No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice

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No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice is an organization of Phoenix, Arizona-based Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy committed to raising awareness within the general public and within their own denominations to the existence of a tolerant and supportive Christian view regarding LGBT rights. No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice's express purpose is to offer an alternative to the Christian Right's views and policies regarding LGBT people.

Core values[edit]

No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice believes that it is consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ to treat LGBT people equally and that the prevalent message of Christian opposition to LGBT rights is a distortion of the gospel. Such being the case, the organization promotes legal equality for LGBT people, opposes harmful anti-gay political and religious rhetoric and violence, and works towards the acceptance of LGBT people in society. The organization also affirms LGBT Christians who maintain their faith in religious environments that are hostile to them on the basis of their sexual orientation.[1]

The Phoenix Declaration[edit]

The Phoenix Declaration was a document prepared by a task group of NLS:CFJ clergy in late 2002 and released in conjunction with a keynote address by Bishop John Shelby Spong in January 2003. Collecting signatures online, over 160 Arizona clergy-persons signed on in solidarity.

As Christian clergy we believe it is time to share our perspective concerning Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgendered (GLBT) persons. We celebrate the end of the debate. The verdict is in. Homosexuality is not a sickness, not a choice, and not a sin. We affirm that GLBT persons are distinctive, holy, and precious gifts to all who struggle to become the family of God.

We stand in solidarity as those who are committed to work and pray for full acceptance and inclusion of GLBT persons in our churches and in our world. GLBT persons are condemned and excluded by individuals and institutions, political and religious, who claim to be speaking the truth of Christian teaching. This leads directly and indirectly to intolerance, discrimination, suffering, and even death. Political and religious rhetoric has monopolized the public perception of the stance of Christian persons on this issue. This stance continues to cripple the spirit of innocent people. The Christian faith compels us to be part of the healing for the souls wounded by this tragic, violent, and destructive hatred. Therefore:
We stand with the countless Christian ministers, scholars, and laity who, from prayerful study of the scriptures and Christian tradition, find no rational biblical or theological basis to condemn or deny the rights of any person based on sexual orientation. The essence of Christian life is not focused on sexual orientation, but how one lives in relationship with God with compassion toward humanity.
We gratefully affirm our GLBT brothers and sisters, already a part of the church, who have been born, baptized, confirmed – many serving as leaders -- and apologize for their ill-treatment by many church leaders. We joyfully welcome GLBT persons, as we welcome all people, into our communities of faith.
We recognize GLBT persons have painfully suffered long enough from social inequality, from religious rhetoric and political leaders. We are tired of appalling, hurting, and violent actions toward GLBT persons. This violence must stop. Let us clear the air and move ahead to begin the healing process for the wounded souls who are victims of this tragic and violent abuse.
We celebrate the courage of all people who have refused to let the voice of intolerance and violence speak for Christianity. The determination of these people, especially GLBT persons, to meet hatred with love and to answer violence with compassion is an inspiration to us all, and prophetic witness of God’s activity in our world.
And so we call for an end to all religious and civil discrimination against any person based on sexual orientation. All laws must protect the freedoms, rights, and equal legal standing of all persons. We will continue to work for and promote the dignity of GLBT persons and their inclusion in our socio-political, cultural and economic life.[2]

Almost immediately, an opposition group posted the counter-statement, "Courage, Clarity, and Charity: A Phoenix Declaration," [3][4] aimed at defending "the integrity of God's word" and opposed to "those people and groups who are attempting to subvert the Bible's clear teaching on sexual ethics, particularly homosexuality."[5]

Roman Catholic signers[edit]

In April 2004, Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of the Phoenix Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church privately ordered nine Catholic priests who signed The Phoenix Declaration to remove their names from the document under obedience to him.[6] After having removed their names, the original Catholic signers of The Phoenix Declaration continued to speak out against Bishop Olmsted's position.[7] Bishop Olmsted first suspended and then granted the early retirement of one signer, Fr. John Cunningham[8] and excommunicated at least two others among the original Roman Catholic signers of the Declaration, Fr. Chris Carpenter[citation needed] and Fr. Vernon Meyer [9][10] Only two of the original nine Catholic signers remain in active ministry within the Roman Catholic Church.[11]

History[edit]

No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice grew out of a gathering of Mainline Protestant clergy in Phoenix, Arizona in the late 1990s. A common frustration among the ecumenical group was media portrayals of the so-called "definitive" Christian opinion that were the group felt were only narrow conservative theological views. No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice (NLS:CFJ) came together in an effort to provide an alternative voice to those views.

The group's initial actions were newspaper and Op/Ed pieces [12][13] calling Christians to rethink the traditional treatment of homosexual people. NLS:CFJ's first direct actions revolved around participation in Phoenix's annual Gay Pride Parade, in which members of the group marched for many years.

In 2002, a task group begin drafting what was to become The Phoenix Declaration, a statement which they said would affirm the dignity and rights of homosexual people in churches and in the wider community. The declaration was first published in January 2003.

As the Southern Baptist Convention chose Phoenix as the site of its June 2003 meeting, NLS:CFJ took the opportunity to picket the meeting in a joint action with SoulForce and Gay Southern Baptists with training in non-violent action provided by Mel White.[14] During the action, Rev. Scott Ritchey told the crowd:

"In the United States alone, over 7,000 hate crimes have been reported in the past few years as a result of the victim's sexual orientation, with many of these crimes resulting in death. A gay teenager is four times more likely to commit suicide. Our sisters and brothers face job loss, eviction, harassment, pain and exclusion, based solely on who they love. We will not be silent."[15]

In 2006, NLS:CFJ helped coordinate opposition to Arizona Proposition 107, calling on Arizona voters to reject the Protect Marriage Arizona proposition funded and promoted by James Dobson's Focus on the Family and the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP).[16] Proposition 107 sought to amend the state constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and barred governments from recognizing any similar relationship for unmarried couples, including providing benefits to employees' domestic partners. Proposition 107 was defeated by the voters of Arizona.[citation needed]

In February 2007, NLS:CFJ held a vigil in front of Phoenix's Bethany Bible Church to protest James Dobson's Love One Out conference.[citation needed] 2007 also saw NLS:CFJ receiving a humanitarian award from the Human Rights Campaign for its work advocating on behalf of the rights of homosexual people.[citation needed]

Other events have featured keynote speakers including former United Methodist pastor Jimmy Creech (defrocked for performing a same-sex marriage), homosexual activist Bishop John Shelby Spong, Baptist LGBT advocate Peggy Campolo, and a special Gay Pride Worship featuring James Forbes, then pastor at New York's Riverside Church. In 2007, NLS:CFJ received a grant from the Gill Foundation to further its work to promote full inclusion of homosexual people.[17]

The organization and its individual members have continued to speak out, write, preach, and act on behalf of homosexual people in the state of Arizona and beyond. In October 2010, the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Phoenix Diocese, Thomas J. Olmsted,[18] planned a legislative training event promoting the Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, a document opposed to abortion, same-sex marriage, and government bans on discrimination.[neutrality is disputed] Olmsted was one of the first signatories of the Manhattan Declaration.[citation needed]

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