Kittredge Cherry speaks at Hands Around the God-Box, a prayer demonstration to end homophobia in the church. A rainbow ribbon stretches across the stage. MCC founder Troy Perry is clearly visible in a dark suit at the front of the crowd. Standing next to him is Otis Charles, Episcopal bishop who came out as gay in 1993.
More than 500 people from 15 lesbian and gay religious groups joined hands and were linked by a rainbow ribbon that completely encircled the Interchurch Center at 475 Riverside Drive. The box-shaped building housed the headquarters of the National Council of Churches (NCC) and many other religious agencies. We are highlighting this historic event here as part of our celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month.
I will never forget the solemn power of our combined prayers as LGBT Christians and our allies joined hands at the God Box. The building is huge, covering an entire city block, and our group of 500 barely managed to surround it -- with help from a super-long rainbow ribbon. The need for churches to accept LGBT people is just as true now as in 1994. Our prayers for full inclusion continue.
The peaceful demonstration began at noon Fri., June 24, with a short worship service. “We are here to open people’s minds and hearts and let God out of the Box,” I told the crowd in opening remarks as one of the organizers of the event.
Another speaker was Rev. Nancy Wilson, chief ecumenical officer (and now moderator) of Metropolitan Community Churches. “Today 475 Riverside Drive is our Stonewall Inn. We need to turn the tables on the religious ‘police’ of our day, and fight back,” she said.
Demonstrators then joined hands around the building in silent prayer for full inclusion of lesbians and gays in religious life. NCC General Secretary Joan Campbell and many NCC staff members joined the demonstration, even through the NCC refused to grant membership or even observer status to MCC, which ministers primarily in the LGBT community.
The event concluded with tying a rainbow ribbon around the God Box to symbolize continuing prayers for the church to honor the diversity God created.
Hands Around the God Box was coordinated by myself (Kittredge Cherry) as MCC national ecumenical officer and Kim Byham of Integrity. It was held as part of Stonewall 25, celebratingon the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion that launched the LGBT liberation movement.
The Washington Post covered Hands Around the God Box on June 25, 1994 with an article by Christopher Herlinger of the Religion News Service titled “Gays Returning to Religion, but Few Arms Open: Little Acceptance of Homosexuals 25 Years After Stonewall Uprising.” The article stated:
“A protest yesterday by a coalition of gay and lesbian Christians at the Interchurch Center here spotlighted what Wilson and other protesters called the ‘exclusion of lesbian and gay people from full participation in the life of the nation’s churches.’
The protest, a ‘human chain’ around the Interchurch Center, was called ‘Hands Around the God Box,’ -- a reference to the building’s popular nickname. The building, in upper Manhattan, is home to a number of denominational offices and the national headquarters of the National Council of Churches, the nation’s largest ecumenical organization.
The 32 member churches of the council are divided over the issue of homosexuality.”
The Christian Century magazine covered the event with an article titled “Gays and lesbians protest at church center” in the July 13-20, 1994 issue. They quoted NCC head Joan Campbell on why she attended the protest: “Our churches are very united on civil rights for gays and lesbians, and there are places we can be supportive. We don’t go as far as the MCC wants us to go, but there is a fair distance that we can go, and that needs to be made visible.”
Some said that Hands Around the God Box was the spiritual heart of the whole Stonewall 25 celebration in New York. Reaction to the God Box event was summed up later by Mary Hunt, cofounder of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and ritual, in her sermon the next day: “How about those Hands Around the God Box people? What a feat of religious athleticism: holding hands, singing, praying, protesting and talking to the press all at once ought to merit some sort of miraculous metal or actual grace!”
Hundreds of LGBT Christians circle New York’s Interchurch Center to protest religious exclusion in Hands Around the God Box. This photo was published in the Washington Post on June 25, 1994.
Demonstrators join hands around the God Box to pray for an end to religious homophobia. This photo by William Tom was published in the August 1994 issue of “Keeping in Touch: News and Notes from the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.”
The Washington Post covered Hands Around the God Box in an article titled “Gays Returning to Religion, but Few Arms Open” on June 25, 1994.
More Light Update, a publication of Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns. March 1994.
Voice of Integrity: the quarterly publication of Integrity, Inc., the lesbian and gay justice ministry of the Episcopal Church. Summer 1994.
The Christian Century magazine, July 13-20, 1994.
Gays and lesbians protest at church center