Pastors from mainline Protestant and Catholic faiths came together at a Scottsdale church Monday to “raise a voice against Christian intolerance that promotes condemnation, discrimination and hatred” toward homosexuals.
“We speak against the intolerance, violence and judgmental views that the Christian right often speaks toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community,” said the Rev. Peggy Roberts, pastor of Palo Cristi Presbyterian Church in Paradise Valley and president of a coalition of pastors called No Longer Silent/Clergy for Justice.
When the luncheon meeting began, 61 pastors had endorsed the “No Longer Silent Phoenix Declaration,” which advocates “an end to all religious and civil discrimination against any person based on sexual orientation.”
During the luncheon, about 25 more endorsements of the 461-word declaration were received.
The pastors who signed come primarily from the United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Catholic, Presbyterian and Unitarian Universalist faiths, according to the list of signers, which also included leaders in regional church offices.
No Longer Silent was formed about two years ago and first took a public stand against Boy Scouts of America’s position to bar known gays from serving as Scout leaders.
“We stand with the countless Christian ministers, scholars and laity who, from prayerful study of the Scriptures and Christian tradition, find no rational biblical or theological basis to condemn or deny the rights of any person based on sexual orientation,” the declaration reads.
On Monday, the pastors were buoyed by a 75-minute speech by retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, who set off a firestorm in his Diocese of Newark, N.J., 15 years ago by ordaining an open gay man into the priesthood and recognizing monogamous homosexual relationships. Homophobia’s last strongholds are Christian churches and the military, he told the group, asserting that society has largely come to accept homosexuality as self-evident, partly because they have homosexual family members, loved ones and friends.
“I think the battle has been won and you can declare victory,” said Spong, whose 18 books include “Why Christianity Must Change or Die” and “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism.”
The Rev. David Felten of Via de Cristo United Methodist Church in Scottsdale said he had heard an “anti-Phoenix Declaration” group had formed and was developing a Web site to counter their work.
The Rev. Nathan Holt, a retired Methodist pastor in Mesa, is convenor of UM Unity, a group that has opposed the loosening of restrictions related to gays in his denomination. But he said his group was not starting the Web site.
“Our group is very adamantly opposed of the assertions that come out of No Longer Silent,” he said. “The Bible indicates, without any contradiction to my mind, that what they are seeking to accomplish is contrary to Scriptural belief, and, of course, it is contrary to the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, and some of these fellows are United Methodist pastors.”
At least 18 of the pastors who have signed are Methodists.
“Here in the Valley, we don’t have a feeling about how a movement like this is being acted out and being accepted,” said the Rev. Gene Lefebvre, vice president and a founder of No Longer Silent. “What Bishop Spong did for us today is to say that what we are doing is important and an example for other parts of the country. It was tremendously invigorating to hear him speak to us.”
Roberts told the crowd that “all of our congregations are at different stages. Some are already affirming, and some are ways from it. We accept where you are as pastors.”
“There still is risk in being courageous and taking a stand,” Roberts said. “It is exciting to see more and more people being willing to speak out.”
For more information and the declaration's text, visit www.nolongersilent.org.