He explained that a ministry within his church, called Harvest Ministry, does provide support groups for people "if they want to change to a heterosexual lifestyle." The support groups, Mr. McDowell said, have
succeeded in bringing about two marriages - each of a gay man and a lesbian.
The ministry "brings the love of Jesus Christ to people struggling with homosexuality and their families," he said.
But trying to change the sexual orientation of gays and lesbians was a symbol of hate, not love, the demonstrators said. They especially objected to the ministry's visits to AIDS patients in local hospitals.
"Stop harassing people in hospital beds," yelled Richard Desvernine, a member of Act Up.
"You went in their rooms and told them to repent," another demonstrator yelled.
"The last thing someone needs when they're dying is you going into their hospital room and telling them they're going to go to hell," said another, Michael Marsico, 28.
"What does Christ say about homosexuality in the Bible?" asked Scott Tucker, 36. "Not one word."
Mr. McDowell agreed. Then why, someone asked, was he against homosexuality?
"God made us male and female," Mr. McDowell said.
"Sodomy is no more unnatural than neurosurgery or golf," shouted Tucker. ''We fly in airplanes. We build houses. This is nonsense."
Mr. McDowell said that he himself was not part of the Harvest Ministry, and that the minister who headed it was out of town. That minister did visit AIDS patients in hospital rooms, Mr. McDowell acknowledged, but he was invited by the patients, many of whom had read about the church through its ads in newspapers. "Homosexuals can change," one such ad proclaims.
The demonstrators called Mr. McDowell a liar. They said the AIDS patients did not invite the ministers into their rooms. They had heard this, they said, directly from friends who had received such visits and had since died of AIDS.
Asked whether any minister had tried to convert dying AIDS patients from homosexuality, Mr. McDowell said, "At that point, the emphasis would be in giving the person whatever he needs."
In the end, neither the minister nor the activists changed their views.
Indeed, Mr. McDowell took the demonstration, the reporters and photographers in stride. "We find that every time we get publicity, we get more phone calls and more people who want to come for counseling," he said.