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February 13, 2013

Sullivan County pastors weigh in on same-sex prom issue

One church says it is a victim of hate campaign

SULLIVAN — A Sullivan County pastor is publicly expressing outrage at efforts to discourage a same-sex couple from attending the Sullivan High School prom.

Paul McGlasson, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, has authored a strongly worded letter to the editor that appears in today’s issue of the Tribune-Star (page A8).

He wrote, in part:

“As an American citizen, I am of course appalled — in fact, outraged — at the bullying tactics of those who wish to marginalize, stigmatize and ultimately put nothing short of a target on the backs of these two young women” who want to attend the Grand March and the prom, he wrote.

“In a day when the civil rights of all people are recognized as the foundation of our democracy, I shake my head in wonder that such hatred and sheer bitter inhumanity can still exist in our world. Furthermore, LGBTQ teens are one of the highest risks for suicide, and here is another example of the bigotry, hatred and bullying they must endure,” he wrote.

In an interview, McGlasson said he believed it was important to take a public stand. “I want people to realize we all [in Sullivan] don’t think that way,” he said. “I believe it is a tolerant community.”

He believes “the vast majority” of people in Sullivan County, including the students, support the female couple that wants to attend the Grand March and prom.

“Whether they agree with homosexuality as a lifestyle or not, they believe the kids should have the right to go to the prom,” he said. “But I’m not sure they would have said that three weeks ago. Sometimes it takes an issue like this for people to say, ‘Yeah, I do think that.’”

In the short term, the issue has brought controversy and negative attention to Sullivan County. In McGlasson’s view, “If it takes going through a period of some anguish as a community in order to arrive at a newer, more mature consensus about civil rights, then you just have to do it.”

There has been disagreement among Sullivan County clergy on the issue. While some clergy are involved in efforts to have a separate “traditional” prom that bans gay and lesbian couples, “It’s not a clergy-driven effort,” McGlasson said. A teacher and parents also are involved in planning for the separate prom.

He’s troubled that some people “are using the Christian faith to justify what appears to me to be nothing less than sheer bigotry. It’s an issue of civil rights, pure and simple,” McGlasson said.

He understands there are Christian communities that believe homosexuality is a sin. “I understand that. That’s fine. They base their beliefs on scripture. That is a theological issue for the Christian church to wrestle with,” he said.

Allowing a same sex couple to attend a public high school prom “is not a theological issue for the church to wrestle with. This is an issue of civil rights,” he said. “What gives the church the right to dictate to the state that the state must follow the morality of the church?”

He believes that mainstream, orthodox Christianity “affirms church and state separation and the civil rights of all people, whatever their religion, race, gender and sexuality.”

At a nearby church, Rev. Dale Wise, pastor of the Sullivan First Christian Church, wanted to set the record straight on that church’s role in the controversy.

“We’re neutral with regard to the prom,” he said. “We don’t support the prom at the school, we don’t have a problem. We are not involved.”

Whether or not a “traditional” prom is conducted barring same sex couples, “We have no interest one way or another,” Wise said. “We don’t condone, we don’t condemn. It has nothing to do with us.”

The church “doesn’t deal in political or social issues,” Wise said.

A group of “concerned citizens” asked to use the church to conduct a meeting Sunday to plan for a separate prom that would bar gay/lesbian couples.

In Sullivan, “This is not an issue at all,” Wise said. But media hype “has stirred up a bunch of garbage about nothing.”

Because the First Christian Church was the site for Sunday’s meeting, and the site was publicized, it’s been the target of some hateful emails and faxes, Wise said.

“We had pornography come through on our fax machine,” he said. Overnight, the church received about 3,200 emails as well as calls from around the country. He estimated about 60 to 70 percent of it was negative.

“You talk about hate campaigns. We have been the victim of a hate campaign,” Wise said.  

While the church itself hasn’t felt threatened, some of the families endorsing the “traditional” prom have been threatened, he said. “There have been threats of burning their house down.”

The First Christian Church “loves people. We love the Lord, and we’re here to help people,” Wise said. “We’re not here to put people down, we’re not here to condemn people or to launch any hate campaigns.”

He does believe “it’s really sad that some well meaning people have just been dragged through the gutter over something that is not even an issue.”

Some say it’s become an issue across the country, and that may be true, Wise said. “It’s not an issue in Sullivan, Indiana.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

 

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