LGBT advocates headed to Midlothian to attend Gateway Church sermon on “LGBT war on Christianity”



DAVID TAFFET  |  Senior Staff Writer

Karen McCrocklin is going to church on Sunday — despite the risk of being struck by a bolt of lightening.

McCrocklin doesn’t usually attend church, but she said she felt compelled to go when she received an invitation from Gateway Church in Midlothian. On Jan. 8, the sermon topic will be “The War on Christianity: Exposing the LGBT Agenda.”

McCrocklin posted her version of the Gay Agenda on the church’s Facebook page:

“The LGBT Agenda — Be kind, generous and productive members of society, pay taxes, spend time with family and friends, save for vacation, honor thy father and mother, do not covet thy neighbor’s house or anything that belongs to thy neighbor, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not murder, etc. … That’s about it.”

McCrocklin said her first instinct was to stage a protest outside Gateway. But she said she isn’t going to do that. “Part of me wants to stand up and tell them what I think,” she said. “But I’m going to listen. I’m not going to disrupt their service.”

She said what disturbs her is the prospect of a 15-year-old kid going to the church with his or her parents and getting the message that there’s something wrong with them. As the Trump administration comes into office, McCrocklin said she expects to hear about a lot more similar incidents, and she worries that many people believe his election gives them a license to discriminate.

Gateway Church is a nondenominational Christian church with three campuses — in Midlothian, in DeSoto and the original in Duncanville, which opened in 1946. “Speaking in tongues” is mentioned among the church’s beliefs and practices. Senior Pastor Ron Shull graduated from Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, with a B.A. in pastoral ministries.

The LGBT community isn’t mentioned on the church’s website, and among the tenets listed in Gateway’s mission is “to seek and save all who are lost in sin.”

But if the LGBT community is among those lost in sin, Pastor Shull has a funny way of inviting them in.

The church hasn’t posted its upcoming sermon topic on Facebook and has removed comments about the sermon topic. But the church didn’t shy away from sending postcards to Midlothian residents  with the sermon topic emblazoned across a Rainbow Flag. (McCrocklin suggested that the fact the church used the rainbow flag and called it the “LGBT agenda”  and not the “homosexual agenda” indicates the community has made progress.)

The Rev. Steve Sprinkle, director of field education and supervised ministry and professor of practical theology at Brite Divinity School, said, “There is no war between Christians and the LGBT community.”

He called it a diversion for something else.

“It’s familiar stuff — attack the LGBT community and all eyes are directed there,” he said.

He said the church’s mission of ministering to lost souls and an upcoming sermon, “Why is life so hard for me?” indicate that the Gateway church ministers to people with problems and who need someone to blame for those problems.

“They should pay attention to Jesus, who said, ‘If you intend to remove a speck from someone else’s eye, remove the log from your own first,’” Sprinkle said.

He said the movement to accept LGBT members into Christian congregations dates back to 1948 with a church in Atlanta.

Today more than 5,000 congregations are open and welcoming.

“That doesn’t sound like a war to me,” Sprinkle said.

According to the Pew Research Center, between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of the U.S. population declaring themselves Christian slid 7 percent, from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent. There was one increase in affiliation: Although three in 10 LGB people say they have been personally made to feel unwelcome in a church, more LGB individuals identify as Christian than ever before, 48 percent up from 42 percent in 2013, Sprinkle found in his research.

“Hardly a war on Christianity,” Sprinkle reiterated.

Sprinkle said he’s been hearing from ministers about what they’re calling a “Trump Bump” in progressive churches, an increase in attendance unlike anything they’ve seen since 9-11. People are returning to progressive churches out of concern about the upcoming Trump administration, the anecdotal evidence suggests.

Sprinkle said he’d love to attend Sunday’s Gateway service, but he’ll be preaching in another church at the same time. His topic won’t be an imaginary war. “I’ll be talking about Jesus,” he said.

After services, Sprinkle said, he’ll work on his own LGBT Agenda: “I’ll be taking care of my family, my dog and my career.”

In the month following the November election, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported a quite different Trump bump — 1,094 bias-related incidents. Of those, 109 were anti-LGBT, and four of those in Texas.

That’s only the fourth highest category. Anti-immigrant motivation accounted for more than 300 of the incidents, anti-black more than 200 and anti-Muslim a little more than the anti-LGBT.

Of the documented cases, in 37 percent the perpetrators referenced Trump, his campaign slogan or his remarks about sexual assault, according to statistics released by the SPLC.

The SPLC places the blame in one place: Hate speech throughout the presidential campaign that emboldened people to be open with their prejudices and bigotry.

Several LGBT people living in Midlothian said this is a new church and this is the first time they’ve received a mailer from it.

They described Gateway as a small congregation that’s been fairly quiet.

Tiffany Brown, who lives in Midlothian, received one of the church’s mailers. What’s worse than receiving the postcard herself, she said, is “knowing that my neighbors have been targeted for hate material that is specific to me.”

She described life in the community as peaceful. “We don’t hide being gay and we don’t shove it in the faces of our neighbors,” she said. “We just coexist like every other resident here.”

Now, she said, she worries that her neighbors will think of them as “the female couple on the corner, and what they might be plotting to do.”

The only thing they’re plotting, Brown said, is winning “Yard of the Month.” That’s their LGBT agenda.

Penny Armstrong, who is working on a post-doctoral certification in sexual and gender justice at Brite Divinity School, wrote to Pastor Shull and laid out her case: “We both know that there are biblical passages that support racism, slavery, abuse of women and warring aggressions that we no longer apply in our lives,” she wrote. “We also know that Jesus taught us to show kindness to every person.”

She concluded her letter to Shull by “respectfully asking you to refrain from creating more hate and suspicion when it is completely contrary to the teachings we are called to follow.”

Shull’s response indicates he’s received a number of responses to his church’s postcard. “Out of the numerous I have received, you are the only one who has been civil and that is appreciated,” he wrote.

The Gateway pastor criticized messages he’s received, saying they’re “making a judgment based on assumption. No one, even you, knows what my position will be nor the words that will be spoken this coming Sunday.”

But a quick check of his past sermons gives a relatively strong indication. In June, for example, he criticized President Barack Obama for issuing a Pride Month declaration so “the LGBT can celebrate their sin.” He said he feels sick when he sees parades, although he doesn’t explain who’s forcing him to watch these parades.

But in his response to Armstrong, Shull assures her “that my motivation is based solely on love, not hate nor contempt. Every comment I have received is undergirded with how much we should love people and not judge or condemn. I agree so I can promise you, and all who are concerned, that my words will neither condemn nor judge their actions; however, I do remember a great man once said that we are to ‘speak the truth in love.’”

He expressed a concern that “a segment in our society that is attempting to silence the voice of those who hold to the biblical position of sexuality and the biblical foundation for marriage.” Those are the people, he said, toward whom his sermon will be directed.

McCrocklin, former Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance President Steve Atkinson and several of their friends aren’t making assumptions. Instead, they will be at the service on Sunday to learn about this war they’re apparently waging. Whether they learn about some new tactics the LGBT community is supposedly using to wage war on Christians, or find out this was just a diversion for other problems people are seeing in their lives, they’ll be there, listening.

“I don’t want them talking about me behind my back,” McCrocklin explained.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2017