The Rev. Peter Luckey says people shouldn't have to choose between evolution and faith in God.
"Many of us feel there's no inherent conflict" between the two, says Luckey, senior pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt. "In fact, we feel evolution enhances our sense of awe in the mystery of creation."
It's a message Luckey says hasn't come through much during the debates about evolution, creationism and intelligent design that have sparked in recent years across the nation, and especially in Kansas.
But Plymouth Congregational is joining an increasing group of churches starting to speak up on the evolution debate.
They'll spread their message this weekend - the 197th anniversary of the birth of natural selection theorist Charles Darwin - as part of Evolution Sunday, a nationwide event involving more than 400 churches that will dedicate part of their services to talking about the coexistence of science and God.
The idea grew out of a letter, signed by more than 10,000 clergy members, that says faith and science don't have to be mutually exclusive.
"Ten thousand clergy signatures - that's a huge number," Luckey says. "Isn't it interesting, because the religion that's getting all the publicity is talking about intelligent design and trying to push it through."
Kansas has been a center of the evolution discussion in the past year, as the state Board of Education has debated new science standards for public schools. In the end, the board selected standards that introduce criticism of evolutionary theory into the classroom.
Similar discussions have been under way in other states.
Both the letter and Evolution Sunday were the idea of Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Letters and Science at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. He said he was disturbed by conservative pastors telling the public if they believed in evolution they would go to hell.
"That's the only voice I was hearing for far too long, and this is exactly what was going on in Kansas," Zimmerman says. "Ten thousand clergy collectively making a statement quietly is louder than the shrieking of conservative voices. The point is with 10,000 ministers, they can't be dismissed as being a trivial group."
Seventeen pastors or retired pastors in Lawrence have signed the letter. Seven churches in Kansas plan to participate in Evolution Sunday.
The Rev. Bill Hurlbutt is among those who disagrees with the Evolution Sunday philosophy. Hurlbutt, senior pastor at Christ Community Church, 1100 Kasold Drive, says he believes in microevolution - the idea that species change over time. What he doesn't believe is that species evolved from other species.
"I don't believe that can exist alongside God being the creator," he says.
Open to discussion
Hurlbutt is a proponent in intelligent design, the belief that life is too complex to have developed naturally without the guiding hand of God.
He says he agrees that conservatives who oppose evolution have received more media attention than those who believe in both evolution and God. But he says he has no problem with other pastors sharing their views.
"There's always benefit to information, people having the most information they can," he says. "If you believe what you believe, you shouldn't be afraid to discuss it, and let it hold up and stand up or fall."
That's the goal at First Baptist Church, 1330 Kasold Drive, where a three-week study on the book "Finding Darwin's God" begins at 7 p.m. Sunday.
The Rev. Sandra Walton, associate pastor at the church, says she's hoping to find middle ground on the faith-science debate.
"It seems to me that what we hear in the media, the extreme right is perceived as saying, 'No evolution,' and the left is saying, 'No creation or no God,'" Walton says. "There's a vast middle who exposes that faith in a Creator can go along with evolution."
Seventeen pastors or retired pastors from Lawrence are among the more than 10,000 clergy members who have signed a letter saying it's acceptable to believe in both evolution and God. The local pastors who signed: ¢ The Rev. Don Conrad, retired Lutheran minister ¢ The Rev. Ray Fancher, interim pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway ¢ The Rev. Patricia Holmes Guy, Presbyterian minister ¢ The Rev. Jonathon Jensen, rector, Trinity Episcopal Church, 1011 Vt. ¢ The Rev. Robert Kasper, retired United Church of Christ pastor ¢ The Rev. Jeff Lilley, pastor, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 2211 Inverness Drive. ¢ The Rev. Angela Lowe, chaplain, Lawrence Memorial Hospital, 325 Maine ¢ The Rev. Peter Luckey, senior pastor, Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt. ¢ The Rev. Marcus McFaul, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, 1330 Kasold Drive ¢ The Rev. Robert Pattie, retired chaplain ¢ The Rev. Gayla Rapp, United Methodist Campus minister ¢ The Rev. Judy Mitchell Rich, Presbyterian minister ¢ The Rev. Darlene Strickland, Unity Church of Lawrence 900 Madeline Drive ¢ The Rev. Gary Teske, lead pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 N.H. ¢ The Rev. Gus Van Tassel, retired United Methodist pastor ¢ The Rev. Sandra Walton, associate pastor, First Baptist Church, 1330 Kasold Drive ¢ Nancy Zahniser, elder, Lawrence University Community of Christ, 1900 University Drive