Nearly a week after a controversial sermon at Crossroads Church in Oakley, members of Cincinnati's LGBTQ+ community and their allies are asking the church to support everyone — or to stop pretending.
On July 18, David Mahan gave a guest sermon at Crossroads that included transphobic notions, angering local activists and even some members of the Crossroads congregation, people have told CityBeat on background.
Mahan is the policy director at the Center for Christian Virtue in Columbus, which "seeks the good of our neighbors by advocating for public policy that reflects the truth of the Gospel," according to its website.
"If you have a child struggling with gender dysphoria and you go to a clinic in this area, eventually you’ll get down to brass tacks on if you want a dead daughter or a live son," WCPO-TV reports Mahan as saying in his sermon, which was scheduled to be repeated three times that day.
WCPO adds that Mahan said he wanted to "help kids steer away from suicide due to gender dysmorphia."
The Mayo Clinic defines gender dysphoria as "the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics." The clinic, along with many other clinical and social entities, spells the experience as "dysphoria" rather than "dysmorphia."
Transgender individuals frequently experience gender dysphoria. The GLAAD media reference guide says that "transgender" is "an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms — including transgender."
The "T" in LGBTQ+ typically stands for "transgender" (the acronym also covers lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and other individuals).
According to ampublic video uploaded by a Facebook user, Mahan said, "I thought we were going to talk about how to prevent HIV. They were encouraging a lifestyle that led to the disease in the first place as well as other diseases."
Mahan also denigrated transgender individuals using hormones.
"We've got five and six gender clinics in the state of Ohio right now charging $430 a pop for hormone treatments for these kids every three to six months. Couldn't somebody from the house of God say 'Is it peace?' Is this really necessary based on the best science that we have?" Mahan said.
CityBeat has not yet been able to confirm the video's originator.
The Center for Christian Virtue was previously known as Citizens for Community Values. The Columbus Dispatch has reported frequently on CCV and its president Aaron Baer, who has lobbied against bills and actions that support LGBTQ+ rights.
As the Dispatch previously reported:
Citizens for Community Values’ website once said that the group is not "against homosexuals," but believes "homosexual behavior is unhealthy and destructive to the individual, to families, and thus to communities and to society as a whole."
Several years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center had listed CCV as a "hate group" but no longer does so.
Brian Tome, senior pastor at Crossroads, tells CityBeat via email that bringing Mahan in for a guest sermon was a mistake, adding that Crossroads will research speakers better in the future and will have church leaders tackle what he says are "sensitive topics."
"We shouldn't have had an outside speaker come in who works for a polarizing organization that we’ve never previously partnered with and do not support. It was a huge miss for us," Tome says. "As the senior pastor I should have been the first person to talk on that topic since we never have."
Tome says that Crossroads' leadership had seen a slightly different address from Mahan ahead of the visit.
"We aren't disavowing everything in the talk but there should have been adjustments and it should have been from one of our pastors," Tome says.
Amy McKenzie, a Reading resident, tells CityBeat that she was distraught when she'd heard about Mahan's sermon. In response, she began organizing an LGBTQ-affirming demonstration that will take place Sunday, July 25, near Crossroads.
"I feel like we need to show up and show our support and say 'Hey, we do, as Christians, love this community, and we stand with you and you are welcome in church,'" McKenzie says. "There may have been kids in that congregation who were hurt."
McKenzie, who has a teenaged son who is gay, is concerned about the harm that anti-LGBTQ+ notions can do to individuals, particularly within a church congregation. She says that Crossroads and other local churches often preach inclusion on their websites and in public but don't actively support LGBTQ+ individuals within the congregation, such as by performing queer weddings or having gay and trans individuals within their leadership ranks.
At the suggestion of friends who told her that LGBTQ+ individuals served in ministry at Crossroads, McKenzie had attended a few services and events at the Oakley church and found that it was not the right fit for her family.
"You see things and you hear things, and it kind of confirms that (Crossroads is) not really inclusive," McKenzie says. "A lot of churches, when you're looking for a church like this and you're looking on the website to see if they're open and affirming, they will just leave it out. They just won't say it on their website. So you kind of have to do the research."
"Our kids who have these issues, who are struggling with their identity, they need to know they're loved," McKenzie continues. "They don't need to be going to church on Sunday and be told that they're evil or a hateful message coming from the preacher. They need to be told they're loved, and the response needs to be love at all times."
Jack Crofts, a Hyde Park resident who is active on LGBTQ+ issues, agrees with McKenzie and is helping to organize the July 25 demonstration.
"A lot of people have expressed confusion or concern since (Mahan's sermon), because ultimately, they thought (Crossroads) was a pro-LGBT church and organization," Crofts tells CityBeat. "A huge, huge part of the gathering on Sunday is going to be affirming for any current LGBT members of the church as well as people who consider themselves allies or people who just were confused and weren't sure what that messaging (on July 18 at Crossroads) was about. We just want to be there for those people and tell them, 'Hey, you have support, you have other options, you have a community of people who agree with you, who want to support you.'"
At Crossroads, Tome says that the church is trying to walk the line between welcoming LGBTQ+ members and adhering to what he says are biblical traditions.
"Our church is in the difficult place of the radical middle. We support the laws of the land regarding things like spousal rights and also have zero interest in entering the political arena related to LGBTQ+ rights or other issues," Tome says.
"We do love, welcome and support the LGBTQ+ community. We don't shame or guilt anyone into changing anything. Still, as an historically orthodox Christian church that holds to the Bible there are some things we do and some things we won't do," he adds. "We do baptize the children of same-sex parents who are a part of our church but we won't perform that couple’s wedding. We don't perform conversion therapy in our church. We know that this sounds inconsistent to some but we are prayerfully trying to honor God as we understand Him."
For McKenzie, that's not enough.
"I feel like this week, Crossroads took a stance (against LGBTQ+ inclusivity). And a lot of people in that audience don't feel that same way as Brian Tome when Brian said something and when the speaker (Mahan) said something," McKenzie tells CityBeat. "They took a stance for Christians in general, which is not a true reflection of Christians. And there's a lot of us who feel that's not an accurate portrayal of what the theology is."
Like McKenzie, Crofts wanted to show support for the LGBTQ+ community in response to the Mahan incident at Crossroads. Crofts — who organizes the Cincy Straddlers, a group of LGBTQ+ individuals who share resources and advocate for political and social justice — originally had begun organizing her own demonstration against Crossroads but later aligned actions and priorities with McKenzie for greater impact. The demonstration will begin at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, with details on Facebook.
Crofts says that demonstrators — including people who at one time had been part of the Crossroads congregation — will have information and resources for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies. She says the group will march around the Crossroads perimeter to hold the church accountable for Mahan's sermon and to remind LGBTQ+ congregation members that locally, there are more affirming options for Christian worship.
"We want to reach out to people going in because that's our primary audience," Crofts says. "We want them to question their leadership and see if they can get them to answer these questions, or (we want to be a) group that can provide some clarity for them or some help for them in navigating the issues."
McKenzie says that there are liturgical and contemporary churches and faith organizations in Cincinnati that welcome LGBTQ+ in ways that Crossroads does not, noting that she found an LGBTQ-affirming faith community in Legend Community Church in Madisonville. But because church websites frequently are not transparent or direct in their support for LGBTQ+ individuals, they're not always easy to find, she says, adding that a database at churchclarity.org helps people sort through the messaging.
"As I was searching for all of these things, I was just like, 'This is almost like a unicorn in Cincinnati. Does this place even exist in Cincinnati?'" McKenzie says.
"I know that one of the churches that I'd been going to (until) recently, it said on the website that everyone's welcome," McKenzie adds. "And it wasn't until I got to the membership meeting and we got to the issue of gay marriage where they were like, 'Well, we don't do that here.' And you can't say you include everyone if you're not willing to really include everyone. I made it for months there until I got to that place in the membership meeting."
Crofts adds that her wife, who is transgender, had been raised within an Evangelical environment but found an accepting faith community years later.
"You can be Christian. You can be LGBT. You can be an ally. You do not have to abandon your belief and love of God to support or to be LGBT," she says.
Crofts says that getting Crossroads to fully define its stance on LGBTQ+ issues is key.
"We really hope that clarity will bring a resolution to the question that a lot of people have about Crossroads, which is are they or are they not LGBT friendly," Crofts says. "Because on (Crossroads') site, they do position themselves as pro-LGBT or LGBT friendly. But from many people that we know behind the scenes, they do not treat their LGBT members the same as their non-LGBT or heterosexual members. In fact, LGBT members (at Crossroads) have felt shunned or discriminated against or, in some cases, been asked to de-transition if they are trans."
"We just want that messaging to be clear and up front," Crofts adds.
Shortly after Mahan's July 18 sermon, Crossroads released this statement:
This past weekend, Crossroads hosted a guest speaker who broached the subject of children seeking to transition to a different gender. Unfortunately, there are many who have been hurt and are looking for clarity. Regardless of a person’s sexual or gender identity, we love them and welcome them, as does God. What was shared this weekend was never meant to hurt anyone, and we deeply regret that it did. This is a topic that warrants increased care and empathy and we’re sorry that didn’t happen this weekend. Crossroads also does not financially or otherwise support any political organizations and their platforms including the Center for Christian Virtue, where this weekend’s speaker is employed. We have no intention of being activistic in this or any other political space. Our main goal has and will always be to bring people to Christ.
Crofts says that Crossroads' statement doesn't go far enough to fully affirm its LGBTQ+ members. She doesn't believe that the church will transparently support its queer members, but there's always room for conversation if Crossroads decides it's time for "a new chapter," as Crofts puts it.
"I don't want to say that I'm completely lacking hope that (Crossroads) will address our demands or affirm LGBT people. I do have some amount of hope that they would listen to us and that they could clarify (the church's stance on LGBTQ+ issues)," Crofts says. "That is always an option that is on the table, and that would be wonderful."
Editor's note: CityBeat did sue CCV in 2008 for threatening the paper's right to publish freely.
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