Dallas Morning News, "Gay Rights Group Visits the Potter’s House"

Gay rights group visits the Potter’s House

Saturday, May 24, 2008
By Sam Hodges

Dallas megachurch the Potter’s House had the welcome mat in place last Sunday for a visiting gay rights delegation but didn’t give ground on such issues as gay marriage.

"We were treated very well," said Jeff Lutes, executive director of Soulforce, a national group that pushes for full inclusion of gay people in churches.

"I think it was an important first step."

Soulforce and three other groups with a gay rights focus have had members visiting prominent megachurches, including Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, in a campaign called the American Family Outing.

A 30-person contingent, consisting in part of gay couples with children, attended the 11 a.m. service at the Potter’s House, a 30,000-member congregation.

"They seated us on the third row, and there were no questions or issues around the fact that some of us were clearly couples," said Deneen Robinson, an elder in Living Faith Covenant Church, a predominantly black church in Dallas that is "welcoming and affirming" to gay people.

After the service, some of the visitors met with staff of the Potter’s House. Bishop T.D. Jakes, the well-known founder and pastor of the church, was recovering from back surgery and did not attend. But he did call Mr. Lutes.

"Bishop Jakes responded favorably to our request for ongoing conversation," Mr. Lutes said.

Both sides agree that they have differences, including on gay marriage.

"Our theology is based on the Bible, and in the Bible it states that a union is between a man and woman," said Curtis Coats III, a spokesman for the Potter’s House.

Mr. Coats and Mr. Lutes said the visitors and church staff found common ground on such issues as the importance of HIV testing, something Bishop Jakes has promoted as part of an extensive outreach ministry.

Shayne Lee, a Tulane University sociologist, said Bishop Jakes’ pragmatism was clear in how the meeting was handled.

"It does show on his part a willingness to engage with people who are different, and, strategically, to keep that dialogue low key," said Dr. Lee, author of the book T.D. Jakes: America’s New Preacher.