Gay issue polarizes Valley pastors
Groups debate homosexuals' treatment
By LAWN GRIFFITHS, TRIBUNE
Clergymen insist it's not a numbers game, but Valley pastors and religious leaders continue to line up in support of either of two sharply different statements on how homosexuals should be regarded by the Christian church.
The "No Longer Silent Phoenix Declaration," released Jan. 27 by pastors proclaiming "homosexuality is not a sickness, not a choice and not a sin," triggered a counterstatement. Titled "Courage, Clarity and Charity: A Phoenix Declaration," it exhorts that "the Bible provides a clear and consistent teaching in opposition to homosexuality."
As of Friday, 93 pastors of largely mainline denominations signed the No Longer Silent document. The Courage, Clarity and Charity's Web site listed 216 pastors, elders and leaders from 123 churches and para-church organizations in its support. They include 80 signers from the East Valley and Scottsdale. Neither side sees any middle ground.
"Truth is not determined by the counting of heads," said the Rev. Jeffrey Niell, pastor and teaching elder of Emmanuel Covenant Church in Phoenix and co-author of a book, "The Same Sex Controversy," touted as the defense of the Bible's true message about homosexuality. "We are not trying to say we are right because we have more people."
"We have been getting lots and lots of lay people" in support of the No Longer Silent document, said the Rev. David Felten, pastor of Via de Cristo United Methodist Church in Scottsdale. No Longer Silent/ Clergy for Justice, the organization behind the declaration, will limit its list to pastors, of which about 80 are senior pastors of their congregations.
"We have had a number of groups offer to have a debate with us, which we have turned down, with some justification," Felten said. "It's not a debatable issue, and that drives people crazy."
When gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people attend such forums, he said, it becomes a debate about their very "legitimacy as a human being, their viability as a child of God and their integrity as a person," he said.
"That is incredibly hurtful, especially in our area with all the suicides that can be attributed to young people struggling with their sexuality," he said. "It is a life-and-death matter."
But Niell, who co-wrote the "Courage, Clarity and Charity" declaration with one of his elders, Richard Klaus, said the Bible's teachings are a legitimate issue for debate. "Doctrinal matters have been debated throughout the history of the church," he said.
Unlike the No Longer Silent group of clergy, signers of Courage, Clarity and Charity do not constitute a group. But the response "does show the unity, the unified support within Christianity in support of historic Christian morality," Niell said.