During its Tuesday night commission meeting, the Fort Lauderdale Commission presented a proclamation to Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and Westminster Academy, two entities with a long anti-LGBT history.
The proclamation recognized the 60th anniversary of the church and the 50th anniversary of the school, founded by Dr. D. James Kennedy, who espoused harmful rhetoric against the LGBT community before his death in 2007.
“It’s time to build a future based on love and not hate, and it’s time for those who still harbor resentment to let go of it,” Mayor Dean Trantalis said. “I know I have and I know my community has.”
Prior to the proclamation being read aloud, Vice Mayor Steven Glassman, who is gay, read aloud a statement that he previously shared with SFGN. He noted the painful history the church and its founder have and that Dr. D. James Kennedy Ministries is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group in the state of Florida.
“It is a sanitized and whitewashed history of Dr. Kennedy and the church,” he said of the proclamation.
Proclamations are typically non-controversial affairs at the beginning of the meeting — other proclamations presented during the meeting included the 100th anniversary of the Fort Lauderdale Rotary Club and Greek Independence Day.
Trantalis, who is the city’s first openly gay mayor, responded to Glassman. He mentioned his own history of protesting against the church for its anti-LGBT stance and conversion therapy.
“There's no doubt that the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and one of its previous pastors have been a difficult challenge for our community, and to say the least, I stood out there on sidewalks and demonstrated in front of the convention center as well as their church in which we protested the types of practices that that church engaged in once upon a time.”
He went on to say that for the last few years, he has made it a point to “build bridges before there were none” and has met with faith-based leaders, including dinners. Glassman applauded this, but said none of this progress was noted in the proclamation. He also asked whether an LGBT child would be welcomed at Westminster Academy, or a straight child who has LGBT parents.
In September, the church tweeted about being called to “protect the biblical model of marriage” when thinking about who to vote for.
As Christians, we are not called to vote for a certain party or candidate, but we are called to protect the sanctity of human life, to protect our rights to religious freedom, and to protect the biblical model of marriage. Register here! https://t.co/wZhXqwZqAf— Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (@coralridgepc) September 16, 2020
“Those issues are still out there and they're out there strong, mayor. That’s why so many people are questioning this proclamation,” Glassman said, adding that he has been inundated with calls, texts and emails.
Trantalis said he has also had people from around the state question him on the proclamation. In the last few days, Truth Wins Out tweeted that honoring the church was the same as honoring the KKK and Equality Florida said it goes against the city’s progress of banning conversion therapy and receiving a perfect score by the Human Rights Campaign. Members of the community also pointed to the late Wilton Manors Mayor Justin Flippen, who shared that he attended the church many years ago for “group counseling” to undo his homosexuality.
The Rev. Kennedy was the author of a number of books, including “What’s Wrong With Same-Sex Marriage?” in 2004, where he wrote about how “a tiny fraction of our population is on the verge of redefining the institution of marriage for all of us.” One of the most-watched Christian broadcasters of his time, he wrote an endorsement of the comic book “Homosexuality: Legitimate, Alternate Deathstyle,” which was printed on the back cover.
According to the SPLC, Kennedy called “essential” the work of R.J. Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Foundation, which devoted an entire issue of its Chalcedon Report magazine to “the fallacy of gay marriage” and preached that under God’s law, homosexuals should be executed. In 1989, in his own newsletter, SPLC says Kennedy ran photos of children with the words, “Sex With Children? Homosexuals Say Yes!”
In 2011, SPLC also included Coral Ridge Ministries, the action arm of the church, on its list of anti-gay groups. The church merged with New City Presbyterian Church in 2009 under the helm of Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham. When he decided to not take on divisive issues, about 500 people, including Kennedy’s daughter, left. Tchividjian said his church was not affiliated with Coral Ridge Ministries; he resigned from the church in 2015.
“Tchividjian was always unpopular with the religious right activists who missed Rev. Kennedy’s reign of terror,” wrote SFGN columnist Jesse Monteagudo.
Trantalis said, “Their minds are in the past. We have to learn to evolve and become better people. There’s a lot of people who seem to profit and benefit from fear-mongering and hate. We recently experienced that in leadership in this country and it took us to a dark place. We need to pull ourselves out of that dark place.”
Before reading the proclamation, Commissioner Heather Moraitis — who is a member of the church, serves as the school’s director of development, and whose husband is a church elder — said that the first man she ever loved was gay.
“My grandfather had 13 children and came out as a gay gentleman and I will always love him and value him,” she said. “I’ve loved many other gay men and women, including you, Steve, and you, Dean, and it’s a privilege to serve with you. Today, I'm just speaking from a point of love and recognition.”
She went on to say that the church’s pro-life stance is very important to her and “I defend my church and my school every day.”
Pastor Rob Pacienza was present to receive the proclamation and said, “I think for far too long, the church has been known more for what they’ve been against than what they’ve been for, and we look forward to building those bridges.”