Out of the Fold?

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steven pumphrey for time

ONE CHURCH: Pastor Sid Hall, Lisa Dalton, her partner Carolyn Dietrich and Wise, Dietrich's Sunday School teacher

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jay dickman for time
TIRELESS: White once ghosted Falwell, but is now the summer's spirit of radical protest

That changed in 1995. Lind felt a special empathy for the oppressed; she attracted national attention for a series of dynamic social programs she had introduced as pastor to St. Paul's Episcopal Church in inner-city Paterson, N.J. But then a storm brewed in her backyard. Former Newark assistant bishop Walter Righter was charged with heresy for having knowingly ordained an open homosexual named Barry Stopfel.

Stopfel was Lind's good friend, she told her flock in a powerful, high-risk sermon; "It could have been me." She recounted the rabbi's challenge. Here was her answer. "I am not coming out because I want to flaunt my sexuality, [but] because the Gospel demands it," she said. "To exist in a homophobic society in fear and collaboration...causes moral insanity and moral death. To state clearly who one is and who one loves is to claim life in the midst of death."

At which point, oddly enough, everything fell into place. Her congregation rose and applauded. Ecclesiastical judges threw out the Righter case. Episcopal bishops have since ordained dozens of gay priests. "There is still work to do in this church, but for gays the tide has turned," says Lind. She was offered the high-profile job as cathedral dean, often a stepping stone to a bishop's post. Says Wiley Cornell, Trinity's senior lay leader: "Sexual orientation was a nonissue for the search committee."

Or close to one. In fact, the church omitted mention of Lind's sexuality when it announced her hire in February. "We didn't want that to become the defining vision everyone had of her," says Cornell.

And so begins a more subtle stage in Lind's development. She no longer passes. But her prominence sometimes demands a new discretion. "If you've spent your life banging on a door to get in, what do you do when you get inside?" she asks. "My job is to continue to engage people. As any good politician knows, there are no permanent enemies and no permanent allies."

The installation ceremony ends, and the bands strike up. Lind throws herself gamely into the bluegrass and polkas. Then as evening falls, a deejay comes on. And the newly invested dean, beaming, boogies down to the Village People's YMCA.

Mel White: the Lure of Schism
Slender, California-breezy and prone to corny gay humor, the Rev. Mel White, co-head of the roving protest group Soulforce, seems a bit lightweight at first. But he has a powerful life saga, and was willing to get arrested not just in Cleveland in May and in Orlando, Fla., in June (Baptists), but plans to do likewise in Long Beach in July (Presbyterians) and possibly in Denver a week later (Episcopalians). The only transdenominational figure on the scene, he will establish the nightly-news rat-tat-tat for the entire season of contention. His attitude toward the various denominations? "We don't debate anymore. You change your policies, or we're going to split you apart and leave."

White's is a transformation that begs for comparison with Saul's on the road to Damascus. Grandson of a tent revivalist, White was ghostwriter of choice in the 1980s to the Evangelical elite, co-authoring books with Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. One day, sitting with Falwell in a car surrounded by gay protesters, he realized he should be on the outside. After 25 years of clandestinely trying to "cure" himself via exorcism, electroshock and prayer, the father of two divorced and settled down with a man named Gary Nixon. Then he began searching for a way to expiate sins committed in the service of "homophobic haters."

That turned out to be Soulforce. For six years, White steeped himself in the confrontational nonviolence taught by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. He courted the heirs and icons of his newfound field--Gandhi's grandson Arun, King's daughter Yolanda and his strategist James Lawson--and they joined him in Cleveland, along with several hundred multidenominational gays, lesbians and transgendered persons wearing T shirts emblazoned with THIS DEBATE MUST END--WE ARE GOD'S CHILDREN TOO. Of these, 191 helped White block a Convention Center exit and went to jail, an act of "redemptive suffering" intended as a Christian witness to the perceived injustice of the Methodist position on homosexuality.

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