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    Christian charity diversifies

    Metropolitan Ministries deflects criticism by adding three non-Christians to its board of directors.

    By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published November 23, 2002

    TAMPA -- Faced with critics who called its bylaws exclusionary, Metropolitan Ministries promised earlier this year to recruit a "rainbow coalition" of religious faiths to serve on its board of directors.

    Since then, Metropolitan Ministries has quietly admitted three non-Christians to its 27-member board. Two are Jewish, and one belongs to the Baha'i faith.

    "We openly embrace anyone who openly embraces the people we're here to serve," said Morris Hintzman, president of the charity. "We don't look at the faith. We look at their commitment to our purpose."

    One of the new members is Marc Blumenthal of Tampa, a 38-year-old computer software executive who belongs to the Schaarai Zedek reform Jewish temple in Tampa. He said he was casually involved with the charity for 10 years before joining the board in June.

    He said ministries officials invited him to discuss the possibility of joining.

    During the interview, they asked him "where my heart was, and what I believed in terms of community involvement and what I understood about the needs of homeless people in the community," Blumenthal said.

    Faith "didn't become an issue," Blumenthal said. Nor has it been during his time on the board, he said.

    "It's almost a nonissue," he said. "The faiths I've been exposed to in my life (involve) community service, helping out your fellow man. To be at Metropolitan Ministries, to me, is a reinforcement of my Judaism."

    The charity's longtime insistence on screening potential board members by religious faith had alienated even some of its staunchest supporters.

    A drive for diversity heated up in April after the charity dropped a requirement that Christians must make up the majority of its board.

    In putting the controversy behind it, Metropolitan Ministries also has repaired its relationship with the LAMPLighters, its women's fundraising auxiliary. Earlier this year, the group voted to sever ties with the charity because of the religious quota in the charity's bylaws.

    LAMPLighters has resumed working with Metropolitan Ministries.

    "We just feel like they did more or less what we wanted them to do -- open it up to other faiths," said group member Carolyn Black. "They should have done that right away."

    Blumenthal described the charity's acceptance of non-Christians as part of its natural development.

    "Every organization evolves," Blumenthal said. "This is part of their evolution."

    Blumenthal said he was at first "concerned" on reading about the charity's exclusion of non-Christians but concluded the controversy was overblown.

    "It was not about exclusion," he said. "The fact that there was an ancient bylaw that governed the kinds of people that should be on the board is irrelevant. It would have been addressed, anyway. It didn't need to get blown out of proportion by the media."

    -- Staff writer Amy Scherzer contributed to this report. Christopher Goffard can be reached at 813-226-3337 or .

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