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Religious Vow Homosexuality Fight

August 12, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Conservative religious leaders faced off against gay activists Wednesday and declared it is time for clergy to act decisively to oppose homosexuality.

Religious people must ``draw a line in the sand,″ said Rabbi Yehuda Levin of New York, a member of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of U.S. and Canada. ``We the religious people have to start to act up.″

``Homosexuality is a sin,″ said the Rev. Jerome McFarland, a Baptist minister from Washington, D.C. ``It’s contrary to the express will of God.″

The pronouncements by a half-dozen clerics from various denominations drew an immediate outcry from gay activists, who responded by holding a news conference with religious leaders who support homosexuality. They denounced the other group’s news conference, which was organized by the conservative Family Research Council, as a political ploy.

``This is a very well-orchestrated political campaign against the gay community,″ said Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the gay activist Human Rights Campaign.

Tracy St. Pierre of the same organization said: ``It’s simply wrong to use God as an excuse for name calling.″ St. Pierre said she had tried turning to the church for help. ``For almost 15 years I believed the false teaching that God could cure me,″ she said.

Rabbi Marc Israel, director of congregational relations for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, called the ministers an ``intolerant, homophobic chorus.″

``God loves and accepts love from all people, regardless of sexual orientation,″ Israel said.

Religious activists at the clerics’ news conference accused gay activists of trying to influence public policy through lobbying.

``There’s no lobby promoting adultery. There’s no lobby promoting fornication. It’s the homosexual lobby that’s changing laws,″ said Steve Schwalm of the Family Research Council. ``That’s why we’ve had to respond.″

Wednesday’s news conferences were the latest in a recent public dispute over homosexuality. Several religious groups took out full-page newspaper advertisements last month denouncing homosexuality.

The Judicial Council of the 9.5 million-member United Methodist Church, the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination, ruled at a meeting Tuesday night in Dallas that a minister who performs a marriage of two people of the same sex can be removed from the ministry. The council elevated to church canon a guideline that states: ``Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.″

Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., compared homosexuality to kleptomania. And Green Bay Packers star Reggie White, an ordained minister, drew fire from gay activists and political liberals for calling homosexuality a sin during a broad attack on homosexuality in a speech to the Wisconsin legislature.

Senate Republican leaders have blocked a vote on confirming James Hormel, a homosexual, as ambassador to Luxembourg to protest what some have called Hormel’s promotion of a ``gay lifestyle.″ And last month, the House voted to block federal payments to San Francisco or any other city that requires city contractors to provide benefits to same-sex partners.

But last week the House voted to uphold a Clinton administration order banning discrimination against homosexual federal workers _ a major election-year blow to conservatives.

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