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Dozens of Christians converge on Kansas town to discuss homosexuality and Scripture

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PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. (AP) -- A Kansas man whose online lecture about the Bible and same-sex relationships gained considerable attention has gathered about 50 Christians from around the country to delve into his belief that the Scriptures do not condemn homosexuality as a sexual orientation.

Matthew Vines, of Wichita, grew up attending a conservative evangelical Presbyterian church in the city and relies heavily on intensive study of the Bible for his presentations. He said liberal and moderate Christian churches have adopted more gay-friendly stances, but conservative churches remain steadfast in their opposition to homosexuality.

The 23-year-old Vines wants to bring change with his message that the Bible doesn't actually say same-sex orientation is a sin or condemn loving gay relationships. Out of 100 applicants, Vines selected 50 people with ties to conservative churches to participate in his three-day conference, which started Wednesday in Prairie Village and ends Saturday.

"This conference is important because it really represents the next frontier of the LGBT movement, which is working to change the minds of conservative Christians about same-sex relationships," Vines said. "Because I'm a gay Christian who grew up in a conservative church and still have a lot of friends and family in conservative churches, I'm trying to empower people to be able to stay in their churches that are not yet supportive."

Vines delivered an hourlong lecture on the topic at a Wichita church and posted it to YouTube in March 2012. Since then, the video has garnered more than 600,000 views and 15,000 responses. And it has been translated into several languages.

"A lot of conservative Christians are willing to listen, but they don't want to do it with someone who isn't educated about Scripture," said Vines, who has started a new organization, The Reformation Project, and written a book on the topic that will be published in March.

Evan Lenow, assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, wrote an extensive rebuttal on his blog about Vines' online lecture and said Wednesday in a phone interview that Vines' take on the Bible is not a faithful reading of the text.

"It seems to me he is attempting to read Scripture through his presupposition that homosexuality is not a sin," Lenow said. "... Every time (Scripture) speaks of homosexuality it speaks of homosexuality in terms of sin."

Jane Clementi, whose son, Tyler, killed himself in 2010 after his roommate at Rutgers University made a webcast of him kissing another man, is among the conference participants. She's giving a keynote address Friday evening.

Her family has started a foundation to increase acceptance of gays in communities and their schools and churches.

She said before Tyler died, the family attended a conservative Christian church that "was not affirming." She is no longer a member of that church, though she has friends who still go there and were supportive after Tyler's death.

"But there is a discord, and I felt I couldn't stay," said Clementi, who lives in Ridgewood, N.J. "Even though there wasn't great amounts of time spent on preaching, the message was completely understood. ... Even within Christian communities if they're preaching this, straight kids are hearing the message, too, that this group is worthless and broken and we have power over them. And that's what a bullying situation is. ...

"So that's one of the things we want to speak to to make sure that no other youth feels that, and also so no other straight youth feels that they can do that. And no other parent should have to grieve the senseless loss. It's not a reason to lose a child."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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