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Debate rages over 'healing' homosexuality

July 24, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

The potentially explosive combination of politics, sexual orientation and religion is stirring a renewed debate about gays and lesbians, and whether they can be "healed" of their lifestyle.

The issue erupted last month when U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said he believed homosexuality is a sin and that gay people should be treated like alcoholics and others suffering from addiction.

Full-page advertisements placed in national newspapers by conservative Christian groups last week defended Lott's comments and also promoted an "ex-gay" ministry that claims to have helped homosexuals turn to heterosexuality through Christianity.

"It's possible people can change their lifestyle, with God's help," said George Michael, chairman of the Concerned Christian Committee, a conservative political action committee based in Washington County.

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The Rev. Jimmie Knox, pastor of Chambersburg (Pa.) Baptist Church, agreed. He said he believes people learn the homosexual lifestyle and can choose to live as heterosexuals.

"I think this is a learned behavior, rather that something you cannot avoid," he said.

But the Rev. Robert L. Griffin, pastor of the New Light Metropolitan Community Church in Hagerstown, said homosexuality is not learned behavior, but rather something that is created as a part of the body. Homosexuals cannot be converted to heterosexuality, he said.

"I think we are created in the image of God, and this is a part of who we are," said Griffin, who is gay.

Griffin said it's difficult to believe the revived debate, which he called "a new twist on something that's been going on for so long," is drawing such attention when churches and other groups are faced with more critical issues like homelessness and other social problems.

"I guess my feeling is there are other things we need to be battling other than homosexuality," he said.

The Rev. David Buchenroth, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, agreed, citing the problems of crime and blight he sees in the city. Buchenroth is president of the Washington County Council of Churches, but said his personal views do not represent the organization.

"I just feel, what can we do to help those in need instead of bashing those who don't need bashing?" he said.

Buchenroth also agreed with Griffin that people are born with their sexual orientation and it cannot be changed.

"I'm one who tends to believe if you are a heterosexual you cannot help being heterosexual any more than someone who is homosexual can help being homosexual," he said.

Buchenroth said he is discouraged by the latest ad campaign, which is probably being promoted by "well-intentioned" Christians. It seems to contradict the faith's values of inclusiveness, he said.

"We are all God's children and God made us different ways," he said.

Michael said the ads, which call for a "free and open debate on homosexuality," stress tolerance and are attempting to dispel the perception that people who have questioned homosexuality - like Lott and Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Reggie White - are bigots.

He claims most of the personal attacks and criticisms in the debate are actually coming from homosexuals and their supporters.

"The people that seem to be angry and are name-calling seem to be coming from the homosexual side," Michael said.

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