Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Encourages people to explore their faith and face new perspectives

Bible school splits over church’s inclusion of gays

Tuesday, April 1, 2008 10:56 AM PDT

A moral disagreement regarding the acceptance of homosexuals into church congregations has fractured participation in a vacation Bible school offered by four Hoquiam churches the past several summers.

The community Bible school hosted each summer by Immanuel Baptist Church, First Baptist Church, Saron Evangelical Lutheran Church and United Methodist Church will be divided into two different events this year.

After about five years with a collective Bible school, the Baptist churches have withdrawn from the program.

The Rev. Gregg Sealey of United Methodist Church said the disagreement is the result of recent “reconciliation services” in which gay and lesbian worshippers were invited into his church.

“It’s too much of a hot-button issue right now,” he said.

The pastor has been public in saying that Christian tenets should not be considered to be exclusionary to homosexuals.

In response to a letter to the editor in The Daily World last month, Sealey wrote a letter stating, “Many Christians, including myself after much study on the subject, have come to believe the Bible to be silent on the issue of homosexuality as we know it today.”

He said that after the letter ran, he received numerous phone calls. Some people object to his views while others thanked him. A few offered the reverend some homework.

“They wanted me to read certain scripture numbers, like I had never read them before,” he said.

Sealey said he never felt threatened by those who disagreed, but he did contact the Hoquiam Police Department to see “where the lines are” for phone harassment.

Immanuel Baptist and First Baptist later announced they were pulling out of the vacation Bible school.

The Rev. Kent Gravley of Immanuel Baptist declined to comment. First Baptist could not be reached. The churches are expected to hold a separate Bible school.

The Rev. Linda Milks of Saron Evangelical Lutheran said the community Bible school has been held during the summer the past four or five years. Children were invited to play games, work with crafts, enjoy food, listen to stories and watch videos illustrating parables.

The churches have had occasional, but respectful, disagreements over moral issues in the past, she said, but they always worked them out. This time they couldn’t.

“We just decided to split,” she said.

Sealey said he is “not trying to convert everybody.” Presenting tough, honest discussion about spiritual matters is almost more important than what they decide, he said. It encourages people to explore their faith and face new perspectives.

“There aren’t a lot of people that feel comfortable voicing such opinions,” he said. “We don’t all agree on this issue.”

Sealey said bringing homosexuals into the church is a decision the members had been already considering when he arrived in July.

“This is part of a journey this congregation has been on,” he said. “This is where they had passion.”

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