In one of the most blatant religious abuses seen this year, a church in Arlington, Texas offered to host a funeral for a man who served in the Gulf War. When they found out at the last minute that the man was gay, they backed out of the offer.
Cecil Sinclair, 46, was not a member of any church, but his brother Lee is both an employee and member of High Point, whose pastor is Rev. Gary Simons. Pastor Simons’ brother-in-law is the even more famous author and Pastor Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas.
When Cecil Sinclair became ill with a heart condition six years ago, church members started praying for him out of love for his brother, Mr. Simons said Thursday. And when Mr. Sinclair died of an infection, a side effect of surgery intended to keep him alive long enough for a heart transplant, a member of the church staff was immediately sent to minister to the family, he said.
Both the family and church officials agree that the church volunteered to host a memorial service, feed 100 guests and create a multimedia presentation of photos from Mr. Sinclair’s life.
When the pictures arrived, things went south. Simons indicated to the family that there was a “problem” with the service. Apparently, the pictures were just too gay:
“Some of those photos had very strong homosexual images of kissing and hugging,” he said. “My ministry associates were taken aback.”
Of course they were taken aback by two men who obviously loved each other until separated by death. That was just too sinful. I don’t think I can stress how disgusted I am that a church would renege like this, all because the man happened to have been gay. To add insult to injury, Simons went on to compare this gay couple to a murderer:
The pastor said that he could imagine a similar situation involving a different sin. Perhaps a mother who is a member of the church loses a son who is a thief or murderer, Mr. Simons said. The church would surely volunteer to hold a service, he said.
“But I don’t think the mother would submit photos of her son murdering someone,” he said. “That’s a red light going off.”
It’s a red light going off, all right. It should be a red light to every Christian as to the true motives of those who are so adamant in their stand against “homosexuality.” The family had long since come to terms with their beloved veteran and his partner, and even accepted it. Yet this church refused to even appear to “condone” or “endorse” the “lifestyle.”
Kathleen Wright, Cecil’s sister, was a little more candid, as reported on msnbc.com:
“It’s a slap in the face. It’s like, ’Oh, we’re sorry he died, but he’s gay so we can’t help you,”’ she said Friday.
Wright said High Point offered to hold the service for Sinclair because their brother is a janitor there.
The story later quoted Rev. Simons:
“We did decline to host the service – not based on hatred, not based on discrimination, but based on principle,” Simons told The Associated Press. “Had we known it on the day they first spoke about it – yes, we would have declined then. It’s not that we didn’t love the family.”
Interestingly, Wright also claimed that the church misrepresented the photos, saying that none of them had Sinclair “kissing or hugging” his partner.
This wasn’t about compassion, or even repentance. It was about honoring a local veteran who had served his community and his country. Cecil died before he could receive a much-needed heart transplant. In the midst of the family’s loss, this church slapped them around and kicked them while they were down.
There was absolutely nothing Christian about their behavior, and the members of this church and even all churches should ask themselves how such a cold shoulder has anything to do with the message that Jesus gave, which was to love even the unloved.
High Point Church’s website, http://www.churchunusual.com/ is a lesson in bitter irony, in that it is all too “usual” of modern evangelical churches which distort the reality that gay and lesbian people are an important part of today’s society. The 5,000-member church started with just a few members in 2000, and grew into the megachurch it is today. How much of its growth has been at the expense of people like Sinclair?
When will Christians start realizing that closing the door to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community is the exact opposite of following Christ? The time has clearly come for us to stop demonizing the gay community and start embracing people no matter who they are.
Some major denominations have come to this realization, including the Episcopal Church, the United Churches of Christ, and now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The ELCA has just passed a resolution that would allow gay pastors to serve openly, specifically saying to “not punish” pastors who identify as gay or lesbian.
Further, the topic of whether or not to embrace GLBT people will be discussed at the Methodist conference this year. Thankfully, churches are adding to a clear trend of embracing people no matter what, and we’re learning just how important this lesson of fairness is for everyone.
It’s too bad Cecil Sinclair’s family had to experience the opposite.