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From Associated Baptist Press - www.abpnews.com
Merritt won't respond to letter from Soulforce
By Bob Allen
June 3, 2002
SNELLVILLE, Ga. (ABP) -- Southern Baptist Convention president James
Merritt will ignore an invitation to meet with representatives of
Soulforce at the upcoming SBC annual meeting, a spokesman said June
A May 23 letter to Merritt threatened escalated protests this year in
St. Louis, unless the SBC president joins Soulforce in denouncing
views the group says promote violence against gays.
Dan Greer, Merritt's associate pastor at First Baptist Church of
Snellville, Ga., said Merritt has been traveling out of the country
and didn't get a chance to read the letter from Soulforce founder Mel
White until June 3.
Greer said Merritt has responded to other letters from Soulforce in
the past, however, explaining his position on the subject.
"He feels like he has made his position clear to them and will not be
responding to this particular letter," Greer said.
In his letter, White had asked Merritt and at least five members of
the SBC Executive Committee to attend part of a summit criticizing
the denomination's anti-homosexual teachings, scheduled June 10 at
the Centenary United Methodist Church in St. Louis.
He also asked Merritt to join a press conference outside the
convention meeting hall to repudiate a recent "legal opinion" by
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore saying the state must use
"confinement and even execution" to prevent gays and lesbians from
Should Merritt refuse those invitations, White said the entire
Soulforce delegation plans to kneel in prayer on the sidewalk at the
entrances of the America's Center, while a small group of volunteers
marches into the convention hall in hopes of addressing messengers
Merritt, who leaves office after completing his second one-year term
as convention president at the close of the June 11-12 annual
meeting, has in the past refused to meet with Soulforce, which has
picketed outside the SBC annual meeting each of the last two years.
Thirty-four demonstrators were arrested outside last year's
convention in New Orleans upon trying to enter the meeting hall.
Twenty-seven were arrested under similar circumstances in 2000 when
the convention met in Orlando, Fla.
Soulforce spokesperson Laura Montgomery Rutt said Merritt's refusal
"to repudiate Justice Moore's statement that the state has the right
to execute gays and lesbians to prevent them from being parents
should horrify the 15 million members of Southern Baptist churches.
"It is our hope that his silence is not a sign that all Southern
Baptists condone violence against gay people."
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