Washington Times, "Christians, Gays, Not of One Accord"

Christians, Gays, Not of One Accord

Julie Duin

It was a meeting of opposites: 30 conservative black Pentecostals from Hope Christian Church in Beltsville dining with 30 activists from Soulforce, a pro-gay religious group.

While there was no rancor or overt anger, there also was no meeting of minds. After nearly 90 minutes of debate Saturday night, no one on either side of the question of what the Bible teaches about homosexuality would admit to changing their minds.

"It was noncombative, nonpunitive dialogue," said the Rev. Troy Sanders, a gay black pastor from Atlanta who was one of the Soulforce speakers. Soulforce members queried after the dinner said they were pleased with their reception, and several said they would attend Hope Christian’s Sunday service.

Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of the 3,000-member church, acknowledged the evening was "historic" but made no promises about any changes in teaching or policy. "We’ll have to pray about discrimination issues in the gay community," he said.

Soulforce has targeted six megachurches with its gospel of "freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual and all transgender people," and Hope Christian was their third stop on a six-week nationwide tour called the "American Family Outing," Soulforce’s campaign to showcase gay couples with their children.

On Dec. 1, Soulforce leaders contacted Bishop Jackson, asking for a "dialogue on homosexuality and Christianity."

"Even though we disagree on the Bible," said Jeff Lutes, Soulforce’s executive director, "we can relate about our kids. We’re trying to reach out across that divide, make a connection and see what happens from that. Typically, fear goes down when people make connections."

Soulforce got a chilly reception May 18 from the Rev. Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston; He refused to meet with the group. The reception was better May 11 with the Rev. T.D. Jakes and members of the Potter’s House Church in Dallas. Coming visits include the Rev. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and Bishop Eddie Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga.

Bishop Jackson was chosen because of his high profile among the religious right. He heads the High Impact Leadership Coalition of conservative black church leaders, instigated the 2005 "Black Contract with America on Moral Values" and co-authored the recent book "Personal Faith, Public Policy."

The Beltsville church hosted Soulforce at a dinner Saturday night, along with a debate in which each side asked the other eight questions. The church posed queries such as "Why do you think gay marriage is sanctioned by God?" and "Why do you think pastors who preach against gay rights are bigots?"

Soulforce questions included "If your child came out to you, how would you want your child to be treated?" and "What programs do you have in place for same-gender-loving couples?"

"We have no programs," Bishop Jackson quickly responded. Rather, they use the services of the ex-gay group Exodus International because homosexuals "need ministry," he said.

That comment did not go over well, judging by the stony looks on the faces of Soulforce attendees.

The bishop acknowledged he was suspicious when Soulforce first wrote him to say they were showing up, uninvited.

"Some of the history of your organization has confrontation with it," he said. "I have been threatened with physical harm by people who are openly gay."

Soulforce representatives got incensed at one question that mentioned survey data on the relative wealth of the gay community and asked why homosexuals "have hijacked the civil rights movement."

Michelle Freeman, a Houston resident attending the dinner with her lesbian lover, informed the group they could not marry, nor get tax breaks, "so in the eyes of the law, we are not equal," she added. Homosexuality "is not a choice, it’s biology. So it’s a civil rights violation."

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.

Reports from the American Family Outing

The American Family Outing

Reports from the American Family Outing

Photos:

Photos from the Saddleback Church visit

Photos from the Willow Creek Community Church visit

Other Sheep’s Photos from the New Birth visit

Photos from the Hope Christian visit

Other Sheep’s Photos from the Hope Christian visit

Photos from the Potter’s House visit

Photos from the Lakewood visit

Email Alerts

Email Alert 6/20/2008
American Family Outing Concludes with Visit to Dr. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church

Email Alert 6/13/2008
American Family Outing visits Bill Hybels & Willow Creek

Email Alert 6/6/2008
Report on the American Family Outing Visit with Bishop Eddie Long

Email Alert 5/30/2008
A Spirit of Integrity and a Gospel of Deception: The Starkly Different Theologies of Bishops T.D. Jakes and Harry Jackson, Jr.

Email Alert 5/22/2008
Bishop T.D. Jakes Agrees to Ongoing Dialogue with LGBT & Straight-Ally Families

Email Alert 5/15/2008
Jay Bakker Meets with Joel Osteen on Mother’s Day

Email Alert 5/9/2008
American Family Outing to Six Mega-Churches Has Begun

Press Releases:

Press Release 6/24/2008
"Gay Days" at the Mega-churches: LGBT Families & Allies Reflect on the American Family Outing

Press Release 6/4/2008
Gay Dads to Celebrate Father’s Day at Saddleback Church

Press Release 6/2/2008
Bishop Long Meets with LGBT Families: A Story of Family Reconciliation

Press Release 5/30/2008
Soulforce Releases Video of Bishop Harry Jackson

Press Release 5/30/2008
New Birth to Meet with LGBT Families

Press Release 5/27/2008
LGBT Families Share Their Witness with Hope Christian, Bishop Jackson

Press Release 5/22/2008
Soulforce Releases Letters to Bishop Jackson, Seeks to Dispel Misinformation

Press Release 5/20/2008
"A Real Exploration of Common Ground": AFO Opens Dialogue with The Potter’s House

Press Release 5/15/2008
LGBT Families to Meet with The Potter’s House

Press Release 5/12/2008
American Family Outing Begins Dialog with Lakewood

Press Release 5/7/2008
LGBT Families to Host Families from Lakewood Church

Press Release 4/24/2008
Soulforce Releases Letter from Bakker to Osteen

Press Release 4/8/2008
American Family Outing Seeks to Dispel Divisive Tactics

Press Release 2/15/2008
Jay Bakker to Join Gay and Transgender Families at Austin Training

Press Release 1/8/2008
LGBT Families Ask Six Mega-Churches "Can We Talk?"

Back to the American Family Outing

Soulforce Releases Letters to Bishop Jackson, Seeks to Dispel Misinformation

******************************************
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: May 22, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org

******************************************

(Thursday, May 22, 2008) Today Soulforce released letters to Bishop Harry Jackson and staff at Hope Christian Church. The letters, which were written on December 1, 2007, and March 20, 2008, invite Bishop Jackson and members of his Maryland church to share a meal and "heart-to-heart" conversations with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) families as part of a nationwide fellowship effort called The American Family Outing.

The letters were released in response to a press release from Jackson’s High Impact Leadership Coalition, which mistakenly suggests that members of Soulforce plan to protest outside Hope Christian Church on Sunday.

"We have had a series of conversations with Bishop Jackson and his staff that would not warrant the tone of their press release," said Dr. Sylvia Rhue, Director of Religious Affairs for the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC).

"As the letters show, The American Family Outing is about conversation between families and civil discourse on common ground," Rhue continued. "The letters document that we have reached out to Hope Christian Church in good faith, and we will continue to do so with integrity."

The American Family Outing is a collaborative project of Soulforce, COLAGE, NBJC, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

In the letter dated March 20, 2008, Soulforce Executive Director Jeff Lutes wrote: "we want to assure you that we intend to engage you in the same way we believe you will seek to engage us – with Christ-like love and respect. We believe Hope Christian Church and our families can model the kind of hospitality and concern for others that is mandated by Scripture and our shared faith values." (Links to full text below.)

Today Lutes indicated that the families of The American Family Outing will attend the planned dinner with Hope Christian Church on Saturday, May 24.

The American Family Outing (AFO) aims to open dialogue between LGBT families and families at six American mega-churches. In previous weeks, AFO families have visited Lakewood Church in Houston and The Potter’s House in Dallas. In weeks to come, LGBT families will visit Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois and Saddleback Church in California.

For more information, go to www.soulforce.org.

To read the full text of the letter dated December 1, 2007, go to: www.soulforce.org/article/1368

To read the full text of the letter dated March 20, 2008, go to: www.soulforce.org/article/1369

Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization dedicated to freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.

The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) is an international fellowship of Christian churches with a ministry to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The National Black Justice Coalition(NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering Black same-gender-loving, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. The Coalition works with our communities and our allies for social justice, equality, and an end to racism and homophobia.

COLAGE is a national movement of children, youth and adults with one or more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer parents. We build community and work toward social justice through youth empowerment, leadership development, education, and advocacy.
###

 

 

Creator’s Syndicate, "A Gay Friendly Message to Mega-churches"

"A Gay Friendly Message to Mega-churches"

by Deb Price

When Michelle Freeman fell in love with a woman 12 years ago, she felt compelled to leave her predominantly African American church.

"The last sermon I heard as a practicing Baptist was very anti-gay," recalls Freeman, 42. "I had internalized homophobia. But when I met Georgia, I wanted us to worship in a place where we could be ourselves."

Her partner, Georgia Chambers, had also grown up in a predominantly African American church with anti-gay messages. The Texas couple transferred their spiritual gifts and needs to the Metropolitan Community Church, a gay-friendly denomination.

Strengthened by their relationship and spiritual growth at MCC, the couple recently decided to join an outreach mission that, between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, will visit six influential mega-churches. "I am taking a stand for the God I love, who I know made us all equal," explains Chambers, 39.

The "American Family Outing" has four sponsors: Soulforce, which adapts the principles of nonviolence honed by Mohandas Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to challenge anti-gay messages in places of worship; the National Black Justice Coalition; MCC; and COLAGE, whose members have gay parents. (To participate, go to soulforce.org.)

The sponsors have asked the six mega-churches to welcome Outing’s gay and gay-friendly families for meals, conversation and worship.

But even if the mega-churches don’t extend the hand of fellowship, they will be visited. Respecting the six mega-churches’ work on such issues as poverty and AIDS, the Outing visitors hope to sow seeds of love and understanding so that, one day, mega-churches will help to end physical and spiritual violence against gays.

The outreach comes at a pivotal moment in the evangelical movement: the passing of the old guard — signaled by the deaths last year of the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. D. James Kennedy — and the rise of a new generation of mega-church leaders, who reach mega-millions through massive worship services, TV and radio shows, books and CDs.
The new generation tends to be less fiercely anti-gay. Their subtle softening of anti-gay rhetoric and shifting of priorities reflects polls showing that evangelicals in the pews care more about issues like health care and the Iraq war than about gay marriage.

Three mega-church preachers to be visited largely avoid gay issues: Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest church in America, Lake Wood Church in Houston; Rick Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California and author of a Christian classic, "The Purpose-Driven Life"; and Bishop T.D. Jakes, the African American senior pastor of The Potter’s House in Texas, who was dubbed "America’s best preacher" by Time magazine.

Two others serve up a more familiar anti-gay message: Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., the African American pastor of Hope Christian Church in Maryland, and Bishop Eddie Long, the African American pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia.

In between is Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois.

Freeman, who plans to visit New Birth and Hope Christian with her partner, wants to worship and talk with families there.

"Our relationships are just as sacred to us as yours," she plans to say. "The only difference, at the end of the day, is instead of a man and a lady, we are two ladies."

Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues. To find out more about Deb Price and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

Dallas Voice, "Dallas Pastor to Meet with LGBT Group"

Dallas Pastor to Meet with LGBT Group

John Wright

Soulforce representatives to attend Potters House services on Sunday, attend meeting afterwards

Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potters House in Dallas reportedly has agreed to meet with local LGBT families and representatives from the national gay rights group Soulforce on Sunday, May 18.

Paige Schilt, a spokeswoman for Soulforce, said this week that a contingent of 50 people plan to attend services at the Potters House on Sunday. Following the services, Jakes, staff members and congregants from the Potters House have agreed to meet with them, Schilt said.

Representatives from the Potters House didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

The Potters House, which has upward of 30,000 members, is one of six megachurches Soulforce plans to visit this year in an effort to initiate a dialogue with prominent Christian evangelists on LGBT issues.

"The idea is that we feel called to love each other across differences, and we feel that not knowing each other breeds fear on both sides, so this is just an opportunity to get to know one another as families, as people of faith, and to get beyond the divisiveness," Schilt said. "We’re not saying you need to change what you believe. We’re saying get to know us and our families, and let’s see how that changes the conversation."

Last week, Soulforce visited Lakewood Church in Houston to meet with Pastor Joel Osteen. Osteen initially ignored the group’s request, but he later agreed to meet with Jay Bakker, the son of the late Tammye Faye Bakker Messner, who led the visit on behalf of Soulforce.

Schilt said the visit to the Potters House will be led by the Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell, a 74-year-old retired black minister who’s a veteran of the civil rights movement. Caldwell participated in the "Mississippi Freedom Summer" of 1964, the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965 and the March on Washington.

In an interview with Dallas Voice, Gill said although he and Jakes are apparently at "different places" on LGBT issues, he’s a fan of Jakes’ preaching.

“He’s an important force within the church community," Caldwell said. "What a magnificent ministry it would be if Bishop Jakes could help the black church and other churches deal with the heterosexism, the homophobia, the kind of anti-gay feelings that seem to be endemic. What a shaker and mover he could be if he dared step out on faith on this."

Although he’s been largely silent on LGBT issues, Jakes once called being gay a "brokenness" and has said that he wouldn’t hire an openly gay person.

Caldwell said he believes many blacks feel threatened by the gay rights movement.

"There’s this great concern that another group is sort of piggybacking on the [civil rights] movement when in fact we are still struggling in terms of black equality," Caldwell said. "If in fact the gay community could express some real overt understanding of the racial struggle, that in fact could open the door for conversation vis-塚ィヘ -vis gay rights."

Also on hand for the visit to the Potters House will be Sylvia Rhue, director of religious affairs for the National Black Justice Coalition, an LGBT group. The visit is being facilitated by Living Faith Covenant Church, an LGBT-affirming black church in Dallas.

In addition to Lakewood Church and the Potters House, Soulforce plans to visit Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md.; New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga.; Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill.; and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.

Schilt said pastors at all but one of the churches have agreed to meet with Soulforce.

"We’re feeling very happy with the interest and the positive response that we’ve gotten from these congregations," Schilt said.

In addition to Soulforce, the visits are being organized by the National Black Justice Coalition, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches and COLAGE, a group for children with LGBT parents.

E-mail wright@dallasvoice.com

塚蔘_妺見 Copyright by DallasVoice.com

LGBT Families to Meet with The Potter’s House

******************************************
SOULFORCE MEDIA ADVISORY: May 15, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org

******************************************

(Dallas, TX) This Sunday, May 18, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and straight-ally families will attend worship and meet with staff and families from The Potter’s House, a 35,000-member multiracial, nondenominational megachurch in Dallas, Texas. Lead by Bishop T.D. Jakes, The Potter’s House is nationally recognized for its advocacy on social issues such as domestic violence, poverty, and HIV/AIDS.

The visit is part of a nationwide fellowship effort called The American Family Outing, which aims to create dialogue between LGBT families and families at six American mega-churches. Last week, LGBT and straight-ally families attended Lakewood Church in Houston and had an opportunity to speak with Rev. Joel Osteen. In the weeks to come, the families of The American Family Outing will meet with Hope Christian Church in Maryland and Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois.

"Meetings like this are important because they create an opportunity for us to discuss our differences, see the ways that we are the same, and break down the barriers in the body of Christ" says Elder Deneen Robinson of Living Faith Covenant Church in Dallas. Robinson, a mother of two young adult daughters, is one of the family members who will participate in Sunday’s visit.

"If I don’t know you, I can ignore you or write you off. This is a chance to be known," Robinson continues.

The American Family Outing is a collaborative project of Soulforce, COLAGE, National Black Justice Coalition, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

"We are very pleased that The Potter’s House has agreed to be part of this dialogue and to match our families with families from their congregation for fellowship and conversation," says Soulforce Executive Director Jeff Lutes.

Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.

The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) is an international fellowship of Christian churches with a special ministry to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The National Black Justice Coalition(NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering Black same-gender-loving, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. The Coalition works with our communities and our allies for social justice, equality, and an end to racism and homophobia.

COLAGE is a national movement of children, youth and adults with one or more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer parents. We build community and work toward social justice through youth empowerment, leadership development, education, and advocacy.

###

 

Houston Chronicle, "Jay Bakker, Son of Tammy Faye, Finally Gets Meeting with Osteen"

Jay Bakker, son of Tammy Faye, finally gets meeting with Osteen

American Family Outing Begins Dialog with Lakewood

Research shows the impact when Houstonians know gays and lesbians

******************************************
SOULFORCE MEDIA ADVISORY: May 12, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
******************************************

(Houston, TX) — On Mother’s Day, Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, brought a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) families to worship at Lakewood Church — the largest mega-church in the U.S. After the service, Bakker met privately with Lakewood’s pastor, Joel Osteen, to talk about faith, family, and LGBT people.

The visit is part of a nationwide fellowship effort called The American Family Outing, which aims to create dialogue between LGBT families and families at six American mega-churches. Several prominent mega-churches, including Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, and Hope Christian Church in Maryland, have agreed to meet lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families.

Earlier in the week, Lakewood officials had expressed an unwillingness to meet with Bakker and The American Family Outing. A tip from a Lakewood Church member led Bakker to seek out Osteen after the Saturday evening service, during the time when the pastor greets new visitors to Lakewood. The two exchanged remembrances of Bakker’s late mother, Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, and arranged to meet privately the next day.

Bakker’s conversation with Osteen came just a day after The American Family Outing hosted a picnic in a Houston park for families from Lakewood Church. A handful of Lakewood members attended the picnic and expressed their appreciation for the effort to start an open conversation about the status of LGBT people at Lakewood.

Opportunities to connect one-on-one and family-to-family are the goal of the American Family Outing, which was created in the belief that it is possible for families to have meaningful conversations in spite of perceived differences.

In Houston, Rice University Professor Stephen L. Klineberg’s data can confirm the impact of simply getting to know someone who is gay or lesbian:

"One of the most powerful predictors of area residents’ attitudes toward gay rights, as powerful among religious fundamentalists as it is for the more secular respondents, is the simple question, ‘Do you have a personal friend who is gay or lesbian?’

"It seems clear that the opportunity to get to know someone who is homosexual helps to break through the stereotypes and fears, and to reinforce the sense of common humanity," says Klineberg, who is a Professor of Sociology and the founding-director of the Houston Area Survey (1982-2008), which has tracked Houston’s demographics and public attitudes for the past 27 years.

"Support for gay rights (e.g., allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, or to teach in the public schools, or to be legally permitted to adopt children) has continued to increase steadily and consistently among Harris County residents over the past two decades," Klineberg continued.

The American Family Outing is a collaboration between Soulforce, COLAGE, National Black Justice Coalition, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.

The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) is an international fellowship of Christian churches with a special ministry to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The National Black Justice Coalition(NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering Black same-gender-loving, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. The Coalition works with our communities and our allies for social justice, equality, and an end to racism and homophobia.

COLAGE is a national movement of children, youth and adults with one or more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer parents. We build community and work toward social justice through youth empowerment, leadership development, education, and advocacy.

###

San Antonio Express News, "Gay Couple Looks for Welcoming Church"

Gay couple looks for welcoming church

Jeorge Zarazua

Publication Date : May 11, 2008

San Antonio mom Della Nagle thought it would be a simple task: Go to some of the nation’s largest churches, visit with members and prove to them that she and her wife – yes, wife – can be part of a Christian family, too. But with the first church visit scheduled today in Houston, Nagle and her lesbian partner, Ruth Pinkham, whom she married in Canada, are facing a rude awakening.

Of the six mega-churches contacted to participate in the nationwide crusade, the American Family Outing, only two have agreed. The first church they are to visit, Lakewood Church of Houston, ignored its repeated requests until last week, when a spokesman said the church couldn’t accommodate the group. "We just don’t really have the staff," said Don Iloff, who said five or six other groups already are scheduled to visit the church this weekend.

The American Family Outing was to kick off its campaign at Lakewood today to coincide with Mother’s Day. The movement was to continue until Father’s Day, with gay families and their clergy supporters visiting megachurches throughout the country from California to Maryland to promote "meaningful dialogue" about homosexuality and Christianity.

Jeff Lutes, executive director of Soulforce, the Austin-based civil rights and social organization spearheading the outing, said the group was essentially asking churches: Can you show hospitality to strangers with whom you disagree?

"Having a meal and talking with us does not mean that you support our beliefs," he said. "It’s simply people coming together and bridging a divide. We’re just hoping that somehow, someway we can get a little bit past the divisiveness around this issue."

But just getting a chance to talk has proven difficult. The effort has been assailed on the Internet and has provoked the Family Research Council, a conservative group that opposes gay marriage, to launch a crusade of its own, asking supporters to form "Church Crisis Response Teams." "Pray these churches will be girded up, each member protected from unclean spirits and false doctrine," states a council-written prayer. "May God give their leaders wisdom to instruct them how to deal with these sadly deceived people who propagate sin and deception!"

Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council, called the effort a mere publicity stunt, adding he doesn’t see the purpose of such dialogues when the differences are irreconcilable. Sprigg also criticized the campaign’s self-proclaimed goal of dispelling "divisive tactics." "It seems to me in this case they’re the ones trying to create division," he said. "They’re the ones that are being very confrontational, and I think it’s unfortunate that they’re the ones who are bringing this confrontation into the sanctuary of churches."

The reaction has floored the San Antonio couple, both schoolteachers in Northside Independent School District and parents of eight children, four of whom continue to live with them at their Northwest Side home. "I’m just awestruck," Nagle said. "The way it was explained to us is we want them to see we don’t have three heads and horns. We’re just normal people. We get up every morning and take our kids to school, and work and come home and take them to church and do all the things we’re supposed to as parents to help them be raised right."

Pastor Jay Bakker, son of Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Bakker-Messner, is the clergy supporter helping gay families try to reach out to Lakewood Church. Bakker said he’s somewhat shocked Lakewood hasn’t agreed to participate, especially because its pastor, Joel Osteen, preaches about inclusion when it comes to other social matters.

"How can we make any change if we’re not even sitting down and talking?" he asked.

But Lakewood spokesman Iloff said the church doesn’t have the necessary staff to arrange dinners between members of its congregation and visitors. Iloff also said he was unclear as to what Soulforce meant by "meaningful dialogue," and he expressed concern that the organization was trying to politicize the issue. He did, however, say Lakewood welcomes all visitors. "It doesn’t matter who they are," Iloff said. "They’re more than welcome to come worship with us."

The two churches that have agreed to participate in the American Family Outing said they don’t see anything wrong with meeting with gay families and sharing meals with them.

"I think we’re OK with having a discussion with an organization no matter who the organization is, regardless of their position," said Ron Ercoli, staff psychologist at Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago. "It’s simply having a dialogue."

Bishop Harry Jackson Jr. of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., said while he’s against same-sex marriage, he is respectful of gay people. "I’m not surprised that many of the churches are shrinking away from this, because it is controversial and it is volatile," Jackson said.

Lutes said a third church, the Potter’s House of Dallas, also agreed to participate, but Ann Fields, a spokeswoman for the church, said she couldn’t confirm that and declined further comment. And, Lutes said, there’s ongoing discussions with a fourth church, Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. The fifth, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, near Atlanta hasn’t responded to the group’s request.

Nagle and Pinkham both said even if Lakewood doesn’t participate, they still plan to attend worship services at the church this weekend with their children. "I don’t think God will give us more than we can handle," Pinkham said. "So, wherever we go, whatever we do, I believe we will be in God’s protection."