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Ill. Church Splits Over Gays

January 24, 2000

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) _ A local church _ fed up with what it considers liberal stands by its parent organization, including accepting homosexuals _ voted Sunday to strike out on its own.

``We no longer want the United Church of Christ speaking for us, taking stands for us that we don’t agree with,″ Pastor Darrell Coons said after the vote at the congregation’s annual meeting turned the Hope United Church of Christ into the Hope Church.

``Our members say the United Church of Christ is taking stands that aren’t scriptural,″ he said.

Eighty-one percent of members voted to change the church’s charter and split from the national organization, Coons said. The action required a two-thirds majority. Coons said the split will not hurt the 527-member congregation.

Before the vote, the Rev. Ron Eslinger, head of the United Church of Christ’s Illinois South Conference, said Coon and the congregation wanted to leave because they didn’t like the national organization’s policy of accepting homosexuals as members.

Last week the president of the United Church of Christ, the Rev. John H. Thomas, was among the group of 850 members of the clergy and other religious figures who issued a declaration urging all faiths to bless same-sex couples and allow openly gay ministers.

Coons called that position ``the last straw.″

Eslinger said none of the conference’s other 90 affiliates have expressed an interest in leaving over the national organization’s policies.

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