News: God-Fearing Liberals

Reclaiming religion from the right wing

Nov 5, 2003 at 2:06 pm
Much of the debate over "gay marriage" misses the point, according to Welton Gaddy.

Religion and politics have always mixed, but conservatives are more practiced at organizing fellow believers for fights over public policy.

That's why Tommie Thompson and Richard C. Bozian founded the Interfaith Alliance of Greater Cincinnati three years ago. Thompson was infuriated by pronouncements by the Christian Coalition and other right-wing forces.

"The Christian Coalition were very prominently taking control and speaking for all religions," she says. "They were saying that if people of faith didn't espouse their views, they were just wrong."

When Thompson and Bozian mobilized, they expected about 30 people to show for their first conference; they ended up with 130 faithful.

Last year the local affiliate received the Bishop P. Francis Murphy Memorial Local Activism Award, recognizing its work to pass campaign-finance reform in Cincinnati.

Welton Gaddy, president of the national Interfaith Alliance, is keynote speaker for the local chapter's annual conference Monday. He also plans to participate in the group's "Stop the Hate" vigil Tuesday.

The national Interfaith Alliance emerged about five years ago to counterbalance the Christian Coalition.

Members hail from 65 different faith traditions, including Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, Catholics and Baptists. Local alliances have since formed in 38 U.S. cities.

Gaddy plans to discuss the 2004 election, which he believes will take on the same religious cast as the 2000 presidential race.

"I'm going to focus on the role of religion in the 2004 campaign and the way some will try to draw religion into political issues," he says. "I think it's safe to say in the 2000 election the subject of religion was more prominent than in any election since Kennedy. The campaign rhetoric from both the Republican and the Democrats — well, the comments left us wondering if we were electing a president or holy man of the year."

Gaddy says no candidate can sneak through the upcoming campaign without taking a stand on gay marriage — a term he says is misconstrued.

"We won't be telling anyone how they have to think or feel about this issue, but we do insist on upholding individual civil rights," he says. "I don't like the term 'gay marriage' at all. It isn't the real issue. We will try to make the distinction between the responsibility of the government regarding the rights of individuals."

While Cincinnati has its own version of the conflict over gay and lesbian rights — with a charter amendment barring city council from banning discrimination based on sexual orientation — the national alliance doesn't interfere in local issues, according to Gaddy. But it encourages people of faith to be active in their communities.

The cause that won the activism award for the Interfaith Alliance of Greater Cincinnati is a good example (see "Burning Questions," issue of Feb. 21-27, 2002). Although public financing of Cincinnati City Council campaigns was later repealed, it was something of a miracle that the reform measure won approval in the 2001 election in the first place.

With only about one-seventh of their opponents' funding, the Fair Election Committee, including the Interfaith Alliance, convinced voters to pass Issue 6.

"Most of our strength is in collaborating with like-minded organizations," says Thompson, co-convener of the Cincinnati Alliance. "We primarily sponsored forums on the issue and we were very actively working with the Committee for Fair Elections. We felt very pleased the referendum passed in our favor. It was a squeaker. The right wingers got it repealed, but they had a lot more money than we did."

Gaddy's presence is expected to increase attendance at the "Stop the Hate" vigil, according to Sister Alice Gerdeman, director of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, which co-sponsors the vigil.

"It's good to have someone who has national prominence speaking to these issues," she says.

The vigil is 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington. The program includes a banner procession, short remarks by representatives of about a dozen different faiths, a motivational dance performed by Xavier University student Katie Meyer and music by the House of Joy Christian Ministries Gospel Choir.

At the close of the ceremony, participants pledge to work together to stop hate and promote healing and understanding in the community.

"We are hoping for about 150 people, but anybody who comes, they're the right people," Gerdeman says.

The annual meeting of the Interfaith Alliance of Greater Cincinnati is 6 p.m. Monday at First Unitarian Church, 536 Linton St., Avondale. Tickets, including dinner, are $20. For reservations, write [email protected] or call 513-281-1564.

For more information about the Interfaith Alliance, visit