In Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis’ April newsletter, he addressed the city’s proclamation to Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and Westminster Academy, saying “there is more that unites us than divides us.”
The email, titled “Finding a common ground amid a diverse community,” also shared a joint statement between him and Pastor Rob Pacienza.
“Where once there was a division, I have sought cooperation to improve our community,” Trantalis wrote in the email.
Celebrating 60 years this year, Coral Ridge Presbyterian was founded by Dr. D. James Kennedy who used his platform to espouse anti-LGBT rhetoric. The late Wilton Manors Mayor Justin Flippen, who was gay, also shared before his death that he had undergone conversion therapy at the church. Vice Mayor Steve Glassman called the proclamation — which was presented by Commissioner Heather Moraitis, who is a part of the church’s congregation — a “sanitized and whitewashed history of Dr. Kennedy and the church.”
Trantalis, who is Fort Lauderdale’s first openly gay mayor, wrote in the email that 30 years ago he was a part of the groups picketing the church.
“There were rhetoric and deeds that denigrated all of us who are gay, lesbian or transgender. We were rightfully outraged,” he wrote. “But Fort Lauderdale is an evolving community.”
He noted that during his time as mayor, he has made efforts to bridge gaps between the city and the religious community. He also shared a joint statement from him and Pastor Rob Pacienza, that said “We seek a community that accepts the true meaning of tolerance for all — a willingness to accept behavior and beliefs different from your own.”
Glassman, who is also gay, has been critical of the proclamation and the church. He was also bothered by the joint statement’s mention of “differing opinions and values.”
“My response is all of these words, they sound wonderful, but they're words and I’m just more concerned with actions,” he said. “When you’re talking about human rights and civil rights and treating people with dignity and respect and honoring their opportunity to live a life of liberty and happiness … that’s much more than just a difference of opinion. That’s a fundamental issue.”
Prior to the election, the church took stances that went against this claim of acceptance. In September, the church tweeted that, “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.”
In October, Pacienza co-sponsored a webinar called “A Gospel-Centered Approach to Leading in 2020” alongside John Stemberger, an Orlando attorney and longtime opponent of same-sex marriage and transgender rights.
During the event, he said, “We are voting for the sanctity of human life, we’re voting for God’s definition of marriage, we’re voting for religious liberty because these are issues that have always concerned the people of God.”
During the proclamation ceremony in March, Trantalis said, “It’s time for those who still harbor resentment to let go of it.” Upon accepting the proclamation, Pacienza 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.”
Days after the proclamation, two members of D. James Kennedy Ministries shared in their weekly Facebook Live that gays and lesbians have been “used by the left,” conversion therapy is a “made-up term,” and that they were not convinced by Trantalis’ outreach.
“The message to the current pastor is, ‘Well, sure, if you stop teaching that stuff in the Bible about what God says about human sexuality and the wrath of God that will fall upon sin, then we can all get along together,’” said Dr. Frank Wright, the president and CEO of the ministries. “Even hidden within that reasonableness, even within the velvet glove is still a fist.”
Wright also added, “If two people love each other, or some guy and his Volkswagen, he loves his Volkswagen, he ought to be able to marry his Volkswagen.”
The ministries were founded by Kennedy but are now separate from the church and is also considered by the Southern Poverty Law Center to be a hate group.