- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2000

DENVER Dozens of homosexual activists blocked a Denver convention center yesterday in a bid to influence Episcopal Church rules on homosexuality and silence discussions involving former homosexuals who say God has helped them change their lifestyle.

Demanding "full acceptance" from the church, 74 protesters from Soulforce, an ecumenical group promoting homosexual rights within Christian churches, were handcuffed without resistance and charged with trespassing and disobeying police orders after a rally in front of the Denver Convention Center.

The 73rd Episcopal General Convention meets at the convention center, starting today.

Leading the demonstration was Soulforce co-founder Mel White, a prominent associate of the Rev. Jerry Falwell until he announced his homosexuality.

Mr. White, who is now a minister in the homosexual-focused Metropolitan Community Churches, has led similar demonstrations at other meetings of Protestant denominations this year.

"The time has come for you to stop the debate, open your arms and welcome all God's children in full acceptance, full inclusion," said Soulforce Chairman Jimmy Creech, a former Methodist minister who was defrocked after "marrying" a homosexual couple.

At issue at the 10-day convention is a proposal to codify the 2.4 million-member denomination's unofficial policy of letting each diocese decide the role of homosexuals in the church.

Conservative Episcopalians say the rule violates biblical morality, while the demonstrators say it isn't sufficiently pro-homosexual.

The arrests came the day that conservative Episcopalians began an ad campaign aimed at convincing homosexuals that they can change their sexual orientation through prayer and God's grace.

The American Anglican Council, a 4-year-old organization promoting an orthodox view of Episcopalianism, showed six examples of troubled people whose lives God's forgiveness had transformed. The campaign's theme is "God's Love Changed Me."

"None of us is so broken or so sinful that we cannot be changed by God's transforming love," said the Very Rev. David Anderson, rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, Calif. "God's love changes lives for the good, and we want to testify to that."

Included among the six were three former homosexuals who say God enabled them to overcome their sexual urges.

Bob Ragan, 46, said he had been attracted to other men since his childhood, and embarked upon a homosexual lifestyle after viewing gay pornography in high school.

His life of homosexual bars, alcohol abuse and short-term relationships ended in 1987 when he began attending Regeneration, an interdenominational ministry dedicated to stopping homosexual behavior. Today, Mr. Ragan, who says he's celebrating 12 years of "sexual sobriety," serves as director of Regeneration in Northern Virginia.

"The joy that came in my heart showed me that I had not been born homosexual," said Mr. Ragan. "The world says people like [me] don't exist. I'm here to tell the world we do exist."

That may be true for Mr. Ragan but, critics say, most homosexuals are unable to conquer their sexual preferences.

"I was one of those for 35 years," Mr. White said.

God transforming homosexuals "can happen," said Mr. White. "But for millions of people around the world, it isn't happening. They can show me five people, and they say there are supposed to be something like 800, but I can show them 10,000 [who say they cannot] at my ministry in Dallas."

But Soulforce activists also say they're not interested in becoming heterosexual that God created them the way they are and "there's no need to change," said spokeswoman Laura Montgomery Rutt.

Toni Cook, pastor of St. Paul Episcopal Church in Denver, told the rally, "Being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered isn't a disease. It's a gift from God."

Soulforce demonstrators wore T-shirts saying "This Debate Must End! Include Us! Ordain Us!"

The General Convention, which meets every three years, alone has the authority to amend the church's constitution and canonical laws. Any changes must be approved by the 250-member House of Bishops, considered the more conservative body, and the 800-member House of Deputies.

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