The Christian Coalition and more than a dozen other religious groups have launched a national anti-homosexuality campaign with newspaper ads that describe it as a sin and a mental illness.

The ads, which ran this week in USA Today and The New York Times, include testimonials asking gays and lesbians to seek redemption within the church. Other ads criticize gay activists and decry "homosexual recruitment in public schools.""This is a statement of faith that homosexual acts are sinful," Christian Coalition spokesman Arne Owens said Wednesday.

The campaign is a defense of the conservative Christian stance against homosexuality, Owens said, and those who see it as sinful are not bigots but concerned Christians.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which supports gay rights, countered with its own ad in USA Today. It quoted a Minnesota couple saying, "We're living proof that families with lesbian and gay kids can be whole, happy and worthy of all this great country promises."

"Jesus welcomed everyone and didn't put any conditions on who you are or who you need to be," added Ann Carlson, founder of a local congregation of homosexual Episcopalians. "It can cause a lot of harm to discuss something as a disease or a sin when it's not."