Women's Nite: Who Wears the Skirt? (May 31)

Friday, May 30, 2008

While the heterosexual world has traditional "rules" about dating, we often
wonder what to do on a date. Who should pay on the first date, and who
should see whom home? For that matter, how should housework be split?

Does being gay let you defy traditional gender roles? Or is the one who
wears the skirt still stuck with the cooking and cleaning?

This Women's Nite, let's talk about our expectations around being with
another woman.


*Women's Nite May 2008
Saturday 31st May, 7pm *
Venue (in Singapore) will be disclosed upon registration.

Limited to 30 invites, so please register with your full name, contact
number, the full name/s of your guests, if any, and the type of halal food
or drink you would be contributing to the potluck.

Although Women's Nite is open to women of all orientations, please let us
know if you are straight, or are bringing along straight guests, so that we
can be sensitive to the needs of all women present.

Please send your details to women.snite@gmail.com [women dot snite at gmail
dot com]

Registration closes at midnight 30th May 2008


About Women's Nite

Women's Nite provides a safe, neutral and alcohol-free space for lesbians
and bisexual women in Singapore to discuss the issues relevant to their

The event, held on the last Saturday of every month, was started in December
2003. Over a potluck dinner, we hold discussions on wide ranging topics
like self acceptance, homophobia, relationships and identity. We also invite
special guests to field questions on legal rights and sexual health, and
conduct art and dance therapy nights.

To check out the past months' events, or find out more, please go to
To get email updates on each month's event, please visit
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/women_ snite/ to join our mailing list.

As far as possible, we would like to keep this space commercial free. To
advertise events and projects, please email us at

Reuters: Singapore attorney warns of rights "fanatics": paper (May 30)

Singapore attorney warns of rights "fanatics": paper
Fri May 30, 2008 10:23pm EDT

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore's attorney general warned that the concept of human rights must not be allowed to become a religion for fanatics to achieve political goals such as gay marriage, the Straits Times reported on Saturday.

The newspaper quoted Attorney-General Walter Woon as saying that it would be "hypocrisy" for such activists to decide what is acceptable for the rest of society.

"There is a misconception that Singapore officialdom is against human rights," the pro-government daily quoted Woon as saying at a Singapore Law Society event.

"What we are against is the assumption of some people that when they decide what are human rights, it is a decision for the rest of humanity,"

Last year the Singapore government decided to uphold a law that bans sex between men, saying the idea of advocating a homosexual lifestyle was unacceptable to large parts of its conservative society. In spite of the ban Singapore has a thriving gay scene.

Singapore's constitution guarantees free speech, but speaking in public requires a police permit as do public gatherings of more than four people -- a practice that has been criticized by human right groups.

The small but rich Southeast Asian island has been run by the same party since independence in 1965 and political opposition parties play no big role in public life with 82 out of 84 parliamentary seats held by the ruling People's Action Party.

(Reporting by Jan Dahinten; Editing by David Fox)

Today: Barred last year, back this year (May 29)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Barred last year, back this year

Barely a stir last Friday as Canadian don presented paper on Section
377 at annual legal conference:

Thursday • May 29, 2008

Loh Chee Kong


TEN months ago, at the height of the polarising debate on whether
homosexual acts should be decriminalised, controversy broke when
Canadian academic Douglas Sanders was barred from giving a public talk
on the topic here — four days before he was due to speak.

Last Friday, Professor Sanders came and went, barely creating a ripple
as he delivered a lecture at the Asian Law Institute's (ASLI) 5th
Annual Conference organised by the National University of Singapore
law faculty. And it was on the very paper that he was scheduled to
present last year.

The ASLI conference, which was held at NUS' Bukit Timah campus,
attracted more than 200 law experts and academics from 14 countries.

Responding to Today's queries, a Ministry of Home Affairs spokesman
explained that NUS, along with the other two public-funded
universities, are exempt from the Public Entertainment and Meetings
Act (Pema).

Said the spokesman: "The Pema licence for the earlier planned public
lecture by Prof Sanders was cancelled because it was clear that the
event was part of the efforts of gay activists to involve a foreigner
in promoting their political agenda in the context of the Penal Code

In contrast, the ASLI Conference is "a bona fide academic event with
many scholars and speakers ... addressing issues of legal
scholarship", the spokesman added.

:Prof Sanders had last year been also scheduled to take part in a
forum at the Institute of South-east Asian Studies. But the institute
had cancelled it after the police withdrew the licence for his talk at
IndigNation, an annual series of events organised by local gay groups.

Today understands that Prof Sanders' lecture last week on his paper,
"377 and the unnatural afterlife of British colonialism in Asia", drew
about 50 participants. It ran concurrently with other parallel sessions.

According to Prof Tan Cheng Han, the dean of the NUS law school and a
member of ASLI's Board of Governors, the institute "was aware that
Prof Sanders would be presenting a similar paper to the one that he
had wanted to present last year" at both events.

Noting that homosexuality — and Section 377A in particular — was a
topic discussed at more than one session at last year's ASLI
conference in Jakarta, NUS' Prof Tan said the law institute "generally
has an open policy towards academics who wish to present papers at its
annual conference".

Prof Sanders' 39-page paper, which is available online, described
Singapore as "the best example of a jurisdiction with the odd trinity
of criminal prohibition, social disapproval but little actual police
enforcement of the law".

It also asserts that by retaining Section 377A, Singapore politicians
"want to avoid controversial subjects" including adoption, social
recognition and support for homosexuals.

When addressing Parliament last year on why Prof Sander's talk at
IndigNation had been banned, :Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee — the
Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs — had described Prof
Sanders as "an advocate for decriminalising homosexuality".

Assoc Prof Ho had also said the lecture was "contrary to public
interest", and reiterated that foreigners "will not be allowed to
interfere in our domestic political scene, whether in support of the
gay cause or against it".

Yesterday, however, the ministry spokesman said there was "no
objection to Prof Sanders the person or his right to express his views
whether on gay issues or other matters".

Today was unable to reach Prof Sanders for comments. The
:Chulalongkorn University emeritus professor is understood to be in

Gay rights activist Alex Au, who met Prof Sanders when he was in town
from last Wednesday to Saturday, felt that the Government "overreacted
last year".

"It's in the nature of academic talks on minority interest issues,
that they do not create any risk to public order," said Mr Au.

While noting the "material difference" between a public lecture and an
academic conference, Tanjong Pagar MP Baey Yam Keng felt it was "just
coincidental" that the timing of Prof Sanders' scheduled talk last
year was "very close to the debate (on the Penal Code amendments) in

Still, Mr Baey added: "No one can be sure what would have been the
public reaction if it had gone ahead. But I thought it could have
actually added to the discussion last year."

EMERGE at FCC (May 29)

Dear friends,

EMERGE is a brand new 10-week long adventure to explore the foundations of the Christian faith in a relaxed, informal and engaging way. We won't be backing away from the difficult questions of the Christian faith and some of the topics that will be explored include:

- Who is Jesus and why do Christians believe in Him?
- What is the role of the Bible and how should I use it?
- How does God guide us?
- How do I experience God in my life?
- What is the role of the Church and how does FCC fit into this?
- How are we really supposed to live out our lives as Christians?

So whether you are brand new in Church, attending once in a while, or have been a Christian in FCC for a long time already, if you want to have a safe space to get a good grip on the foundations of the faith, I invite you to contact me with your email and mobile number to register for the EMERGE series that starts this Thursday 29/5/08 in FCC at 8pm.

Your fellow explorer,

Gary Chan

PS: If you are already attending a cell group in FCC, please discuss this with your cell leader first before registering! This series also does not deal specifically with faith and sexuality issues and if you would like to join a Bible Study series around that, please contact Miak who runs the Living Water series

FCC Service: Speaker Anthony Yeo (May 25)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

25 May 2008 (Sun) - 10.30am
FCC Main Hall
56 Geylang Lor 23
Level 3, Century Technology Building
All are welcome!
------------ --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- -
Series on the Psalms
------------ --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- -
Worship Leader - GARY CHAN
Prayer - DAN LOH
Communion - CYRUS HO
Service Pastor - SUSAN TANG

ST: 3.1% of men who have sex with men found to be HIV-infected in landmark HIV testing project in Singapore (May 23)

Friday, May 23, 2008

3.1% of men who have sex with men found to be HIV-infected in landmark HIV testing project in Singapore

Singapore – May 23, 2008 – 3.1% of men who have sex with men (MSM) were found to be HIV-infected in a landmark project to make HIV testing more accessible to the MSM community. Nine hundred and sixty MSM volunteered for the free and anonymous testing service at MSM frequented venues, of which 30 tested positive for HIV.

This HIV prevalence among MSM is one of the lowest in the region.

The objective of the initiative was to enhance HIV awareness, encourage HIV testing and gauge the acceptability of community based HIV-testing among MSM in Singapore. The project was conducted by AfA at venues and establishments frequented by MSM between December 2007 and February 2008, using the OraQuick test.

The effort was warmly received by people who participated in the outreach. Both members of the community and business owners were quick to praise the initiative, which was titled Take the Test. Take Control.

One participant remarked "Getting an HIV test can be a scary experience, but knowing one's status is really quite a liberating experience." It was his first HIV test, as it was for 27% of those who participated in the project.

"These findings suggest that while MSM are at high-risk for HIV infection, scaled up and targeted AIDS campaigns that include clear messages emphasizing correct & consistent condom use during anal intercourse and regular HIV testing have been effective in keeping the HIV prevalence among Singaporean MSM relatively low," says Mr Daniel Tung, Action for AIDS' MSM programme director.

"However the community must not become complacent, we cannot afford to drop our guard of adopting safer sex practices and specifically 100% condom use for anal intercourse. Complacency has been the case in many other cities that have recently documented alarming increases in HIV prevalence among MSM."

In a post-campaign survey following last year's *Think Again campaign, unprotected anal sex between men was found to have been reduced by between 22-27%compared to the statistics from the Behavioural Surveillance Studies (BSS) conducted by Fridae in 2006.

In the 2006 BSS, 46.9% of MSM surveyed had an HIV test in the preceding 12 months. The proportion of recent HIV testing is a result of community efforts to raise the awareness of the risk of HIV within the MSM community. AfA is aiming for this number to hit 80% by 2011.

To emphasise the message of personal responsibility, AfA, together with gay media company Fridae.com are launching a new campaign – We Can Stop AIDS Now. The campaign focuses on individual empowerment, and shows how HIV transmission can stop today if everyone plays their role. Campaign materials can be found at venues frequented by MSM, or by logging into www.stopaidsnow. info.

Action for AIDS would like to thank the community, business owners and volunteers who participated in this important project, and the Ministry of Health for providing the funding.

Women who Love Women: Conversations in Singapore screened at Sinema (20 May)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Just a reminder the documentary, Women who Love Women:
Conversations in Singapore R(21) is currently being
screened at Sinema.

Tickets are still available, and an additional
screening has been added.

Here are the details again:
- Saturday, 24 May, 9 pm
- Sunday, 25 May, 9 pm
- Sunday, 1 June, 7 pm

Venue: Sinema @ Old School (11B Mt. Sophia Road)
Tickets: $8 each
Ticketing Hotline (Sinema): 63369707
[You need to reserve tickets over the ticketing
hotline; payment and collection of tickets only at
Sinema itself]

For more information: www.sinema.org/ oldschool/
There will be a Q&A session with the team after each

Do visit the docu blogsite too for latest reviews,
etc.: womenwholovewomensi ngapore.blogspot .com

The Register: How Free Press breaks the citizens' network ( May 19)

Monday, May 19, 2008

How Free Press breaks the citizens' network
By Andrew Orlowski (andrew.orlowski@theregister.co.uk)
Published Monday 19th May 2008 16:15 GMT

In 2003 the journalist Ron Suskind captured one of the quotes of the decade when he cited an unnamed Bush administration official as saying:

"When we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality, we'll act again, creating other new realities."

On the web today, "political activism" has become a virtual reality game that anyone can play, whoever you are. To succeed, a campaign need not be reality-based at all: it can generate its own fictional cause, complete with symbolic heroes and villains. Eventually the "campaigners" bump into physics, or economics, or real electors - who may have different, more urgent priorities - and the "campaign" vanishes as quickly as it appeared.

But what's interesting is the real world consequences of the virtual campaign can be the complete opposite of the campaigner's stated goals.

For example, have a look at this exchange with Ben Scott. Ben is a policy director at Free Press. The outfit describes itself as a "national, nonpartisan organisation working to reform the media". A goal is a media more responsive to citizens, and more accurate too.

So we were intrigued when it sent out a press release last week titled "Comcast and Cox Caught Blocking BitTorrent All Day, All Night". Had one of the internet's most popular applications been KO'd for millions of users? Actually, no. BitTorrent was working just fine.

So we sent a brief note to Free Press, on the basis that if it wanted a more accurate media, perhaps it shouldn't send out inaccurate press releases, hoping the media reprint the inaccuracies without question.

"Blocking implies that Bittorrent exchanges are somehow prohibited," we wrote. "In fact, Comcast's Bittorrent sessions have run faster and more smoothly as a consequence of this network management. So it's inaccurate to describe it in such indiscriminate terms."

But there was a more disturbing aspect to this careless use of the word "block". Free Press had cited a study by students at the Max Planck Institute which showed network management techniques were being used by three ISPs: Comcast, Cox and Singapore's.

Now, Singapore is not the United States. The government monitors and controls internet use, with the policy of criminalising certain kinds of behaviour. Homosexuality is illegal, for example.

So "blocking", in Singapore, means that you can't read certain things, and can't write certain things either. In 2005, the government successfully prosecuted and jailed bloggers.

Doesn't equating a repressive block on free speech with network management techniques trivialise the issue? And consequently make it harder for genuine victims of censorship to make their case? But Ben Scott couldn't see the problem. He mailed us back:

"As you'll note, we mention only Comcast and Cox and discuss the issue explicitly in the context of US government policy in the Congress and at the FCC. We do not even mention the Singapore case, so I don't think we are equating the two countries. We do not have any knowledge about Singapore telecommunications practices and could not comment publicly on them."

He also defended the use of the word "block". Comcast blocks Bittorrent in the same way as a traffic light may block your road journey; you may actually arrive at the destination quicker. It doesn't detonate an IED by your car, and force you to walk.

As we've explained before, when Bittorrent's aggressive protocol is heavily used, other applications become unusable - so the cable operator tries to keep everyone happy.

Scott defended the inaccuracy:

"I would disagree with your characterization of RST packets. This is in fact blocking by definition. It think your analogy is inapt. It would be the equivalent of traffic stops sending me back home to start driving to work all over again."

Only it doesn't.

Scott produced a few names of "experts" to back up his case. But none of these seem to grasp the distinction, either - and none have experience of building real networks, ones that don't fall over when the real people use them, doing the things people like to do. Like running Bittorrent, or making VoIP calls.

"I am not opposed to network management. I’m not opposed to throttling heavy users that are dominating congested links. I’m not opposed to congestion pricing. I’m not opposed to network tools that are used to protect security, etc. All networks use these tools. They use them today. They will use them tomorrow."

What he objected to was less than clear. But it's hard to draw up a policy when the definition of network abuse is so flexible. The press release of the day said that Comcast's actions were inexcusable, but Ben had just excused those actions in an email.
Breaking the citizen's network

But there's another more profound and disturbing aspect to a citizen's group declaring what can and can't be done with technology.

This is how I pointed it out to Scott (apologies for quoting it at length):

The internet gives citizens control over the tools of communication in quite an unprecedented way. This, obviously, threatens institutions which depend on scarcity of information for their authority. I think this is a pretty unique moment in the history of communications.

But I think I'm beginning to see the problem, and it's a classic information cascade. The "experts" tell you something you want to hear; you provide something the "experts" wouldn't otherwise have. You get "evidence of abuse". They get media prominence and social relevance. It's a dependency cycle. But is it real, or fictional?

The question you must answer is - is the network you / I / we propose one that is sustainable ? One that citizens can use as a template for the future?

In other words, would a temporary injection of RTS packets ever be permissible, or not? We'd soon find out. Joe Public goes to make a VOIP call, and then discovers that Bittorrent has grabbed all the available bandwidth and sockets. And it's completely out of his control. He can run one application or the other, but not both. We've outlawed intelligent and benign network management.

The precedent to remember is The Anarchist's Cookbook. This was lauded as the ultimate recipe book for creating disruptive stuff - like bombs. But The Anarchist's Cookbook was created at the CIA. It contained so many bogus instructions that it destroyed far more readers than intended targets. It was designed to fail.

Are you sure you're not creating a network that's designed to fail too? If the citizen's network fails - who benefits?

So far, I haven't heard a reply.

With its campaign to "Save The Internet", Free Press may achieve two goals that I fear are the opposite of what its biggest backer, George Soros, intended when he financed the outfit.

One is that it makes the job of genuine free speech activists - who work to promote cases of real repression - much harder.

The other is that it mandates a broken network as the default technical standard for citizens.

You may recall the "Stuckist Net" arguments here several years ago, when readers discussed how feasible it would be to evade lockdown technologies and create computer platforms that remained free and open. That was in the aftermath of CPRM, when it looked like Vista would be a tightly controlled system. That nightmare never came to pass, but the internet retains the ability to be a genuine "citizens' network", with even the domain name system open to alternatives.

But for the public to adopt such a system, it must offer a genuinely compelling alternative to AT&T and Comcast. It's no good advertising yourself as "citizen owned" if your offering falls over as soon as people use P2P. Similarly, selling a network with important features missing - such as VoIP - hardly makes it more attractive. You might get the odd politically-correct masochist, but Joe Public will stay away.

So in banging the drum for the virtual campaign, Free Press makes the big guys even stronger. That's an odd result for an outfit that says its goal is "to promote diverse and independent media ownership".

And a hell of a legacy to leave behind. ®

FCC Service: Speaker Rev O Young (May 18)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

18 May 2008 (Sun) - 10.30am
FCC Main Hall
56 Geylang Lor 23
Level 3, Century Technology Building
All are welcome!
------------ --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- -----
God is Calling
------------ --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- ------
Worship Leader - PAUL WANG
Keyboards - GARY CHAN
Guitars - KELVIN NG
Prayer - MIAK SIEW
Communion - KENG HOCK PWEE
Service Pastor - JORG DIETZEL

Fridae.com: "Wilde" Fundraising Gala Premiere in support of Indignation (May 13)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fridae.com, in support of Indignation 2008, is organising the
Singapore premiere of the film "Wilde" on May 13, 2008 at Lido

As most of you may already know (and have attended the events since
2005), Indignation is Singapore's annual gay pride season will be held
in August this year and comprise talks, art exhibitions, readings of
plays and poetry, and some other social events.

Banned a decade ago in Singapore, the movie "Wilde" (1997) depicts the
rise and fall of the widely known gay Irish-born playwright, Oscar
Wilde. Wilde (played by Stephen Fry) is known for his plays including
Lady Windermere's Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest, are now
classics. Then-newcomer Jude Law plays his lover Lord Alfred Douglas
who wrote the poem, Two Loves, from where the phrase "the love that
dare not speak its name" originated.

Even as Wilde enjoyed his celebrity status, he was madly in love with
a succession of young men, at a time when the law against "gross
indecency" had only recently been passed by Parliament. This law was
the precursor of Singapore's infamous Section 377A. When Wilde was
convicted (and jailed for 2 years) under this law in 1895, it was a
huge scandal and his conviction made him a martyr to the hypocrisy and
persecution represented by such a law.

Why you should support the screening?
Fridae is donating its services in organising this event. Net proceeds
will benefit Indignation where the majority of its events are open to
the public and are traditionally free of charge, in order to be
accessible to everyone.

Fridae, Shaw and Crocodile co-present
The Wilde Indignation Fundraising Gala Premiere (R21)
Date: May 13, Tuesday
Time: 9pm (Reception from 8pm for VIP ticket holders)
Venue: Lido 2, Shaw House, 350 Orchard Road

Tickets are priced at S$20 and S$50 (which includes a reception) are
available on www.fridae.com/wilde. Donations will be accepted online
and at the door.

For info:
wilde fundraiser on may 13 to benefit singapore gay pride festival

oscar wilde - the most celebrated victim of an anti-gay law

Pelangi Pride Centre presents "Trembling before God" and "Rene's Story" (May 10)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pelangi Pride Centre presents (10th May 2008) -
"Trembling before God" and "Rene's Story".

1) Trembling before God (84mins)

2) Rene's Story (77mins)
Rene, 31, a female-to-male gender reassignment candidate took hormones
for years and "passed" as a man for all of his adult life. Married to
his high-school sweetheart, Wona, a heterosexual woman, for 12 years,
no one would guess Rene was biologically a woman. Living under a veil
of secrecy and lies, Rene and Wona's lives seemed fine until someone
"outted" the couple at their beloved church and everything they knew
was destroyed. The public revelation of Rene's secret starts to
unravel his marriage to Wona. Through all of it, Rene continues to
hold on to his lifelong obsession to become a biological male and goes
on a cross-country search to find the best transgender surgeon, only
to discover that the current surgery options are flawed. At the last
minute, Rene finds a surgeon who has created an experimental
procedure, which will be seen in THE OPPOSITE SEX for the first time.


RSVP - This event is by invitation only, as there are limited seats,
prior registration is required.
For an invite -please email [pelangipridecentre at yahoo dot com] to
RSVP with your name, contact number, the name/s of your guests.

Details at a Glance
Event: "Trembling before God" and "Rene's Story".
Date: Saturday, 10th May 2008 (100508)
Time: 4pm
Venue: Pelangi Pride Centre - 54 Rowell Road (in Little India)
Cost per person: $6 (cost of 2 drinks and finger food)

For directions on how to get to the new PPC:

Come into Hindoo Road from Jalan Besar. Look for tall HDB block 639 at
the end of the road. Corner terrace house with grapevines growing.
Come in from the back door.

Christian Post: Christian Leaders: Homosexuality shows Singapore needs revival (May 7)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Christian Post - 07 May 08 - Christian Leaders: Homosexuality Shows Singapore Needs Revival

Responses to an ongoing survey on whether the homosexuality law in the Singapore Penal Code should be actively enforced have pointed toward a common conclusion.

Thirty-three surveys were sent out to Christian leaders from various denominations, churches, missions and ministry organisations by The Christian Post Singapore over the course of the past week.

Seven Christian leaders responded to the survey, of whom two addressed the questions directly.

The Rev. Yang Tuck Yoong, the Rev. Dominic Yeo, the Rev. Joseph Prince, Senior Pastors of the Cornerstone Community Church, Trinity Christian Centre and New Creation Church respectively, declined to comment on the subject.

Amos Ang, a campaign director in Singapore Campus Crusade for Christ, pointed out that the issue is ‘highly politicised’ and refrained from making further comment on an organisational level, although he noted that many in the campus organisation have “participated individually in polls against homosexuality in Singapore.”

Going a step further, the Orthodox Parish Priest, Father Daniel indicated that the issue was never a political one, but rather, a pastoral issue.

His responses recalled the Biblical and apostolic method of addressing the dilemma of Christians in regard to the social immorality of the places in which, for instance, the Corinthian church lived.

In any case, the priest suggested, the standards that are applied to the Church should not be the same as those applied to the unchurched and unbelieving world at large.

By implication, the method used to save the world should not be the method of politics.

The leader of the Eastern Orthodox denomination in Singapore cautioned Christians against using political means to resolve the issue that are really based on a judgmental posture of living.

“Help me to see my own sin, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages, Amen,” said Father Daniel, quoting from the Lenten Prayer of S. Ephraim the Syrian.

As to the method that should be employed, a mega-church pastor gave a clear response.

Lighthouse Evangelism’s Senior Pastor Rony Tan said Singapore society is facing more problems than just homosexuality. He remarked that the nation was also dealing with the issues of pornography, drugs, child abuse and other forms of immorality.

He concluded that what the nation needs is really a mighty revival of God’s righteousness and holiness.

Advocate.com: The Believers (May 7)

The Believers
Three years after the furor over a teenage boy who was forcibly sent to one of its camps, the ex-gay movement may be losing steam. Meanwhile, ex-gay survivors are gaining strength. But are the two groups really that different? Tim Murphy finds out.

Few who follow the culture wars will forget the summer of Zach. In 2005 the parents of Zach Stark, a 16-year-old Tennessean, forced him to go to Refuge—a two-week day camp run by the Christian group Love in Action, which aims to help people leave the gay life behind them. But before Zach left, he blogged about it unhappily on his MySpace page. His writings spread like wildfire among his friends, caused international outrage, and led to protests outside the Memphis camp demanding that Zach and other teens not be enrolled there against their will.

The uproar brought new attention to so-called ex-gay Christian ministries that promise to deliver people from same-sex behavior or desires—ministries that have existed at least as long as their umbrella group, Exodus International, which was founded in 1976. Zach’s story also highlighted the little-known debate between proponents of ex-gay programs and so-called survivors of such programs, who said that they were not only scams but psychologically harmful to those who went through them.

Three years later, Zach is in college, has accepted his gayness, and appears in This Is What Love in Action Looks Like, a new documentary about the controversy. And in the small hothouse world where ex-gays face off with ex-gay survivors (sometimes called ex-ex-gays), changes are afoot. The survivors movement has grown to challenge the claims of ex-gay ministries. And Exodus—an organization that encompasses more than 120 ministries in the United States and Canada and is linked with 150 more affiliated ministries in 17 countries—has modified both its language and its focus in ways suggesting that even though it is far from disbanding, it is sensitive to criticism.

Could the two “sides” of this heated issue be merging? Not quite yet. But as I listened to the often heartbreaking stories of both ex-gays and ex-gay survivors, I realized that their efforts to reconcile gay feelings with their conservative Christian values and near-literal understanding of the Bible created a stronger bond with one another than with much of the rest of gay culture. As Peterson Toscano, a leader on the survivors side, put it, “We’re a ship of fools all together.”

Shifting Ground?
So what’s really changed since the world read Zach’s blog? For one thing, the doings of ex-gay ministries are more carefully monitored, as evidenced by a recent Southern Poverty Law Center report, “Straight Like Me,” and the website ExGayWatch.com, founded in 2002. David Roberts, one of the site’s authors, says its primary mission is “keeping an eye on what [ex-gay ministries] say and do in public,” and on “their relations with political groups.”

For more than a year, the website BeyondExGay.com has been a virtual gathering point for ex-gay survivors, many of whom now picket ex-gay ministries events and conferences and attempt to share their stories with attendees. Beyond Ex-Gay also holds conferences of its own. “Our primary goal is being a support group for ex-gay survivors,” says Toscano. Like Christine Bakke, who runs the group with him, he attended ex-gay ministries for years before finally accepting his gayness. “Our secondary goal,” Toscano adds, “is to talk about the harm of reparative therapy” -- therapy meant to de-gay you -- “in ex-gay ministries.”

Toscano and Bakke say BeyondExGay.com has had over 100,000 visitors in less than a year, and they’re proud of their accomplishments. Last summer they sat down with three Exodus leaders to air views over an informal dinner during Exodus’s annual Freedom Conference in Irvine, Calif. The meeting was well-timed since just two days earlier three former Exodus leaders (all now comfortably gay) publicly apologized at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center for any harm they’d caused. Three Australian former Exodus leaders soon added their names to the public apology.

In late February in Memphis, Beyond Ex-Gay picketed Love Won Out -- an ex-gay ministry sponsored by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family that has Exodus speakers at its conferences. Members of Beyond Ex-Gay held signs that read christian & gay, “change” at what price? and, addressing the dismayed parents that the conference draws, we know you love your kids. Beyond Ex-Gay later presented Love Won Out leaders with framed art collages they’d made illustrating the pain of going through ex-gay programs.

“It’s about people starting to say, ‘This has done me more harm than good,’” says Bakke, adding that, because Beyond Ex-Gay has published a growing chorus of such stories, it’s shaken up the usual talk-show paradigm. “Before they’d have [Truth Wins Out executive director] Wayne Besen saying ‘These programs don’t work’ and Alan [Chambers, who heads Exodus] saying they do,” says Toscano. Bakke adds, “What got lost was the actual people who were doing [the ex-gay ministries]. It’s like a kid in a custody battle. We’re finally stepping forward, serving as a witness and a warning.”

In part because of their actions, Toscano and Bakke say that Exodus has been changing. They point to a June 2007 story in the Los Angeles Times in which Chambers said he wasn’t sure he’d ever met a someone who’s completely ex-gay. Chambers also admitted that after years of heterosexual marriage he still struggled with feelings of gay desire and that “by no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete.”

A few years ago, in a study Exodus commissioned of about 100 people in ex-gay programs, only about 5% experienced what the study called “conversion” to heterosexuality -- but the study also counted as “change” the larger percentage who reported they managed to abstain from gay sex, if not to overcome gay feelings.

Says Toscano: “They’ve lost some of the power of their message because they’re saying change isn’t really possible. So people are saying, ‘Why try?’ ”

Chambers counters, “That’s a mischaracterization of what we’re saying. We’re not saying change isn’t possible. We’re just being more honest about what change truly is and isn’t.”

Another major change cited by Beyond Ex-Gay is undisputed. Last year, Exodus let go of the lobbyist it had briefly hired to work on Capitol Hill against inclusion of gays in the (currently stalled) hate-crimes bill, on the argument that since being gay was not a fixed thing, it didn’t deserve protection alongside traits like race or gender. Says Toscano: “We’d said to them, ‘We don’t understand why Exodus is involved in politics. Why are you trying to deny us the rights we could have that could make our lives easier?”

In an interview with Ex-Gay Watch (yes, the two “sides” are very much in touch), Chambers tried to explain the move away from lobbying: “I felt…conflicted…that we might be alienating people that simply wouldn’t call us for help because of the perception that we were becoming a partisan and political organization rather than a ministry for all.”

However, Chambers says that he’ll remain a member of the Arlington Group, a powerful consortium of conservative political organizations, including Focus on the Family. Does Exodus receive money from Focus? No, according to Chambers, although he would not name which, if any, other large groups give Exodus money -- and as a nonprofit, the group does not have to list such donors on its tax forms. What’s more, he said, though Exodus’s formal lobbying was over, “if we have an opportunity to share our stories with people on Capitol Hill, we’re going to.” Toscano counters that Beyond Ex-Gay does no formal lobbying and critiques Exodus’s stance: “If they think [that’s] not political work, they’re deceiving themselves and need to be challenged on it.”

Yet another major change in the ex-gay world: Last summer Love in Action closed the controversial teen Refuge camp where Stark had been sent. The ministry now runs an intensive four-day program for kids and parents that is focused more on getting them to communicate better than on making the kids straight, according to John Smid, Love in Action’s longtime but departing leader. “Some of the kids will say, ‘I’m not going to pursue change, but, boy, my relationship with my parents is a lot better,’ ” he says.

There are other signs that these two worlds, the very same until that moment when some make peace with their gayness and others renounce it, are coming closer. “We’re two parts of the same island,” says Toscano -- an image that is reinforced by the Gay Christian Network (GayChristian.net). Founded in 2001, GCN has found an ingenious way of bridging the divide between ex-gays and ex-ex-gays and putting the focus on spiritual matters: It lets participants choose to belong to what’s called Side A—“those who are in gay relationships or hope to be someday” -- or Side B, “those who view their same-sex attractions as a temptation and strive to live celibate lives.” Says Wendy Gritter, the straight, married leader of New Directions, a 23-year-old Exodus-affiliated ministry in Toronto: “It’s a powerful message to a world that’s so flipping divided.”

Gritter doesn’t view gay relationships as “the perfection of God’s creative intent” any more than most straight relationships, even marriage. But when conservative Christians come to her tormented with gay feelings, her goal, she says, is to see them “at peace, living consistently with their beliefs and values.”

And if they decide that being gay is OK with God? “It’s not our role…to convince them to believe what we believe,” Gritter points out. “We wouldn’t break off our relationship and say, ‘Now that you’ve embraced your sexuality as a gift from God, we can’t relate to you,’ but rather ‘Hey, we may have some areas where we agree to disagree, but we want to hear how you’re growing in your faith and how we can continue to love and serve you.’ ”

But doesn’t that make her ministry almost, well, gay-affirming? Gritter sees the blurriness, almost seems to welcome it, acknowledging that she’s the product of Canada, where Christian culture is far less politically engaged than in the United States. “Why wouldn’t a non-Christian gay person, someone who doesn’t have a Scripture-informed view of sexual ethics, seek a lifetime [same-sex] partner?” she asks. “It’s a no-brainer.” In many ways, as warmly as she speaks of Chambers, she seems a hairbreadth from severing her Exodus ties. But she stays, she says, because “I have hope for effective future ministry for Exodus, and I hope to have input in that.” Chambers says that he and Gritter are “huge fans of one another” and that Exodus has no plans of cutting ties with her.

Gritter cites a prominent study last fall by the Barna Research Group, which found that an overwhelming majority of young Americans ages 16 to 29 described Christianity as being, among other things, judgmental, hypocritical, and antigay. Because of such perceptions, she says, “I think [Exodus] is going to face a sense of crisis of which path to take, one aligned with the Christian right or one that moves toward a singular focus on mission and ministry.” But here Chambers disagrees. “What will be increasingly true and apparent,” he says, “is that you can’t pin us down and stick us in a box.”

A personal note: Starting this story, I wanted to stick ex-gays in a box. Reading the FAQs on the Exodus website—“Is there a connection between homosexuality and predatory behavior, like pedophilia?” -- it was hard not to feel enraged. But while talking to Chambers, Smid, and Melissa Fryrear, an ex-gay who heads up Love Won Out, I found myself tearing up at their tales of torment, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse -- just as I did while hearing remarkably similar stories from Toscano and Bakke. It was particularly painful to listen to Fryrear recall how she used to punch concrete walls and cut herself, even though I was skeptical when she said therapy led her to link her lesbian feelings to having been sexually abused by a man as a child. She couldn’t remember the man, nor when or where it happened.

Chambers, Fryrear, and Smid had all at one point led gay lives, and their mixed feelings about their former lives were palpable. Chambers called the last two years of high school, when he started having a gay social life, “probably the best time in my life…. I had the most exciting, great friends…. The music takes me back instantly…. I loved Depeche Mode.” Fryrear and her live-in girlfriend went back to church together and stayed a couple for nearly two more years before she transitioned into her ex-gay life, which now includes dating a man. Chambers even avows that if an early gay relationship had worked out, “My life could’ve been radically different…. It’s not that I don’t believe I could have lived a happy gay life; it’s that I thought there was more, and I found out there was.” Chambers and his wife of 10 years are now raising two adopted children.

Writing this story, I sensed a yearning on each “side” of the divide to be closer to the other. Karen Keen, a California ex-gay, wrote on her blog about attending Beyond Ex-Gay’s survivor conference: “I realize I was drawn [there] because I love these people. In some impossible way I long for camaraderie and unity with ex-ex-gays with whom I have shared so many of the same life struggles and pain. Yet at the end of the day our roads lead us apart, and I wish it wasn’t so. I leave the Survivor Conference knowing it will be my last ex-ex-gay conference. I feel an ache in my heart -- the kind of sadness that comes when breaking up with a lover.”

In one of my last interviews, I felt a bit of that ache myself. I’d asked John Smid, 54, who’s not only married with kids but has grandkids now too, what perceptions of his work he most resented. “The assumption that I hate people who are involved in homosexuality,” he said, “that I’ve turned my back on them. That’s not true.” He also hated media reports that Love in Action said it could “pray away the gay.” He noted, “The headlines are always about changing homosexuality, and I say that we’ve never said that.”

But why couldn’t people be gay and Christian? “If you have a conviction that’s acceptable, then that’s between you and the Lord,” he said. “Go find a gay-affirming church. That’s up to you. There are plenty out there.”

I laid down my reporter’s notebook (metaphorically -- we were on the phone). Smid was funny and thoughtful and affable. I told him that I’d like to be his friend, that as a comfortable, happy gay man raised Catholic but now more inclined toward a broadly spiritual liberal humanism, I’d like to meet for coffee and discuss these issues more. And I said I truly had no interest in changing him. Could he say the same thing?

He paused. “No. To be honest.” We both laughed. I was both moved and a bit shocked by his candor. “Christians believe there is one truth and one good way -- Jesus Christ,” he stated. “A lot of people think that’s arrogant, but it’s the truth.” He then continued, “Why would I say, ‘Whatever, Tim, do what you want,’ if I really cared about you and loved you as a friend?”

He reminded me that I’d opened up the subject -- that proselytizing was no longer the way of Exodus and the ex-gay movement. “If you want to ask where I think we’ve been wrong,” he said, “it’s been by trying to push an issue down somebody’s throat.”

I joked that he’d better mind his language. But he didn’t laugh. “I won’t go there,” he said.

And I wouldn’t either.

Homosexuality Talks at the Catholic Centre

Monday, May 5, 2008

1. Homosexuality: A Christian Response

Date: Thursday, May 8

Time: 7.15pm

Leslie, a former transsexual will share the story of how he came to realize that homosexual acts are a dead end and how he found real happiness. Brother Michael Broughton, a religious educator, will share the “Do’s and Dont’s When Speaking To Persons With Homosexual Inclinations”.

2. What’s Wrong With Homosexual Acts? Part I: Viewpoints from Psychology and Societal Implications

Date: Thursday, May 15

Time: 7.15pm

Centre of Ignatian Spirituality and Counselling Director, Father Paul Lian-Kok Goh, SJ will share his viewpoint on what’s wrong with homosexual acts from his background in psychology respectively, while Mr Thomas Aqbal, an Advocate and Solicitor will explore the societal implications. Also invited is Mr Alex Au a.k.a. Yawning Bread, as he is known on the Internet. Mr Au is a founding member of Singapore ’s main gay equality lobby group “People Like Us 3”.

3. What’s Wrong With Homosexual Acts? Part II: Viewpoints from Medicine and Moral Implications

Date: Thursday, May 22
Time: 7.15pm

Moral theologian Father David Garcia, OP will share his viewpoint on what’s wrong with homosexual acts morally while Dr John Hui, Immediate Past Master of the Catholic Medical Guild of Singapore shares his viewpoints from his background in medicine.

4. SSA and Hope: Resources, Support Groups, and Counselling
Date: Thursday, May 29
Time: 7.15pm

Family Life Society Therapist Catherine Tyrer will explain “What Is Counselling All About?” where she will walk participants through what takes place during a counselling session with a person with same-sex attraction. Avenues for support and resources available will also be shared.

All sessions will be held at CANA – The Catholic Centre ( 55 Waterloo Street , 2nd level). Please register by email at cana@catholiccentre.com.sg. The forum is free of charge.

Rev O Young in Singapore (May 4)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Dear Church and Friends of FCC

We are very privileged once again to have Rev O Young, of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in New York, www.mccny.org, visit us during the weekend of May 17 & 18. Below (and in the attached in chinese) are details of a talk in Mandarin he will give on Sat May 17, and I urge us to invite our Chinese-speaking friends, especially if they are Christians, to this event.

He will also be preaching from our pulpit on Sunday, May 18 (in English), so there's another opportunity to invite our friends.

Date: May 17 Saturday
Time: 7 - 9pm
Place: FCC, 56 Lor 23 Geylang, Century-Technology Bldg, 3fl.
Topic: Christians and the Bible (Chinese)

Date: May 18 Sunday Worship
Time: 10.30am
Place: FCC, 56 Lor 23 Geylang, Century-Technology Bldg, 3fl.
Sermon: God is Calling (English)
Scriptures: Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:27-30

For those of you new to our church, Rev O Young is a prolific chinese author and the first openly gay Malaysian pastor currently serving at MCC NY and doing his doctoral studies.

He says, "As a Christian, I believe in Jesus. I always believe that the central Christian metaphor is God is Love; and perhaps this is the only definition of God in the Bible. I see Jesus as the ultimate manifestation of God’s love, not because he died a horrible death for us but rather how he had lived his life.

From the gospels, I can easily see that Jesus is primarily compassionate and concerned with human beings’ well-being. Human well-being, according to Jesus, is understood primarily in terms of relationships and community. I believe we are the Church and the Church is for everyone, and God does not give higher status to one than another.

The Christian faith community is neither exclusive nor status-bound. I believe the Bible is inspired by God. However, all readings are interpretation and the interpretation of scripture is historically contextualized. That said, I believe we, as queer people should challenge forcefully the assumptions and intentions of heterosexists that have been overlooked so long by so many biblical interpreters and Christians, such as patriarchy, homophobic and xenophobic attitudes of the time in which the texts were written and the scriptures were read."

FCC Sunday Service - Speaker: Gary Chan (May 4)

4 May 2008 (Thu) - 10.30am
FCC Main Hall
56 Geylang Lor 23
Level 3, Century Technology Building
All are welcome!

Series on the Psalms
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Guitars - KELVIN NG
Service Pastor - JORG DIETZEL

Click here for instructions on how to get to church

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The FREE COMMUNITY CHURCH ( http://www.freecomc hurch.org/ ) is a congregation of diverse individuals and families gathering to worship and grow as a Christian community. Our vision is to plant and nurture Christ centred cell group communities which are relevant to the twenty-first century. We are an inclusive Church who desire to develop a vibrant heart relationship with God balanced by a deep thinking mind relationship with the Bible. We don't believe in easy pat answers to life's challenging questions but we believe in a great and loving God who can transcend all challenges and questions.

The FREE COMMUNITY CHURCH affirms the dignity of every human being, their families and communities while recognising that we each live imperfect lives in imperfect worlds. We thus need to rely totally on the grace of God through Jesus Christ. The FREE COMMUNITY CHURCH welcomes ALL people regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or economic status. We would love to have you as a part of our extended family.

If you have any questions about FREE COMMUNITY CHURCH, our ministries or our acitvities, please do not hesitate to drop us an email at info@freecomchurch. org.

Washington Post: Methodists Struggle to Reflect Diversity (May 3)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Methodists Struggle To Reflect Diversity
African and Asian Congregations Are on the Rise
By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service
Saturday, May 3, 2008; B09

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Once the epitome of Main Street, U.S.A., the United Methodist Church is rapidly becoming an increasingly international family.

Put another way: The church of President Bush and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is also the church of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

And as the Liberian president stood before thousands of fellow Methodists here Tuesday, she presented herself as the personification of the church's global missions and urged a renewed effort to fight poverty in Africa.

Sirleaf, who in 2006 became Africa's first democratically elected female head of state, pointed to Methodists' centuries-old health and education ministries in her West African nation. Methodists built the first secondary school in Liberia, the College of West Africa, of which Sirleaf called herself a proud alumna.

"For more than 175 years, you, the Methodist Church, has stood by and with the Liberian nation," Sirleaf said. "The church must continue to work to assist us meet the challenges for the people of Liberia."

Challenges are abundant across the world, Sirleaf said. A widening gap between rich and poor nations threatens regional stability; climate change threatens natural resources; and rising food prices threaten to unleash a tide of hunger across the world.

"You are meeting at a critical moment in the history of the Christian church and the human family," she told the almost 4,000 Methodists gathered here at their quadrennial General Conference.

Indeed, they find themselves in the middle of an intense debate about exactly how their church can reflect its increasingly international membership and its sexual diversity at home.

While Methodist congregations are shrinking in America, they're booming in Africa and Asia -- 30 percent of the 11.5 million-member church lives outside the United States. Sirleaf's Liberia has 168,000 Methodists; this week, delegates formally received its West African neighbor, Ivory Coast, into the church. With 700,000 members, it's now the church's largest regional conference.

More than 275 of the almost 1,000 delegates gathered here to draw up church policy are from Africa, an increase of 100 from the last General Conference.

Still, Methodists have yet to decide how to fully reflect their diversity in church governance. On Monday, delegates scuttled a plan that might have given more influence to churches in Africa, Asia and Europe, instead deciding to study the matter further and report back in four years.

The meeting here, which ended yesterday, also reflects a wider struggle for the soul of America's mainline churches, as conservatives and liberals increasingly cross national and hemispheric lines in search of allies.

Several delegates warned that actions taken here directly affect Methodists in Africa and Asia, many of whom are conservative.

Delegates held to traditional Methodist rules on homosexuality, refusing to support or celebrate same-sex unions and maintaining language that calls homosexual activity "incompatible with Christian teaching."

Yet, efforts to remove a transgender pastor from ministry in Baltimore died quietly. The failure to enact a ban most likely means the Rev. Drew Phoenix, who entered the ministry as the Rev. Ann Gordon, cannot be defrocked solely because he is a transgender man before the next General Conference in 2012.

Liberal Methodists say a conservative coalition crossed ethical lines when it handed out more than 200 free cellphones to delegates from Africa and the Philippines. The giveaway sparked charges of racism, neo-colonialism and old-fashioned graft.

Conservative activist Mark Tooley of UMAction, a member of the coalition, called the cellphone brouhaha "very silly."

But the Rev. Troy Plummer of the gay-friendly Reconciling Ministries Network noted that the fliers advertising the giveaway called on delegates to elect a slate of conservative candidates to the church's supreme court.

Those candidates lost. Delegates elected church moderates and liberals instead.

ST Forum: Gay issue in the US far from settled (May 2)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Gay issue in the US far from settled

I AM perturbed by Mr Ken Lee Jun-Jie's views and
recommendations in his online letter on Tuesday, 'MDA
high-handed in its fine on Ch5 for gay episode'.

US practice is far from being settled. Same-sex
marriages and adoption of children by same-sex couples
are not approved in all US states. The permissive laws
and practices in Canada have been strongly divisive
and its society is unfortunately polarised. Mr Lee
should not mislead us by selectively citing highly
controversial practices by arguably a numerical and
political minority in countries such as the US and

Broadcasting (free-to-air) channels have widespread
reach and thus different considerations, especially
towards the young, apply. The question still remains,
whether homosexual values including same-sex marriage
and alliances and adoption of children are healthy and
beneficial for our society. MDA content guidelines and
enforcement therefore strike a good balance in light
of the broader interests of our society.

Moreover, apart from the interests of the young,
broadcasting a show which advocates a highly
controversial value is an invasion of the majority's
will against the mainstreaming of homosexuality in
Singapore, as endorsed by PM Lee during last October's
parliamentary debates. Adult Singaporeans, who are so
inclined or actively seek to be 'educated', can easily
access other available sources such as the Internet.

By not blindly following the controversial position
adopted by some in other countries, MDA has shown
itself to be a credible and discerning regulator.

Andrew Lim

AP: Methodists attend gay union ceremony near church convention (May 2)

Methodists attend gay union ceremony near church convention

By ANGELA K. BROWN – 2 days ago

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — More than 200 Methodists attended a lesbian couple's commitment ceremony Friday in defiance of a vote to uphold a church law that says gay relationships are "incompatible with Christian teaching."

The ceremony was at a park across from the Fort Worth Convention Center, where some 3,000 people are meeting for the United Methodist Church's general conference. It is held every four years to set church policy.

Methodists this week rejected replacing a sentence in its Book of Discipline — which says the church "does not condone the practice of homosexuality" — with other phrases, including one saying Christians differ on the issue. The measure to change the language also was rejected at the last conference in 2004.

Methodists this week also voted against a proposal to change a policy allowing pastors to keep gays and lesbians from joining the denomination's churches.

"There was a lot of robust debate as there has been for 36 years, particularly over the phrase that refers to 'incompatible,'" said the Rev. Gregory V. Palmer, president of the church's Council of Bishops. He also called for finding common ground.

At the ceremony, some said that acceptance of gays in some churches encouraged them but that the denomination as a whole had a long way to go.

No clergy member presided over the commitment ceremony of Julie Bruno and Sue Laurie of Chicago, a couple for 25 years, although about three dozen ministers attended.

Officiating at a same-sex union ceremony violates church rules for clergy and would leave them vulnerable to being charged in Methodist church courts. In 1999, a senior pastor in Omaha, Neb., was defrocked after a church trial for performing a same-sex union.

"The United Methodist Church has been and continues to be both blessing and burden to us," said Julie Bruno, one of the women getting married. "When the church turns her back on us, withholds blessing from us, does God withhold blessing? Does God stop loving us? We continue to be the church to and for each other. We continue to be the instruments of God's light and love."

The Rev. Julie Todd spoke during the Friday ceremony and led the communion. Afterward, she said she doubted her role would subject her to any church disciplinary action, but if so she was prepared.

"I believe so strongly that this is the role of the church and of the ordained clergy in blessing loving relationships that I am not concerned about the consequences," Todd said.

After the service, Laurie and Bruno said they turned down many ministers' offers to officiate.

"The message was less about upsetting people and more about being role models and for people to know that these ceremonies are going on," Laurie said.
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A Soulforce Open Letter to Members of the United Methodist Church (May 1)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Soulforce Open Letter to Members of the United Methodist Church

On April 30, 2008, delegates to your General Conference meeting in Ft. Worth, Texas, voted to keep these words in their Book of Discipline: "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching." Since 1972 United Methodists have used these words to deny lesbian and gay Methodists the rights of ordination and of marriage. As I write clergy can even use these words to deny lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christian the rights of membership in a local church.

For 36 years lesbian and gay United Methodists and their allies have worked tirelessly to replace these words with words of affirmation and acceptance. Once again a UMC General Conference has decided to keep those words in place even though they lead to intolerance, discrimination, suffering and even death. In his book "Why We Can't Wait," Martin Luther King, Jr. describes the 1963 struggle for civil rights that climaxed with legislation that ended segregation in the United States. Dr. King's book might have been titled, "Why We Didn't Wait," for he describes the "disappointments" that drove African-Americans into the streets - "disappointments" that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans know all too well.

We lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans are also disappointed in the Congress and the courts; disappointed in both political parties and their leadership; disappointed in the lack of change in the United States when European nations are granting their gay and lesbian citizens the full rights of citizenship; but especially we are disappointed in our churches for ignoring the empirical and biblical data that homosexuality is not a sickness to be cured nor a sin to be forgiven.

We, too, are tired of slow change and token changes, tired of defending ourselves against the claims of moral inferiority, tired of being victims of public laws and private humiliations, tired of intolerance and inequality, tired of suffering and dying just because we are different. The historic civil rights legislation of 1964 came just eight years after Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott. It's been almost 40 years since the Stonewall protest in New York City and 36 years since the United Methodists decided that they "...do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."

With all the changes we can celebrate, the real problem remains the same: the antigay religious teachings and actions that support intolerance and discrimination are still powerfully in place in the United Methodist Church and in most other Protestant and Catholic Churches. These antigay, religion-based teachings and actions have become the primary source of misinformation against sexual and gender minorities.

Most antigay initiatives and antigay court decisions (local, statewide and national) flow out of those same religious teachings. They give license for gay bashers to harass and harm us and motive for God's gay children to kill ourselves. Instead of changing minds and hearts, the 36 year war of words by leaders of the United Methodist Church has seen those antigay religious teachings harden into place. When will we realize that the antigay teachings cannot be "studied" or "debated" away? It will take another civil rights revolution to end them.

In "Why We Can't Wait" Dr. King makes it clear: "The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people." It is not the Institute for Religion and Democracy who have kept these tragic words in place. We can't condemn the Confessing Movement for this current dilemma. It is the silence of the good people of the United Methodist Church that is to blame.

But there is a way to end that silence without anger, hatred or violence. Guided by Gandhi's soul force principles, the principles of relentless nonviolent resistance, Dr. King led the people of Birmingham on a journey into justice that "stirred the conscience of the nation." We don't have to wait for a consensus at the next general conference. We can stand for justice now in ways that will empower us and change minds and hearts in the process.

We call on the United Methodist Bishops who know the tragic consequences of those words to refuse to enforce them or to resign in protest. Gandhi said "It is as much our obligation not to cooperate with evil as it is to cooperate with good." Every day a Bishop remains a Bishop he or she gives tacit support to the teachings that are killing us.

We call on the United Methodist clergy who know the tragic consequences of those words to take their stand against them. Welcome us. Marry us. Ordain us. Confront and condemn your fellow clergy who dare to use those words to deny membership to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians. We ask you to take steps immediately to join the Reconciling Ministries Network and to make it known to your community that you are an Open and Affirming Congregation.

We call on members of the United Methodist Church to support your local congregation if it is (or is rapidly becoming) a Reconciling Congregation. But we call upon you to leave your church if your pastor continues to enforce the words that "...do not condone." At least refuse to pay your tithes and offerings until your church opens their doors to all people as Christ commands.

We call on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender United Methodists, their families and friends, to refuse to finance your own oppression by giving your tithes and offerings to a church that refuses to see you as fully human. How can we continue to support a local congregation where the pastor insists that our relationships are impure or unholy and thus refuses to marry us or insists that we are not really called by God to serve the church and thus refuses to ordain us? How can we even think of staying in a congregation that denies membership to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons? And as you leave, take down that sign or banner that reads "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors." Store it until the United Methodist Church earns the right to use it once again.

Whatever you do to take your stand against those words in the UMC Book of Discipline, do something. We cannot wait for the next General Conference. While those words remain in place lives are being ruined, talents are being wasted, families are being divided and whole generations are being lost to the United Methodist Church. Even worse, how many people have given up their faith in Christ because His church has become a primary source of intolerance and discrimination? Don't wait for a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King, Jr. to lead us out of this wilderness. Whatever you decide to do, your simple act of conscience will make a difference.

One Sunday an African-American pastor was proclaiming those tragic words from the pulpit. "We do not condone..." "...Incompatible with Christian teaching..." "Sick and sinful..." Having heard enough, the gay organist stood up and said loudly, "There will be no more music today." With that he gathered up his music and walked out of the church. After a moment of breathtaking silence, one by one the choir followed. Just seven words and a brief walk down the aisle and a choir was empowered to do justice and a congregation was changed forever.

Rev. Dr. Mel White
President of the Board

Jeff Lutes
Executive Director

Paige Schilt
Media Director
(512) 659-1771