When I was a child, enjoying one of many sleepovers with my cousin, we’d often get a bedtime story from his mother, my aunt. Her husband, my uncle, was the pastor of our church, so it wasn’t surprising that most of these stories had a spiritual or fable-like lesson attached to them.
Her story-telling abilities were mesmerizing to my 8-year-old self and my 9-year-old cousin. While I have no idea if these tales were of her own creation or if she found them in books, I was always fascinated. One story in particular remains with me.
It goes something like this: A group of children decide to go to a nearby park to play ball after Sunday services. On their way, they encounter a dirty, possibly homeless woman who is reading the “wrong” version of the Bible. When the woman sees the group of children, she smiles, and asks them if they know where she could learn more about the faith related to the book she has in her hands. One of the boys, who always exceeded expectations in Sunday School class, points out that the “New English Bible” isn’t a “real” Bible, ignores the woman’s inquiry and encourages his friends to continue on to the ball field.
The woman patiently asks again, only to be rebuffed a second time by the leader of the group. This is when the stranger unveils her true identity as an angel, and warns that purposefully missing an opportunity to minister to a stranger is just as bad as any other sin.
In other words, treat people with dignity and respect, whether or not your views of the world are different.
I hadn’t thought about that story in years. In fact, I’ve drifted a long way from my religious upbringing. But when word of a Tampa Missionary Baptist Church canceling a gay man’s funeral simply because of his sexuality appeared on my newsfeed, I was outraged, disappointed, and ultimately reminded of this story shared by my aunt so long ago.
The story originally reported by WTSP-TV in Tampa shares that a pastor canceled the scheduled funeral after parishioners “discovered” the deceased was gay . Mourners of the 42 year old man were scheduled to arrive just 24 hours later. This man’s “sin” was discovered in his obituary, which listed his surviving husband. That was enough to convince the pastor to forego common sense and teach a modified version of Christianity, which is all about intolerance rather than love, acceptance and communication.
The story was picked up across the country and the church received so much backlash it pulled down its Facebook page and removed contact information from its website. So much for sticking by your principles.
Despite the feedback, the pastor has no regrets, news outlets have reported.
The war on Christianity is a catch-phrase used by talking heads and pundits—typically of the FOX News ilk. It’s a scare tactic to shake older, conservative voters out of their comfortable, suburban homes and get them to the voting booth.
The “war” is a myth, of course, perpetuated by churches to fight the horrors of equality. Those of us who no longer believe in the strict religious teachings of the church—regardless of the denomination—simply yearn for freedom from religious ideology in our everyday lives.
The decisions of this church and its pastor are an example of religious freedom rather than a violation of civil rights. Churches have Constitutional permission to discriminate. We may not like the decision this pastor made, but the church has the right to make the call—much like churches can refuse to marry couples of different religions or same-sex couples.
It’s the hypocrisy if this decision that bothers me most. The funeral was scheduled, the family were long-term members and the pastor went back on his word.
We all know the long list of “other sins” in the Old Testament and doubt this pastor picks on members of his flock who may work at Red Lobster (no shellfish!) or behind the counter of The Gap (no mixed fibers!)
Maybe, as this story continues to spread, someone will get past the noise and hear the same lesson so dutifully shared with me three decades ago.