Minnesota pastor about to lose his church over support for gay marriage
In 2005, Rev. Oliver White of Grace Community United Church announced his support for gay marriage. Two-thirds of his congregation left the church. The congregants left with their money, and in 2007, White was forced to take out a loan to keep the church afloat. The church now owes $200,000, and is at risk of closing its doors.
A single sermon, or a position on a single, controversial subject, may bring down a Minnesota church?
In 2005, Reverend Oliver White attended a national United Church of Christ assembly in Atlanta, where, with a majority of attendees, he voted in favor of supporting same-sex marriage.
It was a crossroads for White and his Grace Community United Church of Christ in St. Paul, Minn. When word of his vote reached his congregation, though, they did not say “Amen”.
“Categorically, they said, ‘I cannot be a part of a church that accepts same-sex marriage,” White told CNN.
Two-thirds of Reverend White's congregation left, cutting not only Sunday attendance, but also draining the church's finances. The congregants left with their money, and in 2007, White was forced to take out a loan to keep the church afloat. Grace Community United now owes the bank $200,000, a sum that must be paid by June 30 or the church will have to close its doors for good.
In the past few weeks and months, White has preached to more pews than people. He said many of his parishioners left for more fundamental churches, like Seven Day Adventist, Baptist, Pentecostal and Evangelical-type churches, or have become Jehovah's Witnesses. But no matter where they have gone, the impact on Grace Community Church has been persistent. White said no one from the surrounding neighborhood will attend.
"This church is located in a community that is extremely homophobic and very transient," White told CNN. “Unfortunately, too many people believe that homosexuality is an abomination. They base that belief upon what they have read or have been told from the Bible, and that is very, very unfortunate that people think that way."
But what does White believe?
“I believe that all of us are God’s children. I don’t believe that we should judge one another according to our sexual preferences, or what we believe in terms of our religion, or any of that. I can’t imagine why people would be upset because of a loving, caring mutual relationship between two adults,” he said.
While White acknowledged people leave churches for a variety of reasons, and not necessarily related to religious disagreements, he believes the impact of his decision on Grace Community was too extreme to just be a coincidence.
“Categorically speaking, the majority of them left because of the issue of having to deal with same-sex marriage, as well as my advocacy of the gay and lesbian community,” White said.
He also cited the fact that he chooses to use gender-neutral language as another possible reason parishioners have left. He believes his refusal to refer to God as “man” in his sermons, prayers, and writing as well as his advocacy for women, has alienated male parishioners who thought women should be subject to men.
"So, I’ve been told by some — maybe I’m ahead of my time or something like that. But I believe in preaching the Gospel — the simple Gospel, the simple truth, and that is what Jesus said — ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself and Love God’. And on those two commandments hang all the laws of the prophecy,” White said.
He also told CNN that most donations to pay off Grace Community’s 23.5 percent mortgage are fairly small, around $1 to $5 at a time and now, only about 10 people regularly attend Grace Community Church.
“The clock is definitely ticking. The campaign to raise the funds that we need to keep the door open will last until June 28," White said.
Despite his financial troubles, White has decided to stick to his beliefs. He said he has had offers to end his church's financial problems if he would renounce his views and "come back to God."
White has declined.
"There's not enough money on this planet that would make me turn around and go back the other way," he said.
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