A Texas megachurch is drawing fire from the homosexual community for refusing to host a gay man's memorial service, which the church says goes against its church policy.
What started out as a small local dispute has evolved into a national controversy with worldwide media appeal as High Point Church in Arlington, Texas, remains firm in its decision to rescind its invitation to hold the memorial amid heavy criticism from pro-gay supporters.
"With all the negative e-mail we are receiving right now, it seems that the homosexual community – God bless them all – are very organized," said the Rev. Gary Simons, senior pastor at High Point Church, during his Sunday sermon, according to The Dallas Morning News.
He emphasized the decision was not based on hatred.
"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 is the brother-in-law of well-known megachurch pastor and author Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston.
High Point Church backed out on its commitment to host the memorial of a former Navy veteran Wednesday evening – less than 24-hours before it was scheduled to take place.
The church said their decision was based upon several factors including photos turned over to them to create a multimedia presentation which made it clear that the deceased – 46-year-old Cecil Sinclair – was homosexual.
However, there has been contention between the church and Sinclair's family over whether the photos explicitly promote homosexuality.
The church said in its issued statement that one photo shows a man with his hand touching another man's genitalia. The family, however, has denied those accusations and said there was only a picture of Sinclair sitting with another man, but there was nothing sexual about the photo.
In addition to the photos, the family wanted to have a member of the openly homosexual choir Turtle Creek Chorale to officiate the service and for the choir to sing. They also wanted an open microphone format to allow anyone to speak.
"It became clear to the church staff that the family was requesting an openly homosexual service at High Point Church – which is not our policy to allow," said the church's statement.
"Allowing an openly homosexual service in our facility would condone homosexuality as a lifestyle," read the statement. "We could not allow the homosexual lifestyle to be celebrated, flaunted or glorified in our church facility. We could not put inappropriate images on our screens or subject our members and possibly even our children to an openly homosexual service. We cannot condone what the Word of God condemns."
Despite the differences, the church has repeatedly said that it is committed to caring and showing compassion to homosexuals and their families.
Many High Point Church members spent hours to prepare food for the 100 guests at Sinclair's memorial service, which was moved to a nearby funeral home, and delivered the multimedia presentation, with the inappropriate photos removed, to the service. The church even offered to pay for another facility to hold the memorial service but the family declined.
"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, according to AP.
None of the Sinclair family attended High Point Church but the deceased's brother, who is mentally disabled, is a staff member working as a janitor and member at the nondenominational megachurch.
At the brother's request, the church had been praying for Sinclair for six years since he became ill and sent someone to minister to the family when he was in critical condition and died in the hospital.
Brian Ware, 32, who attended the Sunday morning service at High Point Church said he was satisfied with the pastor's explanation on the church's decision last week.
"The Bible does say it's wrong," said Ware, according to the Dallas Morning News. "You wouldn't go to someone's house who doesn't smoke and smoke there."
The controversy has added to the growing fear over the pending hate crimes bill currently in the U.S. Senate. Many Christian leaders oppose the bill, which adds sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity to the existing list of hate crimes protected under law. Opponents argue that not only is the hate crimes bill redundant of state and local laws, but it also infringes on the right of pastors and churches to speak against the sin of homosexuality.
Conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family have warned that if a pastor preached against homosexuality and then one of his congregants later commits violence against a homosexual, then the pastor could be charged for inducing a hate crime.
In Canada, a pastor is currently facing charges for writing a letter in June to a local newspaper calling the homosexual agenda "wicked." Meanwhile, other hate-crime cases in Europe have charged pastors and Christians for speaking out against homosexuality.
"If those pushing the homosexual agenda get their 'hate crimes' bill passed into law, this is only a sample of what churches, pastors and Christians can expect," warned the American Family Association in it newsletter referring to the High Point Church case.
High Point Church concluded: "The issue was not whether we would hold a memorial service for someone in a lifestyle of sin. We have assisted many families in this regard. The issue was whether we would allow an openly homosexual service that celebrated and emphasized homosexuality in our church.
"We love the homosexual, but cannot condone the homosexual lifestyle. We could not allow homosexuality to be glorified in this house of worship."