Grappling with homosexuality in COGIC

A church’s secret love and a Pastor’s open rebuke

The two men in this story are in an unlikely scenario. Yet, somehow we all knew it was bound to happen. They are in a Pentecostal church (Church of God in Christ or COGIC) in Tacoma, Washington. They are in a service where speaking in tongues, dancing in the spirit and shouts of “hallelujah’ and “thank you Jesus” are much more likely to be seen and heard than the terms “gay” or “lesbian.”.

Large, ostentatious millinery and precision designed suits mark the pentecostal high couture of the day. The alternate purring and growling of the worship workhorse –the hammond organ— are a far cry from any gay rights marches.. The men are at one of the most traditional events of the black church: The Pastor’s appreciation service. One man is a black Pastor who believes that homosexuals have no place in the leadership of the church. The other, is a black self identified “openly gay man” who is a talented organist.

This highly inflammable mix of religion, sexuality; right and wrong have brought Pastor Danny Allen of Grace Pentecostal COCIC in Bremerton, WA and author K. Godfrey Easter face to face at the “celebration” of Easter’s pastor.

The pastor at Evangelistic Center, Elder James Stanford is also a longtime ministerial associate of Pastor Allen. They both serve in the Washington Jurisdiction of the denomination.

It was Allen’s public correction of Easter which prompted a press release by Easter claiming he had been “openly rebuked”. Easter’s press release wastes no time casting him as the victim.

“What begin as a most joyous occasion for the guest packed church ended up, at least for Easter, a night of public ridicule and humiliation.”

Did Pastor Allen “ridicule and humiliate” him? The release provides no evidence of this claim, but to the contrary sounds much like a father correcting a son he loves. Easter asserts he knows “little” of the Pastor, but again the stories dance around perspectives.

“I’ve known Keith for several years and was also aware that his openness was a sore spot on the ones that he chose to be his pastors.”, said Allen.

Uncomfortable alliances

This public struggle with homosexuality in the nation’s largest black Pentecostal denomination is nothing new, but with a newly found strength in recent court rulings, stunning gay social and political victories and the election of an openly homosexual bishop in the Episcopal church, some are beginning to openly challenge the denomination’s longstanding beliefs.

Other Washington area COGIC members have engaged the gay community, but in a culture war. Not in the sanctuary.Deacon Doug Delin, a member of the Roosevelt Heights COGIC, former Tacoma City Council member and a local business owner filed a petition on May 2002 in an attempt to overturn a gay rights ordinance passed by the city.

It might be interesting to note that the black church itself, unlike its white counterparts are caught in a closeted tug of war. Many people know of homosexual leaders and members, but are hesitant, if not reluctant to openly correct them. The exception comes when a leader will lash out at the apparent rise in effeminate men seen at church conventions. It is a vicarious coexistence. Talented homosexuals in music ministry and others in the preaching field hold positions in churches that publicly repudiate their existence. In church after church the confusion is apparent. Some say it is because of the money and fame homosexuals can bring to a church.

Allen bucked that trend when he decided to speak publicly to Easter regarding his homosexuality. He was the invited guest preacher for the 22nd Church anniversary of Evangelistic Center.

“After accepting the invitation to speak, I began seeking the Lord on what to minister on, he said. “Their theme was mailed to me, which was ‘Due Honor’. Romans 13:7. As I sought the Lord, the Holy Ghost said to me, ‘Its time.’ My response was its time for what? He then instructed me to thoroughly search the scriptures which would reveal what the Holy Ghost was saying through Paul. HE told me to tell Keith to repent for writing that book which contained such wickedness. Also to commend Pastor Stanford for coming before the Elders. I didn’t try to analyze.”

The book Allen is referring to is Easter’s, which is entitled Love Lifted Me in Spite of the Church. According to the backside synopsis the book “more than any other published book today on black, gay Christianity as it relates to the African American religious community, Easter exposes the religious ambiguity lodged deep within the roots of organized religion, as he’s experienced it.”

It was the publication and promotion of that book that landed Easter’s Pastor before a cadre of his peers, after being confronted by several concerned pastors. According to reports, Stanford, whose wife died last year, steadfastly declared his loyalty to the church doctrine and confessed that he stood with these pastors and elders on the issue of homosexuality. Apparently, Stanford’s closed door confessions were quite sincere, so none of the pastors pressed him for a time line in dealing with Easter. Easter was the church’s music minister. Perhaps they automatically thought that Easter would be removed. After all, he himself said that he was a homosexual and that it was not a sin. But Stanford did nothing. That’s when, according to Allen, Easter’s openness became even more flagrant.

When open homosexuals are allowed to remain in church positions, Pastor Allen believes the whole church body will suffer under the effects.

“The message of compromise will be clearly seen and the effect will began with a seducing spirit and an unusual non biblical tolerance of what the Word speaks against. That spirit will manifest itself through effeminacy. [B]oys within the church will began to act “girlie”, becoming more timid and the girls will act more and more selfish. 2) The spirit of Jezebel is given free reign. 3) It limits a pastor’s success in terms of his reputation among his peers to stand against sin. His word begins to falter. 4) If left unchecked and in the long run it will allow the manifesting of Adultery and all of the fleshly sins and disembodied spirits mentioned in Galatians 5.”

Not so says Easter. He offers a familiar emotional justification. His book and personal story are a “seed in the lives of others, like me, who have needlessly suffered spiritual agony at the hands of religious legalists.” Quoting Matthew 9:12, he says “They that are whole need not the physician, but they that are sick.”

‘I shall not be moved’

In several Biblical passages such as Prov 27:5, Titus 1:13 and 1Tim 5:20, church leaders are strongly encouraged to use “open rebuke” as a tool of maintaining the sanctity and moral integrity of the local church. Allen was about to exercise that authority.

The two men’s accounts of that night at the church anniversary are fairly similar, but their motives diverge drastically.

Easter’s press release (posted October 4 on an internet forum for black, gay ministers) recalls the incident. After addressing the church with a “few, brief words” he claims Allen stepped behind the pulpit podium. And it was time for a talk. The following is quoted from Easter’s press release.

“Not long after Rev Allen began speaking he began directly addressing Easter from the pulpit. Straying from the established theme for the night, during his message Rev Allen began scolding Easter, while visitors, members and the author listened on.”

“I hope by now, Bro. Keith, you’ve repented for writing that book, Pastor Allen stated. “And I trust that you’ve realized that that type of lifestyle is not Godly living, and that nothing good can come of your life while you continue living that way.”

But Bro Keith had not repented and he was ready to respond to Allen’s remarks.

The release states Easter then replied, “Although the reverend might receive a pat on the back from most of his pastoral peers, his approach left little, spiritually or otherwise, to be desired. I doubt that he’s even seen a copy of my book, let alone picked up one to read.”

Easter also accused Allen of “hiding behind the pulpit and not approaching him like a man.”

“Since I’ve known of Rev. Allen, we have not once held a private conversation. All of our encounters in the past have been brief, public, and only cordial in nature. Had Rev. Allen requested a personal audience with me, I would have been more than excited to oblige. Instead, by his cruel and to me, indecent act, it is my contention that Rev. Allen only intended to deliberately humiliate me, publicly. I felt his remarks were nothing less than his attempts at destroying my spiritual character, and a direct attack against my God-ordained book – LOVE LIFTED ME: In Spite Of The Church. All I concluded from his rhetorical dialogue is that Rev. Allen opportunistically utilized my pastor’s celebratory event to stretch his legalistic muscle.”, added Easter.

Allen remembers arriving at church and finding Stanford visibly stressed. This was his friend and so in the pastor’s office, Stanford, Allen and another Elder lapsed into a conversation about losing a spouse. Incredibly, all three men had suffered the death of their wives.

He says after the song service Easter was allowed to have words, a tribute of sorts to his pastor. He chose to read several passages from 1 Cor 13. The choir sang. Then it was time for Danny Allen to mount the pulpit. He began singing an old church song “I shall not be moved.” Easter attempted to accompany him on the organ but was stopped. The congregation joined him in singing the song.

Allen does not recall his exact words to Easter, but directly addressed him and then preached on the theme for about 35 to 40 minutes. After the service, Allen said he noticed people watching his movements so he decided to go to the organ and tell Easter, “I’ll be praying for you.”

Shaking his head, Easter replied, ” I’ll be praying for you as well sir.”

The method and the message

A couple of decades ago pastors were dealing with rashes of teenage pregnancies. That situation is still a challenge. Now, unrepentant homosexuals are changing the face of Christian ministry. Some capitulate to emotional arguments, others sit stone faced as people’s pain lay bare before them. Ignoring the obvious seems only to invite the inevitable. Sexual sins and the persons who are trapped in them need clear guidance and strong direction if they are to see their way out.

Some prominent churches are rising to the challenge and establishing overcoming ministries to help homosexuals live above sexuality challenges. Churches like Atlanta’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church under Bishop Eddie Long has started Spirit Controlled Sexuality. Without Walls International Church in Tampa (Pastor Paula White) offer Liberty Ministries and in Los Angeles, Faithful Central Bible Church’s Kevin Giles set up Original Intentions Ministry.

While K. Godfrey Easter, may very well represent the proverbial tip of the controversial iceberg for many congregations, Pastor Allen is convinced pastoring in the 21st century is no easy job. We must learn to change the method without tampering with the message, he warns.

For fellow pastors he advises, “Pastors must get sick and tired of being sick and tired. They must allow the Holy Ghost to speak to them about when to confront that particular spirit. And to be ready for the fall out. Perhaps the church goes without a musician or whatever position the person maintains. That’s just the way it is.”

Article originally published 12.10.03