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During annual conference season, hundreds of United Methodist clergy around the United States expressed their willingness to defy the denomination’s ban on officiating at same-sex unions. Organizers say at least 900 active and retired United Methodist clergy have signed on to blessing such unions. That’s about 2 percent out of the nearly 44,400 United Methodist clergy in the United States. However, the raw numbers do not convey the full scope of support in some conferences. In Northern Illinois, for example, nearly a third of the conference’s clergy — 212 of 696 — signed the statement. Longtime church observers say the number of clergy who indicate they are willing to bless same-sex unions regardless of church law is a new turn in what has been a longstanding church debate. The topic of homosexuality routinely surfaces at annual conference sessions the year before General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body. Since 1972, delegates to the gathering consistently have voted to keep the language identifying the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The public stand by the clergy this year came first in the Minnesota Annual (regional) Conference, where 70 clergy signed a statement saying they would “offer the grace of the Church’s blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage,” including same-sex couples. Similar statements were signed by clergy in at least four other conferences including the New England, Northern Illinois, Oregon-Idaho and Tennessee conferences. The unofficial caucus Methodists in New Directions is gathering signatures in the New York Conference for “A Covenant of Conscience” that declares signers will make marriage available “on an equal basis.” That effort has gathered signatures from 150 clergy and 619 lay people so far and is continuing until the group’s marriage initiative officially launches Oct. 17. “Signed statements like what happened in Minnesota do seem to be a departure from bringing in resolutions seeking change or resolutions urging that everything stay the same,” said the Rev. Robert J. Williams, the chief executive at the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History. He pointed out that the clergy are saying they will participate in the church version of civil disobedience, or as he called it, “ecclesiastical disobedience.” via More clergy offer to bless same-sex unions | Church Executive. Thoughts? Todd

Mike Bickle, leader of the International House of Prayer (IHOP), has said that 57-year-old former talk show host Oprah Winfrey is “the antichrist.” Bickle has received criticism and backlash for his statements in a film released by People for the American Way Right Wing Watch which was aired on God TV. He stated, “I believe that one of the main pastors, as a forerunner to the Harlot movement, it’s not the Harlot movement yet, is Oprah.” The evangelical pastor continued, “She is winsome, she is kind, she is reasonable, she is utterly deceived, utterly deceived… “ The “Harlot movement” Bickle speaks of includes doing good deeds “for all the wrong reasons.” He called Winfrey “a classy woman, a cool woman, but has a spirit of deception and she is one of the clear pastors, forerunners to the Harlot movement.” via Oprah Winfrey Called ‘Antichrist’ by Christian Evangelical, Christian News.

Current Events
One of Henderson’s largest churches filed for bankruptcy protection last week after deciding to stop making mortgage payments on its main campus. According to court documents, the Board of Directors at the Church at South Las Vegas determined that the donations received from church members would be better spent on expanding the church and other pursuits than on making payments on its existing building and land, which are significantly upside down. The first hearing for the bankruptcy petition was scheduled to take place this morning in the Nevada District of U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Church board members decided to stop making the monthly mortgage payment of about $52,000 in May, after an appraisal of the church’s main campus in the Seven Hills neighborhood, at 3051 W. Horizon Ridge Pkwy., placed its value at $2.4 million. The church owes about $7.6 million, according to court documents. “Given the vast differences between the outstanding principal balance of the note and the present value of the Seven Hills Campus and the source of funding as voluntary donations of church members, it is simply impossible for the church to continue to sustain the monthly note payments,” the church’s chief financial officer, Deborah Whittington, said in a court declaration. Whittington said the church has taken in a monthly average of more than $356,000 in member donations during the first six months of 2011, but spends $321,000 per month on payroll and other expenses, leaving only $32,000 for the $52,000 mortgage payment. Whittington said church officials attempted to restructure the loan with First Bank, but have been unable to do so. First Bank filed a suit to initiate foreclosure proceedings against the church in June. In its filings, the church reported $963,000 in the bank, but of that, almost $647,000 were member donations designated for church expansion, and the rest is committed to church operations, the day care and next year’s Easter service. The church claims 4,000 members, with average weekly attendance of about 3,500 between the Seven Hills location and a satellite campus that operates in space leased from Foothill High School on College Drive and U.S. 95. via Church Seeks Bankruptcy Protection.

Oral Roberts’ gay grandson Randy Roberts Potts says he has been shocked on occasion by how his family has treated him, but that has just inspired him to help other young gay people deal with their own issues of sexuality and religion. Potts will talk about growing up gay in an evangelical world Sunday at All Souls Unitarian Church. It is the first time he has told his story publicly in Tulsa. Potts was born in Tulsa, spent his first nine years in Colorado, and then lived in the Roberts family compound just north of Oral Roberts University until he graduated in 1992 from Jenks High School, where he was a junior varsity football player and a class president. “I lived on the compound about 20 yards down the hill from Oral and saw him often, but we were not close,” Potts said in a telephone interview this week from Dallas, where he lives. “I was always told he was busy.” But he was extremely close to his grandmother, Evelyn Roberts, whom he visited nearly every day. At age 20, Potts married a woman he met at the University of Oklahoma. After graduating from OU in 1996, he taught English for five years. Potts said he was aware of having same-sex attractions as a child, but he didn’t know what they meant. When he was 18, he told close friends, and later his fiancee, that he was bisexual. “This was my way of admitting my attraction but also trying to be more ‘normal,’ ” he said. He and his wife “spent a few years trying to figure out what that would mean for our marriage. … We fought for the last five years,” he said. “It was an unhealthy relationship.” At age 27, Potts said, he began to identify as gay with a counselor and with himself. “I told my wife a few years later that I had to leave, and we were divorced legally in June of 2006,” he said. “I have been openly gay ever since.” They have joint custody of their three children, ages 8, 10 and 12. Potts remains estranged from his parents, Ron and Roberta Potts. His father was an ORU basketball player, and his mother is a Tulsa attorney and ORU board member. “My parents and I stopped speaking in 2003,” he said. Roberta Potts said she learned from her daughter-in-law that her son was gay. “Randy has never discussed it with us,” she said. “We have tried to contact him, and he won’t contact us.” The family division runs deep. via Oral Roberts’ gay grandson to discuss experience of coming out | Tulsa World.