3 Christian Groups Move To Condemn Gay Sex

By Alan Cooperman and Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

BALTIMORE, Nov. 14 -- Faced with rising public acceptance of same-sex relationships, three U.S. Christian denominations are taking strong measures this week to condemn homosexual acts as sinful.

The nation's Roman Catholic bishops, meeting in Baltimore, declared Tuesday that Catholics who minister to gays must firmly adhere to the church's teaching that same-sex attractions are "disordered." Catholics with "a homosexual inclination" should be encouraged to live in chastity and discouraged from making "general public announcements" about their sexual orientation, the bishops said.

The largest Baptist group in North Carolina, meanwhile, moved to expel any congregation that condones homosexuality, adopting a policy that allows the Baptist State Convention to investigate complaints that member churches are too "gay-friendly."

And on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a mainline Protestant denomination with about 3 million members, will put a minister on trial for conducting a marriage ceremony for two women.

The decisions are part of a mounting backlash in many U.S. denominations against church groups whose stated goal is not only to welcome but also to "affirm" gay congregants. For many religious groups, the biblical injunction to hate the sin but love the sinner is no longer sufficient, because many believers do not view homosexuality as a sin.

The impulse to restate traditional teachings against same-sex activity is complicated by the simultaneous desire to minister to gays. Thus, Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committee on doctrine, stressed that the tone of the bishops' statement was intended to be "positive, pastoral and welcoming," even as it compared same-sex attractions to the temptations of "envy, malice or greed."

Asked how he could square those two messages, Serratelli told reporters that "the truth is always welcoming."

The bishops' statement came in the form of new guidelines for Catholic ministries aimed at gay men and lesbians. Bishops must take care, it says, "to ensure that those carrying out the ministry of the Church not use their position of leadership to advocate positions or behaviors not in keeping with the teachings of the Church."

It is not sufficient, the document adds, for those ministering to gays to take a position of "distant neutrality" toward the church's teachings.

Donald W. Wuerl, Washington's new archbishop, said the document should not be seen as a crackdown on pro-gay ministries. Rather, he said, "the starting point is the church living in a culture in which these things are being promoted, and our task is to keep saying: 'Remember, here are the true teachings of the church.' "

Serratelli, summarizing the document, said the church considers same-sex attractions to be "objectively disordered" because "they do not accord with the natural purpose of sexuality." Although "simply experiencing a homosexual inclination is not in itself a sin," he said, homosexual acts are "sinful," "never morally acceptable" and "do not lead to true human happiness."

A coalition of 15 Catholic groups that support the full inclusion of gays in the church, including Call to Action and DignityUSA, denounced the document as "not at all pastoral, but rather harmful."

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