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Churches affirm ‘openness’ for gays

Two Bainbridge Island churches voted overwhelmingly Sunday to extend formal welcomes to sexual minorities, including homosexual, bisexual and trans-gendered persons.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bainbridge Island and North Kitsap voted 66-2 to become a “Welcoming Congregation.” Parishioners at Eagle Harbor Congregational Church voted 83-5 to declare it an “Open and Affirming” church.

Though the phrases my differ, the meanings of the designations are similar – the churches declare themselves accepting of sexual minorities as both parishioners and clergy.

“This is not a reaction to anything that has happened at our church,” said UU consulting minister Rick Koyle. “But it is in reaction to how organized religion has treated sexual minorities in the past.”

Rev. Dee Eisenhauer at Eagle Harbor said the vote is intended to send an external message.

“We hope the wider community will know that this is a safe place for sexual minorities,” she said.

“Most of our members would have said months ago that the church is a safe place, but we had to go through the process of debate and decide by a vote.”

The fact that the votes were taken on the same day was coincidental, the ministers said. Both congregations began the process roughly a year ago, and only later discovered that both were doing the same thing.

At the Unitarian church, the vote came after a series of 10 workshops aimed at educating the members on the experience of those with different sexual orientations.

Eagle Harbor conducted several Bible study sessions dealing with issue, according to Ellen Fisher, one of the co-chairs of the committee that supported the measure.

“I feel that was very helpful,” Fisher said.

According to Eisenhauer, the United Church of Christ, with which Eagle Harbor affiliates, “takes the Bible seriously but not literally.” The prohibitions against homosexuality, particularly in the Old Testament, need to be viewed in context, she said.

“We put those statements alongside many other prohibitions that we no longer adhere to today and see that they are cultural and time-bound. We are guided by the broader themes of love and forgiveness, rather than by the minutiae of specific prohibitions.”

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