Members of Cincinnati's LGBTQ+ community and their allies are asking Crossroads Church in Oakley to support everyone — or to stop pretending.
On July 18, David Mahan gave a controversial 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.
According to a public video uploaded by a Facebook user, Mahan’s sermon at the Oakley mega-church fixated on transgender individuals — their prevalence in society, Planned Parenthood’s support and their supposed “criminality.” (CityBeat has not yet been able to confirm the video's originator, but Brian Garry, chair of Neighborhoods United who was at the sermon, also sent video and audio to media outlets).
Mahan 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.
During the sermon, Mahan also said the following:
“We think of a kid with anorexia bulimia. She is 60 pounds soaking wet. Come in here talking about 'I want to commit suicide because I'm fat.' How do you respond? What is your loving response to that child? Affirmation? Or do you try to get her dysphoric mentality of herself to line up with her biological reality? What do we do? And if we would do the latter, why wouldn't we do that with the same dysphoric condition for transgender?”
Mahan also cited a study of transgender individuals out of context, alleging that adults are pushing transgender children through hormone therapy and surgery and that transgender individuals would be happier if they were “allowed” to go through puberty:
“If you would just let these kids alone, if you would give them two things, which is counseling, therapy and counseling — which is being banned at the statehouse right now — and two, if you would let them go through puberty, which is why they want to ban and suppress puberty right now, because if you let them go through that, it’s really harder for them to justify what they’re doing to these children. Voices are changing, things like that.
“But here’s something I want to break down. Of all these 324 gender dysphoric individuals, those that actually went through the full transition, surgery, the whole nine (yards), listen, this was the outcome. Significant increased risk of mortality from all causes. Rate of psychiatric hospitalization was three times higher than the control group. Significantly increased rate of criminal conviction. Suicide attempts went up five times. Listen to this: death by suicide, actual completed suicide, increased, what, 19 times.”
Mahan was referencing a 2011 study at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, which psychiatrist Paul McHugh misrepresented in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece in 2014, spawning a frenzy within conservative circles.
Dr. Cecilia Dhejne, the author of the study, refuted and condemned McHugh’s incorrect interpretation of her study to The Trans Advocate, in a Reddit AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) and through many media interviews since. Dhejne’s words from the 2017 Reddit AMA (all spelling and grammatical errors are the original poster’s):
“I am aware of some of the misinterpretation of the study in Plos One. Some are as you say difficult to keep track since they are not published in scientific journals. I am grateful to friends all over the world who notify me of publications outside the scientific world. I do answer some of them but I can’t answer all.
“I have no good recommendation what to do. I have said many times that the study is not design to evaluate the outcome of medical transition. It DOES NOT say that medical transition causes people to commit suicide. However it does say that people who have transition are more vulnerable and that we need to improve care. I am happy about that it has also been seen that way and in those cases help to secure more resources to transgender health care.
“On a personal level I can get both angry and sad of the misinterpretations and also sometimes astonished that some researcher don’t seem to understand some basics about research methology.”
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."
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).
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 heard about Mahan's sermon. In response, she began organizing an LGBTQ-affirming demonstration that took 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 organized another July 25 demonstration that then joined with McKenzie’s.
"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 told CityBeat ahead of the demonstration. "A huge, huge part of the gathering...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. Tome says that Crossroads does not affirm LGBTQ+ individuals in all ways.
"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) 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 (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 hold Crossroads 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," says Crofts, who organizes the Cincy Straddlers, a group of LGBTQ+ individuals who share resources and advocate for political and social justice. "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, McKenzie says, adding that a database at churchclarity.org can help people sort through the messaging.
"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 says. "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.
In the wake of Mahan’s sermon, Crossroads Church largely removed users’ ability to comment on its social media posts. But on July 25, one week after Mahan took the church’s stage, Crossroads’ Tome addressed the congregation as McKenzie, Crofts and others demonstrated outside.
In an 11-minute video posted to the Crossroads Facebook page, Tome said the following:
“In this past week, we have heard from a wide diversity of people who are hurt: those in the LGBTQIA+ community, those who have friends in the LGBTQIA+ community, teachers who didn’t feel supported, and last but not least, those who are upset that we seem to be apologizing for everything that was said and being weak and afraid of cancel culture. Of all the mistakes I made last week, the biggest was that I didn’t say this: We love people in the LGBTQIA+ community, and that wasn’t clear last week. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
But then Tome said this, leaving little doubt as to Crossroads’ views on its LGBTQ+ members’ places within the church:
“God’s standard for sex is a man and woman in marriage. And while we believe this to our core, we have never and will never mobilize our church around the politics of sexuality. I think some are really concerned that we might be trying to leverage the size and muscle of Crossroads to reverse gay rights.
“I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people who don’t like that gay people can serve in our children’s ministry. There is zero link between homosexuality and pedophilia. Zero. People have left over that decision and people leave over the decision that we have made that there are certain leadership positions that are closed to a sexually active gay person just as a heterosexual person who’s having sex outside of marriage.”
Editor's note: CityBeat sued the Center for Christian Virtue, then called Citizens for Community Values, in 2008 for threatening the paper's right to publish freely.