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Divine diagnosis

Springs minister takes heat for calling homosexuality a 'disorder'



The drama surrounding the Episcopal Church's confirmation of Gene Robinson as its first openly gay bishop, and its decision to allow the blessing of same-sex unions, took place last week in Minneapolis, the site of the church's general convention.

But as is often the case in the struggle over equal rights for gays, Colorado Springs once again elbowed its way onto center stage.

Widely quoted in the national media as a staunch opponent of the church's moves was the Rev. Donald Armstrong, leader of the 2,300-member Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in the Springs.

Perhaps attracting the most attention were Armstrong's statements, quoted in the New York Times and the Washington Post, labeling homosexuality a "disorder" -- a classification medical experts rejected a generation ago.

"The church is trying to bless and normalize something that is a disorder," Armstrong told the newspapers.

In an interview with the Independent, Armstrong said the problem isn't whether some clergy are gay or not.

"I've got a friend who's homosexual who is a bishop, but he is celibate," Armstrong said. "The way he leads his life is above reproach." Indeed, Armstrong added, "There's plenty of homosexual priests and bishops in the church, but they are all faithful and celibate."

Robinson, on the other hand, divorced his wife and has been living with a male partner for 13 years, Armstrong said. "Gene Robinson's behavior," he proclaimed, "is a public scandal."

The problem, according to Armstrong, is when gay clergy can't control their "disorder." Not only does that lead them to violate scriptures that condemn homosexuality and sex outside marriage -- it also hurts them, he maintains.

"If someone follows along that path, their life becomes more and more chaotic -- more and more secretive, closeted, [with a] high incidence of alcoholism, of promiscuous sex. A number of my gay friends talk about homosexuality as almost an obsessive sexual disorder."

But Frank Whitworth, a local gay-rights activist, labels Armstrong's comments as "obnoxious."

"What he seems to be saying is that there is no such thing as a functional homosexual person," Whitworth said.

And Armstrong's theories also fly in the face of what medical experts have concluded.

"He should speak within his own area of expertise," scoffed Dr. Jack Drescher, chairman of the American Psychiatric Association's committee on gay, lesbian and bisexual concerns.

After weighing scientific evidence, the association in 1973 removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, a move that was followed by the World Health Organization in 1992, Drescher noted.

Since then, the association has adopted policy statements strongly opposing discrimination against gays, as well as backing same-sex unions and adoption of children by same-sex couples.

While Armstrong acknowledges that not all members of Grace and St. Stephen's share his beliefs, he downplays concerns that the issue might divide the congregation.

Whitworth, however, says he's received phone calls from frustrated members of the church who are wondering what to do. He says some longtime members have told him they might leave the church, which they feel has become less tolerant since Armstrong came on board in 1987.

"It used to be that Grace Episcopal was a pretty accepting and inclusive church, until he came along," Whitworth said.

Terje Langeland

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