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May 9, 2000 GC-043

Church should start ministering to homosexuals, Gentile says

CLEVELAND (UMNS) – The United Methodist Church needs to quit talking about homosexuals and begin ministering to them, say three former homosexuals.

"We are here for ministry," said Jim Gentile, executive director of Transforming Congregations, a group that helps people leave homosexuality. "Dialogue has been polarizing."

Gentile was joined at a news conference during the denomination’s 2000 General Conference by Andrea Garcanz and the Rev. Brenda Barbarino. Garcanz, a former lesbian, leads Stop the Cycle, a ministry to the sexually and relationally broken in Long Island, N.Y. Barbarino leads In His Image, an ex-gay ministry based in Cleveland.

Gentile called on the General Conference to fund ministries that deal with relational brokenness. In 1996, the legislative assembly supported ministry to homosexuals, but no funds were provided, he said. Churches need to reach out to homosexuals and ex-homosexuals – two groups that often find themselves on the outside of church inclusiveness, he said.

"We fund some ridiculous causes while we have people out there dying," he said, referring to those struggling with their homosexuality who commit suicide.

"We talk about the church being a place of healing," Garcanz said. "It should be more inclusive. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory."

Garcanz said the issue of homosexuality serves as a flash point over scriptural authority. "If we look at foundations, there are two world views," she said. "One sees the Bible as authoritative. If you say it is not authoritative, then you have a relativistic view.

"They (homosexuals) are welcome, but what it will come down to is where we stand with Jesus Christ.

"It is being played out on the field of homosexuality, but it is really about the authority of the Bible," she said.

Gentile said he supports the United Methodist Church’s current language in the Book of Discipline. "Calling homosexuality OK is not compatible with Scripture," he said. "We are a biblically based denomination."

The Discipline currently does not allow the ordination of homosexuals, and it forbids the performance of same-sex unions by United Methodist clergy and in the denomination’s churches.

The news conference, sponsored by UM Decision 2000, an unofficial church group, was called in response to several statements issued by groups that support changing the Discipline in favor of more inclusive language for homosexuals. The issue is expected to be the most contentious of the General Conference, which is meeting through May 12 at the Cleveland Convention Center.

Some have predicted an eventual split in the United Methodist Church over the issue. Garcanz said unity for unity’s sake might not be advantageous.

"In terms of unity, it can be a false god," she said. "There is going to be a group of people holding up unity as their god."

Gentile said he’s not calling for a split in the church, which some have predicted.

"I don’t have the power to call for a split," Gentile said. "I’m calling for an end to dialogue and to do ministry."

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-- Woody Woodrick

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