Planned Parenthood should target "people of faith" to promote abortion rights and comprehensive sex education, the Episcopal Church's first openly homosexual bishop told a gathering in the District yesterday.
"In this last election we see what the ultimate result of divorce from communities of faith will do to us," New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson said during Planned Parenthood's fifth annual prayer breakfast.
"Our defense against religious people has to be a religious defense. ... We must use people of faith to counter the faith-based arguments against us," he said.
Bishop Robinson's comments at Planned Parenthood's national leadership conference took aim at traditional interpretations of the Bible.
"We have allowed the Bible to be taken hostage, and it is being wielded by folks who would use it to hit us over the head. We have to take back those Scriptures," he said. "You know, those stories are our stories. I tell this to lesbian folk all the time: The story of freedom in Exodus is our story. ... That's my story, and they can't have it.
"This current administration notwithstanding, the world is not black and white," Bishop Robinson said. "We need to teach people about nuance, about holding things in tension, that this can be true and that can be true, and somewhere between is the right answer. It's a very adult way of living, you know.
"What an unimaginative God it would be if God only put one meaning in any verse of Scripture," he said.
Mr. Robinson left his wife and two young daughters in 1986 and moved in with another man. He was elected bishop by state and clergy delegates in June 2003 and affirmed by the national convention two months later.
Abortion, he said yesterday, is "not just a matter between a woman and her body. This is not like removing a mole. On the other hand, no one should interfere with a woman's right to choose."
The Episcopal Church stated its position on abortion in a resolution during its 71st General Convention in 1994: "While we acknowledge that in this country it is the legal right of every woman to have a medically safe abortion, as Christians we believe strongly that if this right is exercised, it should be used only in extreme situations.
"We emphatically oppose abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience," the resolution states.
Planned Parenthood officials said they do not disclose publicly statistics on the number of abortions they perform, but provide that data to the National Institutes of Health. Statistics were not available yesterday.
However, the group performed 244,628 abortions last year, and has performed 3.5 million abortions since 1970, according to David Bereit, national director of Stop Planned Parenthood (Stopp).
Stopp espouses the belief that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder.
Mr. Bereit said his organization is "not going to allow Planned Parenthood to hijack Christianity."
"We cannot stand idly by and allow these subtle but seductive and secular messages to creep into the church," he said at a press conference Wednesday across the street from the Planned Parenthood conference at the Washington Hilton.
Stopp is starting a campaign to export grass-roots activism from College Station, Texas, to communities across the country. Mr. Bereit said his efforts in College Station helped strip Planned Parenthood in 2003 of $13 million in annual state funds.
He said his group will work to build coalitions of churches who will then try to remove Planned Parenthood materials from public school sex education courses and lobby government against funding the group.
Bishop Robinson encouraged Planned Parenthood leaders to fight their opposition.
"I know, in the end, that I'm going to heaven, and so are you," he said. "You and I can do this work no matter how hard it gets, because we know we're going home."
Planned Parenthood operated 849 clinics last year, down from the 866 it ran in 2003. A spokeswoman said the group consolidated some clinics and was "serving more clients" than in 2003.
Private donations to the group dropped from $230 million in fiscal 2002 to $191 million in fiscal 2003.
Gloria Feldt, the group's president for eight years, resigned in January after Planned Parenthood's first endorsement of a presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, and their unprecedented voter-registration efforts failed to yield results.
The Rev. Ignacio Castuera, a Methodist and Planned Parenthood's national chaplain, said he is trying to increase the size of their clergy network, which currently has 1,400 pastors and clergy.
Working with clergy on the West and East coasts is easy, Mr. Castuera said, "but when you move further into the country it gets harder. ... In the center of the country we have a lot more conservative perspectives on the Bible and sex."
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