A group of people who’ve spent their lives spreading the Gospel had an additional message Thursday: Vote “no” on repealing Springfield’s gay rights law.
“My education taught me to have compassion for gay people,” said John Cremeans, a pastor who attended Bible school in Springfield. “But they were living outside Scripture, and not living a godly life. I believed there was a sin that could be corrected through prayer — until the day my son told me he was gay.”
Cremeans was one of four Springfield churchgoers who described themselves as having an evangelical Christian background and spoke on behalf of the No Repeal campaign at a press event Thursday.
He said he struggled to understand his son’s life and sought answers from others in the LGBT community.
“The stories were devastating to me,” he said. “The rejection they felt, the judgment, the bullying that I saw. Living as an LGBT person, for a lot of people, means living in a culture of fear.”
As he’s met more people in that community, he says he’s “never had any group treat me with more respect, more grace, more patience and more love.”
He says that hasn’t been the case with everyone in his church community.
“I’ve had friends and colleagues pull away,” he said. “They would leave the church like being gay is a virus.”
Ivy Schulte said that’s something she’s experienced.
She moved to Springfield at 18 to attend Central Bible College and quickly became involved in a local Assemblies of God church.
“It was a community I loved,” she said. “I got involved in all facets of the church. It was honestly my favorite place to be.”
She said she eventually fell in love with her best friend, “who happened to be a girl.”
“She was the love of my life,” Schulte said. “However, we hid it, because we were both petrified.”
She says she was afraid the church would turn against her and that she’d be kicked out of school and not realize her dream of being a youth pastor.
Eventually, Schulte broke up with her girlfriend and decided to tell the pastor her story. She says what she feared came true.
“I was told that I was wrong about what our relationship was,” she said. “I was told I was confused.”
She said she was pushed away and has never heard from the people in that church.
“Not only did I lose my relationship, I was forced to lose my church,” she said. “As time went on, I realized that even though the church left me, Jesus never left me.”
Schulte found another church community in which she’s happy and accepted, she said.
The Springfield area’s largest congregation is at James River Church, an Assemblies of God church. Its pastor John Lindell earlier this month gave a sermon in which he told congregants to vote for repeal of the expanded nondiscrimination ordinance. He, and others, have said the ordinance infringes on religious rights.
Randy Cathcart was a pastor in an Assemblies of God church and spent most of his life trying to cope with being gay.
“I went all in and I begged, pleaded with God for a change in my orientation,” he said. “I started memorizing Scripture, memorizing whole books of the Bible. I confessed my struggle to others. I prayed, I fasted, I took part in inner-healing, deliverance-type ministries. I did it because I loved God so deeply, I wanted to please him.”
He developed a brain tumor in his 20s, but didn’t know that was what it was. It “decimated” his hormone levels and he thought it was God healing him, he said.
During that time, he married a woman and started a family. When doctors discovered the tumor and had it removed, Cathcart realized he was still gay.
“Except now I was married and had a family,” he said.
So he still sought ways to change himself, even taking part in a “conversion program,” but it didn’t work as he thought it should.
“Finally (God) convinced me that I was actually fighting his agenda,” Cathcart said. “He loved me and I wanted to change.”
This issue isn’t as personal to Wes Pratt, he acknowledged, but he has spent his life fighting for social justice, and he sees this as another example of a group needing protection.
Pratt, the director of Institutional Equity and Compliance at Missouri State University, is also a deacon at a local church. He said he believes the Bible should not be used to condemn other people.
“I believe God loves all of his children, every single one of us, regardless of who we are, and regardless of who we love,” he said.
Pratt has been arguing for social justice since he was 15, he said, primarily standing up for black residents in Springfield.
“As an American, as a black male, and as a native son of Springfield, Missouri, who knows the history of legal and illegal discrimination toward historically excluded groups,” he said, “I would never condone discrimination against anyone.”
He said it disturbs him to “listen to the vitriol, listen to the misrepresentations, to listen to the mean-spiritedness that sometimes comes from people who are supposed to be of the cloth, toward people in our community who are LGBT.”
He said he believes there is discrimination and that the LGBT community needs legal protection.
Cremeans also urged people to vote against the repeal, in hopes that people in the community will “stand up and show love like Jesus would.”
“My son is the bravest young man I know,” he said. “I can’t imagine to know what it must have been like for him to grow up in my home — to see pain and ridicule that he’s had to endure. It breaks my heart. I no longer pray that he’ll change. I accept him unconditionally, like Jesus does.”
What does evangelical mean?
The term means Protestants who follows the teaching of the Gospel or the Christian religion. It typically involves a strict adherence to biblical Scripture.
According to the National Association of Evangelicals, characteristics typically include a belief that people must be converted to achieve salvation and a “high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority.”