In the early eighties I was a hospital chaplain in Dallas, Texas. One of the patients I saw was a man from Odessa, Texas who had AIDS. He was the first person with AIDS I ever knew. His mother was the only person who came to visit him, though he had a very full life with lots of friends, she said. He was gay, but not openly; his mother told people he had cancer. When he died, I called one of the largest local funeral homes to come pick up the body for burial. When they got to the hospital and found out how he had died, they refused to take the body. I called one of the hospital administrators who even brought down the head of our Infectious Disease department to explain there was not a safety issue. Nothing doing. After about an hour of dealing with the funeral director, he said to me, “You’re not for these people, are you?”
“What ‘people’ would that be?” I asked. And I glared at him.
He just didn’t want to bury a gay guy. I was livid.
I spent the rest of the afternoon on the phone and finally found a funeral home in Austin – two hundred miles away – that would do the funeral.
“It’s one thing to watch your son die alone,” his mother said. “It’s another to have someone say they won’t bury him.”
Now, twenty-five years later, High Point Church in Arlington, Texas refused to allow the funeral of Cecil Sinclair, a gay man in their church. They had agreed to host the service because the man’s brother was the church janitor, but when they found out the deceased was “openly gay,” they reneged on their offer because it would compromise the church’s principles. This article in the Dallas Morning News quotes the pastor: “Can you hold the event and condone the sin and compromise our principles? We can’t.”
I realize if I quote Sara Miles much more I’m going to have to give her a co-writing credit on this blog, but here she is again:
I thought how outrageous Jesus was to the church of his time: He didn’t wash before meals; he said the prayers incorrectly; he hung out with women, foreigners, the despised and unclean. Over and over he told people to not be afraid. I liked all that, but mostly I liked he said he was bread and he told his friends to eat him.
As I interpreted it, Jesus invited notorious wrongdoers to his table, airily discarded all the religious rules of the day, and fed whoever showed up by the thousands. In the end, he was murdered for eating with the wrong people. (92)
If there is a principle to uphold in our faith, the principle of outrageous, welcoming love seems like the one. How else can we live like Jesus?
High Point is an easy target: a giant, slick, megachurch in the heart of Megachurchland who is advertising a men’s paintball retreat on their weekly highlight video. The associate pastor hosting the video says a lot of exciting things are happening at High Point. I’m sure they are. But I’ve got to wonder what it has felt like for that janitor to come to work this week and clean up after the people who wouldn’t bury his brother.
Principles provide little comfort or hope. Jesus didn’t die for principles.
I got your principle right here: God loves Cecil Sinclair – and all the rest of us. Period.