Friday, August 10, 2007

Cross him off then.

This is interesting. The Dallas Morning News reported this morning that a funeral locale had to be changed because High Point Church was not on board with the homosexual behavior of the deceased. (HT Tank)
An Arlington church volunteered to host a funeral Thursday, then reneged on the invitation when it became clear the dead man's homosexuality would be identified in the service.

There are 2 issues here for me.

1. Where is the line drawn for the behavior/lifestyle of the deceased? In other words, if you're going to allow a non-Christian to be honored in your church building, how much sinfulness is acceptable? Obviously, there are varying degrees of sin/sinfulness, but suppose the deceased was just an adulterer? What about a wife-beater?

How much obligation is there upon the church to research the deceased?

As I understand it, this situation is one where the church was surprised and felt they could not compromise their principles.
"Can you hold the event and condone the sin and compromise our principles?" he said. "We can't."

The issue was not so much that Mr. Sinclair was, from the church's perspective, an unrepentant sinner, he said. It's that it was clear from the photos that his friends and family wanted that part of his life to be a significant part of the service.

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."

I understand where they're coming from, but at the same time. I wonder about any "unrepentent sinner" being honored in a church building, since you're not honoring Christ in that person's life. Which leads me to my 2nd question.

2. Why would a person who was not a member of any church have a "church" funeral? The deceased was not a member of any church, so why have the funeral/memorial service in a church? Is it only because the building was large?

I've often wondered about this with regard to weddings as well. Why have a wedding in a Christian church if you're not planning on having a Christian marriage or if neither of the participants is a Christian? Of course, they both ought to be, lest somebody needs a rebuke for marrying a non-believer.

I think non-believers should marry each other, but I've often wondered why they would desire a "church wedding," beyond the aesthetic value of the building.

Any way, these are questions to ponder, especially by those in church leadership. Regardless of convictions about morals and standards of behavior, churches would do well to have thought through these issues and have policies in place ahead of time.
Figuring out how to walk that line is not easy, said the Rev. Bob Stith, the recently retired pastor of Carroll Baptist Church in Southlake who is now the national strategist for gender issues for the Southern Baptist Convention. His new job is to help churches negotiate conflicts like the one faced by High Point.

The best system is to work out procedures ahead of time, he said. For instance, he tells Baptist churches they should have clear guidelines that they can give to families at the start of funeral planning. But even that can't prevent every possible awkward situation, he said.

"I know because this is such new ground for a lot of churches and pastors, you get caught off-guard and you get reactive and not proactive," he said.
I applaud the church for not compromising their convictions, but I hope their experience will be a lesson for others as there was much embarrassment for both the church and the family.



At 10 August, 2007 14:07, Blogger Timothy said...

Hi Gunny,
The best way to keep non-believers from having a wedding in your church is to have an ugly building! :)

I have probably told 5 different prospective brides that have called here that they don't want to have a wedding here, because the building is so ugly...

As for a non-Christian funeral. I've done them. I don't like to do them, but I try to use the opportunity to offer the hope that could be had in Christ.

At 10 August, 2007 14:33, Blogger etoc said...

At our church, we don't perform weddings for non-attendees, and as-a-rule don't do funerals for non-attendees either. Two thoughts I have on why:

1) Both are a statement. Attendees ostensibly make a statement that is consistent with the statement we wish to make to the world--that life is granted by faith in Jesus Christ and found through rebirth into His body. A wedding or funeral by non-attendees makes what statement?

2) Both are witnessed by a community. Christian marriage and funerals are not fundamentally issues related to individuals but the acts of a community. A non-attendee has no community participating.

Bottom-line: ugly building or attractive, as a Pastor I want to point people to life in Jesus. I have no interest in playing a role that can just as easily be played by Captain Steubing on the Love Boat and diminishing what my role in these events means when performed for believers in the company of believers.

At 10 August, 2007 16:03, Blogger Rev. said...

Several years ago a couple, non-members of the church I pastored who were given my number by a church member, asked me to perform their wedding. I met with them for counseling. They had no intention of having a Christ-centered home, no intention of being involved with the life of the/a church, no intention of having their children (she was a widow with two kids) in church. Plus, they were living together. Still, they wanted a church wedding so that it would "be right in the eyes of God." I told them that they would be better served to go to a justice of the peace. Believe me, I shared the gospel with them and stressed to both of them the need to live for Christ.

The lady who gave them my number was in my office shortly thereafter and letting me know how I had "blown it." She was livid. It caused me to come up with a new policy: "I only perform weddings for members and acquaintances."

At 10 August, 2007 22:32, Blogger Rick+ said...

Because our building is "Picture perfect," we could run a full blown wedding business if we wanted to. Which is why our public policy is wedding for members only.

But funerals are another matter. For us, the funeral service is fully centered on the resurrection of Jesus and the Gospel... instead of being a celebration of the person. So there is no sense in which doing the funeral somehow passes a positive judgement on the person.


At 11 August, 2007 08:10, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the partner of Cecil Sinclair who passed. It is unfortunate that the church has decided to tell untruths in order to make themselves feel better, or make their side of the story into a saner response. Hopefully more of the truth will come out in future articles or investigations. First of all, let me start by stating that it was a member of the church who offered the use of their facility to us, on behalf of his brother who is/was a member of their congregation. I was introduced to this man as Cecil's partner. To my knowledge, this person at least was fully aware that we were living openly as a couple. This same member of the church, when were later advised that we could not use the facilities, on his own, with money from his own pocket, not church coffers, went and procured another facility for the funeral. The church did not do so. At no time did a member of the church contact us to indicate that they had a problem with any part of the service we were planning. We never had contact with the minister or any of the administration. On Tuesday morning, we gave the church a total of 83 various pictures of Cecil that were forwarded to us by various members of his family. Of those, not a single one showed a man hugging or kissing another man, nor were there any overtly homosexual references. Cecil's sister Kathleen sat and worked with the two people preparing the video and went through all of the photos with them. There was only one photo which would be considered offensive, as it was a picture of him in his early 20s making a rude gesture at his best friend who was taking the photo. We removed it and never asked that it be included. It was just overlooked in the rush to get things done. These individuals went through all the other photos, which were pictures of family gatherings, birthday parties, vacations, etc. At no time was anything expressed to her or us that they had a disagreement with any of the other photos. Cecil's brother Lee, who was the member of the church, asked that we include a call to prayer near the beginning of the services, as well as a call for salvation at the end. We immediately agreed to this because it meant so much to his brother personally. We even asked if they wanted to have their own minister conduct it, or if our officiator could. Our officiator was a baptist minister. There was no objection raised, so we assumed that it was OK. On Wednesday evening about 6pm, we received a call. The person on the line put Cecil's brother Lee, who is mentally impaired, onto the phone. Lee informed us that something had gone wrong, and then someone else got on the phone. That person informed us that a terrible string of errors was made, and that the service could no longer be held at their facility. We never spoke to the pastor nor anyone from his administration directly. It was all done through middlemen. When we requested to know why we could no longer use their facility, there was no answer. They simply stated a mistake was made. Later that night, while we were scrambling to find another location, Cecil's niece called back to the church and demanded an explanation. It was at that time a very long string of excuses began to form. First she was told that it was because we were bringing in outside food, which they didn't allow. Then we were told it was because there was construction going on nearby which they felt would be too obtrusive. We said we didn't think it would interfere. Then we were told it was because there was a scheduling conflict. When asked was other event was being held that was conflicting, the call was disconnected. The remembrance we held for Cecil I felt was wonderful. We started with a brief welcome by the officiator. A song (For the Fallen) was sung. Cecil's obituary was read. We then played the video which was about 10 minutes long, showing him from childhood, graduation, his naval service, and family gatherings, especially those from his 46th birthday, which had just been on the 5th of July. The officiator then read from personal family statements and remembrances of him. His mother, father, uncle and sister had all contributed personal insights into his life that they were not able to state themselves due to grief. A time was then allowed for individuals to come to the mike and offer their own personal remembrances of him. The chorale then sang another song (Amazing Grace). Closing remarks were made by the officiator and we then moved to the light meal that had been prepared. Meat and cheese sandwiches, cakes, and cookies. Only a small amount of this was offered by the church, most was either brought by family or friends. To me personally, I have no problem with the church turning us away. My problem is with the method in which they did it. I happen to know several other members of that church who are also gay, and they had no idea that their church held that opinion on this topic either. If they had told us right away, or even on Tuesday that they were not comfortable with the service, we would have been more than willing to try and come to some sort of compromise, or we could have changed venues. We were never given that option. Someone in a position of power made the decision to cut us off, and didn't even have the moral courage to tell us the truth to our faces. Hopefully your reading this helps to make sense of what occurred. I fully understand the church’s right to deny us the use of their facilities. I also served in the military, (US Army, 1987-2002), and I have fought to defend their freedom of religion and freedom of choice. If just one couple or family can be saved from having to suffer the same as we did, I would consider all this to have been worthwhile. I truly believe all congregations need to have more open communication between all their members, so that the person who had initially welcomed us into their church would have known that is was not acceptable in the eyes of their leaders, and the entire issue would have been avoided. If we had known from the beginning we were not welcome, or the offer had never been made, we would have just continued making the same arrangements we finally had in the end. Nothing we did for Cecil's remembrance ceremony was changed, other than the location. I loved Cecil truly and deeply, and I am sorry that anyone considers a truly heartfelt, emotional, even spiritual connection to another human being to be sinful, simply because that love is between two people of the same sex.

At 11 August, 2007 13:32, Blogger GUNNY said...

FYI ... Comments on this blog are moderated and I did indeed allow the above comment, though not without reservation.

My reservation is not so much with the content, but with the anonymous nature of the post yet allegedly coming from a very specific person.

However, I posted it for 2 reasons:

1. This very well could be the person claimed and this very well could be the "rest of the story." If so, I appreciate hearing it.

2. Even if not, I can certainly see how this scenario could unfold exactly as recounted. Churches aren't always the most cohesive within themselves with regard to communication and I can see a church getting itself into a bind where it's committed to do something it would rather not.

The specific issue with this situation is not as important as the frustration and embarassment experienced by all involved when there's a lack of communication regarding expectations.

Churches would do well to have specific policies in place ahead of time to attempt to minimize mutual discomfort in the future.

Of course, given even my limited pastoral experience, I know that merely restricting weddings & funerals to members of the church is no guarantee there won't be tenderness or frustrations.

At 17 August, 2007 12:08, Blogger GUNNY said...

Read the official statement on the issue by High Point Church hosted on the American Family Association's site.


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