July 28, 1999

Allen tells gay church
of his family's AIDS struggle

___By Bob Allen
___Associated Baptist Press
___LOS ANGELES (ABP)-- Former Southern Baptist Convention President Jimmy Allen called for dialogue that reaches across differences at an international convention of the world's largest homosexual church.
FORMER SBC PRESIDENT JIMMY ALLEN spoke to a convention of the world's largest homosexual church about his family's struggle with the AIDS virus.
___"We've been talking past each other, and it's time for us to talk to each other," Allen told 1,500 members of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches July 16 in Los Angeles.
___Allen, 71, said he was willing to speak to the group because of his family's struggle with AIDS. One of his sons, Skip, is gay and HIV-positive. The wife of another son, Scott, got the HIV virus from a blood transfusion and passed it on to her two sons. All three died from AIDS.
___When they turned to the church for help, they found rejection. Allen told the story in a 1995 book, "Burden of a Secret."
___When Scott Allen learned in 1985 that his wife and sons were infected, he went to the pastor of the Disciples of Christ church in Colorado where he worked as a staff member. He was fired on the spot. Later, as the family sought to place their boys in Sunday school, church after church turned them away.
___"I found out something about perfect love that casts out fear," Allen told the church gathering. "In our case, fear cast out perfect love."
___"We all felt the shaft of pain to be untouchable. Nobody should be untouchable," he said in a line that brought the crowd to its feet.
___Allen made it clear to his audience that he disagreed with them in that he believes homosexual acts are contrary to the Bible.
___In a telephone interview from his home in Big Canoe, Ga., Allen said he felt like God led him to accept the invitation to speak to the largely homosexual group.
___"I really went because I needed to say to them that parents who didn't agree with them could still love them," Allen told Associated Baptist Press. "So many of them are estranged and hurt."
___Ian Taylor, media coordinator for the convention, said Allen's speech had a "phenomenal impact" on the gathering. He said Allen received 12 standing ovations during the message.
___Despite his warm reception, Allen's invitation caused some controversy.
___Metropolitan Community Church founder and moderator Troy Perry, a former Southern Baptist pastor, told the Los Angeles Times about 20 percent of his church's members came from Baptist churches where they felt unwelcome because of their sexual orientation.
___But Perry defended the decision to invite Allen, whom he met last year at an AIDS awareness conference.
___"After 30 years, if we're not mature enough to hear from someone who disagrees with us theologically, then there's something wrong with us," Perry said.
___The newspaper also quoted an unnamed Southern Baptist Convention spokesman in Nashville, Tenn., as saying that Allen's appearance might cause some Baptists to worry he may be "forwarding the agenda" of the predominantly gay and lesbian denomination.
___Allen told ABP he was not overly concerned about his decision to speak to the group being criticized or misunderstood.
___He said he is not involved in advancing any agenda of the Metropolitan Community Church, which claims 42,000 members in 15 countries.
___Still, news reports called Allen's appearance a watershed in lesbian and gay churches' efforts to win acceptance among mainline Christians.
___Also attending the conference was John Thomas, the incoming president of the United Church of Christ, a liberal Protestant group that ordains homosexuals and approves of blessing same-sex unions.
___Allen, who has spoken on the subject many times since writing "Burden of a Secret," said the change in churches' attitudes about AIDS "has been significant" and "in some places, it's been very encouraging."
___More than 2,500 churches and religious organizations have begun working in AIDS ministries in the four years since the book's release, Allen said.
___"Every church which rejected us is now in an active AIDS ministry, including the Disciples church that fired Scott," Allen said.
___He said he and his son returned to lead an AIDS workshop at the church three years ago, which helped heal hurt feelings.
___"We've had a climate change," he said, "partly because of better information, partly because of the call to compassion."
___However, he said, there remains in many churches "a vast indifference and inattention" to the needs of people suffering from AIDS.
___ "We also have a false assumption that the epidemic is over, because we've found some medications that can keep people alive a little longer. It's a mixed report," he said.
___"We have more people getting into caring ministries in churches than ever before. On the other hand, we've had a studied avoidance of the challenge by so many congregations."
___Allen is chaplain for a mountain resort community in Georgia. He is retired president of the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission and a former Texas pastor.
___ He was SBC president in 1978-79 and was also active in forming the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an organization of moderate Southern Baptists, in 1991.

Contents/ Masthead / Why We're Here / Links / Archive / E-mail us/ SUBSCRIBE!