St. Luke belongs on list of gay-affirming Methodist churches

Article on lawsuit raises questions about whether predominantly African-American congregations are subject to different standards

Editor’s Note: The number of gay-affirming Methodist churches in our Feb. 10 article was based on an online database maintained by GayChurch.org.

Steward-HaroldIn a Feb. 10 article in Dallas Voice describing a lawsuit filed against the St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church and our recently resigned senior pastor, Tyrone Gordon, contributing writer David Webb distinguished St. Luke from the “six gay-affirming Methodist churches in the Dallas area” and stated that the “congregation includes some LGBT members.”

Although Webb’s statements were an attempt to illustrate St. Luke as gay accessible, his comments unintentionally reduced the congregation’s track record of fighting for human rights, social justice and inclusion.

As a member of St. Luke for nearly six years and as an active member of the LGBT community, this causes me to question the required actions needed in order to deem a church “gay affirming” — especially in light of St. Luke’s efforts not only for the liberation of its gay members, but for all sexual minorities within the state of Texas.

A core value of the St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church is to be an advocate and a prophetic voice in the community for all oppressed peoples. Although the membership is largely African American and heterosexual, homosexuals are included the churches understanding of “Community.”

In my opinion, St. Luke has not only served as a place for spiritual development, but also as a safe haven for members of the African-American LGBT community.

It was not uncommon for Pastor Gordon to clarify God’s inclusion of gays in his lineage within his sermons. Gordon has preached sermons where he stated, “Gay or straight, you’re a child of God,” and, “The church needs gay fish and straight fish.” Gordon even facilitated the removal of a member of the St. Luke ministerial team a few years ago when she preached a very homophobic sermon. But these statements of gay Christian identity and affirmation and creating a safe space for sexual minorities didn’t start with Pastor Gordon.

His predecessor, Pastor Zan Wesley Holmes, described by Webb as a “a respected civil rights leader,”  was also known to preach of and create an environment of inclusion. Additionally, Pastor Holmes was an avid supporter of the passage of hate crimes legislation in Texas,  a position that he has stated he took not only because of the crimes committed against racial minorities but also because of those committed because of one’s sexual identity. Holmes’ support and work with State Rep. Helen Giddings, a St. Luke member, led to the church being vandalized in 2001.

The St. Luke church, under the leadership of Pastor Holmes, was also a forerunner against the fight of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Dallas. As an early responder, the church created care teams to provide aid and services to people living with HIV and AIDS and made it a point not to discriminate against the gay men who were disproportionately affected by the epidemic.

And this list does not include the very personal actions that Pastors Holmes and Gordon have taken to provide pastoral care to St. Luke’s LGBT membership, myself included.

Since the only requirement detailed for something to be considered “gay affirming” is to affirm gays, I wonder how only six local United Methodist Churches acquired that designation — or are there other requirements needed in order to gain membership into the sisterhood? And are the inclusionary practices of St. Luke not a valid source of gay affirmation?

But more importantly, who gets to decide what levels of affirmation are needed even for consideration and are African American’s  and other people of color left out of that conversation? Surely that has been the case on other issues related to the wants and needs of the overall gay community, such as things like marriage equality.

For me, my spirituality is based on my individual relationship with my higher power and in that same vein, I believe individuals determined how their spiritual institutes affirm them based on individual desire and need and multiple local United Methodist institutes (more than six) can potentially offer that. But if the very well documented gay affirming actions of the St. Luke “Community” United Church does not position it to be a source of affirmation for sexual minorities, then we are working off of a broken metric system — and it is our work to create an evaluation and reworking of that structure.

The St. Luke Community United Methodist Church has and continues to be a prophetic voice for all oppressed people. That is partially the reason many gay notables such as Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, continue to call it their church home. And every

Sunday when we proclaim through song that “we are the church that reaches up to God and out to everyone,” take it from me, gays are included.

Harold Steward is artistic director of Fahari Arts Insitute and editor in chief of BlaqOut Dallas. He can be contacted at info@blaqoutdallas.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Lawsuit accuses St. Luke pastor of homosexual harassment

Minister at iconic black Methodist church in Dallas steps down amid allegations he coerced young men

gordon.tyrone

The Rev. Tyrone D. Gordon

DAVID WEBB  |  Contributing Writer
davidwaynewebb@hotmail.com

A lawsuit filed against St. Luke Community United Methodist Church in Dallas and its former senior pastor, the Rev. Tyrone D. Gordon, portrays the pastoral office of the predominantly African-American church in Southeast Dallas as a hotbed of homosexual harassment.

St. Luke, with 5,000 members, is one of the largest African-American churches in the North Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. St. Luke isn’t one of the six gay-affirming Methodist churches in the Dallas area, but its congregation includes some LGBT members.

The Rev. Zan Holmes, who preceded Gordon’s appointment in 2002 as senior pastor at St. Luke, is a respected civil rights leader. The church is known as a center for community activism, and it has attracted prominent members such as Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, a U.S. trade representative appointed by President Barack Obama.

Thus far, church leaders at St. Luke and the North Texas Conference have remained silent about the lawsuit, as has Gordon, who announced his resignation as senior pastor from St. Luke in January to take effect on Wednesday, Feb. 15. On that date Holmes, who has also kept silent, will return as interim minister.

W. Earl Bledsoe, the bishop of the North Texas Conference, released a statement at the time of the resignation noting Gordon gave up his credentials during the investigation of complaints lodged against him by St. Luke church members.

The Rev. Eric Folkerth, pastor of the gay-affirmative Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, said in a telephone interview this week that his reaction to the news of the lawsuit was one of “deep sadness and sorrow.” Folkerth said he hopes the controversy will be viewed as a “sexual abuse of authority,” rather than in terms of the sexual orientation involved.

“I am hoping, praying and trusting that hopefully all of this will be dealt with appropriately in the church and in the legal system,” Folkerth said.

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The Rev. Cameron Greer

The Rev. Cameron Jerrod Greer, 26, who is a graduate student at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology and a pastor ministering at Cockrell Hill United Methodist Church, alleges in the lawsuit, filed on Feb. 3 in 101st District Court in Dallas, that Gordon, 53, sexually harassed him and several other young male members of the church for at least seven years.

In the petition filed by Dallas attorney and St. Luke church member Marilynn Mayse, Greer alleges that in 2003 and 2004, beginning when Greer was 18, Gordon rubbed his penis up against Greer’s buttocks on more than one occasion in front of four other young men who appeared to regard the activity as “normal behavior.”

In another instance, Greer alleges he observed a young man wiping sweat off of Gordon’s body as the pastor stood in his underwear with his pants lowered. Greer, who worked as an audiovisual technician at St. Luke, alleges in the lawsuit that he observed numerous instances of inappropriate behavior by Gordon involving young men.

The incidents often occurred in Gordon’s church office and sometimes between two Sunday services, according to the lawsuit.

Greer also alleges that Gordon invited him to his home in August 2004 when the pastor’s wife was out of town to discuss the young man’s plans to become a Methodist minister. Gordon allegedly prepared one of Greer’s favorite meals, spaghetti, and invited the young man to watch a movie with him. While sitting on the sofa Gordon allegedly moved closer to Greer but was interrupted by the arrival of one of Gordon’s two daughters.

In two other alleged incidents in 2009 and 2010, Greer claims in the lawsuit that, while he was serving as a pastor at First United Methodist Church in Seagoville, he visited Gordon at St. Luke, where Gordon insisted on hugging him and rubbed his penis against him. Greer adds in the petition that he asked Gordon to be a guest preacher at the Seagoville church, and Gordon implied that Greer would have to do “something” for him in return.

The lawsuit alleges that St. Luke church leaders had been informed about complaints of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment made by church employees and members against Gordon as early as 2006, but they took no action. It also claims that church leaders failed to protect Greer and other young men from Gordon’s alleged harassment.

In the lawsuit, Greer explains his delay in lodging complaints against Gordon as part of a process that was required to address the “issues” and to begin a “quest toward healing.”

The lawsuit, which accuses church officials of breach of duties, claims Greer has suffered “severe emotional distress, mental pain and suffering, and adverse physical consequences, physical pain and suffering.” It seeks unspecified punitive damages.

The lawsuit describes Gordon as a “predator” who used his spiritual authority to “coerce certain young male members and employees” into “sexual acts and relationships for his own personal sexual gratification.”

Gordon, who was born in Los Angeles, received a bachelor’s degree from Bishop College in Dallas, and he did his graduate work at Fuller

Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. He came to St. Luke as senior pastor after serving as senior pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kan.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

The Music Issue: The spin doctors

Is Dallas’ gay dance scene what it once was — or can be? A panel of out DJs gives us the back beat

In gay dance clubs, the bartender is crucial, and the doorman keeps the peace, but the hero of the night is the DJ. The DJ works not just as the person bringing the tunes, but also as ship’s captain, leading the dance floor into an open sea of remixes and creating waves of euphoria through matched beats. Rarely, though, do we hear them open up.

Until now. Seven DJs from across the Dallas scene candidly weigh in on the crowds they play for, the state of Dallas’ party scene and just where is it heading. From dance to country to even outside the gayborhood, queer DJs are setting the tone and making their mark, but now they want to be heard.

— Rich Lopez

Blaine-Soileau

DJ BLAINE SOILEAU | ‘If you want to hear your favorite song, go sit in your car then come back into the club.’ (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Dallas Voice: How has the scene evolved?

Alex Guerrero: I’ve been going to Cedar Springs since I was 19 and it hasn’t changed much. The area could explore something more. The music has changed for sure and the lesbian scene embraces trendy genres like dubstep.

Paul Kraft: How we socialize as a community has changed. It’s a real challenge. Younger LGBT members socialize more in non-gay clubs. Clubs should adapt; smart ones are appealing to diverse patrons.

Scottie “Redeye” Canfield: I hear complaints all the time about how DJs can’t play a non-hit. I come from the “trust-the-DJ” era.

Blaine Soileau: I’d like to go more progressive. What I think holds [me] back are the constant requests for Gaga, Britney and Rihanna.

Micah, you are in Los Angeles now. Is the scene different there? 

Micah Banes: The L.A. scene lets me play what I want. They are open to anything. I can play a dubstep track followed by disco and the crowd digs it.

How could the scene be better?

Redeye: I wish there was more diversity. [Back in the day], straight people went to gay clubs because the music was better; now, every place is carbon copy and they don’t have the balls to break out.

Soileau: It’s a challenge to break the migration pattern to Cedar Springs.

Banes: Yes! Blaine hit the nail on the head. I think Dallas is hurting on venues. The worst thing is getting the ’mos to experience different things.

Kraft: Much of the scene is held in hands of few  — namely, the Dallas Tavern Guild. That doesn’t allow for variety. Caven controls much of the Strip and they [seldom bring in outside DJs], and it’s tougher for smaller indie clubs to finance guest DJs. Until we have more club owners like [those at the Dallas Eagle], willing to be innovative, nothing will change.

What is the Dallas gay club scene doing right? 

Micah-Banes

MICAH BANES | ‘I’m excited about where gay music is going. We’re going to see a big change in the next five years.’

Roger Huffman: Our crowd is the same, but we do see more straight people coming in.

Banes: Roger is awesome. He’s got it on lock.

Guerrero: [At Sue Ellen’s], we play to customers and fans. Crappy music doesn’t make us money and the DJs are doing a major part for the night. Great managers help.

How do you keep it fresh?

Guerrero: I know what I do for the lesbian crowd works, but sometimes there is a pressure if they want a different sound. For me, it’s about maintaining focus.

Soileau: I try to change up the music each time I spin locally. I’ll have favorites thrown in but people will definitely hear new and unreleased stuff.

Huffman: We may play some slower country before the faster stuff needs to happen — like the two-steps and the shuffles.

With the Purple Party, MetroBall and the like, how is Dallas as a dance destination?

Redeye: It used to be [great]. I would define the whole scene as kind of stereotypical. It’s the same thing everywhere and there are a lot of people who don’t wanna hear that.

Guerrero: Dallas is lacking in some parts. Station 4 just did the Glow Party and it was cool, but how much better it could be if we had more [of those events]?

Soileau: Bigger events are going by the wayside. Many of the circuit parties from the ’90s have vanished. I don’t think Dallas would support more. We can’t charge a cover because people likely complain.

Erik Thoresen: Yes. Because of one word: Pride.

Banes: Do you think it’s the support or lack of venues for the shrinking of party size?

Soileau: Micah, I think it’s just been done and new things are evolving.

Kraft: Trends change. It was sofa clubs, then bottle clubs, but I’m seeing a trend to dance more.

“]Alex-Guerrero

ALEX GUERRERO | ‘Being the only female DJ in town is a blessing. I hope to spread my wings and make the lesbian community proud.’ (Rich Lopez/Dallas Voice)"

Are non-gay clubs surpassing gay ones in innovation with differing offerings like silent discos, guest DJs and live music?

Kraft: I can appreciate out-of-the-box inspiration; incorporating new ideas is always good.

Soileau: Yes, but silent discos were a cute idea, then buh-bye. I would love to see more guest DJs, but try charging a cover to pay for them.

Guerrero: I don’t see a big difference. The clubs I’ve been to are the same, music-wise.

Redeye: You can’t be in this business and be cheap. Clubs are about rep and bringing in someone that’s worth a damn will have more people in spending money at the bar. You have to invest in the bar. Beauty Bar has brought in cutting edge DJs from outside for $1,000.

As DJs, do you think live music options are good or bad for the scene? 

Soileau: I’m not sure about more live music.

Kraft: As a dance DJ, the last thing I want is to build up energy to stop for a live act. Sue Ellen’s has done a great job with live music, though.

Huffman: I wish we had more options. A live band came in on our anniversary and we had requests for live bands but nothing became of it.

Banes: The Round-Up would be great for live music.

Soileau: But I don’t see a gay crowd packing a live venue.

Why is that? 

Redeye

DJ REDEYE | ‘I wish I could play in the community, but play cool stuff. I couldn’t get away with it, so I’ve always been at clubs that were on the fringe.’

Banes: There are not a lot of live acts that can pull in 300 homos to a club.

Soileau: That all would be nice but most of the gay crowd isn’t in-the-know. Back in the ’80s, I would have answered differently. People were thirsty for new stuff.

Guerrero: I know our customers enjoy the bands. There is nothing wrong with more music. What’s wrong with finding gay bands? I’m not a big fan of live music, but seeing them at our club, there is major talent out there.

What has been the best thing to happen to the Dallas club scene? The worst?

Soileau: We haven’t dissolved and faded away. The worst is how the Internet has taken a big bite out of club life.

Banes: Like Blaine said, the Cedar Springs migrations hurt, but the passion is still there.

Huffman: A good thing was the no-smoking ordinance — it made the atmosphere so much better. The worst has been the clubs that have closed.

Redeye: There’s always room for it to get better, but you need a catalyst, a vanguard. Try something out once a month, do something different. Baby steps.

Guerrero: For me, the worst is the drama. It puts people at high risk. Don’t bring the drama out!

Have Scruff, Grindr and social networks affected clubs?

Kraft: You can now order men like pizza. We don’t know how to talk to each other. I think people are getting over that and have more desire to get out.

Soileau: Absolutely. That’s why clubs are promoting alongside these apps.

Thoresen: What hasn’t changed is that people still go clubbing to party and get down.

As DJs on Cedar Springs, how do you respond to that migration?

Guerrero: Working on the block, I’m very lucky, but I know there could be more venues. We work hard to have a presence. I can’t imagine how it would feel if I didn’t get as much visibility.

Thoresen: It’s tough because I’ve been doing solid while other clubs have been up and down.

Huffman: I do like that the clubs are in one location. I think in part, that’s good for us.

Redeye: There is a market for it and I wish I could play in the community, but play cool stuff. I couldn’t get away with it, so I’ve always been at clubs that were on the fringe.

Where do you see the gay club scene heading?

Redeye: Gay clubs feel more segregated than ever. Maybe people think we’re progressing, but we’re really going backwards.

Soileau: It’ll always be in a transitional state. But they’ll be around.

Kraft: It could use more diversity and outside influences. Dallas isn’t known for being versatile. Having been a promoter, I will tell you: It was suicide to deviate. The guys here want what they want. It’s tough from a balancing standpoint.

So what’s your overall perspective on the state of the Dallas gay club dance scene?

Huffman
: It’s good. As long as people still are coming out to have fun, it’ll continue.

Soileau: I do think we are trailing straight clubs [in terms of innovation], but it’s a cycle.

Kraft: It could be more current, innovative. The Cavens, the Okons, the Guild still have a hold and work very much in the old way. The Eagle has adapted and moved forward. Until we have more club owners determined to do that, the scene could stagnate.

Redeye: A lot has to do with the business of it. The DJ is there to educate, but if you think of clubs as a school, it’s like the audience gets to check out one book and everyone’s gotta share it.

What do you say to haters who say Dallas has no appreciation for music diversity? 
Soileau
: You have all these people that are living in a time warp with their relentless requests. If you want to hear your favorite song, go sit in your car then come back into the club.

Final thoughts?
Redeye: I’m not dissing mainstream, but it’s sad when a whole market is ignored. It’s like feeling ostracized in my own community for listening to something different. It doesn’t feel representative.

Guerrero: I feel honored to be in the biggest gay scene;  being the only female is a blessing. I hope to spread my wings and make the lesbian community proud.

Banes: I’m excited about where gay music is going. We’re going to see a big change in the next five years.

Kraft: At the Eagle, you can see everybody having a great time together. That‘s the future. Separately things are weak, but draw a number of groups together and you see the strength.

Soileau: Just keep supporting your local clubs because when they are gone you will miss them.

Huffman: I agree with Blaine. The support is important.

Thanks, all. Now keep the party going.

…………………………

Who’s who on the panel

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

TX Dems won’t vote on marriage in 2012

Party leaders opt against placing nonbinding resolution on primary ballot

Graney.Don

Don Graney

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

AUSTIN — Democrats in Texas won’t get to vote next year on whether they support same-sex marriage, after the party’s Executive Committee shot down a proposal to place a non-binding resolution on the March 2012 primary ballot.

Meeting in the capital on Saturday, Nov. 19, the State Democratic Executive Committee voted 33-22 against placing the resolution in support of same-sex marriage on the ballot, according to Dan Graney, president of the party’s LGBT caucus.

The resolution, backed by the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus, called for same-sex couples to receive “equal access to civil marriage and all its benefits,” and stated that “all state and federal laws denying such access should be repealed.”

In addition to gauging support for marriage equality among Democrats in Texas, the resolution was designed to boost interest and turnout in the primary, especially among young voters, given that President Barack Obama is running unopposed, Graney said.

However, some SDEC members feared backlash from the marriage resolution and said it could be used against Democratic candidates by their Republican opponents, Graney said.

“Unfortunately, many SDEC members are afraid to let Democratic voters have their say on issues they regard as too controversial,” Graney said after the SDEC’s vote. “Polling data shows that legal recognition of same-sex relationships is now supported by 63 percent of all Texans, so I don’t understand the fear about allowing voters to weigh in on this.”

Some openly LGBT members of the SDEC argued passionately in favor of the marriage resolution, Graney said. However, two openly gay SDEC members — both from Tarrant County — opposed it.

SDEC member DeeJay Johannessen, former president of Stonewall Democrats of Tarrant County, said he voted against placing the resolution on the ballot because he didn’t think it would accomplish the stated purpose of increasing voter turnout. Johannessen said valuable resources would have been spent trying to get the resolution passed, even though it would have no practical impact.

Erin-Moore3668

Erin Moore

Johannessen was joined in voting against the resolution by openly gay Tarrant County SDEC member Mary Edwards.

“My thoughts are that we should be dealing with issues about jobs and education and the economy,” Johannessen said. “We need to be focused on issues where we can affect change.

“It wasn’t about marriage equality,” he said of his vote. “It was about whether or not putting this on the ballot would bring more people out to vote, and I didn’t think that would happen.”

Graney said he feels the majority of SDEC members support same-sex marriage. But he said a majority, like Johannessen, opposed the measure for strategic reasons.

The state Republican Party has placed resolutions on primary ballots in at least the last two election cycles, but Democrats have not, Graney said.

Other resolutions voted on by the SDEC last weekend called for abolishing the death penalty, legalizing marijuana, passing the DREAM Act, mandating affordable college tuition and legalizing casino gambling.

The SDEC approved the resolutions related to the DREAM Act, college tuition and casino gambling, and they will appear on the March 6 primary ballot.

Graney noted that the marriage resolution received more support than those calling for abolishing the death penalty and legalizing marijuana, which got only 14 and 12 votes, respectively.

He also commended Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie and Resolutions Committee Chairman Dennis Teal for allowing the full SDEC to consider the marriage resolution even though the committee voted against it.

“We had a 45-minute discussion and debate on the issue,” Graney said. “They could have squashed it, but they didn’t.”

Although their votes drew attention because they’re openly gay, Johannessen and Edwards weren’t the only SDEC members from North Texas who opposed the resolution.

In fact, only one of six SDEC members from Dallas County — Theresa Daniel — voted in favor of placing the marriage resolution on the ballot, according to Omar Narvaez, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.
Daniel, a straight LGBT ally and Stonewall member, is running for the Precinct 1 seat on the Dallas County Commissioners Court in 2012.

Erin Moore of Dallas, vice president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus, is a non-voting SDEC member and spoke in support of the marriage resolution during Saturday’s meeting.

“We just thought this was the perfect opportunity to get the pulse of the electorate again,” Moore said of the resolution.

Regardless of whether the resolution appears on the ballot, Moore said, Republicans will try to attack Democrats over gay rights, and voters will ask candidates about their views on same-sex marriage.

Moore said she thinks the SDEC’s vote against placing the resolution on the ballot amounted to Democrats “running scared instead of running strong.”

“They’re scared of losing what we’ve got, which is very little,” she said.

The tally was based on a headcount of SDEC members who stood up, and there is no written record of how each person voted. But both Moore and Graney recalled a clear demographic split over the marriage equality resolution.

They said most members who opposed the resolution were older white males, and they called for the party to respond by electing more progressives and minorities to the SDEC next year.

“The SDEC needs to look like Texas is now, not like Texas was,” Moore said.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said he also would have liked to see the resolution on the ballot.
Smith said opponents of LGBT equality frequently point to results from 2005, when three-fourths of Texas voters supported a constitutional amendment banning both same-sex marriage and civil unions.

“We would like to see every candidate for every office asked where they stand on marriage equality,” Smith said. “It’s a subject we need to talk about, and the more we talk about it, the more we’re going to find how significantly the numbers have changed since six years ago.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Marking 50 years of inclusiveness

‘DOING EQUALITY’ | Inclusiveness has been a tenant of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Oak Cliff for all of its 50 years. Church members, from left, Kelley O’Conan, Kimberlyn Crowe, the Rev. Mark Walz, Michael Cipollo and the Rev. Marcia Shannon stand in front of a banner in the UUCOC sanctuary that reads “Marriage is a civil right.” (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Oak Cliff Unitarian church has moved beyond tolerance and acceptance and has been doing equality for a long time, leaders say

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

At the Unitarian Universalist Church of Oak Cliff, the LGBT community isn’t just accepted. LGBT members are an integral part of the church.

The church is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

The Rev. Mark Walz said that his church was the first in the country that was chartered after the merger of the Unitarian and Universalist denominations in 1961. He said that actually 15 churches were admitted that day, six of which are still in existence. But in the records, the Oak Cliff church was first.

Board member Michael Cipolla has been a member of UUCOC for two years. He was raised in the Catholic Church and tried a number of other faiths, including Mormonism. But then he and his partner found UUCOC.

“For the first time, I feel incredibly normal,” he said.

Cipolla is not the first gay board member and he doesn’t know who was. He said the church has just been “doing equality” for a long time.

Walz said that the first time he presided over a same-sex wedding was in 2004. He was almost embarrassed that his first took place so late because the denomination had embraced marriage equality long ago.

“That was the first time I was asked,” he said.

The denomination was one of the first to welcome gays and lesbians and one of the earliest to openly welcome LGBT clergy.

Walz said he has mixed feelings about denominations that finally get it and open their ordination to everyone. He said he’s glad that they’re finally doing the right thing, but what’s different now than 15 minutes ago?

Like Cipollo, congregation president Kimberlyn Crowe was also not raised Unitarian but has been a member for about 10 years. She said that at UUCOC she can put her values in action.

“I can only be enriched by supporting someone else’s journey,” she said.

Member Kelley O’Conan said, “I was afraid to come to this church because I didn’t think I would fit in.”

The group laughed at that idea but agreed that she was different from most of the church’s members — she’s fairly conservative.

Crowe said one issue that the congregation is dealing with now is immigration. O’Conan said her views on immigration might not be the same as many other members. But at UUCOC, differences are not just tolerated, they’re embraced.

Walz said that it was so freeing to be in a congregation where he can let everything go. He called all the prejudice that so many people live with a burden.

Because the Unitarian Church is liberal in a conservative area, Walz said he gets hate calls. One recent caller asked if he required every member to be baptized. He said that while most were, it wasn’t a requirement to come to his church.

“You’re going to burn in hell,” the caller told him.

Walz was amused that someone who probably considered himself religious would call another church with that message.

The Rev. Marcia Shannon was ordained a Methodist minister and is the church’s director of religious education.

“It’s freeing not to have to worry about prejudice of people around you,” she said.

She is surprised that more people do not know more about the denomination.

Universalist churches across the South were integral parts of the Underground Railroad and Unitarian churches in New England and across the north worked to abolish slavery.

Walz said that a misunderstanding of history leads fundamentalists to claim that the country was based on their right-wing Christian values. At least five presidents were UUs including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. More signers of the Declaration of Independence were associated with their faith and other founders like Paul Revere and Ben Franklin were also Unitarians.

But part of the Universalist belief was that God doesn’t play favorites.

Each of the members of the Oak Cliff church just wanted others to know how welcoming their church is — even if you’re conservative.

O’Conan said, “And it’s the only church I’ve ever been in where you can bring your dog into the sanctuary.”

—  John Wright

FW church leaves BGCT

Broadway Baptist wants to move beyond ‘distractions’ caused by denomination’s response to congregation’s welcome of gays

Tammye Nash and John Wright  |  Dallas Voice editor@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — Saying that the church doesn’t want any further “distractions” over its position on homosexuality, Fort Worth’s Broadway Baptist has officially ended its 125-year affiliation with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Broadway Baptist officials on Monday, Sept. 13, hand-delivered a letter — written by Pastor Brent Beasley and approved by the congregation on Wednesday, Sept. 8 — to BGCT offices in Dallas, informing BGCT Executive Director Randel Everett that the congregation will no longer contribute or send messengers to the convention’s annual meeting or publicly claim affiliation with the state convention, according to a report published online by The Baptist Standard.

The move was the latest development in an ongoing battle between Broadway and the Southern Baptist denomination that began in 2008 when the Fort Worth congregation voted to include photos of its openly LGBT members in the directory commemorating the church’s 125th anniversary.

Scott Green, an openly gay member of Broadway Baptist, responded to the decision Tuesday evening, Sept. 14, in an e-mail sent exclusively to Dallas Voice.

“It is indeed unfortunate that Broadway has once again been put into the situation of having to make choices that, in the end, benefit no one,” Green said.

Green added that Broadway Baptist “has always stood as a beacon of hope for the entire community. We also stand firm in the knowledge that God is gracious and loving, welcoming all of us.

“Each and every week, I am surrounded by this marvelous community of believers,” he continued. “They seek God’s guidance for their individual lives, and corporately live out their faith. They wrap their arms around those who are in need. I challenge anyone to stand and say that Broadway Baptist should not be a vital part of Christ’s mission.”

Green also had praise for Broadway’s pastor, Brent Beasley, saying the minister has “led us mightily” since becoming pastor in July 2009.

“We have rebounded in every way imaginable. Whether or not we are part of the SBC [Southern Baptist Convention], the BGCT, or any other denominational entity, I am both humbled and honored to be a member of this fine church,” Green said.

According to the letter from Broadway Baptist to BGCT, the Fort Worth church is leaving because of “distracting complications we encountered in our attempt to participate in last year’s annual meeting and the prospect of future unwanted and unneeded discord.”

Those “complications” were threats by some representatives to the state convention in the fall of 2009 that they would challenge the seating of messengers from Broadway Baptist over the church’s policy of welcoming openly gay and lesbian members.

According to the Baptist Standard, the letter also said one of Broadway’s commitments is “welcoming all persons into our church, including the outcast, those on the margins of society, and those who have not found that welcome in many other places, including, unfortunately, many churches,” and that thanks to that policy, Broadway Baptist has “become a vital and diverse community of faith, coming from many different backgrounds and representing many different perspectives, but united in the love and grace of Jesus Christ.”

In 2008, an internal dispute broke out at Broadway Baptist over plans to include same-sex couples in the photo directory. That led to an effort by some of the congregation’s more conservative members to oust then-Pastor Brett Younger.

That effort eventually failed when the congregation voted to keep him on. But a month later, Younger announced he was leaving to take a teaching position at Mercer University in Georgia.

In June of 2009, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to sever its ties with Broadway Baptist because of the congregation’s policy of welcoming LGBT members.

Earlier this year, the Baptist General Convention of Texas voted to expel Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas over the congregation’s acceptance of gays.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens