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AME Church undecided on gay rights

The African Methodist Episcopal Church has yet to hammer out a unified position on a proposal to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Signs of division emerged with a statement purporting to be the church’s official position on May 17.

A bill amending the Human Rights Act, including the so-called two words amendment, was tabled in Parliament that same day.

That statement which opposed the sexual orientation amendment was contradicted by Rev Nicholas Tweed of St Paul’s AME Church, who gave a sermon two days later supporting the measure.

It later emerged that the May 17 statement was unauthorised and did not in fact represent the church’s official position.

The Royal Gazette contacted pastors of the 11-church denomination in a bid to determine whether an official position had been crafted.

Rev Jahkimmo Franklyn Smith, of Mount Zion in Southampton, said he had been pushing for a meeting since learning of the May 17 statement.

“I do have a position. However, we have to meet so we can put out an official statement as to where we stand. So I would not want to give a personal view without us putting out a position as a denomination,” he said.

The May 17 statement was issued by Rev Joyce Hayward and her husband Rev Gilbert Hayward, both Associate Ministers with Richard Allen in St George’s, and sent to the media by Rev Lorne Bean of Bethel AME in Flatts.

We received no response to phone calls to the Haywards over the last two weeks. Rev Simmons, the pastor for that church, would not comment when contacted, referring us instead to Presiding Elder Rev Betty Furbert-Woolridge.

Rev Furbert-Woolridge also declined comment.

Rev Franklyn Smith said: “I would disagree with the initial statement that was put out. I would absolutely disagree with that statement. If you look at our history you could probably read between the lines as to where our church would stand as it relates to discrimination in a broad sense.”

He continued: “I would say our church has always fought against discrimination and for rights in general. Not necessarily just race. But we feel that equal rights doesn’t just benefit black people. It benefits all people. It’s not a black thing.

“We may disagree on specific issues but we feel everybody should have a seat at the table.

“I do not think that initial statement reflects the legacy of the church.”

The church articulates its position on social policy issues at a conference every four years.

Its annual conference in 2011 noted that “sexual orientation is anticipated to once again become a topic of debate in the House of Assembly” and affirmed “the God-given worth of every person while remaining totally opposed to any changes of legislation, forms of entertainment and activity (including substance, sexual and spousal abuse) that further undermines the traditional family structure and eventually Bermuda society as a whole”, according to a column in this newspaper.

The May 17 statement also makes reference to the “traditional family structure” after stating that “the AME Church opposes the Human Rights Act amendment to include sexual orientation as a protected class”.

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Published May 29, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 28, 2013 at 10:54 pm)

AME Church undecided on gay rights

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