Leaders of the National Gay Pentecostal Alliance (NGPA) have planted churches in the United States by teaching that homosexuality is not a sin, and leaders of the group insist that Bible verses condemning same-sex relationships have been misinterpreted for centuries.
Meanwhile, leaders of ex-gay ministries have refuted the NGPA's theology as a dangerous delusion. The NGPA's members say they experience the same lively worship and spiritual gifts enjoyed in traditional Pentecostal denominations. There is one major difference, however--their churches are made up of, though not limited to, gay men and women.
The NGPA has grown in nine states and eight countries by preaching a doctrine of acceptance for all people regardless of sexual orientation--much to the chagrin of mainstream Pentecostals. While the NGPA openly promotes its so-called Bible-based pro-homosexuality views, its leaders wouldn't release membership statistics to Charisma.
"In reading the Scriptures in Hebrew and Greek, we do not find any condemnation of homosexuality whatsoever," said William H. Carey, co-founder of the NGPA. "In the Hebrew Old Testament, we find the record of two homosexual marriages. We find no evidence connecting Sodom and Gomorrah to homosexuality."
Carey also believes there have been deliberate misinterpretations of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, passages that condemn immoral behavior. "In the Hebrew, it simply states that two men cannot lie down for any purpose in a woman's bed," Carey told Charisma.
Joe Dallas, past president of Exodus International--an evangelical ministry to homosexuals--warns that Carey's arguments are deceptive. In his 1996 book, "A Strong Delusion: Confronting the 'Gay Christian' Movement," he says God isn't going to change His moral standards to accommodate someone else's.
"Please don't decide something is right just because it's hard to get over," Dallas writes. "That's tampering with the Word of God."
The NGPA also dismisses other biblical passages that mention homosexuality. "We find that 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 have been mistranslated, and Romans 1:26-27, while not mistranslated, are being completely misunderstood because people are taking them out of context and applying them to 20th-century America instead of first-century Rome, where a different lifestyle prevailed," Carey said.
Carey was preparing to enter ministry in a United Pentecostal Church in Schenectady, N.Y., when he was revealed as being gay and was then forced to leave his church in 1979. A year later he helped form the NGPA. Small NGPA churches operate in Michigan, New York, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, Nebraska, Russia, and Ukraine.
Not surprisingly, mainstream Pentecostal ministers dismiss the NGPA as heretical.
"To expunge from the Scriptures all those verses that deal with homosexuality as sin would automatically mean that you are not Full Gospel, and you can't call yourself Full Gospel," said Arnold Lastinger, who has pastored First Assembly of God in Gainesville, Fla., for 20 years and strongly disagrees with the denomination's premise that homosexuality is not sin.
The organizing of gay churches into a denominational structure isn't new. In 1968, the Rev. Troy Perry, a Pentecostal minister defrocked for admitting his homosexuality, started a church in Los Angeles to affirm gay men and women. It later became the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) and today has 300 churches in 18 countries and more than 30,000 members.
The NGPA, which is headquartered in Ferndale, Mich., claims that it preaches "the full Bible standard of salvation, repentance, water baptism by immersion and receiving the Holy Ghost, evidenced by speaking in tongues," according to statements on the denomination's Web site.
The group also says it believes in the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit, including prophecy and discerning of spirits. Rene Garcia, pastor of an NGPA congregation, Lighthouse Evangel Tabernacle in Ferndale, said NGPA ministers research the Hebrew and Greek meanings of biblical words and teach from the King James Version of the Bible.
The NGPA maintains that it is not for homosexuals only. Heterosexuals have been an essential part of the work since the group's inception, Carey said. Garcia confirmed that worshipers in the NGPA experience common charismatic manifestations in their services, including speaking in tongues. But Lastinger believes the NGPA's link to Pentecostalism is an effort by gays to tag along with the fastest growing segment of Christianity.
"They want to be on board a winning team, and Pentecostalism is growing phenomenally around the world," Lastinger said. "It looks to me that they are trying to gain acceptance by elbowing their way onto a winning team where they have not been invited nor indeed are welcome."
Alan Chambers, an associate pastor at Calvary Assembly of God in Winter Park, Fla., said traditional churches are partly to blame for the rejection homosexuals experience when they are open about sexual struggles. "One comment we often make is, 'Hate the sin and love the sinner.' We have the hate part down really well," he said.
Chambers disagrees with the NGPA view that gay people cannot leave the homosexual lifestyle. "God loves us no matter where we are--but that does not mean He chooses to leave us there," he said. "Change is part of being a Christian."