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[whitespace] Sunnyvale churches work to foster understanding

New Visions Project seeks to silence homophobia

Sunnyvale--A debate is brewing within the Christian community in the Santa Clara Valley as to what the Bible actually says about homosexuality, and one side has launched a major campaign to back up their argument.

"There are seven verses or groups of verses [in the bible] used by anti-gays to clobber on gays," says Bruce Hahne, coordinator of the New Visions project. Hahne describes the project as "a way to speak a message of love and acceptance in the midst of the increasingly hostile and homophobic voices coming from portions of the religious community."

Hahne's project is beginning its second series, in as many years, of professional lectures, discussions, films and worship aimed at seeking alternatives to what he calls Christianity's historical support of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons.

Twenty-five churches in Santa Clara Valley are sponsoring this year's five-week series, which will be held mostly at the First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto. Two of the sponsoring churches are the Congregational Community Church of Sunnyvale and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Sunnyvale.

The series highlights the inclusiveness that supporters feel is inherent in the New Testament.

"The New Testament talks about how God comes to be outcast," Hahne says. "When a people are experiencing discrimination and scapegoating, these are the first people God comes to."

Hahne talks of the difficulties a gay child can experience growing up in a conservative Christian household.

"Imagine the psychological damage that a child experiences growing up, thinking that God hates him. One of the basic archetypes for a gay-basher is growing up in a conservative Christian environment. If God wants to hurt [gay people], they feel they are just carrying out the wrath of God. That reading of the Bible can and will kill people."

Hahne continues, "Before you can start talking about what the Bible says or doesn't say about homosexuality, you have to look at the original language of the text. When we go back and look at the traditional Greek or Hebrew, and do some research and look carefully at what the author is actually trying to say, we see that none of these passages actually say anything about homosexuality."

But Jason Cheney, preacher of Sunnyvale's Church of Christ, disagrees emphatically. "I would like to talk to those who interpret the Bible like that," he says, a bit perplexed. "You don't have to go to a linguist to find what the original Greek words mean in English. Most preachers have access to lexicons or interlinear Bibles where the English is next to the Greek. I feel that the Bible is against homosexual activity."

One would think that open support of homosexuality might divide some churches. But the two liberal Sunnyvale churches that have given their backing to the program haven't experienced any protest from their members.

"We had a thorough discussion and took a secret ballot. The ballot was unanimous so the board decided to sponsor it," says Roger Jones, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Sunnyvale.

"This is a brave thing they're doing to organize this," Jones continues. "There's been a lot of misunderstanding and fear that needs to be addressed. It's unrealistic to say that any liberal congregation won't have some members that are uncomfortable with this issue. But it's also unrealistic to assume that conservative congregations don't have pro-gay people in their church, or that they don't have friends or family that are gay."

Jones points out that Unitarian Universalists have supported same sex commitment ceremonies for over 30 years. He says his congregation has many lesbian and gay members.

"When I think that a congregation as small as ours is touched by the lives of so many gay people, and when I think of the misunderstanding they must feel, it breaks my heart," Jones says.

This year's New Visions series continues every Tuesday night through March 20, at 7 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto, 1140 Cowper St. The series will end with an interfaith worship and celebration event on Saturday, March 24, also at 7 p.m. All events are free and open to the public. Additional information is available on the project's website at www.newvisionsproject.org, or at 408.732.8715.
Daniel Hindin

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Web extra to the March 1-7, 2001 issue of Metro.

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