Controversy involving a church that opposes same-sex marriage and uses a school district’s performing arts center apparently has led the Austin, Texas, school district to reconsider its policies on facility rentals.
Celebration Church, a Georgetown, Texas, congregation, rents the district’s performing arts center to use for the worship services by one of its campuses. But the congregation’s affirmation of marriage as defined by Scripture sparked protests outside Sunday morning service in late August by two gay rights groups, Stonewall Militant Front-ATX and AZAAD Austin. Members of the groups chanted and waved gay pride flags and signs, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Austin Independent School District now is considering changing the rental policy, an action that would result in the congregation being booted. Officials claim it is not in reaction to the protests.
“With the [performing arts center], we want to ensure we are keeping it open for students and schools and not eliminating their opportunity to utilize it,” district chief of staff Jacob Reach told the newspaper. “There’s also a lot of wear and tear involved, and [we’re] making sure we keep that building in good shape. We have custodial staff that actually go in there and clean. When we have events every night, it’s just not possible for them to do that. It’s the same with our other staff.”
Some school board members want to ban the church from meeting on school property.
“I’m not in favor of renting to any entity that doesn’t support our values … and that’s full inclusion of our LGBTQ community,” school board Trustee Ann Teich told the newspaper.
The church’s statement of beliefs reads like many – if not most – statements by traditional churches in the U.S. Its statement about marriage says, “Marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with His Bride – the Church. It is defined from the beginning of Scripture as a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman. God designed sexual intimacy for a marriage relationship and does not endorse or condone it in any other context (1 Thess 4:3-5, Gen 2:24, Matt 19:4-5).” A previous statement about marriage read, “Any form of sexual immorality, such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, pornography or any attempt to change one's sex, or disagreement with one's biological sex, is sinful and offensive to God. (Matthew 19:4-6).”
Celebration Church Pastor Joe Champion said he hopes the congregation is allowed to continue meeting in the facility.
“We are welcoming to all people and love everyone the same,” he told the Statesman. “We are hopeful everyone will commit to equality before the government for all people, regardless of their viewpoints.”
Meanwhile, the Texas attorney general’s office is warning the district against banning churches, the Todd Starnes Radio Show reported.
“The District should not make any changes to its facilities use policy that would prevent churches from renting those facilities on the same terms as other community organizations, lest it violate state and federal law,” First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer wrote in a letter obtained by the program.
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Unsplash/Kirsty Lee
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.