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AU sponsors homosexual film festival to warn about religious right, it says

WASHINGTON (BP)–A church-state organization that is a leading critic of religious conservatives was among the sponsors of a recent homosexual film festival in Washington.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State was a sponsor of the 10th annual “Reel Affirmations Film Festival” held in mid-October in the capital. Americans United was cited as a sponsor on the festival’s Internet site and in Reel Affirmations’ advertisements in The Washington Blade, a weekly newspaper for the homosexual community.

Americans United contributed to the film festival in order to distribute its material to those who attended, AU Executive Director Barry Lynn told Baptist Press in defending the decision. One of the organization’s trustees, Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, said AU’s attempt to communicate its message at the festival was proper but neither he nor his agency supports homosexuality. The BJC is a ministry partner of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, founded in 1991 in opposition to the Southern Baptist Convention.

The film festival is described by One in Ten, the organization behind the event, as the “crown jewel of cultural events in the D.C. gay and lesbian community.” The attendance at this year’s festival and related events was more than 30,000, making it one of the largest homosexual film festivals in the country, according to One in Ten.

AU was credited as a sponsor of three movies shown at Reel Affirmations, but its financial contribution went into a general fund for the event, said Sarah Kellogg, the festival’s director. Those three films and others during the 11-day festival were not portrayed as sexually explicit on the Reel Affirmations website, but some movies were promoted in summaries on the site as graphic depictions of same-sex encounters.

According to the festival’s website, included on the program were:

— “This Ain’t Church,” a collection of short films with the following description: “Nudity. Illicit sex. Rough sex. Risky sex. All this is candidly, vividly explored here. And more.”

— “Piccadilly Pickups,” a “quirky, satirical look into the glorious world of prostitution and pornography set in London’s fashionably trashy Piccadilly Circus. Employing a mixture of fantasy, melodrama, mockumentary and explicit sex, the film goes behind the scenes of the gender-bending British porn subculture.”

— “Sex and the Single Male,” a program of the “sexiest, most entertaining shorts … featuring beautiful, … passionate and romantic men.”

— “Hard Love” and a companion film with an unprintable title, both that feature sexual encounters between lesbians.

AU’s Lynn told Baptist Press, “We participate in this film festival because we want to get out our message.” That message is “the danger the religious right poses to minorities of all kinds,” including homosexuals, he said.

AU would not have been able to have an information table at the festival unless it had contributed financially, Lynn said. AU also rents space at meetings of religious organizations, he said.

“But we don’t endorse everything that occurs at a United Church of Christ convention,” said Lynn, an ordained UCC minister.

Lynn said he did not see any of the films at the festival and declined to comment on them.

“I wanted to be there to promote the views of our group,” Lynn said. “So I didn’t particularly care what they showed ….

“The bottom line of all of this is the country is divided into two groups of people,” he said. “One says people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and Richard Land ought to run the government, and the other says it shouldn’t.”

AU will reach out to any group concerned “about the direction the religious right would take this country,” Lynn said.

Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “I have no desire to run any government. I do retain my rights as an American citizen to express my values and convictions about the government’s policies.”

Lynn told Baptist Press Nov. 3 he would ask his staff for the amount of AU’s contribution to the festival, but that information was still not provided Nov. 15 after three additional phone calls to the organization. Kellogg would not disclose how much AU contributed to the film festival.

Kellogg acknowledged only a group that is a sponsor or community partner normally is permitted to distribute material at the event. A community partner is a local volunteer group that does outreach in the homosexual community, she said.

One in Ten, however, approached AU about being a festival sponsor, she said. The desire to have a table at the festival may have been the reason AU chose to be a sponsor, Kellogg said, but she did not know, not having discussed it with Lynn.

Lynn cannot escape the recognition of AU as a festival sponsor, said a conservative who tracks the homosexual rights movement.

“He has contributed money to put on this raunchy film festival. He can try to get out of it on a technicality, but the fact is Barry Lynn and AU helped sponsor homosexual pornography in the nation’s capital,” said Peter LaBarbera, a senior analyst for the Family Research Council.

“If a conservative is affiliated with anything extreme, there is no getting out of it,” LaBarbera said. “There’s no technicality that [Lynn] can fall back on. He would never allow that technicality to apply to the causes he is concerned about.”

AU’s trustees were not consulted about participation in the film festival, Lynn said. A 14-member trustee board and a National Advisory Council of 125 people govern AU. Lynn declined to release the membership list of either group to Baptist Press.

AU’s 1999 report, released early this year, listed at least three trustees with CBF connections: Cynthia Holmes, past moderator of the Missouri Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; Paul Simmons, former ethics professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Baptist Joint Committee’s Walker.

Walker acknowledged he is a trustee but said he had been unaware of AU’s participation in the festival. After talking with AU staff, Walker told Baptist Press he understood the agency “sponsored” the event “only in the sense that AU paid to be an exhibitor at the festival.”

“I think it was unfortunate that the word sponsor was used by the group putting on the festival, because it was not the intent of AU to signal support for any cause other than the separation of church and state,” he said.

“I wish [AU] hadn’t been designated as a sponsor.”

Walker also said, “Neither the BJC nor I support the homosexual lifestyle.”

Lynn said he does not believe AU receives funding from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Alliance of Baptists or any Baptist state convention. The CBF and the Alliance were started in response to the conservative resurgence that occurred in the Southern Baptist Convention during the last 20 years.

The CBF was one of three Protestant groups to receive special attention from AU last year, according to the church-state organization’s 1999 report. AU’s staff led workshops and distributed material at the national meetings of the CBF, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, according to the report.

In October, the CBF’s Coordinating Council adopted a statement on homosexuality. It said the “foundation of a Christian sexual ethic is faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman and celibacy in singleness.” According to the statement, the CBF “does not allow for the expenditure of funds for organizations or causes that condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice. Neither does this CBF organizational value allow for the purposeful hiring of a staff person or the sending of a missionary who is a practicing homosexual.”

Among other sponsors listed on the film festival’s website were the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; National Organization for Women; and the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest homosexual political organization. Also listed are the Canadian Embassy, United Airlines, Showtime cable network, Suncoast video stores, Absolut vodka and two local hotels.

AU’s 1999 report also said the organization works closely with the state and local affiliates of such groups as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), NOW and Feminist Majority.

The festival’s website named AU as a sponsor of the following three films:

— “Call to Witness,” a documentary about how the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America handled a pastor who acknowledged his homosexuality.

— “Red Dirt,” a drama about a young man in rural Mississippi who is not satisfied in his relationships with women but whose life changes with the arrival of a new male tenant.

— “Johnny Greyeyes,” the account of a Native American lesbian from a troubled family who develops a relationship with another woman in prison.

Land, commenting on Lynn’s charge he and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson and Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell want to run the government, said, “I thank him for the compliment of being included with two men who certainly have the courage of their convictions and are willing to pay the price of being criticized so harshly and unfairly by people like Barry Lynn.

“Once again, Mr. Lynn reveals by his statements that he lives in a truncated universe where he wants to talk about the so-called bogey men of the so-called religious right but totally ignores the extent to which the radical religious left, i.e. Jesse Jackson et al., and the radical homosexual activists are attempting to enforce their values on America through judicial fiat and the undemocratic pronouncements of regulatory and zoning commissions.”

Land said he is curious about Lynn’s “definition of the religious right.”

“The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is not a religious right organization, although we applaud their good sense in agreeing with us on issues like abortion, pornography and that it is not a good idea to have homosexual scoutmasters,” Land said. “The Southern Baptist agency that I am privileged to lead spends as much staff time and money promoting the alleviation of world hunger as we do fighting for the sanctity of unborn human life. We spend as much staff time and money promoting the cause of persecuted Christians around the world and human rights in general as we do fighting the plague of pornography.”