Three women holding up a picture of Vanessa Collier at a demonstration

A pastor at New Hope Ministries in Colorado stopped Vanessa Collier's funeral in the middle of the service because she was a lesbian. Vanessa's friends are shown above, demonstrating at a rally in front of the church. Credit: Craig F. Walker/ The Denver Post)

I am continually amazed, but no longer surprised, when I witness incidents where individuals and entire denominations justify and perpetuate acts of bigotry and tyranny in the name of God and religion. From scorn, marginalization, forced conversion, and expulsion to kidnapping, rape, enslavement, invasion, and murder, throughout the ages up to our current epoch, people have taken literal and not-so-literal interpretations of their scriptures to establish and maintain hierarchical positions of power, domination, and privilege over individuals and entire nations targeted by these texts.

The latest incident in this heinous saga comes from the New Hope Ministries in Denver, Colorado when at approximately 15 minutes into conducting a funeral service, Pastor Ray Chavez suddenly stopped and announced that he will not continue. He then ordered that the funeral must be moved since, apparently, he discovered that the deceased was a lesbian.

Vanessa Collier died on December 30, 2014. As a loving memorial to her, Vanessa’s friends produced a moving video tribute showing pictures taken throughout her life, some with Vanessa kissing her wife. Pastor Chavez, viewing the video, cancelled the funeral service, and recommended mourners take the casket, the flowers, and themselves across the street. Chaplain Gary Rolando, a friend of the Collier family, continued the service at the Newcomer Funeral Home.

A few days after laying Vanessa to rest, a group of protesters marched in front of the New Hope Ministries church,holding signssaying, “Dignity in Death Vanessa” and “You will not find Jesus at New Hope but you will find HYPOCRISY.”

Today we term the ancients’ and indigenous peoples’ forms of religion and spirituality as “mythology” or “superstition.” The reality is that all religious doctrine stems from conjecture, from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to the Burning Bush, to the Covenant and the parting of the Red Sea, to the Immaculate Conception and Resurrection, to Muhammad’s rising to Heaven from the rock, to the Mormon Golden Tablets, all beginning with the human invention of God(s).

While attempting to portray themselves as religious denominations that stand for world peace and love, upon scratching not far beneath the paper-thin veneer, we find a wide and deep tradition and current practice of abuse and oppression within some of the more extreme and fanatical conservative denominations.

Religions reflect a human response in our attempt to answer the mysteries of life: How did we get here and what is our purpose within the cosmos? Beginning as a belief in faith and mystery, many religions have developed a conceited sense of certainty that they and only they know “the Truth” with a capital “T.” Though the enforcement tactics differ, this sense of certainty remains virtually the same from extreme fanatical religious-based political groups, to orthodox religious denominations of all kinds.

I find the name of the church, New Hope Ministries, to be a fraudulent misnomer, a deceit in advertising. If Pastor Chavez considers his actions as representing some sort of hope, new or otherwise, I prefer no hope at all.

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Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author ofWarren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press);editor ofHomophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press),and co-editor ofReadings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge)andInvestigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense),and co-author ofLooking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

 


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