Hypocritical for Church to Refuse Lesbian Funeral?

In the delicate balance between grace and truth, it appears that a Colorado church and her pastor may have missed both central aspects of Jesus’ character in their attempt to minister to the family of a deceased woman who happened to be a lesbian. Having conducted hundreds of funerals over the course of my own 20+ year pastoral ministry, how New Hope Ministries in Lakewood, Colorado so badly botched this opportunity to share Christ’s love, grace, and truth during a time of grief is inexplicable at best.

According to news reports, the church cancelled the funeral of Vanessa Collier, age 33, only 15 minutes prior to the start of the service because three or four pictures in a video tribute (rather standard practice at funerals these days) were of Ms. Collier kissing her wife. That was apparently too much for Pastor Ray Chavez and New Hope Ministries. After asking the family to remove the “offensive” photos, “the family decided that they were not going to allow Vanessa’s life to be edited.”

At an impasse, the Collier family, which I would presume also included Vanessa’s wife, relocated the funeral services to another venue. This story, on so many levels, is both mind-boggling and sad. Regardless of the circumstances of someone’s life (and death), Christians are called to minister to families in times of grief. How that ministry happens may differ, but one thing cannot — or at least, should not — happen during the grieving process — churches, particularly pastors, should not engage in hypocritical behavior that drives people away from Jesus. It would appear that this is exactly what happened in this case.

One might blame the funeral home for getting the video to the church late, but that would let the church and Pastor Chavez off too easily. In my experience officiating at funerals, especially those held at church (as opposed to the funeral home or some other location), there is not one single instance I can remember where I did not sit down with the deceased’s family prior to the service. If the deceased was not a member of the church I pastored (even if their family was), I made it a point to find out as much personal/biographical information as I could.

One of the main things that I want to know when conducting a funeral is whether or not the deceased had a spiritual life. Did he or she have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Did the person attend church? Beyond that, I want to know their family history. If the person is married, almost all of the time the spouse is involved in  some way in the planning of the funeral service.

That leads me to questions that I have for Pastor Chavez and New Hope Ministries. Did they know that Vanessa Collier was married? Did Pastor Chavez meet Ms. Collier’s wife during the planning process? Did the church and pastor know that Ms. Collier was living in a lesbian relationship? While the answers to those questions may or may not have determined whether or not the church or Pastor Chavez could participate in the funeral service of Ms. Collier, it defies belief to think that the pastor was not aware of Ms. Collier’s background.

If that is the case (and I can’t help but think it is), then agreeing to hold the funeral services for a lesbian killed in a tragic gun accident and agreeing to preach the funeral message to a grieving family and friends is a commitment made with some knowledge of the “lifestyle” that Ms. Collier was living. To feign ignorance of said lifestyle at the 11th hour and then demand that pictures showing Ms. Collier and her wife kissing be removed from the video tribute strikes me as rather hypocritical.

It would be one thing if the church and pastor refused to be involved with the funeral in the first place (that’s a post for another day). However, for the church to agree to “allow photos of Collier’s marriage proposal to be shown,” but draw the line on showing pictures of the “married” couple actually kissing is beyond absurd. It is the very definition of hypocrisy.

Pastors and churches, particularly those (like me and the church I pastor) who believe that Biblical marriage is between one man and one woman (at one time), and who believe that a LGBT lifestyle is incompatible with Scripture, must continue to exhibit both grace and truth in our culture. We may be hated for our stance on this (and other) moral/ethical/religious issues. That, as Jesus promised, is to be expected for His followers. What Jesus did not expect from His followers — and what He condemned in His day — is hypocrisy. Let me be mocked, ridiculed, and hated for my beliefs. I can live with that blessing. Just don’t let me be a hypocrite!

6 comments for “Hypocritical for Church to Refuse Lesbian Funeral?

  1. Tressy Capps
    January 14, 2015 at 6:15 PM

    “According to news reports” I wish Jesus would come back and sort it all out soon. I am weary of this world and all the chaos here.

  2. Jimmy rael
    January 15, 2015 at 12:39 PM

    Yes we must not just go with news reports. The truth is, the funeral home requested to use the church because of so many people attending. It was convenient, across the street. They were simply borrowing the building. The funeral home was told no videos were allowed in the church. They did not relay that message to the family. So when the family was told the father decided to go back to the funeral home. The family had already found someone else to officiate. So the pastor had no involvement with it at all. Hope the truth comes out here. Just another sensationalized story for the media. So as we see the funeral home should come out and apologize to all for this.

    • January 15, 2015 at 3:04 PM

      Jimmy,

      Thanks for stopping by and for the clarifying comments. For full disclosure, my mom and dad owned a funeral home for many years and I was involved in helping them as I was growing up in high school and college. Of course, back then (I’m dating myself), there were no video tributes at funerals. It seems like there was “miscommunication and misunderstanding” all the way around. Our church is located next to one of the local funeral homes. If we were requested to have a funeral service in our worship center, if I were not officiating, I would want to know who was officiating and a little bit of the background of the family. The article, as written, made it seem that Pastor Chavez was officiating at the funeral. Again, in my experience, I meet with the family members ahead of time to plan the service. If Pastor Chavez was never going to officiate or have part in the service, then it would have been incumbent upon him or someone from the church to ask some basic questions that could have prevented this type of situation prior to agreeing to allow the church to be used for the funeral service. They may have been uncomfortable questions to ask, but, in hindsight, they probably should have been asked. Sometimes accommodating other people’s convenience comes back to bite us, even though we have (as I’m sure Pastor Chavez did) sincere motives. The funeral home, to be sure, also bears a great deal responsibility for this failure to communicate, particularly if they were told that no videos were allowed at all. Apparently, the Washington Post (which is the story that I referenced) also needs to apologize for such a poorly written story which badly miscommunicated the facts underlying the incident. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on this. God bless,

      Howell

      • Tressy Capps
        January 15, 2015 at 4:43 PM

        The media will take any story and tweak it to fit their agenda. I know first hand how a simple situation can be manipulated to convey something completely different.

        • January 15, 2015 at 6:16 PM

          Tressy,

          It seems that not only was the story “tweaked,” but that it was written in such a way as to falsify the facts. Whether intentional or not, that is unfortunate. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment. God bless,

          Howell

      • Jimmy rael
        January 16, 2015 at 6:07 AM

        Yes I agree with you. I would like to know who was officiating at my church beforehand. But hindsight is always 2020. And I think at least a lesson was learned here. The pastor certainly won’t handle it like that again. Maybe a costly lesson though. But God can turn it around for good.

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