NEW YORK — Like the public and politicians, religious leaders are divided over President Clinton's proposal to allow homosexuals to serve openly in U.S. military forces.
Key officials of the two largest denominations, Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics, oppose it, though some Catholics differ. Conservative evangelicals also oppose such a change. But it is favored by Reform Jews and most mainline Protestant leadership.
The Rev. Robert P. Dugan, public affairs director of the National Assn. of Evangelicals, said that explicitly accepting gays in the military "would be an infringement on religious freedom" by in effect condoning homosexuality. "It would bring pressure for that view on military chaplains and also on churches," he said.
The Rev. Richard Land of Nashville, Tenn., head of social concerns for 15.3 million Southern Baptists, said the President should not use "the power of his office to extol and defend such reprehensible, immoral behavior."
Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph T. Dimino of Silver Spring, Md., head of the 58-million-member church's military archdiocese for armed forces, urged Clinton in a letter to maintain the military ban on gays or else face "disastrous consequences for all concerned."
Partial qualifications to that view came from Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, who said recently that gays and lesbians would not be a problem in some areas of military life where personnel are quartered separately.
However, he said "living and working conditions involving barracks, overseas warfare situations, submarine life and similar circumstances certainly seem to preclude such participation" by gays and lesbians.
Key officials of Reform Judaism and most major Protestant denominations generally support gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. Top officials of five major religious bodies jointly wrote to Clinton, saying that the ban on gays and lesbians in the military "solely on the basis of sexual orientation is intolerable." The religious leaders said that although believers disagree about whether homosexual relations are moral or immoral, "there is a growing consensus that homosexuality should not be the cause for discrimination."
The letter was signed by the Revs. James E. Andrews, chief executive of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Paul H. Sherry, president of the United Church of Christ. Others were the Rev. C. William Nichols, president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Bishop Melvin G. Talbert of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, and Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.