An ecumenical coalition of gay and lesbian organizations has instituted an annual award to be given to a US heterosexual religious leader who has championed the cause of homosexual rights.

The award is named after the man who is also its first recipient, Paul H. Sherry, recently retired president of the United Church of Christ.

The Dr Paul H. Sherry Leadership and Courage Award will be given each year by the Interfaith Assembly of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Caucuses and Affirming Organizations during the annual general assembly of the National Council of Churches (NCC), the principal ecumenical organization in the US.

The Interfaith Assembly represents caucuses in more than a dozen US churches.

Dr Sherry received the inaugural award last month during the NCC's general assembly and 50th-anniversary celebrations in Cleveland, Ohio. At a prayer breakfast on 11 November, he told Interfaith Assembly members that those who deserved the award most were the members themselves.

Expressing surprise at receiving the award, Dr Sherry said: "I know the exclusion and pain you have felt. But I truly believe that through your efforts God's purpose will be fulfilled."

In an interview with ENI, Dr Sherry said he had always believed it was a "Gospel imperative" that the church embrace all, including sexual minorities. "Gays and lesbians have been so put upon," Dr Sherry said, particularly within the church. He felt the issue had to be addressed directly by a church leader.

The 1.4 million-member United Church of Christ, whose roots are in the US Congregational churchラthe church of the American Puritansラhas gained a high profile for its progressive views on many social issues. About 300 of its congregations welcome gay and lesbian ...

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