain the 30-year-old ban on gay pastors, ralliers declared that they will continue to press for full inclusion in the life of the church.

"We are working on no less than a revolution of love that will overthrow homophobia, racism and colonialism that plagues our church," said Randy Miller, a member of Bethany United Methodist Church in San Francisco. "And whether you legislate it or not, whether you want it or not, God is moving forward.

"I’ve broken free and I ain’t going back!" Miller, a gay man, declared.

Others speakers paid tribute to leaders in the effort to include gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons in the full life of the church. Members of AMAR, a coalition of United Methodist organizations that welcome people regardless of sexual orientation, presented an award to Bishop Melvin Talbert of the San Francisco Area for his support of pastors under his charge who faced censure for performing same-sex union ceremonies.

Northern Illinois clergyman Gregory Dell, who was suspended from ministerial duties last year after performing a union ceremony for two men, praised Talbert as a prophet and faithful bishop of the church who "has called forth the demons" of "prejudice and homophobia."

Talbert, who has been criticized for his support of pastors performing same-sex unions, told the crowd that he intends to be a "servant to all God’s people." Likening the discrimination against homosexuals to his experience as a black man facing racism in the church, he said, "I hope I will never forget what it feels like to be excluded."

The bishop said he has traveled the world witnessing for the rights of all people and criticizing governments when they denied those rights. "If I can say that to governments of the world, I need to be able to say it to my own church: to discriminate is wrong. And if that means a complaint is filed against me, so what?"

Rounding out the roster of speakers was the Rev. Mel White, whose ecumenical group, Soulforce, has vowed to hold nonviolent acts of protest during the General Conference.

Denying rumors that his group planned to disrupt the United Methodist convention, White said, "We’re are not here to disrupt; we are here to free the delegates from their ignorance.

"We can’t just go on whimpering! We’ve got to take the truth to the streets," White declared. "Love is not a sin!"

Besides the issue of ordination, delegates are considering legislation on whether to remove — or make more explicit — language in the denomination’s Book of Discipline that declares homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching."

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--M. Garlinda Burton

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