Church Cancels Gay Man’s Funeral, Claims Service Would Be “Blasphemous”

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Aug. 8 2014 12:14 PM

Church Cancels Gay Man’s Funeral, Claims Service Would Be “Blasphemous”

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Churches have the right to cancel a funeral. The rest of us have the right to be disgusted.

Photo illustration by Ricardo Reitmeyer/Shutterstock

Some extremely depressing news out of my quickly collapsing home state: A Tampa Baptist church recently canceled a man’s funeral the day before the service after the pastor discovered the man was gay and married.

According to the pastor, T.W. Jenkins, no one at the church realized the deceased, Julion Evans, was gay—until his obituary mentioned his marriage to a man. At that point, congregants called Jenkins to complain, and he felt obliged to cancel the scheduled service. Here’s Jenkins’ explanation:

Based on our preaching of the scripture, we would have been in error to allow the service in our church. 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.
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Evans’ mother, Julie Atwood, adds that she was told that holding a gay, married man’s services at the church would be “blasphemous.” “It was devastating,” Atwood told a local news channel. “I did feel like he was being denied the dignity of death.” She ultimately found another venue for the service with hours to spare; many mourners, unaware of the switch, wound up missing the funeral altogether.

Here are the facts about Evans’ life that were too blasphemous for Jenkins to relay to his congregation. When Evans died, he had been with his husband, Kendall Capers, for 17 years. During the last four of those years, Evans was dying of amyloidosis, a rare, incurable, painful disease that slowly destroys the organs, nervous system, and digestive tract. Capers took care of Evans through his illness. The two finally wed in Maryland last year, when it was clear that Evans did not have much longer to live.

As a pastor, of course, Jenkins has a constitutional right to deny religious services to anybody he wants. But legal impunity does not exempt Jenkins from moral judgment—and his action is surely one of breathtaking immorality. Here was a man in a deeply committed relationship, who suffered bravely through a horrible disease—and yet his church denied him peace, even in death. Jenkins can “stand up for [his] principles” all he wants. But the rest of us have every right to be absolutely disgusted. 

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

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