“A Tampa church that canceled the funeral of a gay man the night before the service has found itself in the national spotlight.
The story, first reported by News Channel 8 last week, went viral and outraged gay rights groups, Christians, and others who disagree with the decision.
The story was posted on numerous websites and blogs over the weekend, and by Monday morning the church’s mobile website was down and its full website had very limited access. Music and all links on the website have been removed.
Pastor T.W. Jenkins, of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church at 3005 E. Ellicott St., told News Channel 8 on the phone last week that he stood behind his decision.
He said it was a difficult decision because, “I don’t hate gay people,” but he said he preaches against gay marriage and members of his congregation were calling him to complain about the planned funeral.
Jenkins said he had to respond to the requests of his congregation.
“It would have been more of a negative response to hold the funeral than to cancel it,” Jenkins said.
That is questionable now, however, that the story has gone viral. While the majority of comments online are negative, Jenkins and his church do have supporters. Even Capers said he would have understood the church’s decision if it had been made earlier. Calling it off the night before, he said, was “just wrong.”
Apparently, many in the church were not aware that Julion Evans was gay. When his obituary ran in a local newspaper and listed a survivor as his “husband,” church members were up in arms.
Evans’ husband, Kendall Capers, said he was “devastated” by Pastor Jenkins’ decision.
Evans, 42, died late last month after a 4-year battle with Amyloidosis, a rare genetic disorder that attacks the body’s organs. Evans had been in and out of the hospital since May and had been sent home and told he had three months to live. Capers said he died at home three days later. Evans and Capers had been together for 17 years and married last year in Maryland.
The family had chosen to have the funeral at New Hope because it is large enough to accommodate the hundreds of mourners expected. Evans’ mother, Julie Atwood, was baptized in the church as a child and several of her family members, including her sister, still attend the church.
Atwood was standing at her son’s casket when she received a phone call that her son’s funeral had been canceled because it would be “blasphemous” to have the funeral in the church.
Since Capers went public last week, Jenkins has been quiet. He won’t return phone calls and no one at the church would talk when News Channel 8 stopped by seeking comment.
But another pastor, Otis Cooper, is speaking out. Cooper ended up performing the funeral service for the family. Cooper, 29, has only been a pastor of his own church for 10 months. He is pastor at New Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa. Julion Evans’ mother attends his church.
Cooper had agreed to perform the service from the beginning. When he learned the funeral was canceled – during the wake – he had hours notice to find another location.
The family ended up having the funeral at the same funeral home that handled the wake, Blount & Curry Funeral Home.
Cooper says he doesn’t regret his decision.
“He has his house to run, which is his church. I have one that I must attend, which is my church, and I can’t make a judgement call for him, and he can’t make a judgement call for me,” Cooper said, of Pastor Jenkins’ decision to cancel the original funeral.”