***UPDATE***: Apparently, Rick Warren wants nothing to do with Soulforce. On one website, he commented:
(You) were correct in assuming Newsweek quoted a Soul Force press release headline that was 100% false. We did not invite this group and I will not be meeting with them. They invited themselves to draw attention to their cross country publicity stunt.
My staff has already told them that neither my wife nor I will meet with them for any discussion or debate. This weekend, both Kay and I are receiving awards from two different universities so we’ll be out of town! Also, it’s Father’s Day and I’m spending the holiday with my children and grandchildren, as are all my staff.
The drive is led by a group called Soulforce. The group’s mission? To “cut off homophobia at its source — religious bigotry.”
The participating churches include Lakewood Church (Pastor Joel Osteen), Willow Creek Community Church (Pastor Bill Hybels) and Saddleback Church (Pastor Rick Warren).
At some of the places, the families will join church leaders for food and conversation.
The six-church journey began on Mother’s Day. It will end on Father’s Day (this weekend).
The meetings have ranged in size and depth; Lakewood Church welcomed the families to worship but would only meet privately with one of the Family Outing’s clergy leaders, Pastor Jay Bakker. In contrast, Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia met personally with LGBT families from Atlanta and around the country.
Joel said no to meeting the gay families? I’m hurt. I thought better of him.
What’s the purpose of all this?
“The meetings have been an occasion to clear up misperceptions on both sides and to begin to focus on what we have in common,” says Jeff Lutes, Executive Director of Soulforce and one of the organizers of the American Family Outing.
While it’s a nice gesture from the churches, I wonder how much is really accomplished at these meetings…:
… After nearly 90 minutes of debate Saturday night, no one on either side of the question of what the Bible teaches about homosexuality would admit to changing their minds.
“It was noncombative, nonpunitive dialogue,” said the Rev. Troy Sanders, a gay black pastor from Atlanta who was one of the Soulforce speakers.
“Even though we disagree on the Bible,” said Jeff Lutes, Soulforce’s executive director, “we can relate about our kids. We’re trying to reach out across that divide, make a connection and see what happens from that. Typically, fear goes down when people make connections.”
The Beltsville church hosted Soulforce at a dinner Saturday night, along with a debate in which each side asked the other eight questions. The church posed queries such as “Why do you think gay marriage is sanctioned by God?” and “Why do you think pastors who preach against gay rights are bigots?”
Soulforce questions included “If your child came out to you, how would you want your child to be treated?” and “What programs do you have in place for same-gender-loving couples?”
“We have no programs,” Bishop Jackson quickly responded. Rather, they use the services of the ex-gay group Exodus International because homosexuals “need ministry,” he said. That comment did not go over well, judging by the stony looks on the faces of Soulforce attendees.
It’s sad that this is such a big story — it seems like every else in the country is already so far beyond all this. As far as I know, non-religious groups have always accepted gays and lesbians. The Christian churches are among the last places where homosexuality is not tolerated.
So while it’s a big step, it’s a step that should’ve been taken long ago. Shame on the churches for waiting this long to engage with the LGBT community. Kudos to some of the pastors for finally acting Christ-like — at least when it comes to LGBT issues.
Some people, like Harry Jackson, Jr., still have a problem with it:
So why did they come to our church along with TD Jakes’ Potter’s House, Eddie Long’s New Birth Community Church, and Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church? And why are they going to Willow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Community Church? The answer is simple. Their goal is to force us to accept their lifestyle by slowly desensitizing us to their aberrant theology and practices. This change in tactics is an attempt to play the pity card.
On a brighter note, it looks like Soulforce’s work has led to a few changes in the Christian world outside the churches.
I asked fellow FA blogger Mike Clawson about this and this is what he said (via email):
A former member of our church went on one of [Soulforce's] “Equality Rides” last year where she and a busload of gays, lesbians and straight allies visited Christian college campuses to protest their anti-gay rules and start a dialogue.
In some cases the schools have changed their rules or started on-campus groups for gays and lesbians as a result. This “American
Family Outing” is hoping to raise similar awareness at prominent megachurches. I have been a financial supporter of Soulforce and get their email newsletters, and generally I think this is a good thing, if for no other reason than to expose conservative Christians to the fact that homosexuals are just ordinary people with ordinary families too.
One other reason this may be a good thing: It means the old Republican Conservative Christian leaders are losing their power. Timothy Egan of The New York Times writes:
… by welcoming gay fathers into his Southern California flock, Rick Warren, author of the “The Purpose Driven Life,” is not just living up to the highest standards of Christian fellowship, he’s turning the page on a particularly embarrassing part of our politics.
Just to refresh: it was televangelist Pat Robertson who predicted “earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly even a meteor” would hit Orlando for inviting gays to Disney World, and Rev. John Hagee who blamed Hurricane Katrina on a vengeful God angered over a gay pride parade in New Orleans. And they did this even without Doppler radar.
The fact that these people were taken seriously about anything other than, say, what color socks to wear on bingo night, tells us something about how far we’ve strayed [from] the pulpit into the town square.
Incidentally, after the mixture of church and state these past few decades, Egan urges Barack Obama and John McCain to go Godless for the rest of their campaigns and not bring up religion. I’m guessing his efforts will be in vain…
If you’d like to help Soulforce and its mission to “bring truth and reconciliation to the nation’s largest churches and most influential pastors” with the American Family Outing project, feel free to make a donation.
[tags]atheist, atheism, gay, lesbian, homosexual[/tags]