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Gays Protest at Methodist Meeting

CLEVELAND (AP) — Police arrested nearly 200 gay rights demonstrators outside the United Methodist Church's General Conference today, one day before church leaders were expected to reaffirm their opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriages.

Activists had called for a nonviolent protest.

``We're doing it for justice,'' said Ann Rudrauff, a Baptist from Columbus, just before she was arrested. She said it is time for all faiths to welcome gay members.

Inside the convention hall, about 100 pro-gay demonstrators briefly interrupted an ecumenical worship service with chants of ``extend the table!''

After the chants and a song, they sat down and the service continued. The sermon by Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey made only passing reference to debate among Methodists and his fellow 70 million Anglicans on ``issues to do with personal freedom and its limits'' such as homosexuality and abortion.

By midmorning, about 188 demonstrators who had blocked a driveway to the convention hall had been arrested — not handcuffed but simply told they were under arrest and ordered to follow officers.

Protesters said one of those arrested was Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, India's independence leader. Gandhi said Tuesday he had put aside anti-gay prejudice.

Also arrested was the Rev. Dick Tholin, dean emeritus and a senior scholar at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary at Northwestern University.

Demonstrators were charged with aggravated disorderly conduct, police Commander James Davidson said. The charge carries a maximum $150 fine and 30-day jail sentence, but Davidson said none of the protesters was expected to spend any time behind bars.

A handful of anti-gay protesters shouted insults at the protesters. ``We're opposed to perverts acting like sodomy is a civil right,'' said Chuck Spingola of Newark, an evangelist minister.

Soulforce, a gay-straight coalition from several denominations, had trained more than 400 people in nonviolence techniques Tuesday night.

The General Conference is the chief policy-setting body for the United Methodist Church, which is the nation's third-largest denomination, with 8.4 million U.S. members and 1.2 million overseas. It meets every four years.

Today's demonstration was timed to coincide with the worship service by Carey, the world leader of Anglican Christians. He and most other Anglican bishops oppose same-sex behavior.

On Tuesday, a conference panel voted 77-32 to fight a late-term procedure opponents call ``partial-birth'' abortion. The United Methodist Church is considered the nation's largest religious body that favors abortion rights. The issue still must be voted on by the full conference, which meets through Friday.

Also today, Methodist delegates approved a new policy statement declaring Mormons are outside the Christian tradition. As a result, Mormons who become Methodists should be treated as converts from another faith and be re-baptized, the policy said.

The policy, which passed without floor discussion, said Mormonism has ``some radically differing doctrine on such matters of belief as the nature and being of God; the nature, origin, and purpose of Jesus Christ; and the nature and way of salvation.''

In a prepared official response, the Mormon church stated that such an assertion ``demonstrates a lack of knowledge of Latter-day Saint doctrine and teachings.''

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Southern Baptist Convention have issued similar assessments of Mormon doctrine.


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