Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Seattle, and many other Catholic dioceses. Gradually, denominations began to set up national offices to assist local efforts in sharing information, resources, and programs. The AIDS National Interfaith Network was organized in 1988 to perform this service and to foster a more extensive religious response to the epidemic. And a group of religious leaders meeting under the auspices of the Carter Center in Atlanta in December 1989 issued "The Atlanta Declaration," in which they affirmed the dedication of their respective churches and synagogues to "compassionate, non-judgmental care, respect, support and assistance" (AIDS National Interfaith Network, 1989:8). They also endorsed broad educational, preventive, research, and care programs.
The accumulating knowledge, experience, and concern described thus far provided a background for numerous official statements from religious bodies that appeared in increasing numbers in 1987 and 1988. It has become common in many denominations to issue occasional statements about matters of interest to both the denomination and the public. The status of the statements varies with the denominational structure, but in general they are intended to guide and inform adherents rather than to impose doctrines or duties. As public declarations, they influence religious agencies and administrators responsible for the implementation of programs. They also speak to people outside the denomination's membership in an effort to influence public policy, opinion, or legislation. Finally, they can be focal points for debate within and outside the denomination. It must be noted, however, that many denominations and religious organizations do not speak in this way; rather, they leave such matters to individuals and local congregations (Melton, 1989: ix).
Statements about HIV/AIDS can generally be best understood if they are viewed in the context of the discussions about homosexuality that have taken place within many of the denominations. Conservative denominations remained outside that debate, standing squarely on the biblical texts, which they take to be clear condemnations of same-gender sex. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, judges homosexuality an abomination. Gay men and lesbians are expected to change their sexual orientation or remain celibate as a condition for membership. Certain liberal denominations, such as Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ, and the Unitarian Church, passed beyond the debate and opened pastoral ministry to all people, including homosexuals. Many major denominations in the middle of the liberal-conservative spectrum, however, struggled to reconcile the traditional condemnation of homosexuality with the universal call to fellowship. Vigorous debates have attended proposals that gay persons be admitted