by Bob Roehr
DALLAS – A nondenominational Christian megachurch near Dallas at the last minute withdrew permission to host a memorial service for an openly gay Navy veteran of the Persian Gulf War. Reactions have been numerous and largely negative.
Members of the High Point Church in Arlington, Texas offered to host an Aug. 9 memorial service for Cecil Howard Sinclair who died at the age of 46 of complications associated with heart surgery. He had served in the Gulf War and was in a long-term relationship with another veteran, Paul Wagner. Sinclair was not a member of the church, but his brother worked there in a nonreligious capacity.
That offer was withdrawn the day before the service. Rev. Gary Simons defended the decision, telling the Associated Press, no one knew that Sinclair was gay when the offer was made. He said the church believes that homosexuality is a sin and that hosting the service would have appeared to endorse that lifestyle.
Simons also claimed that the video tribute to Sinclair that was part of the service showed pictures of men “engaging in clear affection, kissing and embracing.”
Sinclair’s sister, Kathleen Wright, called that “a bold-faced lie.”
“It is unfortunate that the church has decided to tell untruths in order to make themselves feel better, or make their side of the story into a saner response,” Wagner wrote in a long posting to the pro-gay blog Box Turtle Bulletin.
“I have no problem with the church turning us away. My problem is with the method in which they did it…Someone in a position of power made the decision to cut us off, and didn’t even have the moral courage to tell the truth to our faces.”
The service was moved to a nearby funeral home. The Turtle Creek Chorale, the gay group to which Sinclair belonged, sang Amazing Grace.
Harry Knox, director of the Religion and Faith program at the Human Rights Campaign, said, “Rev. Simon’s statement that the decision is a matter of policy and not hatred and discrimination is a lie in politically-correct clothing. It is not worthy of a man of the cloth…I cannot imagine Jesus turning away from a mourning partner and other family members. Pastor Simons and High Point Church certainly do not reflect the Christ they claim to serve.”
America On Line prominently featured the story on its front page and ran a poll: Who do you side with? Of the 411,026 persons who responded, 78 percent said the veteran’s family. The incident stimulated much conversation in Texas and elsewhere.