Some rights should not be exercised. Different Christian traditions permit pastors or the congregation the right to deny membership to individuals. Sexual orientation is the most recent example for denying membership.

That institutional right should be contrasted with the actions of Jesus himself -- including rather than excluding. Jesus's primary activities of challenging society were directed toward those who felt they were morally superior to others.

Pastors and congregations may be better served if they view others through the compassionate life of Jesus and include rather than exclude.

-- The Rev. Stephen D. Harris

Waynesboro, Pa.

The question mistakenly hints that homosexual ("their") sin is somehow worse than other ("our") sin. In my denomination's understanding of Scripture, the unrepentant embezzler or wife abuser is as surely damned to hell as the unrepentant homosexual. Our media-driven society, of course, views it differently.

The real question is whether the pastor views homosexuality as a "sin" or as a "lifestyle." If the former, the pastor would welcome the homosexual couple and continue to preach sin and salvation and leave it up to the Holy Spirit to bring about the couple's regeneration or not -- His choice, not the pastor's.

-- Gordon Nelson, Bowie

Pastors are duty-bound to reject active same-sex gay relationships from Christian (or Hebrew or Muslim) membership.

Both the Old Testament (Hebrew) and the New Testament (Christian) proscribe same-sex gay activity, with severe penalties in the Hebrew and Muslim versions. The Christian version is more forgiving with the admonition to "go and sin no more," but it is still proscribed.

A person joining the church is committing to agree to and uphold the words of Scripture, just as an elected official must swear to uphold the Constitution. One cannot be a member if one does not agree to the terms of membership. Most denominations have judicial boards or bishops to oversee and evict malevolent members. Catholics call it "excommunication."

-- E.L. Tennyson, Vienna

Emphatically no! A pastor does not have the right to deny membership. He has been appointed to lead the congregation, but Jesus is head of the church. How can a pastor show the love of Jesus if he or she denies membership due to his or her prejudices toward people?

The pastor does have the right to address the situation to the couple and to pray for them and make them aware throughout the Bible how God dealt with people in the same type of situations and how God dealt with sin -- Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19:1-28.

-- Sharon G. Atterbury, Silver Spring

Next month's question: Is it appropriate to put up Christmas decorations in an office where some of the employees and visitors are from non-Christian faiths? E-mail your answer (100 words or fewer) to Include a daytime phone number.