Associated Press, 24 Aug 99, 05:54 EDT

Religious Groups Gather for Gays 

By JUDITH KOHLER 
Associated Press Writer 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - Members of more than 40 religious groups have gathered in this conservative city to brainstorm on how to win more acceptance of gays within the religious community. 

The National Religious Leadership Roundtable includes Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Quakers, Methodists, Lutherans and Mennonites. At a meeting Monday night, a Denver rabbi suggested the coalition may be going about its task the wrong way. 

``You have framed this as a gay rights issue. I believe it is a civil rights issue,'' said Rabbi Stephen Foster of Congregation Emanuel. 

He urged members to involve heterosexual members of synagogues, churches and mosques in their efforts. 

Colorado Springs was chosen as the site of the meeting because it is the home of Focus on the Family, a Christian ministry headed by James Dobson that reaches 5 million listeners through its daily broadcasts. The organization believes homosexuality violates Christian principles. 

The city south of Denver is also home to organizers of Amendment 2, a 1992 ban on state laws intended to alleviate discrimination against gays. The U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down the initiative. 

Coalition members said support for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals has been strong among religious organizations for years and is growing.

``Part of our message is that the religious right absolutely does not speak for all people of faith, even though they kind of frame the debate that way,'' said Laura Montgomery-Rutt, national organizer for Equal Partners in Faith. 

Jimmy Creech, a Methodist minister who drew national attention and condemnation from his church for blessing the union of two women, said the church hasn't fulfilled its duty ``because we have excluded certain children of God from God's grace.'' 

Creech was acquitted of violating United Methodist law but was not reappointed to the pulpit after the 1997 ceremony in Omaha, Neb. The bishops of the 9.5 million-member church in 1998 reaffirmed that performing same-sex marriages violates church law. 

Creech said there is a long way to go before gays and lesbians win widespread acceptance, but he is optimistic. 

``At no time in history has the conversation been so intense, have we had people so involved in thinking about the issue, whatever side they may be on,'' Creech said. ``So while I cannot tell you when it's going to happen, I can tell you the Christian churches one day will be open and inclusive of all people regardless of sexual identity.''