Antigay church service draws protest in Illinois

Chanting "Shame!" and "House of hate!" protesters rallied outside the Calvary Memorial Church in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park on Sunday, where "ex-gay" activist Stephen Bennett spoke about his former life as a gay man before he got married and had two children. Dozens of demonstrators
waved placards and shouted through a microphone as parishioners filed into the evangelical church to hear a sermon opposing same-sex marriage. According the the Chicago Tribune, police held one angry onlooker back when she started yelling at protesters, threw her coffee to the ground, and nearly started fighting with them.

Several of the more than 1,200 people who attended the evening service entered the church through a side entrance to avoid taunts from the activists, while others who knew some activists hugged and prayed with the protesters. Another group protested quietly at a morning service, at which the pastor spoke out against gay marriage. "We sent a clear message that there are some in Oak Park and surrounding communities that know that hatred against any group needs to be opposed," Andy
Thayer, cofounder of the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network, told the Tribune.

But church leaders said they feel it is important to add what they call a biblical perspective to the debate over gay marriage. "We're talking about it because everybody else is talking about it," the Reverend Ray Pritchard, the pastor, said after the service. "I think the church has a responsibility to speak to the issues that are foremost on people's minds." Bennett's sermon was the culmination of a series of Sunday services in which church leaders reiterated their position against same-sex marriage. In three packed morning services, Pritchard preached a message titled "The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage" in which he quoted Bible verses and said God intended marriage to be a union between a man and a woman. Church leaders stressed that the purpose of the sermon was not political. Rather, they said, it was meant to point out that everyone has sinned and needs forgiveness.

According to the Tribune, the Sunday morning sermon, the third in a five-part series on marriage-related topics, garnered strong emotions in the liberal west suburban village after the
church mailed postcards about the sermons to every home and business in Oak Park and neighboring River Forest and Forest Park. Topics in past weeks have been "Is Marriage Really Made in Heaven?" and "Staying Pure in an X-Rated World." This is the first time church leaders have alerted the community to a series of sermons.

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