Gay Church Beginning to Win Acceptance

The Rev. Troy Perry felt he had a simple
mission when he gathered a dozen congregants in his living room in 1968
to sing hymns and take Communion: He wanted them to know God loves gay
people as much as everyone else.

“I told them, ‘God doesn’t play favorites,”‘ recalled Perry, who
recruited the 11 men and one woman with an ad in the national gay
newsmagazine The Advocate.

“I knew God loved me, and if God loved me, God had to love other gay
people,” said Perry, an excommunicated Pentecostal minister.

From that service in this trendy, gay-friendly city on the edge of
Beverly Hills was born the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan
Community Churches, which marks its 35th anniversary with a series of
weekend events beginning Friday.
It is the world’s largest and, organizers say, first denomination whose
mission is ministering to and educating the world about gay Christians.

The church, formed a year before the Stonewall riot in New York City
that gave rise to the gay rights movement, now claims 44,000 members in
23 countries, including Australia, Mexico, Cuba, Denmark and Great

Although all people are welcome, the church’s primary mission remains
providing outreach to the world’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender communities.

Over the years, the denomination has been subject to violence on
several occasions. Church officials say there have been nearly two
dozen incidents of arson, including a 1973 fire in New Orleans that
killed 12 people, including that church’s pastor and associate pastor.

Two California pastors have been stabbed to death, one in 1986 and the
other in 1999, and earlier this year in Roanoke, Va., two congregants
and a pastor were attacked after a Bible study and prayer meeting.

The UFMCC has been granted observer status at the World Council of
Churches but continues to be denounced by conservative Christians.

“Homosexuality and Christianity are polar opposites. The Bible is very
clear about this,” said the Rev. Lou Sheldon, chairman of the
Traditional Values Coalition.

Sheldon, citing St. Paul’s New Testament condemnation of homosexual
acts as “unnatural,” encourages gay people to change their lifestyle
through prayer and counseling.

Other conservative Christians quote Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie
with a man as with a woman; such a thing is an abomination.”

The UFMCC responds with a 10-page pamphlet titled “What Jesus Said
About Homosexuality.” Every page is blank.

UFMCC officials say they perform more than 6,000 gay marriages
annually, and the church led the fight in Canada to legalize gay
marriage by challenging the definition of marriage as a union between a
man and a woman. In June, courts in Ontario and British Columbia ruled
the definition was discriminatory.

Since the founding of UFMCC, congregations have declared themselves
“open and affirming” toward gays and lesbians within several U.S.
denominations, including the American Baptist Churches, Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church.

“We have forced the established church to put us on their agenda,” said
the Rev. Neil Thomas, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of
Los Angeles.

At the same time, there have been setbacks.

President Bush said in June he would push to ban same-sex marriage, and
the Vatican recently issued a statement warning that “homosexuality
goes against the natural moral laws.”

More than two dozen conservative groups have said they oppose gay
marriage and want to make it the No. 1 social issue in the
2004 election. On Thursday, the groups announced a voter registration
drive and designated the week of Oct. 12 as “marriage protection week.”

Some large Episcopal dioceses across the country have criticized the
church’s decision to confirm the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as its first
openly gay bishop, and some have withheld thousands of dollars in
donations in protest.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday October 5, 2003.
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