Tonight, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission will be presenting a proclamation declaring March 21, 2021 as Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church Day and Westminster Academy Day in the City of Fort Lauderdale.

The proclamation was brought forth by Commissioner Heather Moraitis, who is the director of development at the school, and commemorates the 60th anniversary of the church and the 50th anniversary of its school.

However, some are not happy about the proclamation, as the church has long been associated with anti-LGBT rhetoric and activities. The commission meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. and the proclamation is expected to be signed by Mayor Dean Trantalis, the city’s first openly gay mayor.

“It is important to note that for many in our community, the name of Dr. D. James Kennedy and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church still brings forth many bad memories and a lot of hurt and pain. The wounds are still there,” Commissioner Steven Glassman said in a statement to SFGN.

Glassman noted that the Dr. James Kennedy Ministries, which was created by the church’s senior pastor for 47 years until his death in 2007, is listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups in Florida. In reporting on the Rev. Kennedy’s death, The New York Times said that he “played a critical role in the rise of conservative Christianity.”

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 allegedly preached that practicing gays 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.

On Twitter, LGBT advocacy and anti-conversion therapy group Truth Wins Out tweeted that the proclamation is “no different than honoring the KKK.”

The tweet was in response to local activist Michael Emanuel Rajner sharing the proclamations, with the note that, “I hope Dean Trantalis reflects on Justin tomorrow night while he signs the proclamation.”

The late Wilton Manors Mayor Justin Flippen, who died last year of a brain aneurism, had recounted to then Florida Atlantic University professor Fred Fejes how he attended the church many years ago for “group counseling” to undo his homosexuality — a part of conversion therapy he underwent after coming out to his parents.

“Kennedy was a vocal critic of the gay and lesbian community. He was a national figure in the then very active Christian Fundamentalist movement. He was also a very prominent anti-gay local leader,” Flippen once said. “I found it very discomforting, because I knew that we both believed in Jesus Christ, but I just didn’t believe as he believed.”

UPDATED at 11:49 a.m.  

Equality Florida released this statement after the publication of this story: 

"We are well aware of the long history of harm inflicted on the LGBTQ community over decades by Coral Ridge Ministries. Equality Florida’s first big campaign was in 1998 to stop a dangerous conversion therapy program hatched at the church that specifically targeted children. I reached out to Mayor Trantalis upon hearing the news. This is what he shared and invited me to make it public:
 
From the time I became Mayor and even before that, I decided it was time to build bridges where before there were none. I have reached out to many segments of my community, including those that are faith-based. Times have changed, and so have their leaders, and every one of them has been eager to bring our communities together. It’s time to build our future based on love and not hate, and it’s time for those who still harbor resentment to let go of it.  I know I have. And I know our community is better off for it.
 
We believe in redemption. We organize around the principle that people and, therefore, institutions can and do change. However, that change requires public contrition and meaningful amends for harm inflicted. That we have not seen and invite Coral Ridge to engage in that work. We would need more evidence that they have changed and have begun and will make further amends to be able to support honoring a church with such a deeply damaging history."

UPDATED at 2 p.m.
 
Statement from SAVE
  

We are disappointed that the Fort Lauderdale City Commission will be presenting a proclamation to honor Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and Westminster Academy Day. The church’s long history with the dissemination of anti-LGBT rhetoric and practice of conversion therapy ministries is not commendable by a municipality like the City of Fort Lauderdale. The city has previously passed a ban on conversion therapy and is part of Broward County which was an early adopter in the passing human rights ordinances that include protections for LGBTQ people. Furthermore, it is worth noting that in 2020 and in years prior, the City of Fort Lauderdale has had a perfect 100 score in the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index. Presenting this proclamation to a church that is listed by The Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group in Florida would tarnish the city’s pro-LGBTQ record.

It is clear that Commissioner Moraitis is using her elected office by proposing this resolution to bolster her role as the director of development at the school which is celebrating the church’s 60th anniversary and the school’s 50th anniversary. We urge the commission to reconsider the proclamation and we encourage members of the community and our allies to make their voices heard by email or telephone call before tonight’s commission meeting at 6:30 pm.

 

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