Longtime local lesbian activist cites ‘philosophical differences,’ resigns as leader of social justice ministry founded by the Rev. Michael Piazza


Susan Gore

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Hope for Peace & Justice is without an executive director after Susan Gore, who was hired in August, left in October.

Gore, a longtime local lesbian activist, said she stepped down from H4PJ due to “philosophical differences.”

Gore said she wasn’t with H4PJ long enough to be able to discuss specific programs and declined to comment further.

Steven Jolly, chair of the H4PJ board, issued a statement.

“We are grateful for the time that Susan was with H4PJ,” Jolly said. “She is a person with a great deal of talent and a warm personality. We wish her the very best as she continues to pursue her passion and works towards her Masters of Theological Studies program at Brite Divinity School at TCU.”

Jolly said a national search for a new executive director is under way.

“Hopefully we’ll have someone by the second quarter,” he said.

H4PJ was launched in 2004 by Michael Piazza, the longtime senior pastor of Cathedral of Hope. Piazza, who is now pastor of Virginia Highland Church in Atlanta and co-executive director of United Church of Christ’s Center for Progressive Renewal, remains president of H4PJ.

Piazza didn’t respond to a message seeking comment about Gore’s resignation.

The Rev. Jo Hudson said the board of Cathedral of Hope established H4PJ but they operate as separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.

“We consider ourselves yoked as partner organizations,” Hudson said.
Hudson serves on the board as one of five H4PJ board members that the Cathedral names out of a total of 15.

“We have no other links,” she said. “We keep separate finances.”

She said that H4PJ keeps the Cathedral of Hope congregation engaged with social justice issues.

“When they have an action, we’re a base of strong support,” she said.

She said she was thrilled with the work of interim director Lynn Walters and her work restarting the Safe Schools program. She said she looked forward to linking with additional peacemaking organizations.

“This is a time of rebuilding and reforming,” she said.

Hudson declined to comment on Gore’s departure but said she likes and admires her.

H4PJ’s stated mission is to equip progressive people of faith to be champions of peace and justice. It is based at Cathedral of Hope and works closely with the church on social justice issues.

Piazza served as H4PJ’s executive director from its founding until his move to Georgia in 2011. MJ Kaska became program director after Piazza’s departure and served until earlier this year. Gore was hired this summer and stayed about two months.

The work of the organization will continue with Walters as interim director. Walters has been a board member since 2007 and was previously on staff. She said the organization currently has a paid staff of two.

“And two on staff at Cathedral of Hope are lent to us a few hours a month,” Walters said.

The organization uses between seven and 20 volunteers a month.

According to H4PJ’s 990 report filed with the IRS, the organization had an annual budget of $97,813 in 2010. That was down from almost $297,034 in 2008 and $110,012 in 2009.

DeSorrow Golden is an H4PJ board member who is picking up some of the slack since Gore’s departure. He organized an art show and sale of works by prison inmates currently on display in the Fellowship Hall of Cathedral of Hope.

Jolly said the art show is related to the organization’s safe schools and anti-bullying program.

“Bullies have a higher rate of going to prison,” Golden said. “I think there’s a certain type of person who doesn’t have empathy for other people. Bullies are less likely to have compassion. They’re anti-social.”

He said the question is how to break that path.

“Art is therapy,” he said. “They need an outlet to express themselves and make meaning out of their struggles and give purpose to their lives.”

Walters said another goal is to make people aware of issues facing inmates when they get out of prison.

So far, several of one prisoner’s pencil sketches have sold.

Frank McRae is on death row in Arizona. He does paintings of Native Americans. Walters said he mixes some of his paint from Kool Aid and other creative ingredients and makes brushes from his own hair because of restrictions on certain items.

The show continues through Dec. 9. Half of the proceeds go to the inmates and half is a fundraiser for H4PJ. Inmates may use the money for personal needs but are responsible for purchasing their own art supplies. McRae is donating all proceeds to H4PJ.

Working with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, H4PJ has begun holding vigils at the Peace Chapel on nights when an execution is taking place in Texas.

“There was an execution on the 15th of someone who claimed to be innocent,” Walters said. “It didn’t get much publicity.”

She said a bill to repeal the death penalty in Texas has been introduced in the past few legislative sessions. Last session it got a hearing.

She said the group hopes this year it will get out of committee and H4PJ will keep the community informed on progress of the bill and when to contact legislators about it.

Jolly said the board met last week to reinvigorate the Safe Schools initiative. Aimed at private schools, the project originally targeted religious schools but Walters said the current board has connections among other private schools as well.

An online assessment form helps schools create or strengthen their anti-bullying programs to create a safe educational environment.

H4PJ encourages schools to create policies and procedures beyond the minimum standards of the Texas law that went into effect for public schools in September.

“We met last week to talk about the next steps to get the program into private schools,” she said.

H4PJ is in the beginning stages of creating an anti-bullying hotline with partners Contact Crisis Line and Mothers Opposed to Bullying.

Finally, Walters said, H4PJ is showing films on social justice issues after the 11 a.m. service on the last Sunday of the month.

And H4PJ has been working with the church on transgender inclusion issues.

“Some transgender people feel the T is left off the LGBT,” she said. “We want to bring more attention to and include more trans people in all of our events.”

For more info, visit H4PJ.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 23, 2012.