Way Out of Proportion

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A megachurch in Arlingon, Texas canceled a funeral service for someone when they found out he was gay, on the ground that they didn't want to be seen as endorsing that lifestyle. Since when does agreeing to host a funeral service for someone mean you endorse everything that person did? Should a congregation refuse to use their building to provide a funeral for the dead brother of one of their members simply because they guy lived with his girlfriend without getting married? What if the dead brother was a convicted thief or a greedy drunkard who slandered people fairly regularly? What if it was the rebellious son of members of the congregation or an arrogant and boastful member of the congregation?

Two of the most prominent passages that deal with homosexual sex in the New Testament list these other sins alongside same-sex sexual acts. No passage in the entire Bible elevates anything to do with homosexuality on a level that disallows showing love to the family of the sort that would be involved in having a funeral. Somehow homosexuality has become so evil to many evangelicals that we could refuse to do something for the family of a gay person that we'd probably do for the family of a murderer.

It's nice to see that this doesn't affect Dale Carpenter's attitude toward Christianity, but I think that's because he has direct contact with sincere, loving Christians who treat him as a real person with a lifestyle they simply disagree with. He understands that true Christianity is not like this. But when high-profile congregations do this kind of thing, it is all the majority of secular people will ever see. Most people who aren't Christians don't have a lot of significant contact with believing Christians who live out the Christian norm of love for neighbor in a way that demonstrates that gay people are part of that love. This isn't because Christians aren't doing that but because most secular people have little contact with evangelicals to begin with. So high-profile Christian leaders and congregations like this one have a much higher responsibility because of their visibility. Unfortunately, this congregation has utterly failed in that responsibility in this instance.

9 Comments

Well said, Jeremy. This confirms my understanding that your disagreement with me on my blog is not because you are homophobic, or even because you consider homosexuality to be the worst of sins.

Agree with you 100%.

If the Church is holding funeral services as a matter of consoling families or providing a service to the community than I agree.

However they do have to face the fact that funerals honor the deceased and their families. This honoring puts them in the odd position of honoring a homosexual relationship:

"when staff members putting together his video tribute saw pictures of men "engaging in clear affection, kissing and embracing."
Simons said the church believes homosexuality is a sin, and it would have appeared to endorse that lifestyle if the service had been held there."

However this Church didn't simply react refusing to hold the deceased service. They also offered to pay for another site for the service, made the video and provided food for more than 100 relatives and friends.

While this is bad PR, it's hardly morally unacceptable. I'm not aware of any moral commandment to offer facilities for funeral services.

However they do have to face the fact that funerals honor the deceased and their families. This honoring puts them in the odd position of honoring a homosexual relationship:

How so? Are you honoring everything someone does when you honor them as a person? Are you affirming all their bad character traits as good? Are you approving of every relationship they've ever been in?

It's good they were willing to pay for another church to host it. But I think the way they went about this was horrible. They should have sat down with the partner and the family and told them their misgivings, asking them if there was reason to be concerned that the funeral would have been too visibly supportive of homosexuality for their convictions to be honored, perhaps asking the partner if he would be willing to refrain from commenting or to restrict his comments simply to matters of character rather than what they feared happening. There are much better ways to deal with something like this than simply announcing that you're not going to host the funeral.

So I do think it is morally unacceptable at the very least in how they handled it, and I suspect it's highly inconsistent with how they treat other sins.

It may be inconsistent with how they treat other sins (We don't know, so that's a mute point). However the Church needs to maintain unity. Hosting a funeral where homosexuality is promoted, could divide the congregation. I don't see why the Church should have risked that. I wonder how effective it would have been to ask the family to keep the decedent's homosexuality on "the down low".

I wonder, would you demand that a Church hold a funeral for an avowed atheist whose family would emphasize his atheism during the service?

Where exactly do we draw the line at services which promote sinful behavior and divide congregations?

It's not a moot point. It's one of my main points. Most congregations wouldn't do this with other sins, so they're singling out this one as particular bad, which is way out of proportion with how it's treated in the Bible.

I wonder, would you demand that a Church hold a funeral for an avowed atheist whose family would emphasize his atheism during the service?

As I said, there can be conditions on doing a funeral. If the church leaders found out about his atheism, that shouldn't affect them, just as merely finding out about a guy's homosexuality shouldn't. If there's some reason to suspect family or friends might use the funeral to promote atheism, or if there's some reason to suspect a gay partner would use it to promote the virtues of homosexuality, then that is not grounds for canceling it without discussion when you've already agreed to do it. It is grounds for engaging them in a conversation about what would be allowed and what would be viewed as a breach of the church's trust. How they went about this was entirely wrong, and I would say the same about an atheist case. Also, the fact that they assumed a stance of suspicion rather than just talking to the people shows something more akin to homophobia than merely a view that gay sex is wrong.

I never said they shouldn't mention his sexual orientation or his partner, just that they shouldn't use the funeral to promote homosexuality. The church leaders could even indicate that they might mention their view that they disapprove of this in the service in a way that seeks not to offend his memory. There are lots of ways to make it clear that any pro-gay sentiment that might happen to be expressed is not a position the church agrees with.

I looked into this a bit more and I believe the Church didn't handle this correctly.

There's evidence that the Church was divided with low-level personnel giving the go-ahead and working with the family until a higher authority stepped in and shut off the service without truthful explanation. Most Mega-Churches have such diffuse authority it's not surprising such a difficult situation was poorly handled.

The Church would have been better off simply informing the family of their stand as soon as they knew and making clear they couldn't allow the possibility of homosexual sin to be glorified within the Church. At that point the family could either find another venue or come to a compromise.

Hey guys, I am a pastor and I recently officiated the funeral of a member of my family who was gay and died of AIDS. So I was in agreement with the general tone here, even linked to this entry. But if the statement given by the church is accurate, then I think there was much more to this than "denial of a funeral"

http://www.churchunusual.com/statement.html

Reid, this does make it more clear that the family had explicit wishes that they couldn't grant. But I think my point remains. They could have said that they didn't think they were agreeing to that when they agreed to host the service. They could have said that they would have hosted it if it were a more traditional funeral without these elements. As far as it's been reported, they simply said they wouldn't do it, and the reason they gave was that he was gay. This wasn't reported directly to the partner, but he found it out second-hand. There are lots of problems with how this was handled, unless this information is all inaccurate (which it may well be, given how these kinds of things often get handled in the media).

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