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May 8, 2000 GC-041

Bishop Oden issues statement regarding Soulforce

CLEVELAND (UMNS) -- Following the evening adjournment of General Conference May 8, Bishop William Oden issued a written statement concerning the meetings of bishops with Soulforce representatives earlier in the day.

Four bishops attended the initial meeting with a Soulforce team the morning of May 8 along with a representative from the Cleveland mayor’s office. Another meeting between Soulforce representatives and bishops occurred later in the day.

The purpose of the meetings was to personally offer the hospitality of the church, according to the brief statement by Oden, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

"We have hoped that everyone knows our doors are open, but we wanted Soulforce to be told by us personally," according to the statement. The meetings were "very cordial and helpful," Oden said.

Soulforce is a coalition of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people of faith and their heterosexual allies. The group had wanted members to be allowed to speak on the floor of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference during discussions about homosexuality-related issues.

At the evening meeting, the bishops offered to put the question of whether Soulforce should be allowed on the floor to a vote of the General Conference delegates. Such an action would require suspending the rules and would need to be passed by a two-thirds vote of the 992 delegates. The legislative assembly is meeting through May 12 at the Cleveland Convention Center.

Soulforce decided not to accept the bishops’ offer. Instead, the group will continue with plans for a peaceful act of civil disobedience at a door of the convention center during the May 10 morning worship service, according to the Rev. Mel White, co-founder of Soulforce.

The coalition also had requested that members be allowed on the floor that morning to hold a prayer vigil while Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey gives the sermon.

# # #

-- Barbara Nissen

The complete text of Bishop William Oden’s statement follows:

"The meetings we’ve had with Soulforce were for the purpose of offering the hospitality of the Church. We have hoped that everyone knows our doors are open, but we wanted Soulforce to be told by us personally. The meetings were very cordial and helpful.

"We will honor the privacy of these meetings by offering no further specific details.

"The meetings have concluded, have been fruitful and have served their constructive purpose."

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