Opinion

Why some Christians deny gay people funerals — and why they must stop

When it comes to hosting funerals for LGBT people, ask yourself honestly, "What would Jesus do?" The answer is crystal clear.

When Jesus declared that mourners shall be comforted, he surely did not mean to exclude the families of deceased LGBT people, right?

Pastor Ray Chavez of New Hope Ministries church in Lakewood, Colorado, seems to think otherwise. Just minutes before the funeral of Vanessa Collier, Chavez discovered that the commemorative video included photos of the deceased woman expressing affection with her female wife, with whom she was raising two children. The pastor informed the family that the pictures could not be shown or the memorial couldn't continue at his church. Humiliated, the Collier family picked up the dead woman's casket and hauled it across the street to a funeral home. 

It's impossible to say how many Christian churches have treated the families of LGBT people similarly, but we know Chavez's isn't the first. In 2014, a Tampa congregation canceled Julian Evans' funeral the day before the service. Pastor T.W. Jenkins made the decision after reading Evans' obituary and learning he was gay.

Such debacles beg an important question: Should Christian churches extend not only dignity and compassion to deceased people who didn't believe or live according to devout Christians' standards? 

There is no formal funeral liturgy in the Bible and no standards for who can participate in such rites. The scriptures contain no prohibition against hosting funerals for those who did not live according to certain standards. Christians can thank God for such an absence, because a "no sinners allowed" standard for funerals would be impossible to apply consistently.

The Bible condemns greed, but I can't fathom a church denying funeral space to a millionaire who didn't contribute his fair share to charity. Have you ever heard of a church declining to host a funeral for an obese person because the Bible denounces gluttony? Or more seriously: If a white father refused to let his daughter marry a black man whom she loved, can you imagine a church refusing him a funeral because he was a racist?

Such inconsistency incited dozens to protest New Hope's treatment of the Collier family. One sign said, "You will not find Jesus at New Hope but you will find hypocrisy." In Florida, Pastor Jenkins said allowing Evans' funeral would be "blasphemous." Maybe he should have said it would be "hypocritical" not to. For if churches refuse to host funerals for those they believe were "sinful," then churches will not be hosting any funerals at all.

Some believers know this, which is why you'll find loads of online articles by conservative Christians with titles like, "Three Keys to Preaching the Funeral of an Unbeliever" and "How to Lead an Unbeliever's Funeral." Clearly, you can be a non-Christian and have a funeral. But according to some, you can't be non-straight. What's the difference? Such an inconsistency lends credibility to the assertion that some Christians are specifically targeting LGBT persons with condemnation. 

Author Anne Lamott once said, "You can safely assume you've created God in your image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." American Christians must reflect on whether they are becoming conduits of a God whose name is "Love" or crafting God into an image that reflects their own biases. 

For this, we might reflect on the centrality of compassion to the Christian faith. The Apostle Peter said that Christians should be sympathetic, and the Apostle John wrote that those who lack compassion do not have God's love inside of them. "Mourn with those who mourn," the Apostle Paul urged

The virtue of compassion is even more prominent in the life of Jesus Christ. As 19th-century British preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, "If you would sum up the whole character of Christ in reference to ourselves, it might be gathered into this one sentence, 'He was moved with compassion.'" 

Jesus extended kindness without exclusions, conditions, or asterisks. No one was triaged before Jesus embraced them. Instead, Jesus seemed to dish out extra helpings of compassion to those that first-century conservative religionists marginalized "sinful" or "unclean"—lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterers, Roman oppressors, and the demon-possessed.

So when it comes to hosting funerals of LGBT people, let us ask, "What would Jesus do?" Really, think about it. Can you honestly imagine the indiscriminately merciful Jesus telling a weeping family of a deceased LGBT person to scram? Of course you can't. So why would Christians tolerate such behavior within their ranks?

To be clear, pastors have the right to refuse services to whomever they wish. Our Constitution grants such protections to religious institutions and houses of worship. This should not change. But constitutional protections do not exempt churches from public criticism — and in this case, the criticism of hypocrisy is well deserved.

Even those Christians who disapprove of homosexual behavior can accept that the dead deserve to be treated with dignity, and that Christian compassion should be extended without condition. For the sake of the faith itself, Christians should rise up with a pointed finger and shout, "This person's bad behavior does not represent the rest of us." Otherwise, the Christian faith in the West may not survive the atrocities continually committed in Jesus' name.

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