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Generations of Peacemakers: Remembering the Work of No Longer Silent

by Janie Magruder

Twenty years ago, long before President Biden signed an act protecting the federal right to same-sex marriage, a group of Phoenix clergy publicly endorsed civil rights for gays and lesbians.

The “Phoenix Declaration,” as it became known, was written by organizers of the No Longer Silent Clergy for Justice movement, an ecumenical group focused on justice issues. Founded by, among others, Dayspring’s Pastor Jeff ProcterMurphy, No Longer Silent released in January 2003, the document, which read in part:

• “We affirm that Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered (GLBT) persons are distinctive, holy and precious gifts to all who struggle to become the family of God.”

• “We stand in solidarity as those who are committed to work and pray for full acceptance and inclusion of GLBT persons in our churches and in our world.”

• “We stand with the countless Christian ministers, scholars and laity who … find no rational biblical or theological basis to condemn or deny the rights of any person based on sexual orientation.”

• “We call for an end to all religious and civil discrimination against any person based on sexual orientation. All laws must protect the freedoms, rights and equal legal standing of all persons.”

The Phoenix Declaration was signed by 169 members of the clergy from several Christian denominations, including nine Catholic priests. For the priests, a day of reckoning would come.


The struggle for equal rights for LGBTQ+ individuals has come a long way in two decades. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to perform same-sex marriages. California famously achieved marriage equality in 2008, only to have it dismantled by the passage of Proposition 8. However, Prop 8 ultimately was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court in 2010.

The moment for full marriage equality finally arrived in June 2015 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 5-4 decision in which same-sex couples in all 50 states were granted the right to equal recognition under the law.

Asbury UMC members Jenni and Marianne were married by Pastor Jeff in 1996 and again in 2008 in CA when it became legal.

Asbury UMC members Jenni and Marianne were married by Pastor Jeff in 1996 and again in 2008 in CA when it became legal.

“I don’t think any of us had any clue that our country would embrace gay marriage as quickly as it ultimately did,” Pastor Jeff said.

The late ‘90s, however, had been a devastating time for the LGBTQ+ community. In 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act became the law of the land. It defined marriage as between a man and woman, thereby allowing states to deny marriage equality.

Just two years later, the nation was shocked when Matthew Shepard, a gay freshman at the University of Wyoming, was kidnapped, tied to a prairie fence outside Laramie, tortured and left for 18 hours in the frigid cold. He died six days later, on Oct. 12, 1998.

“The death of Matthew Shepard caused us to be more aware, more externally focused that hate like that exists,” said Rev. Vernon Meyer, an original signer of the Phoenix Declaration who was forced out of the Catholic church by the former bishop of the Phoenix Diocese.

Before signing, Rev. Meyer, who was ordained in 1979 and served for many years at St. Patrick’s Church in Scottsdale, did his due diligence. He forwarded the draft to Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit and a liaison to DignityUSA, an organization of LGBTQ+ Catholics and their supporters.

Bishop Gumbleton told Rev. Meyer that he didn’t see anything in the document that was contrary to the church’s teachings. Rev. Meyer and eight other Catholic priests in Phoenix who signed it experienced almost immediate blowback from then-Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Phoenix Diocese.

“The bishop said he feared for my mortal soul, as if to say my salvation depended on him,” Rev. Meyer said. “I said, ‘The bishop doesn’t own my vocation — God gave me my voice.’”

Olmsted reportedly ordered the priests to remove their names, and eight of them, including Rev. Meyer, did so. He

ministered for another seven years in the Roman Catholic church, but the handwriting was on the wall.

Rev. Vernon Myer

Rev. Vernon Myer

“I knew the canon law and the catechism weren’t going to change,” Rev. Meyer said. “It became clearer to me that, as I got more involved in No Longer Silent and the Human Rights Campaign, I couldn’t maintain my position in the church. I knew I would be expected to priest the party line.

“But I never antagonized anyone from the pulpit. I always spoke about the respect and humanity of every single person, gay or straight.”

Rev. Meyer found a new home in the United Church of Christ, to which his Roman Catholic ordination was transferred. For 10 years, he served as pastor at Sun Lakes UCC and during that time, he and his partner were married in Hawaii. Later, however, at a celebration of their marriage at Church of Beatitudes in Phoenix, 200 guests of different faiths gathered to congratulate the pair.

“All are Welcome” opened the service.

“That was the first time that song made sense to me,” he said. “We could fully see what it meant to say, ‘All are welcome’.”


Another of the declaration’s authors, the Rev. Scott Brubaker, also was compelled to remove his name, but had a very different outcome. Ordained in 1982, he was invited to join a group, mostly Catholics, in response to the AIDS epidemic, and to minister to those infected with HIV. For about 10 years, Rev. Brubaker cared for individuals who came to the Franciscan Renewal Center to be comforted.

“It turns out I was the one being ministered to,” he said. “The HIV community was so compassionate, so caring, so grateful. I got to the know the community well.”

Rev. Brubaker became part of No Longer Silent, “a wonderful, spirited group of intellectual colleagues that was looking at what other regions were doing to help create a compassionate Catholic, Christian, ecumenical caring response to the LGBT community.”

The group consciously resisted making the document overly political, he said. “We weren’t pushing for gay marriage,” he said, “It was perfectly in line with the catechism.”

At that time, however, the Phoenix Diocese was being dogged about a scandal swirling around inappropriate conduct among priests. The two issues somehow collided, Rev. Brubaker said. Olmsted, new to his job as bishop, wanted to calm the storm, and he directed the priests who signed the statement to remove their names.

No Longer Silent ultimately issued a second statement that, in addition to emphasizing its continued commitment to inclusion of all people in church and society, lent support to its brothers in the ministry.

“They have our high esteem and respect, having given their hearts and souls to the cause of justice and inclusion,” the statement said. “Their love for all people is unmistakeable, regardless of limits set by their superiors.”

As all of this was happening, Rev. Brubaker had just been appointed to St. Bridget Catholic Church in Mesa, with “a tad of notoriety.” He decided to comply out of obedience to the bishop, and he remains at that parish today.


Olmsted retired last summer, and Pope Francis named Auxiliary Bishop John P. Dolan of San Diego to take his place in Phoenix. And while Bishop Dolan has not spoken about his opinions on gay rights since joining the Diocese, in 2021, he was among several U.S. bishops signing a letter condemning bullying of LBGTQ youth.

“I'm a person who really likes to dialogue rather than shut things down,” Bishop Nolan has said. “I think we are better at church when we have an open heart.”

Rev. Brubaker said he has every hope and trust that 20 years of progress and commitment to love will prevail. “But we are still part of the human condition, and it seems every generation has had to wrestle with its impulses. The same tensions prompted the mob mentality in the South” in 1963.

That year, a group of 28 white Methodist ministers in Mississippi took a stand against societal prejudice, as the nine Catholic priests in Phoenix would four decades later. The ministers signed a public declaration, “Born of Conviction,” that denounced racism and opposed Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation and curtailed power of Black voters.

One of those ministers was was Dayspring’s Founding Pastor Bufkin Oliver, whom Pastor Jeff spoke about in a sermon this spring. Reaction to the Born of Conviction was said to be “like a bomb exploding,” and most of the signers were forced to flee Mississippi under threats of violence and death.

“They were so brave — they risked their lives and livelihoods,” Pastor Jeff said. “Forty years later, a number of us took a similar stand for full inclusion of LGBTQ+ folks in church and society. We weren’t taking a significant risk — our livelihoods

weren’t at stake. But these Catholic priests were standing in opposition to church law, and there was hell for them to pay.”


Today, Rev. Meyer is interim pastor of Chalice Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Gilbert, and Rev. Brubaker remains at St. Bridget in Mesa. At least four other priests have left the church for various reasons and joined other groups.

In the meantime, church denominations remain deeply divided on the issue of gay rights.

In 2018, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted in 2018 to affirm its commitment to the full welcome, acceptance and inclusion of transgender people, those identifying as gender non-binary, and people of all gender identities, in the full life of the church and the world.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Christian Reformed Church which approved last summer a list of sexual immoralities it will not tolerate, including “homosexual sex.” It said, “The church must warn its members that those who refuse to repent of these sins … will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

The United Methodist Church is positioned to become, said Pastor Jeff, “the inclusive church we said we were, with open hearts, open minds, open doors. It's relational — putting people in proximity with LGBTQ+ folks, recognizing who we already have in the ministry.”

He referred to Bishop Karen Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area, which covers Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah and a small portion of Idaho. Bishop Oliveto is the first openly lesbian bishop in the UMC.

“At its core, we’re removing institutional bigotry from church polity and making acceptance the norm, not the exception,” said Pastor Jeff.

The Conference’s last vote on the matter, in 2019, was a close defeat, but Pastor Jeff said he is certain that members will vote next year to remove from church policy discriminatory language and prohibitions against ordination and same-sex marriage.

“It will be nice when we get to the place where we don’t single anyone out,” he said.

We all are called by God to be followers of Jesus, resisting the temptations of the world and striving to live His example of non-violence and love. We are Church People, called to seek a more just, peaceful world. We are the peacemakers.

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