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Local Christians seek distance from gay marriage ban

17 October 2008 No Comment

By Will Jason

A ballot measure to end gay marriage in California has attracted money and endorsements from Christian groups around the country, but many local Christians say they are wary of being associated with the campaign.

Groups supporting the gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, have raised more than $25 million, according to data from the California Secretary of State’s Web site. Some of the biggest contributions have come from Christian groups like Focus on the Family, which is evangelical, and the Knights of Columbus, which is Catholic, according to an analysis of the data by the 510Report.

Rev. Jeff Johnson, pastor of the University Lutheran Chapel near the University of California, Berkeley campus, opposes Prop. 8. His church has a rainbow flag—a symbol of gay rights—hanging outside on its wall. Johnson said that while many local Christians and churches share his views, the visibility of the Prop. 8 campaign could lead some observers to associate Christianity with an opposition to gay marriage.

“It gives Christianity a bad name,” Johnson said of the campaign.

Other local Christians say they are more conflicted about Prop. 8. Sara Chi, a senior at the University of California Berkeley, said she has been a member of the Cal Christian Fellowship since she started college. She said she will vote against Prop. 8, but the decision was made difficult by her conservative Baptist upbringing.

“When I first saw it on the ballot I was pretty torn,” said Chi, 21. “Growing up, it was emphasized in my home or among my friends that gay people are weird.”

Andrew Lee, a sophomore and member of the Christian fraternity, Alpha Gamma Omega, said he skipped Prop. 8 when he voted by mail earlier this month.

“Morally, I don’t think there should be gay marriage…but I don’t think it’s the government’s job to define what marriage is,” said Lee, 19, a Presbyterian.

In interviews with several local Christians of various denominations, none would go on the record as supporting Prop. 8.

An analysis of campaign contributions and published endorsements shows that Evangelical, Mormon and Catholic denominations are among the Christian churches most supportive of Prop. 8. Episcopal and Congregational groups are among those most opposed, favoring a continuation the legal gay marriage made possible by state Supreme Court ruling in May.

But the divisions do not always occur along the lines of denominations, some of which are themselves conflicted about gay marriage. In opposing Prop 8, University Lutheran is in conflict with congregations such as Zion Lutheran Church outside Sacramento, which has endorsed the measure. And by performing gay marriage ceremonies, the church is at odds with the official policy of its national affiliate, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

“It’s a very gray area in the church,” said ELCA spokesman John Brooks. “We don’t recognize same-sex marriage but there’s no outright ban.”

But according to Johnson of University Lutheran, gray areas could get lost among in a socially liberal setting like Berkeley.

“If you’re a Christian in Berkeley, then everyone assumes that you think like Jerry Falwell,” the late fundamentalist leader, Johnson said.

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