Gay Jewish group blasts honor for anti-gay pastor

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A gay Jewish group is blasting the decision of the Jewish National Fund to honor the anti-gay pastor of an Atlanta megachurch who has called AIDS God's punishment for homosexuality.

Charles Stanley, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Dunwoody and founder of In Touch Ministries, has a long history of anti-gay statements and opposes gay marriage nevermind his own controversial divorce. But the Atlanta chapter of the Jewish National Fund is scheduled to honor Stanley on Thursday with its Tree of Life Award. That has angered members of Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender & Sexual Diversity, which has pushed JNF to reconsider its decision with behind-the-scenes lobbying and now a public effort calling attention to Stanley's anti-gay statements. 

Dr. Stanley has a sordid history of virulent homophobic statements and actions. He has publicly called AIDS God’s punishment for America’s acceptance of homosexuality and called homosexuality “destructive behavior.” He has incorrectly claimed that being gay is a choice and stated that “medical research has proven, absolutely unquestionably, that the person can be free from homosexuality if they want to.” He has said that “God does not agree with the lifestyle of the homosexual” and that accepting gay people is “an act of disobedience to God.” And at one time, acting on his convictions, Dr. Stanley hired armed guards on horseback to roam the streets in order to keep gay pride marchers away from his church and distant from his congregants.

Dr. Stanley is an offensive and unsuitable choice for the Tree of Life Award. While his views as a Christian pastor on Israel may be in line with those of the Jewish National Fund, his views on homosexuality and the place of non-Christians in the world are simply incompatible with Jewish ethics and values, and are at odds with Israel’s outstanding record of progressive inclusion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community within its own borders. Choosing Dr. Stanley as your honoree sends the message to Atlanta’s LGBT and ally community that we are not welcome as supporters of JNF. It is simply impossible to separate Dr. Stanley’s long standing, vehement, and dangerous anti-LGBT practices from his pro-Israel advocacy. 

SOJOURN has also asked supporters to sign on to its community letter opposing Stanley's honor.

But the Jewish National Fund has brushed off the criticism.

From the AJC:

National spokesman Adam Brill said while the organization respects everyone’s opinion, “we stand by our decision. Our honoree represents one of the largest Christian communities in the South which has always supported the Jewish people in times of peace and conflict.”

“In fact, last summer, in the heat of war during Operation Protective Edge, when few would travel to Israel, hundreds of congregants from the First Baptist Church Atlanta went to stand united with the people of Israel,” Brill said. “For such heroic actions, we honor this esteemed community, our neighbors in love. One of the core tenets of our wonderful democracy is the Bill of Rights, which grants Americans the ability to freely speak, worship and assemble as they choose.”

The effort calling attention to Stanley's anti-gay history has prompted a handful of clergy members to say they will skip the event, including two rabbis from the Temple in Midtown where Thursday's breakfast is being held. 

From the Atlanta Jewish Times:

Senior Rabbi Peter Berg and Temple President Jonathan Amsler issued a statement explaining the decision to stay away from an event inside their building: “The Temple is renting our social hall space to the Jewish National Fund as we have done with them and so many other organizations over the years. Recognizing the good work that JNF does for the State of Israel, The Temple remains a strong supporter of the Jewish National Fund. As inscribed over our doorway, The Temple is a house of prayer for all people and we will continue to work diligently for the inclusion of all including the rights of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.”

Rabbi Brad Levenberg also notified JNF Regional Director Beth Gluck that Temple Sinai’s clergy will not be at the breakfast.

In January, Berg was among a diverse group of faith leaders who blasted a “religious freedom” bill as an attempt to provide cover for anti-gay discrimination.

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