The gesture was intended to make headlines, and it did. On January 18, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) called a news conference to announce that 850 clergy and religious workers endorsed its "Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing." Reporters around the country dutifully took note.

That liberal religious scholars and clergy endorsed a statement calling for "full inclusion of … sexual minorities in congregational life, including their ordination and the blessing of same-sex unions" and for "a faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights" hardly comes as a shock. As the Associated Press noted, "the list of signers contained few surprises": more than half were from the Unitarian Universalist Association, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews, and the United Church of Christ. Still, coverage is inevitable: anything touching on church debates about sexuality is newsworthy, even if it's the same old liberals being liberal or the same old conservatives being conservative.This is the way things are done now. Church debates may not always send leaders scrambling to their Bibles, but usually will send them to their Rolodexes. In last fall's church trial of United Methodist minister Jimmy Creech, three different sides hired public-relations firms to get their messages out. Trying to influence the church by influencing society through the mass media may be effective, but it's bad ecclesiology."For too long," declared SIECUS president Debra Haffner, "the only voices in the public square on religion and sexuality have been the antisexuality pronouncements of the religious right." Well, not unless by religious right she means most denominations. The United Methodists stripped Creech of his clergy credentials for presiding over a same-sex union. Last summer, the Presbyterian Church (u.s.a.) retained its ban on ordaining homosexuals. And in 1998 Anglican bishops declared homosexual practice incompatible with Scripture.The denominations have spoken. The issue will come up again, of course, but the SIECUS signers are trying to circumvent the ecclesiastical process. If the church won't issue a statement I like, a typical signer seems to say, I'll join hundreds of others who agree with me in a statement that will look almost as impressive. If you can't make policy, at least make news.By fighting the issue in the mass media, the SIECUS signers bring in to the debate readers and viewers who have nothing to do with it. A secularist newspaper reader has about as much to do with Presbyterian doctrine as with Venezuelan politics.Church teaching must be determined according to each denomination's polity. As evangelical Christians, we believe the Bible is the first and last word on doctrine. Many denominations disagree, but whether they also include an appeal to tradition, creed, or hierarchy, none believes in determining doctrine by opinion poll.

Related Elsewhere

See our news coverage of the SIECUS statement, "One Thousand Scholars and Clergy Call for Full Acceptance of Homosexuals in Churches | Liberal Protestants dominate signatory list" (Jan. 31, 2000)Read the full text of the declaration and a list of endorsements at SIECUS's Religion Project site.

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