Episcopal Life Convention Daily
Thursday, 6 July 2000  

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Dozens arrested in group protest for gay rights

Denver police handcuff Soulforce supporters who participated in the civil disobedience action July 4. photo/DAVID SKIDMORE
At high noon on the Fourth of July, the group Soulforce staged a protest in front of the Colorado Convention Center, site of the 73rd General Convention of the Epsicopal Church. Both the rhetoric and the temperature heated up as the group demanded the church end discrimination against lesbian and gay Christians.

``Open your arms, open your doors, open your hearts'' demanded Jimmy Creech, chair of Soulforce. ``Stop the debate. Be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.''

Soulforce demonstrators punctuated speeches with a cappella singing while observers watched from the relative coolness of the shade in front of the center. Although Soulforce is not an Episcopal Church organization, gay and lesbian Episcopalians were prominent in the protest. Lee Ann Bryce, a lesbian youth minister from St. Aidan's Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colorado, spoke passionately during the protest. Bryce was fired from her job at the church when a commitment ceremony for her and her life partner became public knowledge. She accused St. Aidan's rector and the bishop of Colorado of putting her through ``a public inquisition.... They said wewere debased, demonically possessed,'' she said. ``The pain at times was overwhelming.'' She decried the ``heartbreaking intolerance perpetuated by the institution [the Episcopal Church] we love.'' Otis Charles, retired bishop of Utah, also participated in the demonstration. He said that during most of his life he had not had ``the courage to live the truth of my life,'' adding, ``the time has come to say that we [lesbians and gays] are fully a part of the church. We refuse to be silent; we refuse to be invisible.''

Charles was one of more than 70 people arrested at the end of the protest for blocking one of the entrances to the Convention Center. Fifty Denver police officers participated in the mass arrests, leading protestors away in handcuffs while television, radio and print mediaswarmed about.

Such protests by gays and lesbians are relatively new to the Episcopal Church. Integrity, the organization that works for the full inclusion of lesbian and gay Episcopalians in the life of the church, has traditionally preferred to work within the institutional structures of the church. However, Scott Larson, a spokesman for Integrity, said that Soulforce ``has a role to play.''

Members of Soulforce were arrested during conventions of the United Methodist, the Southern Baptist and the United Presbyterian earlier this year. The group plans a similar protest for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, which will meet in Washington in November. The group has paid more than $80,000 in fines to date as a consequence of its actions.

AAC promotional campaign also launched.

In an unrelated event just prior to the Soulforce demonstration, the American Anglican Council(AAC) held a press conference at the Denver Athletic Club, located one block south of the Convention Center, to announce a new promotional campaign. The campaign highlights stories of a man and a woman who consider themselves healed of homosexuality as well as stories of men and women who have suffered from sexual abuse, alcoholism, and addiction to pornography. AAC admits that the campaign is ``provocative,'' primarily because it lumps gay and lesbian people with self-described racists, alcoholics, and victims of pedophilia, a combination the organization recognizes is not ``politically correct.''

According to the Rev. David Anderson, an AAC board member and rector of St. James' Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, California, the organization consists of bishops and priests as well as affiliated congregations and laypeople who are ``biblically orthodox.'' Its mission is to ``transform and revitalize'' the Episcopal Church.

The AAC campaign, entitled ``God's love changed me,'' borrows a strategy from lesbian and gay members of the Episcopal Church, who for years have been ``telling their stories'' in hopes of achieving greater acceptance. In the words of James Stanton, bishop of Dallas and the president of the AAC, the campaign consists of ``compelling stories of change---living proof of God's power to change lives.''

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