Church music and gay activism

Last month, a story out of Indiana was picked up by numerous news outlets. The story was about a United Methodist congregation had rallied behind a dismissed gay choir director, and to show their support for him, had largely stopped attending the church after he was fired.

Six years ago, Adam Fraley began serving as the choir director for a United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Ind. At first, Fraley did not say he was gay, but his partner attended church services, and one church member said, “It was obvious that he was gay.” Fraley has since admitted that he is an active homosexual. After six years, the previous minister left, and the interim pastor reportedly said he was not comfortable with an open homosexual having such a prominent role in worship. Fraley, citing a heightened workload, resigned from the choir director position.

Six months later, a new minister, David Mantor, was hired. The congregation's elected lay leader (analogous to a head elder) David Steele, told Mantor that the members wanted Fraley reinstated as choir director. Mantor at first agreed, but later changed his mind.

“He [Mantor] wasn't comfortable with having [an open homosexual] in a leadership position as a choir director,” Steele told a local radio station.

Steele offered to raise money privately to fund the position, if it was a monetary issue, but Mantor stated that it was “a moral issue.” Both men dug in their heels, and Mantor asked Steele to resign his leadership position and hand over his church keys. Steele refused, but a few weeks later the district superintendent backed the minister. The Steele family then dropped its membership and stopped attending, along with (according to Steele) some 80 percent of the other congregants.

But the communications director for the Indiana Conference of the UMC Dan Gangler, has denied Steele and Fraley's contention that Fraley was not rehired because of his homosexuality, saying that the small congregation (membership ~ 130, average attendance ~ 35-60) simply elected not to have a choir, in part because there were only six regular choir members.

“The position was not open. Mr. Fraley had resigned earlier in the year and the pastor did not think it wise to re-hire him since he already had once resigned from the position,” said Gangler.

The press has gotten much of this story wrong, including the drop in attendance, which had returned to normal within two or three weeks of Steele's departure, Gangler told ADvindicate; according to the district superintendent, there is now “no change in attendance.”

What practical lessons can we learn from this sad story? First, decisions about the qualifications for, and disqualifications from, church office should be made in advance. Matters can be discussed dispassionately and objectively in the abstract that, once personalities are involved, will tend to be discussed emotionally and with feelings running high. If long-established criteria exist for a given church office, it should be clear that they are not being made up, ad hoc, to thwart the ambitions or hurt the feelings of a specific individual. The Bible gives us the qualifications for positions such as elder/overseer (1 Tim. 3:2-7; Titus 1:5-8) and deacon/deaconess (1 Tim. 3:8-13), but does not list qualifications for church musicians. The church must establish these itself.

I prefer that music be provided by the members of the church. Church music is worship; it is praise to God coming from a heart overflowing with love and thankfulness to our Creator and Redeemer. If a church hires a bevy of outside, non-member professional musicians, it seems as if the church is putting on a show or a performance for its congregants rather than worshiping with the congregation. But if church music is organized, led and sung/played by the church members, there are two positive outcomes: 1) it is more likely to be an act of worship rather than a performance, and 2) unless church discipline has broken down, open homosexuals will not be providing the music.

I say unless church discipline has broken down. The principle passage on church discipline is 1 Corinthians 5, where Paul admonished the church in Corinth that a man who was having relations with his father's wife should be “handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. ... You must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral . . . . Do not even eat with such people.” (v. 5, 11) The standard of morality Paul enforced in that instance is from Leviticus 18:8: “Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonor your father,” so there can be no doubt that a violation of Leviticus 18:22, “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable," would also be grounds to “expel the wicked person from among you” (1 Cor. 5:13), meaning to disfellowship him. Homosexual conduct may be part of the former, but not the current, life of Christians.

Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who have sex with men . . . will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor. 6:9-11

The current church manual lists “homosexual practice” as a reason for discipline (Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, p. 62, no. 4). So assuming that church discipline has not broken down, when church music is provided by church members, it will not be provided by open homosexuals.

Please note that the issue is membership in the church, not whether musicians should be paid. There is no biblical prohibition on paying musicians. The Levites were paid from the tithe (Num. 18:21) and one of their duties was to provide choral and orchestral music for the sanctuary services; some 4,000 Levites were set apart for this purpose (1 Chron. 15:16 through 16:42; 23:2 through 26:32). Today, the best practice for churches large enough to support multiple ministers is to have a full time minister of music who, as part of his duties, will either personally direct the choir and/or play the organ, or recruit qualified church members to fill these roles. When a congregation has an ordained minister of music, and he is properly performing his duties, that should obviate the issue of having an open homosexual in the prominent role of organist or choir master.

Often, however, a church is not large enough to have a minister of music, and does not have a membership base that includes an organist or potential choir director. Non-member musicians are often hired to fill these roles, and the pool of potential hires includes many homosexuals.

In a Washington Blade interview, organist Cameron Carpenter estimated that 70 percent of church organists are gay, and in an article in the February 8, 2010, New Yorker about a prominent gospel singer who came out as gay, an openly gay female bishop is quoted as saying that perhaps 90 percent of gospel musicians are same-sex attracted. While the higher estimates of 70-90 percent given by homosexual activists may be exaggerated, I think the 50 percent estimate is realistic.

Given that homosexuals are greatly overrepresented in the ranks of professional musicians, the question becomes, how does a church fill the role of organist or choir director without violating the standards and beliefs of the church? We should seek to avoid a situation in which a hired musician ingratiates himself with the congregation, then gradually becomes increasingly open about being a sexually active homosexual.

Most gays would not attempt to leverage a position as a church musician into an opportunity for gay activism; they simply want to do a job they enjoy. For most of the history of gay church musicians, there has been a tacit understanding that the musician would not talk or act in a manner that would cause discomfort to a Bible-believing congregation. What has recently changed is that many churches have begun to compromise on this biblical issue, rendering the previous tacit understandings no longer operative. Given the large number of compromising churches, a homosexual might reasonably expect that being open about his lifestyle will not cause difficulties for his church music gig. Hence, the congregation's expectations must be made clear at the outset.

The best practice would be to have a written employment contract for the church organist or choir director. This should specify the duties and expectations, as well as the salary, and should include a “morals clause” indicating that the musician is to uphold the biblical behavioral standards of the church, including the rule that sexual activity is limited to heterosexual marriage. The wording of this clause should be approved by the congregation, preferably in a church business meeting. (All church members may attend and vote on issues raised at a church business meeting; this tool of local church government is seldom used, probably because—unlike a meeting of the Church Board, which the pastor has usually taken care to pack with his supporters—the business meeting has a tendency to spiral out of the pastor's control.) A clearly worded morals clause in a written employment contract would clarify what is expected of applicants in terms of their personal behavior and deportment.

In cases where there is no written employment contract, the senior pastor, the minister of music, the head elder, or some combination of the foregoing, should make the church's beliefs and employment policies clear to the applicant. If the applicant is an open, avowed homosexual, he must be eliminated from consideration for the position. If the applicant is a single male who has not stated that he is homosexual, the church representative could state, “If you are living with a woman without benefit of marriage, or are in a sexual relationship with a man, we would ask you to withdraw your application for the position.” It should be made clear that if it becomes known that the person is violating this standard, it will be grounds for immediate dismissal. There is no ironclad solution to the problem—a candidate might lie about his status or activities—but making expectations clear at the outset will avoid any misunderstanding, and will eliminate most candidates who are not willing to abide by the standards.

Over a decade ago, the Mariners Church, a megachurch in Irvine, Calif., with some 9,000 members, dismissed worship director Bob Gunn for homosexuality. The following weekend, senior pastor Kenton Beshore told the entire church why Gunn was fired. Gunn then sued Mariners Church and its board of elders, claiming that although the church had a right to enforce its standards, it did not have a right to defame him and deprive him of future employment opportunities after it had fired him. This argument was persuasive to an appellate court after an initial demurrer was granted. The church was then forced to expend additional thousands on discovery litigation to show that it had a policy—that, although unwritten, Gunn himself was aware of—of apprising the congregation when an employee was dismissed for moral reasons. The takeaway is that not only must a church make its moral standards and expectations explicit, it must also publish a post-termination procedure, including who will be told what about the termination. This policy should be voted by the church in a business meeting and included in written contracts with hired musicians.

Good church music is very valuable to Christian worship, but it must not be allowed to become an avenue of homosexual activism, a lever by which a homosexual can gain sympathy and acceptance for his lifestyle. Such an abuse of the office of the church musician can be avoided if appropriate practices are agreed upon and put in place in advance.

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