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Trail Proceedings To Begin After Pro-homosexuality Protesters Agree To Publicity Arrests

From the United Methodist News Service:

Damman Trial Update - 9:30 a.m. (Pacific), Wednesday, March 17

March 17, 2004

A jury pool of 55 United Methodist pastors has arrived at Bothell (Wash.) United Methodist Church for the clergy trial of the Rev. Karen Dammann. From that pool, 13 jurors and two alternates will be chosen. The pastors are all members of the Pacific Northwest Annual (regional) Conference, where Dammann also has her membership. The jury selection, under way throughout the morning, is closed to the public. The trial is not expected to begin before
1 p.m. Pacific time.

Members of Soulforce - a group that advocates the full inclusion of gender and sexual minorities in the life of mainline denominations - were arrested around 9:30 a.m. after attempting to block the entrance to the church building.

Soulforce members had been standing in the rain at the church since about 7 a.m., carrying signs urging "noncooperation" with the trial. They sang songs such as "This Little Light of Mine" and handed out red carnations. A note was attached to each carnation, quoting Mahatma Gandhi: "It is as much our moral obligation not to cooperate with evil as it is to cooperate with good." The note also said: "We urge you to join Soulforce in this nonviolent act of noncooperation."

In addition, Soulforce protesters handed out a two-page flier explaining why they were trying to stop the trial. The flier included pleas to the jurors, Bothell church members and Bishops William Boyd Grove and Elias Galvan not to support the holding of the trial. The Soulforce group encouraged jurors not to serve because in doing so they would be supporting what Soulforce views as an unjust United Methodist law. The group urged the bishops not to convene the trial but to send a message "to the United Methodist Church and to the nation that the unjust persecution of sexual and gender minorities must end."

While the Soulforce protesters sang songs and blocked the door to the church, a lone demonstrator in the church parking lot shouted condemnations of gays.

With the church entrance blocked, Bishop Galvan, who leads the Pacific Northwest Conference, spoke with the protesters but was unable to gain access. With Galvan were Bishop Grove, presiding officer of the trial, as well as Dammann, her partner and their son.

After the demonstrators refused requests to move away from the building entrance, police officers moved in and began making arrests. About 30 Soulforce members had signaled a willingness beforehand to be arrested. All of the demonstrators had undergone training in nonviolent protest.

In preparation for the trial, the Rev. Craig Parrish, Pacific Northwest Conference treasurer, had gathered and trained "peacekeepers" - 24 volunteers from 11 area churches (including five from Bothell) to maintain a peaceful presence. Wearing "Peacekeeper" credentials and reflective vests, they were to check credentials of those entering the Bothell church. Their mission, Parrish says, is "to keep everything smooth and calm."
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