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!