Sunday, August 12, 2007

God Please Forgive Us

From the Dallas Morning News

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.

The event placed High Point Church in the cross hairs of an issue many conservative Christian organizations are discussing: how to take a hard-line theological position on homosexuality while showing compassion toward gay people and their families.

But the dispute between High Point Church and the friends and family of Cecil Sinclair has left confusion and hard feelings on both sides.

Mr. 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, said his mother, Eva Bowers. He did not belong to a church.

His brother, Lee, is an employee and member of High Point, 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.


Both the family and church officials agree that the church volunteered to host a memorial service, feed 100 guests and create a multimedia presentation of photos from Mr. Sinclair's life.

But the photos that the family selected alerted church officials that there might be a problem with the service, Mr. Simons said.

"Some of those photos had very strong homosexual images of kissing and hugging," he said. "My ministry associates were taken aback."

And then, he said, the family asked to have its own people officiate the service. "We had no control over the format of the memorial," Mr. Simons said.


Nobody from the church called her or Mr. Sinclair's partner, Paul Wagner, to discuss possible changes to the service, Ms. Bowers said.

"We could have reached a compromise," she said. "That was never attempted."

At least some theological questions could have been worked out, she said. For instance, the family was willing to allow the church to issue an "altar call" asking people to accept Jesus at the end of the service.


"Can you hold the event and condone the sin and compromise our principles?" he {Simons} 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."


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."

I think Pastor Simons struck out on three counts:

(1) His and his congregation's continued heavy reliance on one passage in the New Testament attributed to Paul which appears to condemn homosexuality (read the link to find out what Paul was really up to.)

(2) Even if the pastor wishes to throw out the above argument, the comparison of homosexuality to murder is as odious as it is uninformed. Furthermore, it is precisely that kind of statement which serves to validate violence towards homosexuals. Not exactly what Jesus would do.

(3) The selectivity of which sins can be forgiven and which apparently cannot. To which I would refer the good pastor and his congregation to the following parable which, like everything else Jesus said, had no caveat nor condemnation for homosexuals:

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"

Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.

"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'

"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:21-35)