CrossWalk group visits to preach acceptance

In a small desert town in northern Arizona, a group of wanderers gave one woman the voice she couldn’t have.

“She told us, ‘You are all walking for me,'” Rebecca Glenn said, sitting upstairs at Free State Brewery on Sunday.

The woman’s husband, Glenn said, had disowned their son because he was gay. She wanted to turn to her church, her community, but sympathetic voices were few.

Glenn, co-president of CrossWalk America, told the woman that her group greets those marginalized by conservative Christianity with open arms instead of closed doors. It was a breath of fresh air for the woman and others in conservative churches throughout the Bible belt and elsewhere.

Leaders from the Arizona-based Christian group arrived Sunday in Lawrence, the latest stop on their cross-country walking tour touting the benefits of a religion open to all people.

The group’s brand of Christian faith stems from teachings collectively known as the Phoenix Affirmations, penned by a group of clergy and laypeople fed up with the bitter speech and exclusivity of conservative churches and their pundits.

The Rev. Eric Elnes talks to the congregation at First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway. Elnes is part of the Christian group CrossWalk America, which was in Lawrence on Sunday as part of its walk across the country to promote the core values of Christianity.

The teachings were simple: Walk in the path of Jesus without denying other paths, celebrate the spirit of God in everyone and everything, including ecosystems, the secular, non-Christians and so on.

“We stand for something without demonizing,” said the Rev. Eric Elnes, the group’s co-president.

The message, founders thought, was one that resonated with most Christians but didn’t get its fair shake in the media. Instead, television and right-wing radio were dominated by fringe Christians who claimed to love but preached hate.

“They’re loud, but they’re not speaking for most of the people,” Glenn said. “They’re more worried about exclusion than acceptance.”

So the walking tour, which will come back through Lawrence next week, was a way to voice the group’s perspective and take the religious temperature of the whole country.

For the most part, organizers say, they have felt welcome most everywhere – especially in Lawrence, where Thad Holcombe from Ecumenical Christian Ministries and John Blythe from the First Baptist Church played host to the group.

But their message hasn’t been popular everywhere, especially when trying to discuss homosexuality and openness to evolution and science.

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In Lawrence, Elnes spoke at First Presbyterian Church during both Sunday services. He said the reception there turned bumpy at times, with audible voices of protest.

Group members also spoke at First Baptist Church and Plymouth Congregational Church.

But group members said even those harsh responses are important – because even then, the argument becomes a conversation, a time when both sides can listen to one another.

“To have a conversation is a mission,” group member the Rev. Brad Wishon said. “Because yelling, it’s not working.”