Defending their homosexuality as “God-given” and a “blessing” constituents of the metropolitan Community Church of San Jose, California, have won a major victory for the gay-church movement. In December the Santa Clara County Council of Churches approved the congregation’s request for membership. After nine weeks of controversy, the council last month declined to rescind its action.

SCCCC executive director R. Kenneth Bell says it was probably the most difficult decision faced by the council during the eighteen years he’s been with it. At last count five churches had withdrawn from the council as a result of the decision, and several more were contemplating similar action.

The San Jose church is reportedly the seventh congregation in the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) network to be accepted into a local council of churches. Last year the New York City Council of Churches rejected a gay church, the first time it has ever turned down any application. Increasingly, MCC congregations are knocking at the doors of church councils, seeking acceptance—and acceptability. More confrontations like the kind that shattered the long-standing harmony within the SCCCC can be expected in the coming months.

In accepting the San Jose church, the SCCCC declared that the action “should not be construed as condoning homosexuality.” Rather, explained leaders, the council has traditionally accepted in love any church which affirms the constitutionally stated purpose and spirit of the council. This includes the desire to manifest oneness in Jesus Christ as divine Lord and Saviour and the agreement to cooperate with other bodies in the ministries of the council. Doctrinal matters and other grounds for passing judgment have been avoided intentionally, the leaders said.

Pastor Aahmes E. Overton of the 340-member Trinity Presbyterian Church of San Jose, a spokesman for the minority view on the council, objected. “If the desire of the council is, in fact, to manifest oneness in Jesus Christ as divine Lord and Savior, then we must recognize that he saves from sin and that he is Lord of our lives,” the 34-year-old minister argued. “Based on the Scriptures, the MCC therefore must be excluded from membership.”

The uproar began at a meeting of the council in December when by a 35–14 vote the MCC was accepted as a member. Two San Jose churches immediately quit the council: the United Presbyterian Church of West Valley and the Blossom Hill Baptist Church. Three others followed: Sunnyvale Baptist, St. Edward’s Episcopal, and Christ United Presbyterian.

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Meanwhile, other opponents of the SCCCC’s action began seeking a way within the council to reverse the decision, partly because they felt the entire membership had not had ample opportunity to be fully informed on the issue, and partly because of their belief that the council does perform many valid social ministries and therefore any reaction requires thoughtful consideration.

To help air the issue a paper by Overton, “Another View of the Bible and Homosexuality,” was distributed to the council’s ninety-one member churches, and an informational forum was held by the SCCCC early last month. In his paper, Overton rebutted the MCC’s progay interpretation of Scripture that is contained in a pamphlet widely distributed by the MCC. Overton cited several medical and sociological assertions that homosexuality is a learned behavior. Since this behavior is rejected by the Bible, reasoned Overton, it can be unearned and cleansed through Christ.

At the forum Ms. Jackie Harris, 32, a member of the San Jose MCC board of directors who was married last April to another woman by MCC pastor William D. Chapman, expressed a different view. She declared that she has been able to accept “my God-given sexuality” only in the past four years since she and her “spouse” joined the MCC. “When I stopped condemning myself,” she asserted, “I realized that I had the right to believe I too could be the Christian that I always wanted to be.”

At a meeting of the council on February 10, with a record crowd present, members by a vote of 63–22 and one abstention defeated a motion that would have forced a reconsideration of the SCCCC’s decision to admit the gay church.

Following the vote, Overton called for a study of whether the council’s bylaws should be amended to designate the SCCCC as an association of religious groups banding together for human need rather than a group of churches proclaiming the lordship of Christ. At least in this way, he explained, churches disagreeing with the majority viewpoint could legitimately participate in the council’s social ministries without being forced to equate the lordship of Christ with issues such as homosexuality. His motion was defeated by about the same margin as the earlier one.

What remaining members of the minority opinion will do now is uncertain. Overton maintains that despite what has been stated by the council, the action has the effect of condoning homosexuality and institutionalizing sin. “I don’t believe that members of the majority opinion have a clear sense of the guidance of the Word of God, and that’s really the issue—the authority of the Scriptures,” he declared.

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Gay Confrontation

“Stop Christian persecution of gays!” admonished a placard held high by gay activists at the entrance of Indiana University’s Whittenberger Auditorium. The occasion was a lecture last month by Guy Charles, former gay activist who after thirty-seven years of practicing homosexuality committed his life to Christ in 1972 and left the gay life to launch Liberation, a counseling ministry to homosexuals in Arlington, Virginia.

Charles, 52, who had previously lectured only before Christian groups, told his audience: “This is the first time I’ve confronted Gay Liberation, and I thank the Lord for the opportunity.” Addressing many of his remarks to “my gay brothers and sisters,” he spoke of his love for them, saying he realized he had come to Bloomington “at a bad time for both the gay community and the Christian community” and wanted to show “how the two can coexist” in the south-central Indiana city of 62,000.

The “bad time” to which Charles referred began last November with a city building inspector’s refusal on moral grounds to grant an occupancy permit for a gay community services center. Subsequently, the city council enacted human rights legislation making Bloomington one of some thirty cities with ordinances barring discrimination based on sexual preference in such areas as housing, education, employment, and access to public accomodations.

In the midst of the debates surrounding these two events, a number of evangelicals were busy launching a campaign to condemn homosexuality on biblical grounds. There were paid newspaper and radio announcements. (“God says ‘no’ to gay” was the title of one newspaper advertisement which stated: “The real issue is not homosexuality [but] whether the Bible is the word of God”) Letters protesting the ordinance poured in to the local press, citing Romans 1, warning of God’s judgment on the city, and challenging the city council (“Why legalize sin?”).

Gays presented their side as well. One responded to a letter quoting Leviticus 20:13 by asking, “Is God suggesting that heterosexuals kill us?” Some drew upon behavioral science research findings to correct misunderstandings about homosexuality. Other gay persons spoke of their own experience of having accepted Christ as personal Saviour, and they reminded readers that Christ died for all and denied no one. A newspaper advertisement entitled, “Our God, too!” decried the fact that homosexuals have had to form their own churches because other churches have refused them.

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The biggest stir was caused by a businessman’s letter urging prayerful personal decisions “to shun the sodomites and their supporters … and to rededicate our community to the standards set forth by God.” After appearing in the newspaper, the letter was circulated among a number of area churches. More than 2,500 persons signed concurrences in time to be listed with a reprint of the letter of a full-page newspaper advertisement. Hundreds more signed later.

Members of the gay community were described as stunned and hurt. “I felt like somebody hated me, and I couldn’t understand it,” recalls one gay woman. “I felt this must be a group of people who knew nothing of homosexuals as people. They didn’t want us to be able to get jobs or have clothing or food or housing. That must be hating.”

Although a few ministers had spoken of going to court in hopes of having the city ordinance ruled illegal on the basis of state sodomy statutes, a decision was made by the Monroe County Evangelical Ministers’ Association to “look for a more helpful way to deal with the issue.”

“We had already taken a negative stand against homosexuality,” says United Presbyterian pastor David Faris, “and we felt that now we had a chance to do something positive. We decided to bring Guy Charles for two reasons: to minister to homosexuals who are unhappy with their lifestyle and looking for answers, and to give some training to ‘straight’ Christians who are concerned but don’t understand the gay life.” Joining the ministers in sponsoring Charles were the Navigators, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, Campus Crusade for Christ, International Students, and the Christian Student Fellowship. A three-day series of seminars was organized to help Christian leaders to learn how to understand and communicate with gay persons. Charles’s final evening lecture was open to the public.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for many ministers was Charles’s clear support for gay civil rights. He told of the pain of having been rejected from an important job because of his sexual orientation and of his years of suffering even physical violence as a gay activist. “I had my head bashed in so that you could be where you are today in terms of civil rights,” he told the gay men and women in the audience.

“Not only did Guy Charles surprise the ministers,” comments Jim Heuer, co-director of the gay community services center, “but he also surprised the gay people.” In response to a question from the audience about whether the evangelical ministerial group would “be glad” they had brought Charles and “would change as a result,” Charles replied: “They heard things they never expected from me, and there was a lot of soul-searching and struggling. I saw men striving to overcome prejudices, fears, and biases, and to learn something about gays in order to help.” After apparently having done some rethinking as a result of the meetings, most ministers interviewed later said Charles’s stand had indeed surprised them, yet they indicated that nothing would be lost from their viewpoint if they went along with his position. “Most of the ministers have come to the place that they realize these people must earn a living,” said one pastor.

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“Guy Charles showed us where we were too severe,” said Free Methodist pastor Elmer Riggs. “He said that instead of hammering them with Romans 1, we should remind ourselves of Romans 2:1, and we should present John 3:16 to them.” He laughed as he added, “I took that rebuke good-naturedly and thought I needed it.” Clergyman Faris made a similar point: “He showed us we should really care about homosexuals as people and stop worrying about our image.”


The Finding Of A Minister

Donald LaRose, the Baptist minister who disappeared under mysterious circumstances from his Maine, New York, church in November (see February 13 issue, page 53), was found last month in Minneapolis. He was living under an assumed name and did not appear to remember his past or his family. He is now under psychiatric care in Pennsylvania.

Shortly before his disappearance on November 4 LaRose had been preaching on Satan and had received threatening calls and letters. Investigators and church officials later established that the 34-year-old clergyman had arranged his own disappearance, and the church dismissed him in absentia.

Last month several families who attend a Plymouth Brethren chapel in Minneapolis recognized LaRose from an article and photo in CHRISTIANITY TODAY They knew him as Bruce Williams. He had shown up unshaven and unkempt at a Minneapolis rescue mission on November 12. When the invitation to receive Christ was given, he responded.

Honeywell engineer Fred Phillips and his family, members at the chapel, took Williams (LaRose) under wing. They helped him to obtain a job as a dishwasher in a cafeteria. Within weeks his supervisors tapped him for a management training program. Meanwhile, observed Phillips, Williams was growing rapidly in the Christian faith (at the outset, said Mrs. Phillips, Williams didn’t seem to know anything about the Bible).

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Williams told his new friends at the chapel that his mother and father had been killed in an auto accident, and that his wife and children had left him because he was an alcoholic. He no longer knew where they were. Now that he was a Christian, he said one day, he would like to be reconciled to his family. His friends assisted him in tracking down seeming leads, but they led nowhere.

Williams’s landlady, however, informed a Minneapolis reporter that he had told her a somewhat different story. She said that he identified himself as a salesman in business with his father, and that he told her he was spending Christmas with his parents (he actually spent it with friends from the chapel).

Phillips, upon learning Williams’s true identity, telephoned the LaRose family. A reunion took place on February 12 at the Phillips home. But, said Mrs. Phillips, the minister showed no sign of recognition of his parents or his wife.

LaRose possessed a birth certificate identifying him as Bruce Williams. With this he had been able to obtain a duplicate social security card. He explained that one day he found an application for a copy of the birth certificate in his wallet and mailed it.

Bewildered, some church people suggest he may have been drugged or hypnotized or possessed by a demon, others mention mental disorders.

New York police disclosed that Bruce Williams was a New York resident who was killed in an accident in 1958. Since no “police problems” are involved in the LaRose matter, they stated, the case is closed.


Guatemala: Up From The Rubble

With the dead buried and the wounded bandaged, Guatemala has embarked on the long, hard process of massive cleanup and reconstruction in the aftermath of the earthquake that devasted the Central American country February 4 (see February 26 issue, page 37). The slogan “Guatemala esta en pie”—Guatemala is on its feet—can be seen everywhere, and it describes a spirit that runs strong in the country.

The official statistics showed over 22,000 dead and 75,000 injured. By three weeks after the quake, the initial emergency phase of getting to stricken towns with food, water, and medical aid had pretty well passed, and attention was beginning to center on the urgent problem of housing for the more than one million people left homeless. People are living in makeshift tents made of plastic or bed clothes. Continuing tremors—over 1,000 recorded in the three weeks following the initial shock—do nothing to calm fears or encourage thinking about construction.

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The government of President Kjell Laugerud Garcia was credited by most observers with doing a far superior job of handling relief operations than was true in the recent disasters in Honduras and Managua, but there were scattered reports of supplies being diverted by officials and army officers. Aid poured in from around the world (see following story).

Contrary to some sensational reports, food supplies were adequate, for the corn had just been harvested. Most people in rural areas were able to dig out their stores from under the rubble. Said one observer, “If you had to have an earthquake, this was a good time to have it.” An intense cold wave which had battered the country most of January had passed, and the rains are not due until May. Clouds of dust from powdered adobe and lack of water, however, compounded the grief of the victims in most of the towns.

Three weeks after the quake, it was still impossible to assess total evangelical losses. The Central American Mission (CAM) had initially reported no pastors killed, but subsequent information showed that two died in the catastrophe. More than a hundred evangelical church buildings were completely destroyed, and many others were heavily damaged. Many congregations have been meeting in the open air as a result (see photo).

CEPA, the Permanent Evangelical Committee for Aid, had organized ninety local relief committees throughout the affected area. The majority of denominations within the country along with outside relief agencies were cooperating with CEPA, but many churches had their own programs as well. In ten cities, the evangelical committees were the only government-authorized groups aiding local people.

Evangelist Billy Graham flew to Guatemala to give a ten-minute talk on nationwide television, to speak at a meeting of Christian leaders, and to visit the disaster zones. He and his interpreter, Argentine-born evangelist Luis Palau, were given a helicopter tour by the President’s son. Graham said the devastation in Guatemala surpassed anything he had ever seen, including war damage in Viet Nam.

Palau, who conducted crusades in the nation in 1971 and 1972 and who has had a continuing radio and television ministry there since then, reported that the demonstration of interest and concern by leading evangelicals was received with appreciation.

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Graham addressed a meeting of evangelical leaders in the Central Presbyterian Church, a historic building right behind the National Palace. The church had lost much of its ceiling, but it was not structurally damaged. Halfway through the message, another strong tremor was felt, but the evangelist continued speaking and his capacity audience resisted the temptation to run into the streets.

Missionary Aviation Fellowship planes from Honduras and several independent missionary pilots were kept busy flying supplies and the wounded. Three weeks after the quake an MAF Mexico-based helicopter was called in to reach some still-isolated villages.

With local radio stations all on the government network for over two weeks after the disaster, the Christian stations were not able to minister spiritually, but they did serve an important role in communicating official information.

The spirit among believers following the tragedy continued to amaze observers. Members of the CAM-related Ezel church in the town of Patzun, which was a total loss, brought their traditional offering of corn to the church the second Sunday after the quake. “We always have a thankgiving service after the harvest,” said one of the elders, “and the believers wanted to do it this year too. But we have lost so many.”

Evangelical groups were also actively taking advantage of the spiritual climate created by the disaster for evangelism. Many churches mounted an intensive effort of meetings, films, and distribution of literature, including a special booklet based on the story of the earthquake.


Tools, Trucks, And Traumatologists

Tons of relief and rehabilitation supplies were still flowing into Guatemala late last month following Central America’s worst earthquake, and attention was turned to rebuilding.

While much of the assistance was provided by governmental and other secular organizations, Christian groups sent millions of dollars worth of aid. That help, distributed by missionaries, agency staff, and volunteer workers, took many forms. Evangelicals were involved in providing communications services, transportation, and specialized medical work in addition to food, tools, blankets, clothes, and building supplies.

The Salvation Army, for instance, had no personnel in Guatemala at the time of the disaster, but a team was on the field within forty-eight hours. At the height of its effort, the Army had eighteen bi-lingual officers there. Among their unique contributions was operation of a hospitality center at the Guatemala City airport. Volunteer relief workers who arrived there were given help in locating the agencies with which they would work.

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Another unique service of the Army was establishment of an international locating and message service. Operating ten hours daily from the home of an amateur radio operator in Atlanta, Georgia, the service averaged twelve messages per minute. In Guatemala, personnel receiving the messages assigned volunteers to find the people about whom anxious relatives overseas were inquiring.

World Relief Commission, an arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, held a special meeting during the NAE’s Washington convention and decided to add $153,000 to the $97,000 it had already spent in Guatemala. Following its policy of using evangelical personnel already in the region, the commission’s initial grants went to ten mission organizations for emergency supplies.

In just over two weeks, Medical Assistance Programs (MAP) sent supplies with a fair market value (wholesale cost) of $800,000. The Wheaton-based interdenominational group provided its help to a variety of missions and promised to send all the medical needs of CEPA, the Permanent Evangelical Committee for Aid, until sixty days after the earthquake.

MAP got a boost from evangelist Billy Graham, whose organization gave $50,000 toward the costs of its disaster program in Guatemala. The agency also distributed two planeloads of high protein bread which a Texas baker sent through the Graham organization.

The Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board appropriated $100,000 for aid. It also recruited medical teams including such specialists as traumatologists and surgeons.

Church World Service, relief arm of the National Council of Churches, sent $500,000 worth of aid last month. CWS is serving as the agent for many denominations in the United States as well as for the World Council of Churches. It has appealed to its supporting agencies for $1 million.

Catholic Relief Services reported that it had sent $600,000 worth of goods in the three weeks after the disaster, including 100 tons of corrugated roofing material.

Guatemalans face not only the task of rebuilding houses, schools, churches, and public buildings, but they also face deeper needs to rebuild families and disrupted institutions. Among the million or more homeless people are at least 3,000 orphans. Efforts to give them adoptive homes outside the country have so far received no encouragement from top Guatemalan officials.

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Angels: God’s Secret Agents, by evangelist Billy Graham, was by far the runaway best-seller during 1975 among current, hardcover, nonfiction books, according to final tabulations released last month. Publisher’s Weekly compiles the bestseller lists on the basis of books sold through regular trade channels. Included in the figures are copies of books issued in 1974 but sold last year. Angels, a Doubleday publication, had sold 810,000 copies by year’s end despite not getting started until October. Sales reached one million in January, according to Doubleday. It is believed to be the first time a best-seller has hit the one-million mark within four months. (The figure includes several hundred thousand copies purchased by the Graham organization for resale.)

Number two, Winning Through Intimidation, was published in mid-1974 and sold 265,000 copies throughout 1975. The leading hardcover fiction book, Ragtime, sold 232,000 copies. (Last year’s nonfiction leader The Total Woman, sold 260,000 hardcover copies in 1975 but is not ranked because it first appeared in late 1973. There are also 2.3 million copies in print in paperback.)

Another religious title (although it claims to be secular) was number three, TM: Discovering Energy and Overcoming Stress, by Harold Bloomfield (Delacorte). Number thirteen was Catherine Marshall’s Something More: In Search of a Deeper Faith (McGraw-Hill).

New Cia Policy

The Central Intelligence Agency announced last month it would no longer recruit missionaries and clergymen for informational purposes. No secret paid or contractual relationship now exists with any American clergyman or missionary, said the CIA, and this policy will continue.

In the past, most of the relatively few CIA-missionary links that did exist were voluntary, but in many of these cases the CIA initiated the contact. At a White House briefing last month for nearly 300 leaders attending the joint convention of the National Association of Evangelicals and the National Religious Broadcasters, government spokesman Michael DuVal said the CIA would no longer initiate contacts. However, said he, the CIA would listen if a missionary or clergyman volunteers information, a practice many mission boards have banned.

Responding to concerns expressed by mission leaders, the spokesman said new CIA director George Bush has taken “firm” steps against any use of missionaries that could compromise the integrity of others.

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Religion In Transit

The National Council of Churches communication commission urged broadcasters to develop prime-time programs to inform teen-agers about venereal disease and unwanted pregnancies. It also called for studies to see if radio and TV ads of nonprescription contraceptives do in fact reduce such disease and pregnancies. Meanwhile, widespread radio and TV advertising of contraceptives “is not justified at this time,” it said.

Federal studies show that divorces in the United States topped one million last year, up from 479,000 ten years ago. An estimated 33 per cent of American marriages end in divorce.

Interest in religion is soaring in America’s public high schools. A study by the National Council of Teachers of English revealed that “Bible in Literature” is one of the top ten courses requested by high schoolers. In seven years, for example, the number of Pennsylvania students registered in academic religion courses shot up from 700 to 12,000.

Evangelist Billy Graham canceled plans to hold a rally during the summer Olympics in Montreal. His decision was made in consultation with sixty area churches that invited him. He made it after Lord Killanin, chairman of the International Olympic Committee, noted that Olympic rules ban political and religious meetings at the place and time of the games.

The Supreme Court rejected attempts by the University of Delaware to prevent the celebration of masses by Catholic students in the common-room area of a dormitory. From now on, campus religious groups must be treated like any other student activity and furnished university space. The decision has far-reaching implications for evangelical campus groups across the country.

World Scene

The Bible, or portions of it, appeared for the first time in twenty-nine additional languages last year, according to Bible Society reports. There are now 1,577 languages and dialects in which at least one Bible book has been published—about half the world’s tongues.

Pope Paul named Abbot Basil Hume of a Benedictine abbey in northern England as the ninth Archbishop of Westminster and Catholic primate of England and Wales. He is 52.

Ethiopia’s military rulers removed from office the patriarch of the country’s Orthodox Church, Abuna Theophiles. They charged him with a series of crimes, including misappropriation of relief funds.

The British House of Commons appointed George Thomas, 66, a Methodist lay preacher and Labor Party leader from Wales, as Speaker.

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Cardinal Leon Joseph Suenens of Belgium was awarded the Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion. The first Templeton award in 1973 went to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Bishop Mortimer Arias, 52, resigned as head of the Methodist Evangelical Church in Bolivia in order to help prevent schism in the 4,000-member body. Half the members are Aymara Indians who in recent months have been clamoring for decentralization, for a greater role in the life and work of the church, and for more leaders who speak their native language. Restructure reflecting these reforms was voted by 136 delegates at the church’s general assembly. Meanwhile, the missionary presence continues to diminish. Seven years ago there were seventy United Methodist missionaries in Bolivia. Now there are eighteen.

Black theologian Manas Buthelezi has been selected as general secretary of the 500,000 member Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa, a black denomination formed in December through a merger of four bodies.

Correspondent James Mitchell reports that some 450 Christian families who fled from Laos and their seventeen pastors have settled down to a new life in central Thailand.

The Dutch government shipped $200,000 worth of food to Lisbon, Portugal, for distribution by the Portuguese Evangelical Alliance to some of the 500,000 refugees from Angola.

Historian-clergyman Michael Nuttall, 41, is the new Anglican bishop of Pretoria, South Africa. He joins two other South Africa bishops who like himself are identified with the charismatic movement. Archbishop Bill Burnett of Cape Town and Bishop Bruce Evans of Port Elizabeth.

Pham Tai Son, a former Scripture Union staffer in South Viet Nam who was educated at London Bible College, reports from a village farm seventy miles from Saigon that churches in the country are still open but that many Christian students must work on farms while schools remain closed.

The government of Kuwait has forbidden the sale of all periodicals that could “damage morals and religion,” according to the French Evangelical Alliance. The decision is directed at both local papers and the foreign press, says a spokesman, and all such offending publications will be impounded.

The Kyodan (United Church of Christ in Japan) reports a membership of about 200,000 in 1,602 congregations, only one-sixth of whom have more than 100 members. Sunday worship attendance averages 45,479, up for the first time since 1967.

The fourteen Dutch delegates who attended the World Council of Churches assembly in Nairobi issued a statement of support to two Russian Orthodox priests who appealed to the WCC on behalf of persecuted believers in the Soviet Union.

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