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Conservative churches confront new reality
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DALLAS (AP) — At First Baptist Dallas, where the pulpit was adorned Sunday with red, white and blue bunting to honor the Fourth of July, the pastor called the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling “an affront in the face of Almighty God.”

The iconic rainbow colors that bathed the White House Friday night after the court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide represent “depravity, degradation and what the Bible calls sexual perversion,” the Rev. Robert Jeffress said.

“But we are not discouraged,” Jeffress said. “We are not going to be silenced. This is a great opportunity for our church to share the truth and love of Jesus Christ and we are going to do it.”

On the first Sunday after the high court ruling, theological conservatives grappled with their new status as what the Southern Baptists call “a moral minority” on marriage. Ministers were defiant about publicly upholding their views, and warned church members to prepare themselves for a rough time ahead.

“Welcome to the new world. It’s just changed for you Christians. You are going to be persecuted,” Alabama’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore said from the pulpit at the Kimberly Church of God, in Kimberly, Ala.

Moore, who fought a losing battle to keep a Ten Commandments monument he erected inside Alabama’s state judicial building, said the decision went against the laws of nature.

“Is there such a thing as morality anymore? Sodomy for centuries was declared to be against the laws of nature and nature’s God. And now if you say that in public, and I guess I am, am I violating somebody’s civil rights? Have we elevated morality to immorality? Do we call good, bad? What are we Christians to do?”

In their dissents to the ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia, each expressed similar concerns. First Amendment protections for clergy and worship are clear, leaving churches to decide who they will marry. But religious liberty protections are less certain for faith-based charities, schools and hospitals that want to hire and fire based on religious beliefs.

“I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools,” Alito wrote.

At liberal churches, pastors and congregants rejoiced, as gay pride celebrations were held around the country.

“In one decision we’ve swiftly moved people from being second-class citizens to first-class,” said the Rev. Neil Cazares-Thomas, who was leading Sunday’s worship at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, a megachurch formed years ago as a spiritual refuge for gays.

Sixty-two percent of white evangelical Protestants and 54 percent of non-white Protestants oppose same-sex marriage, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.

But support for gay marriage is growing even within some evangelical communities, driven in part by younger generations who have gay friends and don’t see opposing same-sex relationships as central to their faith.

The division could be seen in competing statements from evangelicals after the high court ruling.

One group of about 100 leaders, organized by the Southern Baptist’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, issued a marriage declaration called “Here We Stand,” pledging to continue “witnessing to the biblical teaching” of marriage as the union of a man and a woman “and live this truth at all costs.” Another, by the pro-gay Rise Network and also signed by about 100 pastors and community leaders, praised the ruling as “a major step towards justice and equality.”

And some congregations are conflicted.

“There’s a mixed feeling. There’s mixed understandings,” said the Rev. Donald Jenkins at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, whose denomination bars same-sex weddings. “It’s just something that we’re going to have to look into, figure out as we go along, how we’re going to deal with it.”

The U.S. bishops are facing an even greater challenge within, even as they move forward as the leading religious voice advocating for legal protections for those who object to gay marriage.

In the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va., Bishop Paul Loverde held a Mass and organized a lecture for the U.S. bishops’ annual religious freedom commemoration, called “Religious Liberty For How Long? How to Prepare Spiritually for the Coming Persecution.”

About 58 percent of Roman Catholics say they support same-sex marriage, according to Public Religion Research Institute, and the U.S. bishops have struggled openly with how they can persuade their faithful to follow church teaching.

At New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Sunday, there was no mention of the ruling from the pulpit. Outside, about 20 members of Dignity, a Catholic gay advocacy group, sang and greeted parishioners.

“Our message is now to our fellow Catholics that we would like to see our relationships recognized as holy within the church as well,” said Jeff Stone, a member of Dignity. “That is not something that can be accomplished by legal means. We are hoping to change hearts and minds of our fellow Catholics.”