Several weeks ago, the local Promise Keeper at my workplace, a good ol’ boy from Louisiana , caught me on the elevator and started trying to yank my chain. I looked at him and asked, “did you hear that recent news report about the man convicted of animal cruelty for killing his ‘gay’ dog?”
“This dog tried to mount another family dog and, thinking the poor animal was gay, the fellow beat it on the head with a vacuum handle, knocking him unconscious.”
“As he should have,” replied the Promise Keeper.
“Then, he threw the dog against a tree.”
“As he should have,” our good ol’ boy responded.
“He wouldn’t let anyone else help the poor animal.”
“As he should have,”…
How sad! Would he have offered the same response regarding the recent news from West Virginia? Two teenagers beat a 26-year-old gay man to death, then repeatedly ran over him with a car. Ironically, the suspects were arrested the same day 72 other Soulforce activists and I were arrested for protesting Episcopal Church policies that exclude LGBT persons from full participation.
I spent a good deal of time praying about this decision. My friends have been hearing from me about Soulforce principles for well over a year now. When Soulforce went to Cleveland, though, to protest at the Methodist General Conference, I wasn’t there. When 23 brave Soulforce activists were arrested and jailed for 36 hours in Orlando protesting the Southern Baptists, I wasn’t there. When 81 of our sisters, brothers, and supporters were arrested in Long Beach at the Presbyterian Convention, I was enjoying the sun and eye candy at Denver PrideFest. I was excited when I learned Soulforce was coming to Denver . Could I walk the walk as well as I’ve talked the talk?
“This is what the Lord requires: do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
I wanted to be sure this decision was not rooted in my insatiable need for attention. My newly found conviction is that the Soulforce principles of relentless, nonviolent confrontation are the most effective tools at our disposal to reconcile with our adversaries and bring a successful end to our struggle for justice. Soulforce is a, “network of friends learning nonviolence from Gandhi and King Seeking Justice for God’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Children” (www.soulforce.org).
Would I overcome my fears about potentially losing a job, experiencing Fred Phelps and his clan’s vociferous taunting, possibly going to jail, and the cultural stigma associated with being arrested?
After weeks of tortured deliberation, I made my decision when I met Mel White for the first time at an organizing meeting about a week before the direct action. Raised in an evangelical background, Rev. Mel grew up to become the favorite son of many figures in the religious right. He ghostwrote for Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ollie North, and even Billy Graham. When he came out over ten years ago, they all shunned him. For the past decade, he has been studying the principles of “Satyagraha” taught and practiced by M.K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. He is a kind, genuine, humble, and committed man. He once fasted for 22 days after being arrested while trying to meet with Pat Robertson.
On July 4th, close to 200 Soulforce volunteers gathered at a local church for Soulforce training. It was moving and inspirational. After lunch, we moved to our staging area across the street from the convention center. From 1:00 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. , we held silent vigil to welcome the episcopal delegates arriving for their first round of meetings. This was followed by a short press conference. Then, the arrests began.
In eight squads, we moved across the drive in front of the convention center, one squad at a time. Each squad symbolically blocked one of the exits. Soulforce’s slogan this summer has been “no exit without justice.” We were warned by police we were trespassing and given 30 seconds to disperse. Then, we were each placed under arrest.
I know we made an impact on the delegates. One elderly man, with tears streaming down his face, approached a Soulforce friend from Seattle , as she was being led away, and said to her, “God bless you for what you are doing!” I KNOW this work is helping people!
When the cuffs were slapped on my wrists, I discovered what it means to be arrested. You have given up your power and a sense of control over your life. Surprisingly, I felt incredible pride and joy for having taken this stand. Gandhi taught that the restoration of our soul begins when we begin to do justice for those who are suffering.
I began to experience my own restoration, last Tuesday, quietly walking with my God into a police bus.
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