Dan Haseltine, frontman for the Christian rock band Jars of Clay, stunned the evangelical right when he came out on Twitter in support of legalizing gay marriage earlier this year. • The singer questioned the biblical basis for denying same-sex couples equal rights, tweeting that he intended to start a conversation, and he did, albeit a not so nice one. • Dozens of commenters and bloggers calling themselves Christians attacked the Grammy-winning artist. Some called his tweets irresponsible. Others warned he teetered on a pathway to damnation. A few radio stations even pulled Haseltine's music. • Contrastingly, Pressley Sutherland, interim pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa, calls the singer's tweets brave.
A 40-year-old sanctuary in the heart of Ybor City, Sutherland's church performs civil unions and marriages.
The church, founded as a meeting place for Christian gays, lesbians, transgender and bisexual people, does not discriminate.
"The ceremonies and blessings are the same whether it is a heterosexual couple marrying or what we call a civil union because the couple doesn't have the same legal rights," Sutherland said. "It's about love."
I spoke to Sutherland about Metropolitan and being a gay Christian in the United States today.
For those who are not familiar, as a denomination, what is the focus of the Metropolitan Community Church?
Metropolitan Community Church is a Christian denomination that is progressive, inclusive and engaged in social action for human rights. In the beginning, our church offered places of inclusions because in the Christian world there were really no options for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The church started as one church in the 1960s. Now we have churches all over the world.
As we've grown, our calling really has stretched beyond inclusivity to having community churches that live at the edge of understanding, standing for the human rights of all people. We are asking ourselves, "What does it really mean when we talk about the central tenet of our faith, which is to love all people?"
Do you think the mainstream Christian church has progressed since the founding of the first Metropolitan Community Church in 1968? What are your thoughts on Dan Haseltine's tweets?
The Christian church does have a long way to go, certainly in regard to gender issues, but I am hopeful. I think what (Haseltine) did is great. I'd add a wow to that as well, especially because it came from someone trying to make a living as a professional Christian musician. When someone speaks out, I think they are being courageous. They are living the truth in our calling.
How long have you worked within the Metropolitan church? What led you to become a leader in the denomination?
I have been an MCC pastor for 20 years, at many churches, in four different countries. Growing up, I felt a calling into ministry. When I decided to go to seminary, I knew I wanted to do it as an out gay man. I had to ask myself: Do I stay with the mainstream denomination or do I go somewhere else where I can be ordained and embrace my calling fully? I felt it was my calling to do life-affirming work for the LGTB community.
What types of ministries does MCC Tampa offer?
Our church offers a weekly food pantry. We are partnered with the Francis House. And of course we have worship Sundays, which I would call a blended worship because the congregation includes so many people from so many different backgrounds. We also offer children's church and right now we are expanding our family programs. Families and couples that aren't necessarily part of the LGTB community come to the church for many reasons. Some people are looking for a place that is more progressive than the traditional, and others, like with finding any church, just feel like it is the right place for them.
Does the church face any kind of discrimination or condemnation from other Christians? How does it choose to deal with it if it does?
Yes, there are times still, especially on ecumenical councils or in shared church initiatives, when some churches or denominations will block our participation. I believe we have learned over the years to offer the best that we have in partnership with other Christians and people of faith. If that is not received in good faith, then there is biblical precedent to dust off one's sandals and move on to do the works of love we are called to do as a community in Christ.
Contact Sarah Whitman at [email protected]