A Florida church cancelled a gay man’s funeral last week, saying that because the man was in a same-sex marriage, it would be against the church’s biblical ethos to carry out the burial.
In July, Julion Evans of Tampa lost his four year battle with Amyloidosis, a disease that attacks a sufferer’s organs and nervous system that causes them to eventually shut down. Evans had been a frequent attendee at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa, where he was apparently well-liked by the congregation. When Julion died, his family asked that his funeral be held at the church, to which the church’s pastor T.W. Jenkins reportedly agreed. Then Mr Evans’ obituary was published, and things changed.
Julie Atwood, Evans’ mother, was reportedly standing by her son’s coffin at his wake the day before his funeral when she took the phone call from the pastor. In that phone call, the pastor said that he hadn’t realized Evans was gay and married to another man. Evans had been with his partner Kendall Capers for 17 years, and they were married last year in Maryland. They had never kept their relationship a secret, but apparently pastor Jenkins hadn’t known about the relationship. The obituary named Capers as Evans’ husband and, as such, pastor Jenkins said that it would be “blasphemous” to bury Evans as the church is against same-sex marriage.
Jenkins reportedly explained:
Based on our preaching of the scripture, we would have been in error to allow the service in our church. I’m not trying to condemn anyone’s lifestyle, but at the same time, I am a man of God, and I have to stand up for my principles.
Evans’ mother, understandably, was devastated by this decision, particularly because the family has a longstanding relationship with the church. Atwood, with just a few hours to spare, was eventually able to find another venue at which to lay her son to rest, but as many mourners couldn’t be contacted due to the short time frame, some turned up at the aforementioned church and missed the funeral altogether.
Evans’ husband has said he would have understood the church’s position if the church had denied them when they first inquired about the funeral, but that they had cancelled with less than 24 hours notice effectively robbed Evans of a dignified funeral. In addition, to cancel during the wake was “disrespectful,” Evans’ husband said.
The Internet hasn’t taken kindly to this story either, and the church’s Facebook page has been inundated with negative comments — until that page was taken down. The church’s website, similarly, has seen its contact information scrubbed from the homepage. However, Google reviews of the venue, not so easily removed by the church, speak of a nation’s anger at this act: “So I’m just wondering if this church denies the dignity of a funeral service to everyone whom they have judged to be sinners, or if they’re just using that as an excuse for their own hatred and bigotry,” reads one. Another says,” This church’s denial of a good man’s final rite of passage is despicable and Pastor Jenkins should be ashamed of how unchristian his action was.”
A follow up report from WTSP.com tells that the pastor may be anything but ashamed. News crews were originally barred from entering the church service, but when they were allowed after some 40 minutes, it was to see the pastor thanking the congregation for their support:
“My family is doing fine,” he said to claps from the audience. “Church family please remain focused and prayerful … and we will continue to stand on the word of God.”
So far the Right hasn’t moved in any concerted way to make a martyr of the church and the pastor, but it now seems inevitable.
There are several issues at play here, though, and they say that this story will be far more toxic to the anti-gay marriage side. We first have to recognize that it is a church’s right to refuse a service to anyone for mostly any reason — no matter how disdainful we find that fact. However, the fact of the longstanding relationship between the family and church, as well as the timing of the phone call giving the family just hours to make alternative arrangements, all serve to make the denial of the funeral mean-spirited and not to mention hypocritical.
As the quoted comment above touches upon, the pastor doesn’t appear to be applying Biblical standards to other areas of his funeral practice. There is no reported weeding out of liars, adulterers or gamblers; no mass investigations into the morality of those put to rest. Therefore one is forced to ask why this particular “sin” was more objectionable than any other.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time in the United States that funeral rites have been denied over a person’s sexual orientation, but what is interesting here is how poorly received the pastor’s decision has been. In the face of Supreme Court decisions like the Hobby Lobby one, that would appear to pave the way for future broader religious rights exemptions and more cases of injustice based on those exemptions, the public outcry here is a tonic, and one that says that as hard as the Right might push, there are some lines that should not be crossed: robbing someone of their dignity in death, and a family of their right to say goodbye to their loved one in as swift and loving a manner as possible, is just that.
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