Minn. pastor supports gay rights, may lose church

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The_Rev._Oliver_White

A Minnesota pastor who watched most of his congregation leave after he voiced his support for gay marriage is now at risk of losing his church, unless he can collect enough donations to keep the doors open.

The Rev. Oliver White, 69, runs Grace Community United Church of Christ. He needs to raise $200,000 by June 30 to pay off a loan the St. Paul church took out in 2007.

While the odds are steep, supporters from around the country have taken up his cause. Most of White’s fundraising efforts have entailed asking supporters to each mail in $1, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. As of last week he had raised $13,000, he said.

“I haven’t allowed any of this to make me stop, because I feel that I have to continue in this journey,” White said. “But it’s also a monumental task.”

A black leader at the helm of a predominantly black church, White – who marched for racial equality during the Civil Rights era – faced pushback from his own community after he stood up for gay rights in 2005.

During a national synod of the United Church of Christ in Atlanta, he joined a majority of delegates from across the country in voting to adopt a resolution supporting gay marriage.

He returned to his congregation the following Sunday and explained his decision. Almost immediately he saw church membership plummet. Within weeks he lost two-thirds of his followers, and now a Sunday sermon draws at most about 20 people.

The church’s financial struggles have caught the attention of activists nationwide.

Nick Warshaw, a San Francisco entrepreneur, started a fundraising website for Grace Community.

So did Joseph Ward of “Believe Out Loud,” an online forum based in New York and Washington, D.C., where faith leaders can express their support for gay rights. He hadn’t used the forum as a fundraising tool before, but after asking for help for Grace Community the website brought in $7,100.

White said he’s grateful for the support, and he continues to believe strongly in the cause. He recently recorded a podcast with John Ong, the Kansas City, Mo., host of an online audio show, in which he said his church is not a “gay church” but welcomes everyone.

He also said he doesn’t regret taking his stand, even if it ultimately means the church will be no more.

“If we are not successful, I am not going to feel that we are defeated,” White said. “I’ve often said if one person has been turned around, if their thinking has been turned around, and they are no longer homophobic, and they can reach out and love their brothers and their sisters as they love themselves, unconditionally, without labeling them in any way, then losing the church will not be in vain.”

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