A Minnesota pastor who lost much of his congregation when he expressed support for same-sex marriage has been asking the public for donations to help pay off a $200,000 loan in hopes of keeping the United Church of Christ church open.
The Rev. Oliver White of Grace Community United Church of Christ in St. Paul reportedly needs to raise the funds by June 30 and, as of Monday, had gathered $20,000.
"That's what I'm asking for. I'm on my aching knees, with my hands stretched out. ... This would be my last hurrah. I feel like David going up against Goliath, but I don't even have a slingshot. All I can do is go back to the people who care," Pastor White was quoted as saying by the Twin Cities.
This is not the first time the Grace Community pastor has been challenged over his support for same-sex marriage. White, who spent seven years as president of the St. Paul Black Ministerial Alliance, cast a vote in support of gay marriage during the 2005 United Church of Christ's National Synod. As a result, he had fewer members attending his church the following week.
Since then, White has stood firm in his belief that marriage should include same-sex couples, and has seen nearly three-fourths of his congregation leave.
In recent times, White's sermons reportedly have only been drawing 18-50 people, which has contributed to the church's mounting financial difficulties. Although Grace Community managed to put $90,000 toward the loan payment in the past six years, the debt remains over $200,000.
"We just didn't have it," White said, noting that only two years into the loan, the church fell behind on payments. "We had a garage sale, and we raised about $5. We had fish fries ... and we might raise $200."
Besides the financial troubles, the pastor has also reportedly received death threats for his support of same-sex marriage.
"I'm afraid to go to my church at night sometimes," White said, and recalled that a month ago when he was leading a wedding ceremony, a car drove by and someone inside fired four shots out the window, yelling, "Die, faggots."
As a member of the African-American community, which most of his former congregants belonged to as well, White stands in opposition to many other black pastors who believe the traditional definition of marriage is a union between one man and one woman.
Recently, Dr. Alveda C. King, the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr., expressed her disappointment with the NAACP choosing to back President Barack Obama in his endorsement of same-sex marriage.
"In the 21st Century, the anti-traditional marriage community is in league with the anti-life community, and together with the NAACP and other sympathizers, they are seeking a world where homosexual marriage and abortion will supposedly set the captives free," King said.
"President Obama is leading the way on gay marriage for what he hopes will be a large following of black pastors and their congregations. Many black pastors are not following his lead. The vast majority of pastors in the black community do not want the children in their church being taught that homosexual behavior is no longer sinful," added CP contributor and Nebraska pastor Dan Delzell.
Pastor White has received support from radio show host John Ong in Kansas City, Mo., who brought up the fundraising issue on his program on Sunday, urging listeners to help with what they could. "Believe Out Loud," a gay-affirming organization that caters to Christians, has raised $7,100 for Grace Community, Twin Cities also reported. The minister has also launched, with the help of volunteers, a donation website seeking $1 from every supporter.
"I haven't allowed any of this to make me stop, because I feel that I have to continue in this journey," White said. "But it's also a monumental task."
"If we are not successful, I am not going to feel that we are defeated," the pastor reportedly told Ong. "I've often said if one person has been turned around, if their thinking has been turned around, and they are no longer homophobic, and they can reach out and love their brothers and their sisters as they love themselves, unconditionally, without labeling them in any way, then losing the church will not be in vain."
Others in Minnesota, however, have stepped up their defense of traditional marriage as the state gets set to vote on an amendment that may allow for same-sex marriages this coming November.
President Obama's endorsement of gay marriage reinvigorated volunteers signing up for Minnesotans United for All Families, which is fighting to preserve the legal definition of marriage. The number of people signing up to help more than doubled after the president's endorsement, and people were also inspired by North Carolina striking down the same-sex marriage amendment earlier this month.
"(It) was an incredible one-two punch for us in Minnesota in terms of punching up the amount of energy," said campaign manager Richard Carlbom of Minnesotans United for All Families.
Obama's endorsement and the rising debate on same-sex marriage have "alerted our base to the fact that there are politicians who are trying to meddle with the definition of marriage," added Chuck Darrell, communications director for Minnesota for Marriage.
The United Church of Christ, a mainline Protestant denomination, is known for its liberal stances on a number of issues, including the ordination of homosexual clergy. Earlier this month, the West Hollywood Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles formally joined the UCC after leaving the Presbyterian Church (USA) for not being gay-friendly enough.