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Clergy Endorse Sexual Declaration

January 18, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ Seeking to counteract conservative teaching on sex, some 850 clergy and other religious workers today endorsed a declaration on morality that calls upon all faiths to bless same-sex couples and allow gay and lesbian ministers.

Though homosexuality is currently the most hotly disputed issue in American religion, the declaration issued today also advocates open access to abortion and sex education at all age levels. It opposes ``unsustainable population growth,″ the ``commercial exploitation of sexuality″ and all forms of ``sexual oppression.″

The one-page statement was sponsored by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, or SIECUS, a group advocating sex education.

``For too long, the only voices in the public square on religion and sexuality have been the anti-sexuality pronouncements of the religious right,″ SIECUS President Debra Haffner said at a news conference today.

John Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ, said that ``the religious community has largely ceded the ground to those who distort our tradition.″

Another member of the group, the Rev. Larry Greenfield, a former seminary president in the American Baptist Churches, said the paper carries this message on sex by unwed teens: ``The most effective ethic is one that is not rule-based, but relationship-based.″

A conservative spokesman, the Rev. William Merrell of the Southern Baptist Convention, responded today: ``This is not new ground for liberal religious leaders. There has been a history of radical departure from the teachings of the Scriptures on these topics.″

``I do not believe that the moral confusion and the moral incoherence that characterizes the time is relieved by such statements. Rather it is made worse,″ Merrell said.

Though members of 25 denominations endorsed the group’s text, nearly half are officials and clergy from Thomas’s United Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and Judaism’s Reform and Reconstructionist branches, groups that have moved toward liberal sexual policies in the past generation.

The paper got slim backing among Roman Catholics _ two nuns, no priests and a handful of lay activists _ and none from major Evangelical, black Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim organizations.

Haffner said the paper was developed because ``there was a huge outpouring of interest in doing something to articulate a different vision.″

While the list of signers contained few surprises, the endorsements are significant for three Protestant denominations:

_ Episcopal Church: A July church convention will vote on authorizing same-sex rituals. Declaration endorsers included the Episcopalians’ retired national leader, Edmond Browning; eight bishops; and the president and 11 professors at the seminary in Cambridge, Mass.

_ United Methodist Church: A showdown over homosexuality is expected at its May legislative conference. Only one top official, Bishop Roy Sano of Pasadena, Calif., signed; he was joined by 13 professors at the church’s seminaries in Claremont, Calif.; Dallas; Denver; Evanston, Ill.; and Washington, D.C.

_ Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Its legislative assembly and highest court both face gay and lesbian decisions this year. The signers included seven professors at Presbyterian seminaries, but no denominational officials.

There were also endorsements from theologians in the American Baptist Churches and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; six Protestant seminary presidents; the top two officials of the Reform branch’s rabbinical conference; a Conservative rabbi, Elliot Dorff of Jewish Theological Seminary, and a variety of other theologians.

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