A group of 60 Phoenix-area clerics plans to issue a statement next week promoting the full acceptance and inclusion of gay people in the Christian church. The Arizona Republic reported Friday that the so-called Phoenix Declaration will be unveiled at a clergy luncheon Monday featuring Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong, a liberal theologian.
"We are saying the Christian church is not a bigoted institution," said the Reverend Stephanie Bikel, pastor of Desert Surprise United Church of Christ in Surprise, Ariz. "We need to fight the hate and encourage the love," she said.
Gay church members have been driven from Christianity by the various stances taken by some denominations, said Joe Amico, who oversees new church development for the United Church of Christ-Southwest Division. "This is a war on people's souls," he said, referring to antigay positions taken by some denominations.
The declaration includes a statement that gay people "are distinctive, holy, and precious gifts" to the church. It also features a denial that the Bible dictates an antigay posture and that there is "no rational biblical or theological basis" for condemnation. Leaders say the statement will call for "an end to all religious and civil discrimination against any person based on sexual orientation."
The statement was drafted by an organization called No Longer Silent. The group is primarily composed of members of the United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church, the two most liberal denominations on the issue. Of the 60 signers of the declaration, most represent these two denominations. Several Presbyterians and Catholics have also signed. David Felten, pastor of Via de Cristo United Methodist Church in Scottsdale, said the group was created as a way to counteract the Christian right.