The folks at Soulforce put the lie to the notion of religious/spiritual folks being stiffs. My mind shoots to Mel White saying to me, years ago, that one way to stand up to bigoted churches was to implore all the gays to walk away and stop tithing until they were welcomed fully. “When they see all those gay choir directors walk out,” Mel said impishly, “they’ll know we mean business!” (It’s a damned good plan, actually.) The organization’s fun-loving side certainly showed itself when Soulforce held an action at the US Southern Baptist Convention when it was held in New Orleans two years ago. A report on the goings-on comes from Soulforce Seattle’s Cindy Haddon:
MY NEW ORLEANS SOULFORCE STORY
I arrived in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon June 10th. I watched that evening and the next day Monday as dedicated people and Soulforcee’s began showing up one by one at the hotel and church training head -quarters. Once again I found myself in the mist of awe and loving Spirit work through people. We trained in non-violence, broke up into vigil squads, met new people and our Soulforce family once again to take care of the business of bringing truth in love to the churches; for the second time to the Southern Baptists.
On Tuesday June 12th, long, silent vigils began as everyone participated, then squads started taking shifts for day and evening vigils. As squad leader I was forced to confront on 4 occasions Southern Baptist Conference attendee’s as they approached us to condemn and teach us their misinformation. Simply I directed them to our hospitality room where people there waiting to talk to them. I explained that we had written three letters to their conference president Dr. James Merritt who didn’t have the courtesy to respond. That now we had to vigil in silence and had no intention at the moment to debate. It worked. They had to leave. I am sure none went to the hospitality house.
On Tuesday late afternoon however, news came to us that a man from inside the conference had been harassing one of our squads. After 90 minutes of listening to his yelling, spiting and spewing his violent message to them, a detective interrupted and said “That’s enough. I am not going to allow you to harass these people any longer.” The squad primarily made up of locals and newcomers to Soulforce never budged. He took the man to his squad car. The Soulforce squad leader asked police not to arrest the man. Since when asked if he would go on his way and quit harassing the group his response was “no”, the officer informed us that he felt he had no choice but to arrest the man. The first arrest had been made. We all walked again to the Superdome for an evening of silent candlelight vigil. Every time we were there, crowds approached from the streets and from inside the conference. We handed out thousands of flyers.
On Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. we met for a time of peaceful thoughts, meditation and relaxation before beginning our planned “Jazz Funeral” march. The Spirit in the room was overwhelmingly present. We were ready. As we paraded in the streets [dancing, handing out beads, and showing the conviviality jazz funerals are known for showcasing], people joined us. There was media from everywhere. I and so many spoke with local news & live radio. We stopped and held our live press conference in front of the Superdome. The “on target-spiritual and physical violent” short stories from about 7 people were the most powerful I have seen yet in my travels with Soulforce. My friend Rembert Truluck (www.truluck.com) took it to the point of genocide.
Some of the reporters and crowd cheered and encouraged us. We marched the casket full of letters to the door of the Superdome. After a couple of attempts to enter in with it to deliver the letters to the Southern Baptist President James Merritt, the arrests began. Thirty-four of us handcuffed. I saw people who were angry. I saw people in tears because they believed we were going to hell (and told the press that). I saw people in tears. I saw people truly at that moment examining their own spirit.
As I passed the conference attendee’s in handcuffs, I told them I loved them enough to bring them the truth. And that together we can CHOOSE to end the suffering and death. It was a moment I will never forget as I saw their faces of fear and doubt and soul searching. That evening on local news after showing and explaining our march and story, the press went into the Superdome and interviewed Dr. James Merritt. His face was harsh, unloving as he stated something like “these people are wrong and they are wrong to do what they do and they know it. They only do this event in attempt to justify themselves.”
Soulforce went to New Orleans in a spirit of reconciliation and one on one we changed hearts and minds which is our purpose. The more the world is able to see responses like Dr. Merritt made, the more they will see the connection of how spiritual violence exists and what needs to be done about it. Please consider joining us for these future events. I promise you will be renewed as you help change society.
Do take Cindy’s advice — support Soulforce. You’ll change the world, the church, and yourself. Yes, a lot of the work is difficult, but I promise you’ll have a blast too. Or make it easy — take part in Blogathon 2009 and pledge now.