A pastor at a Colorado church has apologized to his congregation for the fact that a member of the LGBTQ community spoke there, despite his efforts to shut the speaker down — and the minister also led a prayer to cleanse the church of this “sin.”
Gateway Church in Del Norte was the site of an event called Rural Philanthropy Days last month. It was sponsored not by the church but by a group called the Community Resource Center. The event is designed to allow nonprofit organizations to meet with potential sources of grants, and the church is one of the few venues in the area that is big enough to accommodate the conference. It drew more than 300 attendees, the Del Norte Prospector reports.
The three-day event opened September 17 with a series of presentations by local storytellers. One of them was Justin Garoutte, who is a research associate with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, working on a study on how to reduce suicide among LGBTQ teens. Garoutte, who uses they/them pronouns, shared their coming-out story.
That and the appearance of another speaker from the LGBTQ community incensed Gateway’s Pastor Greg Schaffer. He called the event a success except for the fact that “here was a, sort of a guest speaker, keynote speaker, that we weren’t aware of — actually two — that came in, that shared some things that we’re not in line with as a church.”
“We had two gentlemen actually connected with the LGBTQ community and the advancement of that whole deal. You know what I mean. I’ll save you the details,” Schaffer told his congregation September 22. Video of his remarks was posted to YouTube a few days ago and was shared this week by the Friendly Atheist blog on Patheos.
He summarized Garoutte’s presentation as follows: “I’ve embraced my homosexuality, and I’ve given up on God and God can’t help me. He’s a hindrance and a person that makes me feel guilty, and so did the priest, and so I walked away.” Schaffer said he and another church staffer who was present were caught off guard.
“I still don’t know … exactly what Jesus would have done in that moment, but I know what he would want me to share right here,” Schaffer said. “That’s a hot topic, if you’re not aware. The LGBT movement — Q, X, Y, all the extras, the letters that are getting put on — there’s a push out there that’s going into our school systems. It’s coming into our churches, into our communities, and more than that, into our families.”
The pastor made clear he does not approve of that. “We don’t endorse homosexuality in this church,” he said. “We don’t. We believe it’s a sin.” Soon afterward, he told the congregation, “I’m going to ask that you bow your heads with me and we just do a one-prayer cleansing of this sanctuary,” then recited a prayer that included the line “Lord, may the enemy have no stronghold in this building, or in our hearts and our minds.” He also apologized for the fact that LGBTQ people spoke in the church.
Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist blogger, was floored by Schaffer’s action. “When Garoutte spoke, he wasn’t doing it on behalf of the church,” Mehta wrote. “It’s absurd that this pastor felt the need to apologize for someone else’s apparently emotional story about coming out. People like Schaffer are the reason people like Garoutte tell these stories in the first place.”
Garoutte, in an email to Mehta, said Schaffer tried to shut down their presentation, something Schaffer did not mention in his remarks to the congregation. “Pastor Greg cut my mic and exclaimed from the sound booth that I needed to watch what I say,” Garoutte wrote. “My understanding is that behind the scenes, event organizers and the final speaker … were communicating with Pastor Greg to allow me to continue my speech. My mic was eventually turned on, albeit at what seemed like a much lower volume. I was informed of Pastor Greg’s actions via a phone call on the afternoon of the event by Kim Smoyer, coordinator of the event. Despite all of this, the hundreds of folks in attendance gave me a standing ovation.
“Professionally and privately, I work to build health equity for LGBTQ youth throughout the region, and I know firsthand how homophobic remarks like Pastor Greg’s increase the fear and negative health outcomes (i.e., increased risk of depression, anxiety, suicidality, substance use, among others) through minority stress for our LGBTQ family.”
Watch the minister’s apology and “cleansing” prayer below.