Coalition calls on gays to be 'healed' Gay rights advocates denounce the ads as 'not very Christian'

July 16, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

In a series of full-page newspaper ads appearing around the country this week, conservative Christian groups have been calling on gay men and lesbians to "be healed" of their homosexuality -- angering gay rights advocates, who denounced the ads as religious bigotry.

The latest ad, which appeared yesterday in USA Today under the title "In defense of free speech," supported the recent remarks of pro football player Reggie White, an ordained minister who created a controversy by denouncing homosexuality in a speech he made in March before the Wisconsin Legislature.

The ads, which appeared Monday in the New York Times and Tuesday in the Washington Post, also defended the recent comments of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who said last month that he believes homosexuality is a sin and that gay people should be assisted in dealing with it "just like alcohol or sex addiction or kleptomaniacs."

The ads also promote an "ex-gay" ministry, highlighting the work of Exodus International, a group that claims to have helped thousands turn away from homosexuality to embrace a heterosexual lifestyle through a commitment to Christianity.

"Many are hearing for the first time that homosexuals can change," said Janet L. Folger, director of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Center for Reclaiming America, which coordinated the $200,000 ad campaign that listed 15 sponsors, including the Christian Coalition.

"It's kind of surprising and quite sad that the left has been so vocal in their opposition to our ads, because basically it's a pro-choice position," said Heather Farish, a spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, which co-sponsored the ads.

Gay and lesbian groups said the ads were more of the same rhetoric they've come to expect.

"From our point of view, it really exposes the radical nature of the conservative platform," said Jennifer Einhorn, a spokeswoman for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, based in New York.

Particularly galling, Einhorn said, was the idea that gay men and lesbians could not be good Christians.

"The first ad was shameless in that it implies that lesbians and gay men are not and cannot be people of faith," she said. "This does a shameless disservice to the thousands of lesbians and gay men who are central to their congregations and places of worship."

Charles L. Cox, executive director of Dignity/USA, a group representing gay and lesbian Catholics, said he felt that the ads "were not very Christian."

"To say that gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgendered persons cannot have a faith relationship with God is wrong, and that's what those ads are saying," he said.

Competing full-page ad

A coalition of gay rights groups paid for a competing full-page ad in yesterday's USA Today. It featured a Minnesota couple who are happy and proud of their lesbian daughter. The text adds that efforts "aimed at conversion can be extremely damaging."

Christian churches represent a wide spectrum of views on homosexuality: from the blanket denunciation of more conservative denominations to the United Church of Christ, which is considered the most welcoming among American mainline churches toward gay men and lesbians as members and ministers.

"The churches struggle with this issue, and I don't know of a denominational member of the National Council of Churches that isn't somehow struggling with this issue of how gay and lesbian people are to be regarded," said the Rev. Joe H. Leonard, director of family ministries and human sexuality for the council, which represents 32 Christian denominations.

He pointed out that among even the more conservative denominations, there are ministries to gay men and lesbians, citing the groups "Honesty" within the Southern Baptist Convention and "Affirmation" among the Mormons. These ministries welcome gays, although they do not accept an active homosexual lifestyle.

Nature or nurture debate

The ad campaign reignites a debate within the Christian community over whether homosexuality is the result of nature or nurture, and whether a homosexual can be changed into a heterosexual.

"I think our viewpoint needs to be heard by people who are uncomfortable with their homosexual feelings," said Jeff Johnston, Baltimore director of Regeneration, a ministry that assists people who want to end a homosexual lifestyle.

"They need to know there are options besides embracing their gay identity," said Johnston, who said he ended a gay lifestyle 12 years ago and is married with a 10-month-old son.

Johnston said his group, and counselors who treat people who want to change their homosexuality, believe that there are underlying environmental factors that lead to a gay lifestyle -- such as sexual molestation or a broken relationship with the parent of the same sex, between father and son or mother and daughter.

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