ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — A megachurch canceled a memorial service for a Navy veteran 24 hours before it was to start because the deceased was gay.
Officials at the nondenominational High Point Church knew that Cecil Howard Sinclair was gay when they offered to host his service, said his sister, Kathleen Wright. But after his obituary listed his life partner as one of his survivors, she said, it was called off.
"It's a slap in the face. It's like, 'Oh, we're sorry he died, but he's gay so we can't help you,'" she said Friday.
Wright said High Point offered to hold the service for Sinclair because their brother is a janitor there. Sinclair, who served in the first Gulf War, died Monday at age 46 from an infection after surgery to prepare him for a heart transplant.
The church's pastor, the Rev. Gary Simons, said no one knew Sinclair, who was not a church member, was gay until the day before the Thursday service, when staff members putting together his video tribute saw pictures of men "engaging in clear affection, kissing and embracing."
Simons said the church believes homosexuality is a sin, and it would have appeared to endorse that lifestyle if the service had been held there.
"We did decline to host the service - not based on hatred, not based on discrimination, but based on principle," Simons told The Associated Press. "Had we known it on the day they first spoke about it - yes, we would have declined then. It's not that we didn't love the family."
Simons said the decision had nothing to do with the obituary. He said the church offered to pay for another site for the service, made the video and provided food for more than 100 relatives and friends.
"Even though we could not condone that lifestyle, we went above and beyond for the family through many acts of love and kindness," Simons said.
Wright called the church's claim about the pictures "a bold-faced lie." She said she provided numerous family pictures of Sinclair, including some with his partner, but said none showed men kissing or hugging.
Read more about what happened from the man's partner here: "I fully understand the church's right to deny us the use of their facilities. I also served in the military, (US Army, 1987-2002), and I have fought to defend their freedom of religion and freedom of choice. . . . I loved Cecil truly and deeply, and I am sorry that anyone considers a truly heartfelt, emotional, even spiritual connection to another human being to be sinful, simply because that love is between two people of the same sex."
Under the circumstances, the man is far more indulgent toward the church than I would have been. I understand, while I strongly disagree with, the mainstream Christian view that homosexual acts are immoral. But I doubt the church refuses to bury people it also thinks have sinned, like liars, blasphemers, and adulterers. Holding a service for a person is not an endorsement of anything they did in life; it is an act of compassion toward the grieving family and a mark of respect for the deceased as a person loved by God. If the church was worried about the content of the service it could have discussed this with the family, rather than simply canceling the funeral at the last minute.
I was raised in a Christian home and nothing the church did here resembles the values of respect for human dignity, and for the life of every single person, that I was taught. The most loving, understanding, and tolerant people I have known have been Christians. And they have been loving, understanding, and tolerant not despite their faith, but because of it. The shameful behavior of this church does not obscure that and I hope some of its 5,000 members come forward to disavow what their leadership did.
As its web address suggests, High Point is a "church unusual." If its actions here truly reflect its values, let's hope that's always true.
UPDATE: A few commenters speculate that the church in question might similarly refuse to hold a funeral service for liars, blasphemers, adulterers, and other sinners, if they refuse to repent their sins before dying. That's not a very plausible explanation for what happened here. I doubt High Point Church leaders would evenhandedly apply this hypothetical principle to all biblical sins. Note their claimed fear of appearing to "endorse" homosexuality ("that lifestyle") merely by holding a single funeral for a gay person. This is obsessive fear, not principle.
Moreover, church leaders did not inquire into the state of Cecil Howard Sinclair's soul before deciding to cancel his funeral. As they tell it, all they knew about him was that he was gay based on some pictures they saw of him "kissing" and "embracing" another man. They allowed their horror at this singular fact to overcome compassion for his family or respect for him as a whole person.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I suspect the real objection to his service was not that he was gay or that he might be in some sense "unrepentant." The real fear was probably that somebody -- perhaps his partner -- would get up and speak postively about their love during the service. If that's right, given the late hour, church leaders had two humane and decent choices: allow the service to go forward as the family planned it and be more careful about such things in the future, or discuss the content of the funeral with the family to minimize any affirmation of homosexuality. On the facts as we know them, they did neither.