The National Executive of the Assemblies of God (AOG) has agreed to discuss homosexuality with Anthony Venn-Brown, the first openly gay member of the Australian Pentecostal church.

This unprecedented meeting could be a positive step forward for church relations with the gay and lesbian community. The AOG is the largest Pentecostal denomination in Australia containing a number of mega churches, including the high-profile Hillsong in Sydney.

The current belief within the AOG is that homosexuality is a sin, and it is impossible to be both homosexual and a Christian. Homosexuality is considered a lifestyle choice or the result of a dysfunctional childhood.

It is my aim through intelligent and respectful dialogue to change the misconceptions within the AOG regarding homosexuality. Whilst it’s rare to hear gays or lesbians castigated from the pulpit, I am challenging the traditional church doctrines, Venn-Brown said.

Venn-Brown is a former leader with the Assemblies of God who resigned very publicly in 1992. He has subsequently written his autobiography, A Life of Unlearning, detailing his 22 years living a closeted life within the Pentecostal church.

Brian Houston, National President of the AOG and senior pastor of Hillsong, commented to Venn-Brown upon accepting the invitation: I’m sure you are aware that we are still a long way apart philosophically, but we will give you a fair hearing.

Venn-Brown believes this dialogue demonstrates that views are slowly changing.

Such an invitation would not have happened 10 years ago, he said.

He hopes the meeting will lead to the establishment of a committee consisting of some executive members of the AOG, a psychologist, a theologian and himself.

I believe it will be important for the committee to look at sexual orientation from a scientific, psychological as well as a theological basis. I hope to discuss the six verses from Leviticus, Romans and Corinthians which are most commonly used to justify an anti-homosexual stance, Venn-Brown said.

These verses have an historical and cultural context that needs to be explored. Also the translation from the original ancient languages can lead to misinterpretation.

I believe understanding and acceptance of homosexuality within the AOG will take some time. We’ll know the journey is over when an openly gay man or lesbian is ordained, he said.

But Mr Houston and the AOG should be commended for accepting my invitation to meet when other denominations such as the Catholic Church have completely closed the door to any discussion, Venn-Brown said.

Other local religious groups are also involved in dialogue with gay and lesbian members.

Rabbis from Reform synagogues meet twice a year to discuss Jewish policy. These rabbis have been discussing gay and lesbian issues throughout the past decade.

The Sydney Jewish gay and lesbian support group, Dayenu made a presentation to the rabbis in 2000 to open a debate on same-sex marriage. Judy Kell, one of the presenters, said the rabbis felt the members needed further education before the Jewish community would accept same-sex ceremonies.

Members of Dayenu believe the rabbis may soon agree to same-sex unions. The next meeting is scheduled for November this year.

Rabbi Fred Morgan of Melbourne’s Temple Beth Israel told the Star he was committed to the dialogue.

We are committed to further study and learning in this area [same-sex marriage], and we regularly revisit the issue at our biannual meetings, he said.

Although the Roman Catholic Church is known for its outspoken views on homosexuality, the United Ecumenical Catholic Church (ECC) is a contemporary Catholic church supporting the gay and lesbian community.

We worship in the same fashion as Rome, without the restrictions that come from Rome, EEC Archbishop Ron Langham said.

There is, however, no dialogue between the ECC and traditional Catholic leaders.

We are not interested in getting into a bun fight with other churches over their beliefs. We respect other’s rights to believe, Bishop Langham said.

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