Highland Park Presbyterian Aims to Preserve Its Values, Which Apparently Include Homophobia

Highland Park Presbyterian is not, repeat NOT leaving its own denomination because of gay clergy. It's all about inerrancy. Next question: What's inerrancy?
Highland Park Presbyterian is not, repeat NOT leaving its own denomination because of gay clergy. It's all about inerrancy. Next question: What's inerrancy?
Flickr user ruthieonart

David Carr had a good piece in The New York Times Monday about the diminishing value of sexual outing as a moneymaker for the media business. It's about a recent Gawker story outing Fox News breaking news director Shepard Smith as gay. Apparently no one gave a shit.

I think I understand the moral complexities here as well as the next person in my business, but then a part of me dies every time I see society get over another really good phobia. I think, "Don't take outing away from us! Now all we'll have to report on is rehab."

I actually think we all get it. Stories outing people over whom they screw become less and less effective showstoppers the less anybody cares. Carr hits on the one cultural fulcrum that can provide leverage for outing stories, and that's the twist.

You know. The twist. Gawker thought people would consider Fox News a fair target because Fox is so totally twisted. Judging by the utter lack of pick-up, though, Gawker must have been wrong. To get a rise out of anybody (please) with an outing today, you have to find somebody way farther out on the twisted continuum than Fox News. Wow. This business!

Fortunately for us in the local news trade, we have the Park Cities, the twisted well that never runs dry. In Monday's Dallas Morning News, for example, we have a story about Highland Park Presbyterian Church, whose members voted overwhelmingly Sunday to ditch out of the Presbyterian denomination and join a new outfit called the Covenant Order of Evangelical Christians, which sounds scary, doesn't it?

The abbreviation is ECO. Try it on.

"So what religion are you now?"


Still scary.

The Reverend Joe Rightmyer, interim senior pastor of HPPC, said in a statement on their website, "By joining ECO, we are not walking away from our Presbyterian values. We are preserving them."

Yeah, well, that would be basically walking away. A number of Presbyterian churches have departed from the denomination over the last couple years, almost always claiming that it's all about something called biblical "inerrancy," a word with a sketchy career in dictionaries. I do find it in Websters New World meaning infallibility, but the closest to that meaning the Shorter Oxford English will give it is "fixed," like the eyeball that never moves in a wall-eyed guy. Mostly for words, I still trust the Old World.

And in fact in the case of Highland Park Presbyterian, the one word they seem least willing to utter about all this is a very old one, gay. As in clergy. All of the ship-jumping here and nationally began a several years ago when the national Presbyterian Church, also known as the Real Presbyterian Church, entered into a debate about allowing homosexuals to become clergy. That debate seems to have been resolved last year when the national body voted down an attempt to roll back an earlier decision admitting gay clergy.

Now, remember, I promised I wasn't just going to sit here and talk about who's gay unless I could come up with a really good twist. I do know the rules on this. So ... uh, well, OK, I admit it: I am not exactly sure what I've got, but here it is, anyway.

In May of 2009, John Wright, then the editor of Dallas Voice, took the then pastor of HPPC, Ron Scates, to task for being a homophobe. Scates wrote to Wright saying the characterization was unfair. He said in his manuscript note:

I am not "afraid of the same" (that is what homophobic literally means), nor afraid of folks who have same-sex attraction. I only want God's best for them. I have been taken into the world of homosexual sex (and heterosexual sex outside of marriage) and have witnessed the self-destructiveness that is rampant whenever we use our bodies contrary to the way God has made us. I hope you will be open-minded enough to read the enclosed. If I didn't think you were a valuable person, if I was truly bigoted, hateful, I didn't care about you ... I wouldn't bother to write.

There is a way out ... a way back toward the center of God's will ... both for you and for me (because we're both in the same sinful boat). I've witnessed that firsthand as well.

Don't give up on God's best for your life. I promise you that I won't either. In Christ, Ronald Scates.

With this missive he included a brochure for a ministry devoted to turning gay people into heterosexuals. Wright published the letter and made reference to the brochure in a way that made it sound as if Scates had gone through the escape-from-gaydom program himself.

I reached Scates today. He is on sabbatical from HPPC right now in an arrangement that sounds like pre-retirement as he nears 65 years of age. It's a deal he struck with the church a year ago. I asked him about the Wright letter. He said this:

The editor of the Dallas Voice took a comment I made to him in an interview a number of years ago and knowingly and maliciously twisted it totally out of context in order to make it look as if I was somehow latently homosexual. Previous to coming to Dallas, I served for 11 years on the board of Regeneration Ministries in Baltimore (three of those years as president), a Christian ministry for men and women who are struggling to come out of the homosexual lifestyle by seeking new lives in Christ.

Most of the Regen staff were/are homosexual/lesbian oriented folk. I said, "If I'm going to serve on this board with wisdom, faithfulness, and compassion, I need to understand the homosexual lifestyle beyond the mere anecdotes and caricatures that currently inform my knowledge and understanding of the lifestyle."

This was in 1989, so I asked some of the male Regen staff to "take me into their former world" by driving me around Baltimore during the daytime and showing me key sites of homosexual activity while telling me about what actually goes on in those places. I certainly had my eyes open to the self-destructiveness of that lifestyle.

That is what I clearly told the editor of the Dallas Voice so that he would understand that I made an intentional attempt to move beyond homophobia and to truly understand what the lifestyle entailed. After he published his purposely twisted version of what I said and meant, I called him on the phone, to ask him why he would do such a thing, and he reacted with a "too bad for you" attitude.

For 13 years as Sr. Pastor of HPPC, my goal for everyone in our congregation was merely to preach and teach only what the Scriptures clearly reveal to be God's best for any and all people in all areas of life, including the realm of human sexuality, which is fidelity in marriage between one man and one woman, and chastity in singleness, whatever one's orientation, and to do so in a compassionate and non-condemnatory way as part of the Gospel of grace. That's the whole story.

I'm trying to reach Wright. He's the guy who got fired from the Voice in a recent controversy over a more physical form of inerrancy. You remember. The parade?

See also: Dallas Voice Publisher: Editor John Wright Was Fired, But It Wasn't for "Doing Journalism"

Meanwhile, I have my own motto for all of this, not that anyone would listen: Don't spend too much time obsessing over how other people screw and getting angry about it, even if you really really like getting angry about it, because it could cause your eyes to stay like that and you might wind up inerrant. Word to the wise, my friend, word to the wise.

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