More than 800 pastors, mostly evangelical Christian clergy, gathered at the Arizona Biltmore Resort in Phoenix Thursday to hear how important they will be in getting their parishioners and the state's voters to make marriage limited to one man and one woman.
Hours later, the co-leaders of the "No on 102" campaign - Rep. Kirsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, and former state GOP Rep. Steve May - contended the Mormon church is funding most of the campaign for Proposition 102.
Voters will cast ballots on the proposed constitutional amendment in the Nov. 4 general election.
"This historic gathering may be the largest and most important meeting that we, as Arizona pastors, have ever had," Don Wilson, senior pastor of Christ's Church of the Valley, said in his widely circulated e-mail to clergy, calling them to a "meeting of 1,000 pastors" to bolster support for Proposition 102.
Media were barred from Thursday's meeting that Wilson touted as a "private and secure gathering of Arizona pastors" for an issue "totally different than anything we have ever faced before." He cited the California Supreme Court's 4-3 ruling legalizing gay marriage and the "recent developments in Flagstaff" where a gay rights ordinance was proposed.
Wilson asserted the "response of our congregations will be the decisive factor on this issue," which he called "a matter that is surely close to God's heart."
Pastors were told they would learn what "all of us like-minded pastors will be saying from our respective pulpits" for an amendment that judges cannot overturn.
Thursday afternoon, Sinema and May held a news conference in front of the Arizona Mormon Temple in Mesa and charged that Mormons and the church are bankrolling "approximately 90 percent of the $3.5 million" so far raised for the campaign to get the amendment approved.
The two former Mormons said President/Prophet Thomas Monson and the First Presidency (Monson and his two counselors) have called on members to work hard and to donate their "means and time" to get amendments outlawing gay marriage approved in California, Arizona and Florida.
"Why is the president of the Mormon church in Salt Lake City trying to amend the Arizona Constitution?" said Sinema, who is openly bisexual and successfully led the fight in 2006 to defeat a ballot measure in Arizona that would have curbed or denied benefits for same-sex couples.
"What is next on the political agenda of the Mormon church?" asked May, who is homosexual and left the Mormon church in 2001.
May and Sinema said the financial reports on donors to the "Yes on 102" campaign include the names of many prominent Mormons. "It reads like the "Who's Who of Mormonism in Arizona,'" May said. But the church's spokesman for Arizona, Don Evans, said the church itself is not contributing directly to the "Yes on 102" campaign. "Individual members who are supporting it are making the contributions," he said.