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The power of three

"The power of three" Continued...

Issue: "NextGen worship," July 26, 2008

In March 2006, for example, the 103-year-old adoption division of Boston Catholic Charities (BCC) decided to close its doors rather than comply with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' requirement that it place children with homosexual couples. Five months later, the group's San Francisco branch followed suit. Both moves were direct outgrowths of the legalization of gay marriage and domestic partnerships in Massachusetts and California.

In September 2007, a boardwalk pavilion owned by the Methodist Ocean Grove [New Jersey] Camp Meeting Association lost its state tax-exempt status after the association refused to allow two lesbian couples to hold civil union ceremonies there.

In April 2008, Christian photographers Jon and Elaine Huguenin were fined $6,000 by a New Mexico state "human rights" commission for politely declining on religious grounds to photograph a homosexual "commitment ceremony."

Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for Liberty Legal Institute in Plano, Texas, said religious rights of conscience-and not relational equality-are precisely the target in California. "Gays and lesbians there can already be domestic partners, and have all the legal rights of marriage. The Supreme Court's ruling in favor of gay marriage is about something else," he said. "It is a direct attempt to establish same-sex couples as morally equivalent to a married man and woman."

Legal scholars on both sides of the debate agree that if Massachusetts begins exporting gay marriage, and/or California's gay-marriage law is allowed to stand, it will likely trigger nationwide court clashes that will profoundly alter law and public policy in the areas of employment, education, family law, and even the boundaries of the First Amendment.

None of those things were on Chris Clark's mind when he sat down in his San Diego office in late August. Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church, was simply sifting routine email when a single message snagged his attention. It was from Ann Subia, a friend who had over the years developed a knack for keeping fellow Christians informed on policy issues: Under the radar, the email said, the San Diego city council was about to vote on whether to join other cities in support of gay marriage.

"I looked at this and my first thought was, 'I'm pastoring a church! I'm remodeling a bathroom at home! I don't have time for this!'" said Clark, 48, a father of four who pastors a congregation of about 100.

Still, convinced that God would have him "stand up in the face of this atrocity," Clark went to the city council meeting and spoke in support of traditional marriage. In the end, the council narrowly voted no on the resolution.

But the end wasn't the end, it turned out. City councilmember Toni Atkins, a lesbian, used a procedural two-step to wrangle another vote. Two weeks later, the resolution passed.

"But I didn't feel too bad," said Clark, who also attended the second council meeting. "I had heard that Mayor Jerry Sanders had vowed to veto the resolution if it came to his desk."

Indeed, he had-and publicly. But on Sept. 19, Sanders held a press conference during which he tearfully revealed that his daughter is a lesbian. Sanders told reporters he could not look his daughter or his gay friends "in the face and tell them that their relationships . . . were any less meaningful than the marriage I share with my wife."

Translation: No veto.

San Diego's Christian community exploded. "That really woke some folks up," said Clark, who was a member of a conservative coalition that met monthly to discuss pressing policy issues, including a constitutional amendment defining marriage along traditional lines. "That's when I knew we had one shot: 2008," Clark said. "We all realized that we had to move on this rapidly, and get people on board quickly."

To Clark, no one in San Diego was better suited for that job than Jim Garlow. As senior pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, Garlow had proved himself a consummate team-builder. In 2003, Garlow rallied area churches to organize a Billy Graham crusade in only four months. In 2003 and 2007, when wildfires ripped through San Diego, Garlow reactivated the network of churches to provide aid for fire victims.

Garlow had known about the monthly policy meetings but had never attended. But when Clark and Ann Subia invited him in October 2007, "I went because of what Jerry Sanders did," Garlow said.

At the meeting, Ron Prentice, California Family Council CEO and chairman of ProtectMarriage.com, laid out the stakes: not only the historic and biblical definition of marriage but also the very right of pastors to teach what the Bible says about homosexuality.

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