A church in Tampa abruptly cancels a man's funeral for one reason: he was gay.
Julion Evans, 42, died last month from a rare condition that essentially destroys the body's organs. It has no cure, and for the last four years, Evans, who was a homosexual man, bravely battled the condition until the end, according to an updated August 8 WFLA report.
When he died, his mother, Julie Atwood, asked her current pastor to preach her son's funeral. He agreed, but needed a larger church to accommodate the hundreds of mourners expected to attend his memorial services. They chose New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, and after receiving permission from the pastor, the home-going services were scheduled for July 26.
On the day of Julion's services, the mom's phone rang as she was saying her goodbyes next to his Evans' casket. It was the pastor from New Hope in Tampa. The words that came out of his mouth were surreal: the church was cancelling the funeral because the deceased was a gay, married man.
Apparently, a member of the congregation read the obituary -- which listed Julion's surviving spouse as a "husband" -- and a volley of complaints to the pastor followed, all of them with reminders of the church's rules over same-sex marriages and officiating funerals for gays and lesbians.
Mrs. Atwood said the church agreed it would be "blasphemous" to go forward with the funeral services.
It was devastating. I did feel like he was being denied the dignity of death."
Pastor T.W. Jenkins of New Hope, who admitted he was not aware of the dead man's sexual orientation and marital status, says his church takes a firm stance against gay marriage.
Based on our preaching of the scripture, we would have been in error to allow the service in our church," Jenkins said. "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," Jenkins said.
Evans' surviving husband, Kendall Capers (pictured here with Julion) said they had been together romantically for 17 years. Last year, they exchanged marital vows in Maryland when it was clear Julion's condition was terminal and his death imminent.
Capers took issue with New Hope and insisted that his marriage to Evans was well-known.
Everyone who knew us knew about our relationship. We didn't keep secrets."
Furthermore, he said the church had a right to refuse a funeral over sexual orientation, but to cancel it with hours left before the service started is unsettling.
Luckily, the family rallied together and managed to hold the funeral services at another facility, despite many missing it due to the last minute change of venue.
As unconscionable as it seems, the U.S. Constitution allows certain people and entities to legally discriminate for "religious purposes" if the reasons fall within certain levels of criteria. Slate shared a chart that explains the five levels of religious exemption sanctioned by law.
Was the church that canceled the gay man's funeral over his sexual orientation proper in its decision? Legal rights aside, was there a moral law broken?