placid retreat center for the United Methodist Church at
Lake Junaluska--near Charlotte, N.C.--may
soon find itself at the center of a summer storm.
Conservative groups and the Ku Klux Klan were planning to
protest a weekend meeting at the lake of a group
of Methodists who want gays welcomed in all
aspects of church life.
Officials at the conference center were setting
aside separate areas for protesters,
counterprotesters, and the Klan. The local sheriff's
department also planned to set up a command center at the
lake. "We've made some plans in case something does
happen--basically having local and state people
on call," Haywood County sheriff Tom Alexander said.
"We just hope that everybody can do what they need to do and
make this a safe event for everybody."
The meeting, hosted by the Chicago-based
Reconciling Ministries Network, was to start Friday
and has also drawn complaints from fellow United
Methodists who don't believe such a meeting should happen at
the church-owned conference and retreat center in
western North Carolina.
About 20 Klan members from Georgia, Texas, North
Carolina, and elsewhere were expected, said J.J.
Harper, Imperial Wizard of the Cordele,
Ga.-based American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
He said they will not wear robes and hoods. "We don't
plan on causing any trouble unless trouble comes to us
first," he said in a telephone interview Thursday.
"We're just going to be protesting like anybody else who is protesting."
The Reverend Troy Plummer, executive director of
Reconciling Ministries, said his group was trying not
to be distracted by opponents of its mission. "We're
here to retreat, to be spiritually renewed," Plummer
said Thursday during a break in preconference meetings.
About 550 people have registered to attend the
Reconciling Ministries' annual conference. The
ministry states that its goal is to fully open
the United Methodist church to people of "all sexual
orientations and gender identities." Denominational law
prohibits "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from
serving in the clergy, a prohibition passed by the
Methodist General Conference in 1984.
Some United Methodists argue that Plummer's
group should not be welcome at Lake Junaluska,
headquarters of the church's Southeastern
jurisdiction, because it advocates changing church law.
Congregants from Nesbitt Chapel United Methodist
Church in nearby Fairview recently took out newspaper
ads to protest the meeting. Baptists and local residents
who both support and oppose the group's work also plan to
make their cases. (AP)