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Churches debate policy on gays



Published: Mon, June 16, 2008 @ 12:14 a.m.

By Linda M. Linonis

Denominations hold various views on the gay issue.

Not all area churches share the opinion of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown when it comes to religion and gay, bisexual and transgender people.

First Unitarian announced last week that it had voted to be a “welcoming congregation.” As such, it accepts people of all sexual orientations as members. The church also performs same-sex unions.

Terry Cripe, president of the Ohio District, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, which includes churches in the Mahoning Valley, said, “We do not share the Unitarian Universalist position. Our understanding, according to Scripture, is that homosexuality is a sin.”

But, he said, the Lutheran church does not place homosexuality “above any other sin” and it is viewed as “any other type of sinful behavior.”

“We don’t believe that the behavior is God-pleasing,” he said. “But we do see it as a sin. People in that situation, like other sinners, are living broken lives,” Cripe said.

Addressing the problem through Bible study and other ministry, he said, people are expected to work to overcome the sin.

Melinda Knight, director of the Office of Pro-Life, Marriage and Family in the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, said, “We are called to live chaste lives,” and noted that the church disapproves of all sexual activity outside of marriage, and recognizes marriage only between a man and a woman.

Dan Thimons, assistant director in the same office, said, “The church never judges people, but the action.” The action is considered disordered according to natural law, he said, referring to same-sex relationships.

The Rev. Jim Dunfee is chaplain of the Courage chapter in Steubenville. Courage is a ministry of the Roman Catholic Church and serves as an outreach to those with same-sex attractions. (See the Web site www.couragerc.net.) The Youngstown diocese doesn’t yet have a Courage chapter.

Father Dunfee said the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith document, released by the Vatican, provides detailed information on the church’s position. The document sites Scripture passages including Romans 1:24-27 and 1 Corinthians 6-10 that condemn homosexual acts “as a serious depravity.” The document also states, “according to the teaching of the church, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

Gay, bisexual and transgender lifestyles are “not looked upon favorably” said Saeeda Yasmin Ghani, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown, the governing body at Masjid Al-Khair mosque in Youngstown. She said those choices are “forbidden in our religion.” She said Muslims at the local mosque haven’t dealt with issues pertaining to those lifestyle choices.

Martha Wright, communications officer of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, said, “Everyone is welcome at our church, regardless of sexual orientation. We believe everyone is a child of God. And love is a gift from God.

“We believe in committed relationships. We’re not making a distinction,” she said, of whether the couple is male-female or same sex.

Wright pointed out that Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire is a homosexual man and an Episcopal minister. She said he and his partner had a civil union ceremony. The church, she said, does not have a ceremony for same-sex couples but will offer a blessing.

Bishop John Hopkins of the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church referred to Article 4 in the Methodist constitution. He said the article notes that all persons no matter what their race, color, national origin, status or economic condition are eligible to attend worship services and to receive the sacraments.

The UMC conference, which sets the standards, Bishop Hopkins said, has not approved the ordination of partnered gays and lesbians. “It’s debated every time we meet,” he said. Also, same-sex couples cannot be married in the church; some churches may offer an off-site blessing.

Bishop Hopkins, who served for a time in Minneapolis, said that there are differences in urban and rural areas. “It depends on the local setting,” he said. In a larger context, he said, some people see same-sex relationships as a sin and others see it as inborn. “I think that reflects American views,” he said.

The Web site, www.sbc.net, of the state Convention of Baptists in Ohio, posts this position statement: “We affirm God’s plan for marriage and sexual intimacy — one man, and one woman, for life. Homosexuality is not a ‘valid alternative lifestyle.’ The Bible condemns it as sin. It is not, however, unforgivable sin. The same redemption available to all sinners is available to homosexuals. They, too, may become new creations in Christ.”

The Presbyterian Church USA’s Web site, www.pcusa.org/101, provided this information from a General Assembly in 1978: “Homosexual persons are encompassed by the searching love of Christ. The church must turn from its fear and hatred to move toward the homosexual community in love and to welcome homosexual inquirers to its congregations. ....”

Information on the Web site also states that gay people cannot be ordained and same-sex union ceremonies are not permitted.


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