Evangelicals Team with Portland's Gay Mayor for Charity

In need of an image make-over, evangelicals took to cleaning a liberal capitol.

ByABC News
December 23, 2011, 1:51 AM

Dec. 25, 2011— -- Evangelical Christians in Oregon have developed an unexpected partnership with Portland's openly gay mayor to mobilize over 26,000 volunteers in an effort to aid in charity activities, from city park renovation to counseling people in need.

Kevin Palau, a devout evangelical, was so desperate to fix the notion that his community is taking strident stands on provocative issues, along with other perceived public relations problem that evangelicals face, that he reached out to a highly unlikely partner in Sam Adams, the mayor of one of America's most progressive and secular cities.

"I was very wary," Adams tells ABC News of his initial reaction to Palau's proposal.

But despite this unease with the arrangement, Adams was willing to take the leap.

Now, together, they're doing something unprecedented. With 500 local churches providing 26,000 volunteers, they are now helping the city do everything from renovating parks, to counseling victims of sex trafficking and feeding the homeless.

Members of one church have adopted a struggling school -- doing yard work, clothing drives and helping rebuild the crumbling bleachers.

"They are not in the hallways passing out tracts, they're not proselytizing, but they're simply asking, 'what do you need? And how can we help?'" the school's principal said.

Palau says that his team of volunteers represents the new face of American evangelicalism.

"The old model was preaching to the choir, so to speak," Palau says.

Many people in the left-leaning town of Portland were uncomfortable with this unexpected arrangement at first, but now pretty much everyone admits the project is a major success -- even though major philosophical differences remain.

Adams, who has been out as gay since 1993 and Portland's mayor since 2008, says that it is not lost on him that many evangelicals believe that his sexuality is sinful. Despite this, and even feeling that this is Palau's perception, he decided to set that difference aside and go ahead with the partnership for the sake of mobilizing people to aid his city.

"I'm sure that's Kevin view … But we also have massive agreement around needing to help people who are currently not being served," Adams told ABC News.

Both men agree that the willingness to lock arms -- despite deep, fundamental disagreements -- now needs to start happening on the national stage and in Washington, D.C.