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Southern Baptist Leader, Gays Clash

Religion: Protesters disrupt convention in St. Louis, are arrested. Bush addresses group.

June 12, 2002|From Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — The head of the Southern Baptists condemned homosexuality from the podium Tuesday as gay rights protesters shouting slogans marched through the convention hall and into the arms of police.

Twelve protesters were arrested inside the hall, and 38 more were taken into custody outside, where riot police stood near the main doorway.

The protesters who infiltrated the annual meeting of the nation's largest Protestant denomination were charged with intimidation and trespassing.

"Stop killing us! Stop the spiritual violence!" one man shouted as police dragged him behind the curtains at America's Center. A woman from the group Soulforce, which claims Southern Baptist teachings lead to violence against gays, shouted: "God loves his gay children!"

"You need Jesus!" shouted back the Rev. Robert Smith, a pastor from Cedar Bluff, Ala. Others hissed as protesters were led away.

The protesters tried to disrupt Southern Baptist President James Merritt's keynote address to nearly 9,000 delegates and their families.

Merritt took aim at the media and Hollywood, citing surveys that show nearly unanimous acceptance in those groups of homosexuality.

"More and more we're being told sit down, shut up, go along, get along, be inclusive, be tolerant, be nice and be quiet," he said.

"We now face the fact that there are certain groups that are going to protest us every year," he said. "They have let me know in their correspondence, 'We are not going away.' Well, I've got news for the pornographer, the adulterer, the homosexual, the pedophile, the abortionist: We are not going away either."

Earlier Tuesday, President Bush railed against human cloning and celebrated the Baptists' refusal to separate religious faith from politics.

"True faith is never isolated from the rest of life, and faith without works is dead," Bush said in a speech broadcast live from the White House.

The Southern Baptists claim more than 16 million members.

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