Indianpolis Star, 14 Aug 2001

Protesters call church's study another delay in accepting gays

By Lisa Hanson, Indianapolis Star

Lutheran pastors, gays and lesbians and their families stopped traffic Monday on Maryland Street. Members of Soulforce, a 3-year-old interfaith movement for equal rights for gays and lesbians in religious policies, knelt on the sidewalk and prayed, blocking pedestrians from getting by.

The group was protesting a proposal passed Monday morning by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which is meeting this week in Indianapolis. The proposal sets into motion the first major study by Lutherans examining biblical references and scientific data regarding same-sex relationships. It also would give recommendations how to implement the blessings of same-sex marriages and ordinations of gay and lesbian ministers by the 2005 churchwide assembly.

"These studies have already been done throughout the past 25 to 30 years. To postpone it again is to prolong the suffering of gay and lesbian people and ignore the real issue," said Greg Egertson, co-chairman of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries, based in San Francisco.

More than 50 people huddled next to one another, their hands clasped to one another's shoulders and arms, near Maryland Street and Capitol Avenue. In less than a half-hour, 48 people were arrested for disobeying police orders to move.

Egertson knelt behind his mother and father, singing and praying. The postponement has sent out a tragic message, he said. "They have forced the gay and lesbian community to continue to live in the closet, to lie about their relationships, or deny their relationships. The church still wants to treat us as an issue, instead of as real people," Egertson said. "They want to talk about us, not with us."

Paul Egertson, former bishop of the Southwest California Synod and Greg's father, said he was disappointed the ELCA did not take swifter action toinclude gay and lesbian pastors. "How many more people are going to have to endure being treated as second-class citizens?" Paul Egertson said.

Those arrested included 19-year-old Jacob Reitan, his mother, Randi, and his father, Phil. Jacob Reitan started a Gay Straight Alliance at his high school in Eden Prairie, Minn. "I'm gay and I know that God loves me just the way I am," he said. He said the study is a sign of intolerance, which compels some gay youth to commit suicide. "I want the ELCA to know that the message that they are going to study me rather than ordain me as a minister is a message of violence," Reitan said.