Saturday, August 11, 2007

Church won't hold funeral for gay man

An Arlington (TX) megachurch canceled a memorial service for a Navy veteran 24 hours before it was to start because the deceased was gay.

Cecil Howard Sinclair , 46, died Monday. He was a native of Fort Worth, a Navy veteran who served in Desert Storm helping rescuers find downed pilots, and a singer in the Turtle Creek Chorale. He did not belong to a church.

His brother, Lee, is an employee and member of High Point Church, a nondenominational mega-congregation led by the Rev. Gary Simons. Mr. Simons is the brother-in-law of Joel Osteen, nationally known pastor of Houston's Lakewood Church.

Officials at the nondenominational High Point Church knew that Cecil Howard Sinclair was gay when they offered to host his service, said his sister, Kathleen Wright. But after his obituary listed his life partner as one of his survivors, she said, it was called off.

"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.

But the church's pastor, the Rev. Gary Simons, said no one knew Sinclair was gay until the day before the Thursday service, 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.

"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." [LSB: They loved the family? They couldn't get past their bigoted and homophobic nature to show any type of Christian love to this family!]

Family and friends discovered the church had withdrawn its invitation Wednesday evening, when Lee Sinclair called to tell his mother, she said. Ms. Bowers said that her older son is developmentally disabled, with hearing and vision problems. Nobody from the church called her or Mr. Sinclair's partner, Paul Wagner, to discuss possible changes to the service, Ms. Bowers said.

After the church decided it would not host the funeral service, it offered to pay for another facility, Mr. Simons said. The family declined and found a local funeral home to hold the event Thursday night. Even so, the church sent over food and the video – minus the images church officials found to be offensive.

"Some of our people will be there at the memorial service," Mr. Simons said. "We tried to do the very best of our ability to express the love of Christ." [LSB: This, Mr. Simons, is the height of hypocrisy, no matter how you try to spin it. Do you, Mr. Simons, really believe that Jesus, whose 'love thy neighbor' philosophy was the cornerstone of his message, would have shown his love and compassion in this way?]

That kind of reaction is all too familiar to survivors of the AIDS onslaught of the 1980s, said Ed Young, a charter member of the Turtle Creek Chorale [a gay men's choral group in Dallas]. Back then, having churches turn down funerals of gay men was not uncommon, he said.

"It may be surprising to younger gays, because most gays think that doesn't happen any more," he said. "But it's still there."

-Edited from accounts in The Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle

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