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3 Christian Groups Move To Condemn Gay Sex

"These guidelines try to make gay and lesbian people invisible in the church. The plan here is not to minister but to make a 'problem' disappear," said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Catholic outreach group for gays.

In North Carolina, the state Baptist Convention voted to broaden its fight against homosexuality by moving to expel churches that "affirm," "approve," or "bless" same-sex relationships.

The measure targets as many as a dozen Baptist churches in the state that position themselves as actively welcoming gays, but it could exclude any church that enrolls openly gay members.

The growing acceptance of gays in popular culture and the fact that homosexuality has powerful advocacy groups made the stance necessary, Baptist leaders said.

"In our day and time, no other sin marches so defiantly across our national landscape," Mark Harris, the head of the committee that introduced the measure, told the 2,600 delegates, or "messengers," assembled at a convention hall in Greensboro, N.C.

But while the proposal was approved by the required two-thirds majority, hundreds held up their hands to object. Some worried that churches would spy and report on one another. Others said the measure impinged on local church autonomy and reflected an unfounded obsession with homosexuality.

"It seems so contrary, at least to me, to the picture and posture of Jesus in the gospels," Nathan Parrish, from a church in Winston-Salem, N.C., told the assembly. "Jesus's life and ministry were marked by radical hospitality, openness, vulnerability, humility. By contrast, the Baptist State Convention is recommending that we . . . magnify the message that certain types of people, as well as their friends and perhaps their fellow believers and family members, are neither welcome nor worthy of a place at the table of this community."

What made the measure extraordinary, church members on both sides said, is that for what may be the first time in the convention's 176-year history, membership in the group would be contingent upon a specific policy -- that is, treatment of gays.

"This issue has emerged as a litmus test," said Andrew Wakefield, professor of biblical studies at Campbell University, in Buies Creek, N.C., which is affiliated with the Baptist State Convention.

On Wednesday in Pittsburgh, the Rev. Janet Edwards will go on trial before a Presbyterian Church tribunal for officiating at a same-sex marriage ceremony. Earlier this year, the Redwoods Presbytery in Northern California acquitted a minister in a similar trial, ruling that ceremonies for same-sex couples are not "contrary to the essentials of the Reformed faith."

Jimmy Creech, who was defrocked as a United Methodist minister in 1999 for performing a marriage ceremony for two men, said the number of U.S. churches that welcome openly gay members has been rising steadily, including many congregations in the Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ.

"But it's a social change that, for many, has theological implications they just are not willing to accept," he said.

Whoriskey reported from Greensboro.

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