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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

Clergy vocalize stance on Prop. 8

October 26, 2008|Duke Helfand | Helfand is a Times staff writer.

With the Nov. 4 election fast approaching, rabbis, priests and ministers across California are ratcheting up their public appeals over Proposition 8 -- using their religious platforms to alternately highlight the perils of passing or rejecting the same-sex marriage amendment.

More than a dozen Lutheran ministers are to appear after services today at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in North Hollywood to urge a "No" vote on the measure, which would define marriage in the state Constitution as between only a man and a woman.

On Tuesday, Presbyterian ministers are to issue a similar verdict during simultaneous gatherings in Los Angeles and San Francisco, arguing that Proposition 8 would rob same-sex couples of their civil rights.

Those efforts come after more than 250 California rabbis urged voters Friday to reject the measure. The rabbis -- primarily from the Reform and Conservative movements and representing about 40% of the state's Jewish clergy -- said the proposition's definition of marriage would disenfranchise gays who crave the same freedoms as heterosexuals.

"Prop. 8 is unnecessary," Rabbi Denise Eger said during a news conference at Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood. "It's unfair. And it's wrong."

Clergy who support Proposition 8, meanwhile, are aggressively pressing their message at churches and rallies in Southern California.

One Christian group is gearing up for what it hopes will be a huge rally for Proposition 8 -- including 12 hours of prayer and fasting -- at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium on Saturday. (A separate interfaith gathering is set to take place the same day at St. John's Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, where ministers and rabbis will discuss their reasons for opposing the measure.)

"We believe it is a religious issue as well as a political issue," said the Rev. Lou Engle, co-founder of TheCall, the cross-denominational Christian assembly that is planning the Qualcomm event. "And that's where we feel the Church must have a word."

A bus tour in support of Proposition 8, organized by the Protect Marriage Coalition, is making its way this week to churches in El Centro, Fullerton and other areas in Southern California. The tour is to stop today at First Baptist Church of Camarillo, where Pastor Dan Nelson intends to deliver a message about heterosexual marriage as an expression of God's intention for men and women.

"The traditional moral values of our nation are at stake by allowing gay marriage to continue," Nelson said. "I don't believe in gay marriage. I don't think God has ordained it."

The religious duel over Proposition 8 has simmered for months, dividing congregations and denominations.

Last week, separate gatherings of African American ministers rallied for and against it during news conferences. Both sides cited the Bible in making their cases.

California's six most senior Episcopal bishops declared their opposition to the measure last month, even as the issues of same-sex marriage and gay clergy threaten to tear apart the global Anglican Communion to which they belong.

And in spring, United Methodist Church leaders in Southern California defied their national church by voting to support same-sex couples who marry and the pastors who welcome them. Some pastors already have officiated at weddings or played a role in same-sex ceremonies, risking their clerical credentials.

Some churches have steered clear of the same-sex marriage issue for fear of alienating members.

One congregation that opposes Proposition 8, St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, is holding a town hall meeting next Sunday in the hope of producing a tempered public conversation.

"We're trying to have an enlightened discussion," said Deborah Mayhew, one of the organizers, "rather than throwing rhetoric around."

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duke.helfand@latimes.com

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