AgapePress) - The official retreat center for the Southeast Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church is taking heat for its plans to host a convocation put on by major pro-homosexual caucus groups within Methodism.
The Labor Day weekend conference at Lake Junaluska in North Carolina will focus on how to lobby to overturn the church's teachings on marriage and sex, and lobby for the acceptance of same-sex "marriage" and practicing homosexual clergy. Called "Hearts of Fire," the conference is being organized by the pro-homosexual Methodist group Reconciling Congregations. According to that group's website, one forum will "explore the development of transgender and gender queer spirituality" as well as the "sources of gendering." Participants are encouraged to "come with a robust interest in all things gender, whether or not they themselves are gender non-normative."
Mark Tooley directs the United Methodist Action program at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, DC. He believes Lake Junaluska should not be renting the facility to Reconciling Congregations, which he describes as of the UMC's most vocal critics on marriage and sexual ethics.
"Obviously this is very disturbing to a lot of United Methodists, in that Lake Junaluska is owned by what is probably the most conservative and most theologically orthodox part of the church," Tooley observes. He says Lake Junaluska itself has its own internal standards that say it will not rent a facility to groups that do not support basic church teachings.
"It seems highly inappropriate to rent those facilities for a rally for same-sex 'marriage,' homosexual clergy, and various exotic forms of sexual expression," he adds.
But Joetta Rinehart, a spokeswomen for the retreat and convention center, says she believes the mission of Reconciling Congregations is compatible with the denomination's Book of Discipline. That book of law for the UMC affirms God's love for homosexuals, but calls homosexual practice "incompatible with Christian teaching."
The IRD spokesman supposes that should a group from the gaming or tobacco-growing industry wish to rent the facility, it would be turned away in deference to the UMC's beliefs regarding gambling and smoking. "But for some reason," he notes, "opposition to the United Methodist teachings on one of the foremost issues confronting our culture today -- the definition of marriage -- did not disqualify [this] event."
Tooley is urging United Methodists -- especially those in the Southeast -- to express their displeasure with the retreat center.
"I would challenge Lake Junaluska to remain faithful to the church of which it is a central part, to carry out and be faithful to its own internal standards, and not to rent its facility to a group that is dramatically and very publicly opposed to the church's teachings on issues that are very important to both the Church and society right now," he says.
Among the seven liberal bishops scheduled to speak at the event is Joe Sprague of Illinois, who has publicly denied the virgin birth, blood atonement, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Also expected to speak is Beth Stroud, an openly lesbian Methodist minister from Philadelphia who was recently defrocked. Musical entertainment on the last evening of the four-day rally is to be provided by Jason & deMarco, two "spirit pop artists" who were featured in a July 2004 homosexual magazine article entitled "Singing for God and Gays."
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