A Tampa Church Has Denied a Gay Man What No Person Should Be Denied
The news: There's nothing more cruel than taking homophobia beyond the grave. And one Tampa church has done just that.
The day before 42-year-old Julion Evans' funeral, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., abruptly canceled the ceremony because the pastor thought holding a memorial service for a gay man would be "blasphemous."
WFLA reports that after an obituary was published with details of Evans' life, including a mention of his surviving husband, members of the church's congregation called to complain about his sinful lifestyle. The church leadership responded by refusing to perform the funeral less than 24 hours before it was scheduled on July 26.
"It was devastating," his mother, Julie Atwood, told WFLA. "I did feel like he was being denied the dignity of death."
Plain old ugly prejudice: While the church leadership quickly denied allegations of homophobia, it's hard to read their actions any other way.
It's hardly a secret that the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church opposes gay marriage. Pastor T.W. Jenkins told WFLA that New Hope would have been "in error" to allow the service to continue after learning Evans was gay. He added, "I'm not trying to condemn anyone's lifestyle, but at the same time, I am a man of God, and I have to stand up for my principles."
But that doesn't seem very godly — throwing out a grieving family. Evans' partner, Kendall Capers, says that he would have understood the church's position had it been communicated ahead of time, but the last-minute cancellation was "wrongdoing" that needed to be "exposed."
Why you should care: As much of America continues to pride itself for supporting LGBT rights, we shouldn't celebrate just yet.
A Pew survey from last year found that the U.S. is far less gay-friendly or even gay-tolerant than most of Europe, Canada, Chile, Argentina, Australia and even the Philippines. However, other opinion poles confirm positive attitudes towards gay marriage and LGBT people have accelerated dramatically in the past decade. Gallup reports, for example, that Americans' support for gay relationships has risen from 43% in 1977 to 66% in May 2014.
No individual should suffer the fate of Julion Evans. His marred funeral embodies the dichotomy of acceptance in America: While the country has progressed, it has a lot of work to do.