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UCCtruths

Every denomination needs one of these...

Samuel Backs Out of Soulforce Campaign

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

By Pastor Ted Weis, Congregational Church, Little River, KS

A prominent United Church of Christ pastor has decided his conscience will not allow him to participate in an aggressive dialogue campaign led by Soulforce, a gay civil rights group.

Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Samuel-- Senior Pastor of Victory for the World Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia-- was originally scheduled to be a clergy leader for Soulforce's national campaign this spring and summer. The campaign will target the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Ft. Worth, Texas, and also a number of well known churches and pastors-- Rev. Joel Osteen, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., Bishop Eddie Long, Rev. Bill Hybels, and Rev. Rick Warren.

In a January 11 Soulforce press release, Samuel said, "Homophobia and heterosexism directly contradict the principles of equality and justice for all God's children, and I think that the younger generation of evangelicals are beginning more and more to see this contradiction."

But four days later, Samuel told the Southern Voice that he's decided not to participate because, "pastors have the right to believe as they wish." In good conscience, he couldn't "violate another pastor's space" who happens to disagree with his own position.

Samuel's decision to back away from the Soulforce campaign was influenced by his own church's experience of getting picketed by Rev. Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church:
"I cannot in good faith do something similar," Samuel said. "The best way to combat bigotry is from the pulpit, to educate the members themselves. It’s rather intrusive for a pastor to come onto another pastor’s sacred space."

If Phelps had asked Samuel to sit down and talk, Samuel acknowledged he would have said no.

And while he supports Soulforce’s mission, Samuel said he believes "intruding" on another’s sacred space can be counter-productive. "I respect Soulforce for raising the issue. My prayer is the members take this message back to their pastors and tell them how their messages are impacting them," he said.
Samuel will surely face criticism in the GLBT community. If homophobia is wrong, especially in the religious community that exerts moral influence over society, how can he stand idle on the sidelines? How can he allow other influential pastors and churches to continue spreading intolerant views? Would Samuel passively allow another pastor or church to espouse hatred toward blacks during the civil rights movement?

And yet, Samuel's decision is a tacit admission of two things:

First, Soulforce's methods to create "dialogue" are essentially bullying tactics. Their ways even resemble those of the loathsome Westboro Church. Notice that Samuel says he couldn't do something similar. Soulforce will deny this description of their methods, but Executive Director Jeff Lutes says his organization has already written "100 letters to these six [above mentioned] churches and several dozen to Bishop Eddie Long’s church," adding the group still plans to show up at Long's congregation on June 1. Samuel's choice to back away is a sign that he prefers the kind of dialogue that is more in line with the tradition of the United Church Christ-- where two parties willingly agree to gather around a common table, without undue coercion.

Second, religious people are legitimately entitled to believe that GLBT behavior is wrong and grieves the heart of God. No doubt, Samuel takes the other side of the issue, yet he believes a measure of tolerance is owed to those with whom he disagrees. At the least, disagreeing pastors and churches should not be intimated by those who show up to their sacred space uninvited, pushing an agenda. Again, Samuel's decision reflects in application the polity of the United Church of Christ-- which gives autonomy to individual congregation to decide their own beliefs.

The question of whether GLBT behavior is morally legitimate will continue indefinitely. In the meantime, Samuel's decision shows that dialogue about this sensitive issue is best when two parties meet willingly and without intimidation.
posted by Living the Biblios, Tuesday, January 29, 2008

3 Comments:

When Soulforce picketed my stepson's college, they were nothing like Westboro. The members of Soulforce were very polite. They would have pariticipated in a dialog if they had been allowed on campus. A few went to the chapel to pray, and were arrested for trespassing, while they were praying in the chapel. That evening, they were guests at my church during a special worship service. My stepson decided to transfer colleges because of the rude way the college treated the members of Soulforce.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 9:57 AM  
I'm sure the rhetoric and social manners of Soulforce far eclipses that of Westboro.

Even though Soulforce knew it wasn't invited to this particular campus, why did they still insist on showing up? The college may well have been rude. Was Soulforce rude? Or do they get a pass?

The rhetoric is different, but the tactic is similar. It makes good publicity, but little good will and dialogue.
commented by Blogger Living the Biblios, 11:37 PM  
Soulforce asked for dialog on campus and were rejected. They did dialog with some students off campus. All Soulforce wants to do ls let others know how they have been hurt by the policies of some schools. They speak for the closeted students on these campuses who cannot speak for fear of expulsion.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 11:03 AM  

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