[BACKGROUND: In August 2007, a fundamentalist mega-church in Texas refused to conduct funeral services when it found out the deceased man was gay. Rev. Lea Brown, the openly lesbian pastor of Wichita Falls Metropolitan Community Church (Texas) and a veteran of the U.S. Army, has a few thoughts about that.]
Whew. I don’t know about you, but I sure sleep better at night knowing the Christian churches in Texas are standing by their principles.
Take the High Point Church in Arlington, Texas, led by Rev. Gary Simons (brother-in-law of mega-church pastor Joel Osteen). The church believes that homosexuality is a sin. When they recently found out that they had inadvertently (according to their version) agreed to provide a funeral for a gay man, they withdrew their invitation 24 hours before the event on the principle that they didn’t want to appear to be endorsing “that lifestyle.” Sure, the grieving family was left scrambling to find an appropriate venue in which to say goodbye to their loved one, and then contact 100 expected guests about the change of location in their time of sorrow. But hey, principles are principles.
Aren’t you glad that at least in Texas there are church folks who are willing to risk looking like heartless bigots rather than betray what they believe to be their “Christian” beliefs?
I mean, let’s give credit where credit is due. They chose one principle that they believe is true (homosexuality and homosexuals must be rejected), when there are so many principles that they could have chosen instead. Let’s review a few, shall we?
First, there is the principle of compassion, which dictates that we seek to understand the suffering of others, and do what we can through kindness to help in times of need. Cecil Howard Sinclair, the gay man who died at the age of 46 from an infection prior to heart surgery, didn’t really need to have the funeral at High Point Church. But his mentally challenged brother probably did. Mr. Sinclair’s brother works as a High Point janitor, cleaning the toilets, dusting the pews, and sweeping the floors that church members soil each week. Perhaps saying goodbye to his brother in a familiar place would have been comforting to him, and would have given him some peace as he returned to work each day in the weeks and months after his brother’s passing. Perhaps all of Mr. Sinclair’s family, including his partner, might have been comforted by the knowledge that the 5,000-member church actually cared about them at such a difficult time.
We could say that the church acted with compassion when it offered to pay for a community center space for the funeral, and provide food and a video presentation for those attending the service. In fact, we could even say they came dangerously close to violating their principle by these actions. But thank goodness they didn’t offer to find another church space for the funeral. That would imply homosexuals and their loved ones actually deserve to grieve in a sacred place, as if God was actually with them in their pain. And we could probably agree that feeding homosexuals and their families is acceptable, but for heaven’s sake – don’t pray with them or stand with them at the graveside! Because that would certainly imply endorsement of two people of the same gender being in love with each other, wouldn’t it?
Then there is the principle of gratitude. Cecil Howard Sinclair was a veteran of the United States Navy, and he served in the first Gulf War. He was willing to risk his life for our country, and for principles like “freedom of religion” that High Point members enjoy each day. Perhaps their willingness to make a video presentation of Mr. Sinclair’s life for the funeral was the way they chose to express their gratitude. Thankfully, we can again be assured that they didn’t compromise their principles though, because they edited out the images that showed Cecil being affectionate with his partner. After all, we wouldn’t want a veteran’s image to be tarnished with pictures like that.
Finally, there is the principle of hospitality. In the Bible, in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 10 Jesus instructs his followers to shake the dust from their feet from any town that does not welcome them warmly and listen to what they have to say. It seems that hospitality was rather important to Jesus, because he said that any such town would actually be worse off than Sodom and Gomorrah at the day of judgment. (Funny, he never mentioned homosexuality as being the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah – just their lack of hospitality). How courageous of High Point Church (which has a larger population than many towns in Texas) to risk fire and brimstone. They could have considered entertaining the notion that perhaps being a Christian is more about love than about unbending principles, but they didn’t. Jesus would be so proud!
Now, it is true that not all churches in Texas are so principled. Right here in my own town of Wichita Falls there is a church that would have gladly received the family of Cecil Howard Sinclair. At Wichita Falls Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), we celebrate the lives of all of God’s people of all sexual orientations. In fact, we would even lovingly welcome anyone from High Point Church into our sanctuary. Lest we forget, even Jesus reached out with compassion to those who were the oppressors of his day, just as he did when he healed the Roman centurion’s son. The fundamental principle we live by is this one: Love your neighbor as yourself. We think that means loving all of our neighbors – straight, bisexual, transgender, Baptist, Muslim, lesbian, HIV+, poor, Latino, queer, disabled, Republican, veteran, peace-activist, immigrant, and gay.
So, I guess we could say that High Point Church doesn’t have the corner on principles – just on their particular principle, which does indeed put them at great risk of looking like heartless bigots. But like many others on a spiritual path, those of us at Wichita Falls MCC will love and pray for them anyway. We will pray, “Forgive them, God, for they know not what they do.” We will pray for their healing, that they might change their ways. We will pray that God will bless them and be with them, and that our actions would truly show that we desire to love those at High Point Church just as we love ourselves.
I guess we just have different principles.