Will Episcopalians betray their values and sell Canal Street church to homophobes?

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Leo Watermeier

Sale of the former Episcopal church to fundamentalists from Baton Rouge has inspired resistance.

The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana is considering selling the former Grace Church on Canal Street to a fundamentalist Baton Rouge mega-church variously called Bethany World Prayer Center or Bethany Church.

One of its facilities in the Baton Rouge area is marked by the three giant crosses visible from Interstate 10.

Founded in 1963 by Roy Stockstill and family-run by Stockstills two generations later, Bethany has aligned itself closely with the Family Research Council, which has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Larry Stockstill, who was pastor of Bethany before his son Jonathan took charge, serves on the Family Research Council’s pastoral council.  Tony Perkins, long-time president of the Family Research Council, endorsed Stockstill’s book, “The Remnant.”

In 2008 Larry Stockstill, then Bethany’s senior pastor, wrote, “Homosexuality, fornication, and pornography are examples of immoral behavior.”

In 2012 another of Stockstill’s sons, Joel, tweeted, “If people are born homosexual then why is the primary form of propagation molestation?”

In 2014 Larry Stockstill signed a letter opposing a proposed Baton Rouge law banning discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Homophobia is completely contrary to the teachings of the Episcopal Church.

According to the Episcopal Church’s website:

In 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church declared that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance and pastoral concern and care of the Church.”

Since then, faithful Episcopalians have been working toward a greater understanding and radical inclusion of all of God’s children.

I first took note of the proposed sale because Grace church is near the house on Canal Street where I grew up. In 1975 I was the first president of the Mid-City Improvement Association.

Over the years there has been an increase in the gay and lesbian population in Mid-City and the neighborhood has benefited greatly.  Most neighbors were happy when we learned a church would be taking over the closed Grace facility. However, as we learned more about Bethany, many of us have had second thoughts.

Bethany is entitled to its beliefs about homosexuality, and if its leadership wants to align itself with an anti-gay hate group like the Family Research Council, that’s their business, but we’d hate to see them in our neighborhood.

Diocesan website

Episcopal Bishop Morris Thompson

Furthermore, we wonder why the Episcopal Church would do business with a church that so flagrantly betrays core Episcopalian values and mission.

Bethany’s homophobia has inspired a letter-writing campaign by parishioners beseeching Morris Thompson, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, not to sell the church to the Baton Rouge fundamentalists.

One letter writer was a member of Bethany World Prayer Center when he lived in Baton Rouge in the 1980s. “I was in the closet at the time and they promised me God could change me.  I even attended a gay conversion boot camp at their urging.  It did not work and my self-loathing intensified.

“I eventually made it out of the closet but not without great psychological damage.  To live in the closet is to live a life of quiet violence.  My journey out of what I consider to be a cult took a heavy emotional toll on me, the scars of which I still bear.”

Efforts to “cure” gay men and women through conversion boot camps are now illegal in several states. Louisiana is not one of them.

Neither Bishop Thompson nor the Stockstills and their associates have responded to phone calls and emails seeking comment on the proposed sale of the church.

The question Episcopalians — indeed, all New Orleanians — should be asking themselves is whether they want to see Grace Church sold to a group with an agenda that includes anti-gay bigotry.

Leo Watermeier is a community activist. He represented Mid-City in the state Legislature from 1980 to 1984 and subsequently ran for mayor of New Orleans. He can be reached at leowatermeier@cox.net or (504) 756-9901.

The opinion section is a community forum. Views expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Lens founder Karen Gadbois.

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