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Clergy Bless Same-Sex Couples

AP Religion Writer
16:01EST 01/18/00

NEW YORK (AP) -- Dramatizing the most divisive issue in American religion, 850 mostly liberal members of the clergy and other religious figures issued a declaration Tuesday urging all faiths to bless same-sex couples and allow openly gay ministers.

Among endorsers of the statement were the retired leader of the Episcopal Church, the presidents of the United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universalist Association, presidents or deans at 15 Protestant seminaries, and numerous theology teachers.

The declaration got slim backing among Roman Catholics and none from any major Evangelical, black Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim organizations.

Besides homosexuality, the paper 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.''

"For too long the only voices in the public square on religion and sexuality have been the anti-sexuality pronouncements of the religious right,'' said Debra Haffner, president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S., a secular organization.

A spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, the Rev. William Merrell, said the declaration perpetuates a "radical departure from the teachings of the Scriptures.''

"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.

Added an Episcopal Church conservative, President Peter C. Moore of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa.: "God loves homosexuals, as he loves us all. But I have yet to find any support based on Scripture, tradition or reason for the idea that God approves of homosexual behavior.''

Members of 25 denominations signed the declaration, but nearly half were from four groups with liberal policies: the United Church, Unitarian Universalists and Judaism's Reform and Reconstructionist branches.

The slim Catholic support came from two nuns and a few lay activists.

Nine bishops and a dozen seminary professors gave endorsements from the Episcopal Church, which will vote on same-sex rituals at a convention in July.

There was weaker official support from officials of the United Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In May, Methodists will debate ordination of gay ministers and same-sex marriages; Presbyterians will debate same-sex marriage in June.

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