Leaders of the shrinking 1.3-million-member United Church of Christ want gays to know they are welcome in UCC churches. So, they produced a 30-second TV ad to make their point.
The ad depicts two burly bouncers standing guard at the door of a picturesque church (www.stillspeaking.com). The bouncers deny entrance to a male couple holding hands, along with two black children and a Latino. Then a message flashes: "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." The scene shifts to the interior of a church with a diverse group of people smiling. A narrator says that at the UCC, "no matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here."
CBS and NBC declined to run the ad, while CNN, ABC Family, and some other cable networks, along with some individual major network stations, did run it. In the controversy surrounding the network decisions, network news shows aired all or parts of the commercial. Many evangelical leaders and other church members saw the ad as an unfair attack against them. For example, no one could point out a single church that does what the ad depicts.
Southern Baptist Seminary president R. Albert Mohler told ABC's Diane Sawyer it was a "diabolical misrepresentation of Christianity." He said biblical churches are made up of sinners saved by grace, and that gays are welcome in evangelical churches, where they can hear the gospel proclaimed.
License to leave
St. Luke's Community Church in Fresno, Calif., can keep its church property. The California Supreme Court declined to review a landmark appeals court ruling in August that St. Luke's had the right to retain its property when it left the California-Nevada regional conference of the United Methodist Church in 2000 over doctrinal differences.
The conference had cited a clause in UMC law saying all church property is held in trust for the denomination (even if no UMC funds were used to acquire and maintain it). A number of breakaway churches over the years had lost their property due to trust clauses, but St. Luke's chose to fight.
Under state corporate law, the court said, a church that enters into a trust has the right to revoke it. UMC officials say they are considering an appeal to the federal courts. They warn that not only the UMC but also other mainline denominations with property trust clauses are at risk. In California, scores of dissident churches could start heading for the exits.
- The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County, Calif., has agreed to settle with 87 victims of sexual abuse by 30 priests and 11 lay employees and two nuns for a record sum. Terms were not disclosed, but a participant in negotiations said the amount topped the $85 million the Archdiocese of Boston agreed to pay last year.
- A church court defrocked Rev. Elizabeth Stroud, an associate pastor of a Philadelphia-area United Methodist Church and a self-acknowledged lesbian living with a gay partner. But she and leaders of First UMC of Germantown said she will continue to perform her pastoral duties as a lay employee of the church, though she said she will abide by church law that says she cannot administer baptism and communion.
- Radio and TV evangelist Billy James Hargis died in Tulsa, Okla., on Nov. 27. He was 79. The chubby Rev. Hargis had fought long, losing battles with the Internal Revenue Service, which stripped his group Christian Crusade of its tax exemption in 1964, and with the Federal Communications Commission. In a landmark decision in 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Rev. Hargis and upheld the FCC's "fairness doctrine," which required broadcasters to give free air time to those criticized on the air. Perhaps his worst blow came in 1974 when he was forced to resign as president of the school he founded, American Christian College in Tulsa. He denied having made alleged sexual advances toward two students, but the scandal sent his ministry into near oblivion.