After Fort Lauderdale, Fla.’s gay mayor honored an anti-LGBTQ+ church on its 60th anniversary, an activist who has a relationship with the church has likened same-sex marriage to marrying a Volkswagen.
At Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, Mayor Dean Trantalis presented a proclamation recognizing the 60th anniversary of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and the 50th anniversary of its affiliated private school, Westminster Academy. Both were founded by D. James Kennedy, an anti-LGBTQ+ minister, and are located in Fort Lauderdale.
Kennedy died in 2007, but his D. James Kennedy Ministries continues spreading homophobia and transphobia. D. James Kennedy Ministries, which uses radio, TV, the internet, and other media to get its word out, grew out of the Coral Ridge church and was once known as Coral Ridge Ministries. The church and the ministry became separate organizations in 1996 but still share a campus. Frank Wright, president and CEO of D. James Kennedy Ministries, is a member of the church and teaches Sunday school there.
Wright made the Volkswagen comment Thursday in a Facebook Live discussion with John Rabe, director of creative production at the ministry. A clip was circulated by the LGBTQ+ group Truth Wins Out; the full broadcast remains available on Facebook and is embedded below.
Wright claimed that gay activists are pawns in a socialist plot to destroy marriage and the family, and make everyone dependent on government. “I hate to break it to them, but many of our gay and lesbian friends, they’ve just been used by the left to destroy the historic definition of marriage and changed the criteria to only be that of love,” he said. “If two people love each other, or some guy and his Volkswagen, he loves his Volkswagen, he ought to be able to marry his Volkswagen.”
When Mayor Trantalis issued the proclamation, he acknowledged the anti-LGBTQ+ history of the Coral Ridge church and its related institutions but said it’s time to move on. “Times have changed and so have their leaders,” he said. “It’s time to build a future based on love and not hate. And it’s time for those who still harbor resentment to let go of it. I know I have. And I know our community is better off for it.” That brought him criticism from Vice Mayor Steve Glassman, also a gay man, as well as other LGBTQ+ activists and civil rights groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has designated D. James Kennedy Ministries a hate group.
In the Thursday broadcast, Wright accused Trantalis of ulterior motives. “The mayor of Fort Lauderdale has taken a stance at variance with another gay member of the City Commission and gay groups in the Fort Lauderdale area, saying let’s just put this behind us, we can go forward, and we don’t have to be like that anymore,” Wright said. “So the message to the current pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is sure, if you stop teaching that stuff in the Bible about what God says about human sexuality and about the wrath of God that will fall upon sin, then we can all get along together. Kind of a Rodney King theology, why can’t we all just get along.
“So hidden within this putative comity that’s being offered by the mayor of Fort Lauderdale, and God bless him, I’m sure he has pretentions for higher elected office and is trying to strike a more moderate tone, knowing that he is the openly gay mayor of Fort Lauderdale, none of his supporters are going to walk away from him. But he’s trying to build bridges to another part of the community by showing his reasonableness. But even hidden within that reasonableness, even within the velvet glove is still a fist.”
Kennedy was notorious for his anti-LGBTQ+ activity. He was a founding board member for the Moral Majority, the influential Christian right group formed by the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. in 1979. He wrote many books, including What’s Wrong With Same-Sex Marriage? in 2004, in which he claimed “a tiny fraction of our population is on the verge of redefining the institution of marriage for all of us.” He endorsed a comic book titled Homosexuality: Legitimate, Alternate Deathstyle and wrote in his newsletter that gay people approved of sex with children.
The website for Kennedy Ministries still includes much anti-LGBTQ+ content. There is a banner calling on Bethany Christian Services, a national nonprofit child welfare agency, to reconsider its decision to place children with LGBTQ+ adoptive and foster parents. A site search for the term “homosexuality” turns up articles with titles such as “Freedom From Homosexuality Through the Gospel,” “Sexual Anarchy Puts Religious Liberty at Risk,” and “Why Should Transgender ‘Equality’ Overrule Feminine Modesty?”
Kennedy Ministries has sued SPLC over the “hate group” designation. A federal judge in 2019 upheld the SPLC’s right to use it, but Kennedy Ministries has appealed.
The Coral Ridge church is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America, not the more liberal Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The latter performs weddings for same-sex couples and ordains LGBTQ+ clergy, unlike the former, which considers homosexuality a perversion and a sin.
Westminster Academy, a private Christian school, states on its website that it “reserves the right to deny admission to any individual or family … whose personal or family lifestyle is not in harmony with the stated philosophy and mission of the school.” It also states that if a student lives with both parents, “they must be a legally married man and woman.”
Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, issued this statement: “Dean Trantalis was duped and disrespected. His kumbaya was contradicted by the facts. Coral Ridge showed their true colors, and it wasn’t a rainbow flag. Dean Trantalis must rescind the proclamation or resign. While it’s nice to have a gay mayor, it’s even more important to have one with character who represents the values of his constituents.”
Trantalis provided this response to The Advocate: “The LGBT community has been the victim of the religious right for many years. My activism to defeat their efforts began over 30 years ago. We have made significant progress in our community. Since then, their leaders have changed, and so have their attitudes towards us. For the past few years, I have organized meetings between our faith community and theirs, and we continue to find common ground. Erasing the atmosphere of hate is key to my attempt to bring communities together and embrace the diversity which have enriched us. My goal is to build a future based on love, not hate. As a longtime activist I am prepared to let go of these once-negative feelings, and I know many in my community seek that out as well. When my fellow commissioner asked if we could do a proclamation regarding her church and school which she attended, I believed that doing the proclamation commemorating these institutions served both as a courtesy to her and as an opportunity to open the door for change. My efforts will continue for the betterment of our community.”