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Soulforce  
 
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At their trial in 2003, Judge Mildred Edwards found the three defendants guilty, but in a move that surprised the protesters and outraged the prosecution, Judge Edwards announced that "I'm going to refuse to sentence you." When the prosecution argued that the three defendants should at least be barred from returning to the hotel, Judge Edwards replied, "No, they need to go back. The bishops need to hear their message." She then told the defendants, "Just do it legally this time."

A year later, Judge Edwards retired from her career as a judge and entered Washington Theological Consortium, a Roman Catholic school of theology and ministry. The trial of the "D. C. Three," Judge Edwards admitted later, had a profound influence on her decision to change careers.

Sponsor Message.

In September 2005, Soulforce members returned to the Vatican to hold another vigil. They laid flowers and prayer cards near the obelisk in St. Peter's Square in memory of Alfredo Ormando, a Sicilian gay man who burned himself to death in St. Peter's Square on January 13, 1998 in protest of the antigay policies of the Catholic Church. Some gay Christians regard Ormando as a martyr.

In 2002, Soulforce founders Mel White and Gary Nixon moved from California to Lynchburg, Virginia, and rented a house across the street from Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church. That year the city also held its first Pride Festival in Rivermont Park. Hundreds of people showed up for the festival, which was called "Out and About in Lynchburg." Dozens of people from Lynchburg-area high schools and colleges joined residents and Soulforce supporters from as far away as Hawaii. The following morning 150 people stood in a silent prayer vigil outside the Thomas Road Baptist Church.

In May 2005, nearly 1,000 Soulforce volunteers went to Colorado to confront James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Soulforce named the day "MAYDAY, MAYDAY." Focus on the Family locked its gates on May 2 to keep glbtq individuals and families from entering its headquarters for the organization's public tour. Soulforce's Youth Director, Jacob Reitan, and his parents, Phil and Randi, were arrested for trespassing when they attempted to deliver a letter to James Dobson. The story is featured in Daniel Karslake's documentary For the Bible Tells Me So (2008).

Rapid Response Teams

In November 1999, 60 Soulforce volunteers participated in the organization's first civil disobedience action at the trial of United Methodist minister Jimmy Creech in Grand Island, Nebraska. Creech was being tried for conducting a same-sex holy union, a "chargeable offense" for United Methodist clergy. The jury withdrew Creech's ordination to Christian ministry and revoked his license to preach, thereby ending his career as a Methodist clergyman. As Creech and his wife left the church, Soulforce volunteers, carrying lighted candles and wearing "Stop Spiritual Violence" sweatshirts, formed an honor guard around them.

In 2003, Soulforce established its Rapid Response Teams to react quickly to church trials being held throughout the country to punish glbtq and glbtq-supportive clergy charged with violating the official policies of their denominations.

The first Rapid Response Team action was at the Cincinnati Presbytery's trial of Reverend Stephen Van Kuiken, minister of Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church. Van Kuiken stated publicly that he would not abide by the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s prohibition against marrying same-sex couples. He was found guilty and defrocked, but he was reinstated a year later when he won an appeal. The appellate decision stated that the Presbyterian Book of Order does not specifically bar ministers from marrying gay couples, nor does it call for disciplining ministers who do.

In 2004, Soulforce Rapid Response Teams were called to the trials of two United Methodist pastors. In March, Soulforce volunteers blocked the entrance to the church where the trial of Reverend Karen Dammann, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Ellensburg, Washington, was being held. Dammann had come out to her bishop and to the United Board of Ordained Ministry, saying "I can no longer live the life of a closeted lesbian clergyperson." Dammann was found not guilty.

In December of 2004, Soulforce's Rapid Response Team appeared at the trial of United Methodist Minister Reverend Irene Elizabeth Stroud, pastor of Philadelphia's First United Methodist Church of Germantown. Stroud had come out as a lesbian in a sermon the previous year, revealing that she and her partner had celebrated their relationship in a commitment ceremony in 2000. Stroud was found guilty at the initial trial, but that decision was overturned on appeal. However, the denomination's judicial council reinstated the trial jury's verdict in 2005 and removed Stroud's ordination credentials.

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