January 14, 2010 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Couple walks out during anti-gay sermon

Jon Mack and Michael Garrett (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

Jon Mack and his partner, Michael Garrett, said their one-year tenure as members of Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Northeast D.C. came to an abrupt end last week.

The two gay men said they were startled and deeply hurt when Bishop Alfred Owens, the church pastor, appeared to be sending them and other same-sex couples a blunt message Jan. 3.

“Sex is only pleasing to God in the marriage bed, and the marriage bed is a man and … a woman!” Owens shouted from the pulpit, with hundreds in the church pews shouting their approval, according to accounts by Mack and Garrett.

Owens’ remarks are also captured on a recording of his sermon made available last week on the church’s web site.

“If marriage wasn’t between a man and a woman, you wouldn’t be here because two men doing it don’t produce no kids,” Owens said. “And two women doing it don’t produce no kids! It’s all about family,” he said as members of the congregation continued to clap and cheer.

“During this homophobic rant, me and my partner got up and walked out,” said Mack, 28.

Mack and Garrett, 32, contacted DC Agenda about their decision to walk out on Owens’ sermon and are believed to be the first gays to publicly disclose their departure from a church that activists say has a large number of closeted gay members, mostly black.

“What hurt me more than what he said is how the congregation yelled and agreed with him,” Mack said. “It showed me that people that don’t even know me hate me just because of my sexuality.”

Mack and Garrett said they were aware of reports that Owens had previously made anti-gay remarks during his sermons at Greater Mount Calvary, which boasts a membership of more than 6,000 people. But the two noted they were attracted to the church’s charismatic, highly animated services, which include performances by several different choirs.

Owens previously drew media attention in 2006 when, in one of his recorded sermons on the Sunday before Easter, he referred to gays as faggots.

“It takes a real man to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior,” he said in the 2006 sermon. “I’m not talking about no faggot or no sissy. … Let the real men come down here and take a bow — all the real men. I’m talking about straight men. … Praise God that you’re straight.”

His references to gays in the sermon prompted LGBT activists to ask then D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams to expel Owens from a mayoral task force on faith. In response, Owens issued an apology, which prompted Williams to announce he would retain the minister on the faith task force.

Garrett said his initial reaction upon hearing Owens’ hostile references to gays in the Jan. 3 sermon was to blame himself for continuing to attend Greater Mount Calvary services, despite the reports from friends and acquaintances that Owens is hostile to gays.

“Since going there for the past year, I never heard anything out of the way like that,” Garrett said. “So a lot of it was inspirational up until that point. And it kind of took me aback. … And then due to the fact that Jon and I are together and we’re going to see about getting married in D.C., it really was like, ‘Why am I supporting this person? How come I couldn’t see this beforehand?’”

Mack and Garrett, who live in Bowie, Md., said they now plan to worship at Covenant Baptist Church in Southeast D.C, which bills itself as an LGBT-affirming congregation. The church’s husband and wife co-pastors, Dennis and Christine Wiley, served as leaders of a coalition of clergy in support of same-sex marriage in D.C.

The two men said they’re hopeful that other gays will leave Greater Mount Calvary and other churches whose pastors and congregations are hostile toward or unwelcoming of LGBT members.

“I was depressed and actually thought about suicide,” Mack said. “I kept thinking, ‘What’s the point of going on if God hates me and I’m going to hell anyway?’ and ‘Why does God hate me?’

“My hope is if this is put in the paper or in the media and it deters one person from attending Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church so they never have to feel how I felt [that] Sunday, then I’ll feel as though I’ve accomplished something,” Mack said.

Leaders of three D.C. Christian churches with mostly gay congregations have called on gay members of churches such as Greater Mount Calvary to consider joining their congregations. The leaders are Rev. Abena McCray, pastor of Unity Fellowship Church; Bishop Rainey Cheeks, pastor of Inner Light Ministries; and Rev. Dwayne Johnson, pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Washington.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

52 Comments
  • This is the same church whose members clog up Rhode Island Avenue several times a week illegally parking (and the city does nothing). This is the same religious zealot bigot who spewed hate last year as well. Can we not have a huge protest out front? Better yet, a pray in— we need hundreds of LGBT members to attend Sunday service for an entire month. Let’s put peace and happiness right in this bigots face.

  • I’m proud of Mr. Mack and Mr. Garrett for having the self respect to get up and walk out, but I have to ask, were they really surprised by all the homophobia? They certainly shouldn’t have been.

  • I applaud these two for holding onto their pride and self-respect and doing the right thing, but I am more astounded by the level of hypocrisy than I am the homophobia, which is NOT surprising. These pastors and bishops like Owens, when they talk about “marriage beds”, conveniently leave out how often these days, those beds are occupied by men with women who are NOT their wives, and the same goes for wives who are there with men who are NOT their husbands. And what about the children who are born of these adulterous unions? Guess what? They’re many of the same kids out here making more babies and killing each other by the score. Their parents had no morals, scruples or respect for themselves or their spouses. So why the hell should the kids be expected to do the same? Typical way that religion works – if you can’t solve the social ills that really require attention, demonize those who will take the attention away from the TRUTH. WAKE UP, PEOPLE!

  • I have a very good friend who attends this church, and according to her there is an “overcomer’s ministry” there, who’s sole purpose is to “turn gay men straight”. I can’t believe I actually considered attending this church with my family.

    I want Jon & Michael to know that you have this heterosexual woman’s support. May God continue to bless you.

  • Salon.com did an expose on the ex-gay group Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church was running. The reporter posed as a gay person who wanted to become straight.

    http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2005/07/20/grace/index.html

    How do you attend church every Sunday and not hear about this ex-gay group?

  • My congratulations for seeing the results of religious bigotry and walking out on it.

    When enough men and women speak with their feet as well as their voices, these churches will be hit in the collection plates and attitudes will change.

  • I am reminded of the words of Blaise Pascal: “Men never do evil so easily as when they do it in the name of religion.”

  • Bravo! As a straight ally and someone who lives and breathes cultural competency, I am fed up, deeply sad, but ultimately hopeful about where some folks in our community are with homophobia. However, times are a’ changin’ … God made us all and a spirit of love for all will prevail. Be not afraid. Be of good courage, brothers and sisters.

  • As a gay man who was born into the Roman Catholic Church, I was taught that this was “the one true Church” above all others. After I reached my teenage years, I could not accept that any organized religion could proclaim itself to be the only one that is true among all others. Nor could I keep accepting clearly anti-gay teachings from an organized religion that so obviously had gay men in it that nonetheless lived in a total and constant state of denial. I believe that organized religions who characterize us gay people as sinners or evil or whatever are just plain not worth taking seriously. Gay people should not choose to hang out within any organized religion that has problems accepting homosexuality as part of being human. To me, it’s really that simple. The absolute very worst thing that gay people can do is to remain active and participating members within, and give money to, organized religions who are trying to cure what they believe is a sickness.

  • Jon and Michael, you’re welcome to come visit us at Foundry Methodist. We’d love to have you there!

  • I’ll admit I would’ve walked out too, and never gone back. That being said, how can we ever expect change in the black religious community if we run from confronting the problem? Both of my parents were hardcore republicans until I came out (and then my sister came out the following year). Last election, they both voted for Obama. They both came around when they realized that even though we were gay, we were both still great people, and they only saw that because they were around us so much. If we run away and never engage them, all that’s left is a room full of people who are being lead further astray by a charismatic and horribly misguided leader…

  • Sorry but the pastor sounds like an animal. Why do gay people attend these sub human churches? They are filled with stupid people that hate others AND themselves. What possible spiritual fulfillment gain can you gain from this? Disgusting.

  • Why were they even there in the first place? GMCHC has an extremely well-documented and well-known antigay environment. Why sit there for a whole year? I fail to see what walking out of a church that NO SELF RESPECTING GAY PERSON would have attended. I’m questioning the motive of this action based on the fact that this person had to have been aware about Alfred Owens’ reputation.

    The other thing is that churches are allowed to believe whatever they choose as their dogma. They are entitled to interpret the bible in the manner they see fit. You don’t agree with their stance on a particular issue? DON’T GO. DON’T SUPPORT anything that doesn’t support you. DON’T engage is your own abuse under the deluded guise that GOD wants you there.

    I am completely tired and very weary of gay folks who are willing participants in their own degradation and debsement, whether intentional or not. The church is in you and your relationship is SUPPOSED to be with God, not some familiar religious tradition, a choir, a building, or ANY affiliation.

    I cannot stress enough that people need to seek God, Truth, or religious enlightnement for themselves. The Church, particularly the black church is nothing more than a social outlet. Mt. Calvary is just that way for gay men to cowardly to develop their own backbone and start their own movement. They type of gays who attend that church have a VISCERAL relationship with God,that’s perfunctory, shallow and emotional in nature. If you choose to sit up under a homophobe, you cannot complain about being abused. FREE YOURSELF!

  • Is anyone really surprised this is going on there?

    Churches are filled with boys in the closet…

  • Jon and Michael,
    We would love to have you attend services at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Glenn Dale, MD Check out our website at http://www.stgeo.org
    Besides, Glenn Dale borders Bowie, save gas and no parking problems!
    Roy Peterson
    Sr. Warden

  • …what PISSES me off time and time again is the insane sentiment that allowing marriage equality will somehow stop straight men and women from getting married as if only gay marriage would then be the only ones allowed…I mean how could granting the deserved equal rights not mean that marriage would not still be between a man and women if that’s what any two of them want? Let me answer my own question…It wouldn’t! This is such a false and hateful argument being waged in the name of their Lord…

    “If marriage wasn’t between a man and a woman, you wouldn’t be here…” such CRAP, like a man and woman have to be married to have kids in the first place…why not concentrate on the high numbers of unwed mother if you’re so concerned about marriage and family and quit scapegoating the gay community?

    Plus, the majority such never vote on the rights of
    minority…but it appears so many courts are clogged with religious and bigoted judges…This maddness MUST STOP!

  • If same-sex couples “don’t produce no kids” then they must produce kids. I really question the ability of some alleged preachers to grasp Biblical concepts when they can’t even grasp the English language and the error of a double negative.

  • Great work, guys!

    Not only are there are other gay people at Greater Mt. Calvary Holy Church, I bet there are a number of straight people there who privately think the preacher is wrong, or at least question him. I suspect pressure to conform keeps them from being honest.

    I hope they all walk out.

  • Burn the damned church down.

  • Bob,

    Burn down a black church? Are you a gay KKK member? Check your racism at the door.

  • Dear Jon and Michael,

    You may want to consider giving up religion altogether. There is a 99% probability that there are no gods. All religious volumes were written by men. Please check out the writing of Richard Dawkins http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMqTEfeqvmM. Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist (Doctor of Philosophy) Oxford, UK. Also, check out http://gaytheists.org/

  • Why is anyone surprised that a church is used to spread hate? When you give power over to some self-appointed know-it-all, this is the result.

    Respect yourself. Live your life by what you can see and learn. Demand proof from everyone else. They’re all selling something.

  • Dear Jon & Michael,
    Not only did the bishop preach against homosexuality, have you ever read the Bible? It’s pretty clear the Bible’s position on homosexuality. So, what were you expecting? May be someone to sweeten your ears, trying to twist the word “ABOMINATION” into “GOD’S LOVE”? Friends you shouldn’t be surprised, believe me. It’s time to let christianity back in the past and step into a post-religion world. You should think about it. love you both!

  • Standing up & walking out – inexpensive.
    Standing up & walking out & telling the press – a little costly.
    Standing up, walking out, telling the press & never setting foot in a church again – Priceless.

  • Bravo! Only speaking up will stop hate. To straight allies who have posted here, please write to your legislators and track LGBT legislation. I am a straight ally. Every voice helps.

    Dear Javier
    Read Leviticus and let me know if you are following all the rules. Not to mention the Bible verses refer to Roman Culture, not mutually consenting loving adults. Be careful who you critize Javier. It could be someone you love.

  • This is the same church where the female churchgoer outed several choir members and church leaders with nasty emails back in 2008.

    http://www.witnessfortheworld.org/gmcemails.html

    I doubt any gay person can attend a church like this for a year without sensing the homophobic atmosphere of this church.

    Nonetheless, I hope this story will spotlight the Stockholm syndrome inflicted glbts that financially support this church. The equality movement cannot win until gay people at this church stop being complicit with their abuse. Silence only encourages the tormentor.

  • I hope the nice male couple finds a welcoming church to attend instead. And pay no mind to the homophobic preacher – and yes, he is homophobic – because as the old saying goes: “Even the Devil can quote scripture.” That preacher obviously forgot the spirit of Jesus when looking at the stories of the bible. Don’t judge all Christians off the homophobic ones. Remember there were plenty of self-professed Christians who fought to abolish slavery, bring equality to women, etc. and plenty who fought against such “treating of others as you would have yourself treated.”

  • Religion brings out the absolute worst in people. This church’s mentality follows in the footsteps of the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, and the 911 attacks.

    When will people grow up and just say no to religion?

  • Jude:

    Javier wasn’t embracing the homophobia of the Bible. He was condemning it. He was calling for people to ignore all the stupid rules in that superstitious book.

  • Does heterosexual sex produce men who can’t refrain from using the double negative?
    “Don’t produce no…”
    Oh, dear!

  • Annoyed at these BOGUS comments

    I was sitting in that service, and this article is so TWISTED its not even funny. The Bishop DID NOT pick on Homosexuals., he spoke on pre-marital sex with HETEROSEXUAL couples, smoking, drinking, etc. you name it…then he brought up homosexuality in that list, THATS IT. Theyre acting like he stayed and just continuously bashed and bashed homosexuals until the walls fell down, PLEASE! All that happened here was that these 2 men felt a very STRONG conviction which is why they got up and left. There wasnt any homophobic sentiment that was given off in the service, this bishop was just simply stating the word….anyone that can READ can see the different scriptures in which homosexuality AND OTHER SINS are condemned. This has nothing to do with religion, if you follow the word, then it is, what it is. Period.

    “If marriage wasn’t between a man and a woman, you wouldn’t be here…”….yes he said MARRIAGE to emphasize that a couple should be married BEFORE they have sex because a lot of us engage in premarital sex. Clearly, you dont have to be married to produce a child…but it is BIOLOGICALLY impossible for a man/man or woman/woman to produce a child. so for the person who made a comment about that quote from bishop owens, thats why he made that statement….to emphasize MARRIAGE. stop being simple.
    And as far as people in the pews co-signing….they were doing that for everything. Anyone who attends calvary on a regular basis, knows that our services are very interactive. This article is so exaggerated its ridiculous…and all of u that are commenting, saying that this is a stupid church….lol, you are entitled to your opnion. GOOD DAY.

    • That’s right stick by yo pasta…lol…until he starts pointing a finger at you and your life (style).

      We need to en masse start holding these hate mongers accountable for hiding behind their bibles.

      Straight, gay, black, white, brown…need to stand together and protest these folk

  • Why would you join such a church in the first place? I live in California and have heard the homophobic sermons of this pastor. Why do we continue to support these institutions with our time and more importantly with our money? The only way evil thoughts (the devil) can enter into your mind is if you let them. We should avoid places and people that don’t love us.

  • It’s always about the homos in this church. Nothing is never said about the married down low men in this church. Many of the married men in this church have boyfriends on the side and guess what, the DL men are never mentioned at all. WOW!!!

  • Follower of Christ

    The Bible says it’s an abomination. The Bible says it’s Sin, not Bishop Owens. I can tell that most of what was posted has been hear say. Bishop not only preached about homosexuality but many other things that the Bible says is sin as well. No one has even mentioned all the good that GMCHC has done in this community. Even starting an initative for HIV/AIDS of which the couple claiming to have been so offended joined. People only hear what they want to hear. Always leaving the good untold. If any of you have issues as to what was preached, take that up with the God of the Bible. If you believe that man wrote the Bible then man wrote a lot against himself. Find you an affirming church that will preach and teach what you “ONLY” want to hear and leave GMCHC alone!

  • To Shane (Above) who wrote “Burn down a black church? Are you a gay KKK member? Check your racism at the door.”

    Shane, being black…or Jewish, members of the Christian clergy, elderly persons, under educated…well intentioned individuals…or basically good people…should not protect homophobic bigots from the just rewards earned by their hatred and ill treatment of others. While I certainly do not advocate the literal burning down of churches, I do think direct and dramatic action against all such persons and their institutions is long over due.

  • Get a life guys and go worship at a church where you will be comfortable. Stop trying to tear down a ministry that many many people obviously enjoy attending, even many many gay people. It seems like you are just looking for attention. (Drama Drama!) It’s not right to ditate to a pastor what he can and cannot preach. I don’t agree with women stripping, so I don’t go to strip clubs. Hello!

  • Follower of Christ:

    “The Bible says it’s an abomination.”

    The Bible also says repeatedly that slavery is acceptable but regulated, and you wouldn’t want to be a pick-and-choose Christian, now, would you?

    Yours,

    A follower of reason

  • Michael,

    You are either blithely unaware of the history of black church burnings OR are simply too hypocritical to understand my point. The Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists, and segregationists used church burning as a tool to preserve America’s racist status quo from Reconstruction up until the 1980s. If you want to consider such actions as “dramatic” enough to bring about your desired change, you’re hateful.

    Advocating the burning of a black church can be considered hate speech and while I may disagree with Owens’ brand of homophobia, GMCHC is a private entity and entitled to preach and teach whatever it wants to its members.

    In the same way that gays and gay clergy are entitled to their own brand of theology.

    However, to advocate violence against GMCHC makes you just as hateful as you percieve Owens and his followers to be. If you don’t like what he has to say DON’T GO! No one made those two GAY MEN attend an ANTI-GAY Church. People are entitled to Freedom of Association no matter how deluded or poorly informed their choices may be. What they don’t have is the right to complain about it after KNOWING what they were getting into in the first place.

  • Ok, I’ve read a lot of these comments and love all people just the same, but can we meet in the middle on such topics. I am a Christian and have attended such various churches and it is a tradition in the Black church for most people to be involved in the word and the service. In fact it is very common for preachers to ‘visit your block’ so to speak when addressing most issues that deal with people’s everyday circumstances.

    I, like various others sit there every Sunday and listen to messages of change and courage for that change and to build upon awareness and admitting our present circumstance. The one day out of many that a preacher touches on homosexuality should not be the day that YOU should feel singled out. We all go through this thing called life and if we are speaking from the points of the bible WE as followers of Christ should not be doing alot of things that we still do and then ask for God’s blessing over our lives. When we ALL as believers struggle on a daily basis to follow the right path.

    I was not there but I cannot believe that those shouts were shouts of hatred towards others. If you took a glimpse into the lives of the various members that attended that day…How do yo know that they were spewing fire on all homosexuals? For all we know this could be the very thing that they overcame in their life’s path and the preacher could’ve very well been speaking a testament to their own past or present circumstance. Life is ALL ABOUT DECISIONS. Noone makes you act or react in a certain way.

    What is your Truth? Are WE also judging? Just because someone doesn’t look the part doesn’t mean that they have never played the role. Just food for thought.

  • To Michael…or Shane…or, well, which ever of you is speaking at the moment…

    Why does dramatic, in their face action have to be violent? I think 50 or 100 drag queens — and I do mean drag queens — in everything from gutter drag to full grand ball attire showing up for church week after week with escorts would do nicely. THAT would be dramatic, cause quite a scene, totally disrupt their little shurch service, and be sure to make the national news.

  • Michael I typed your name by mistake while I was writing down a response to your defense of burning down black churches.

    If a bunch of drag queens showed up the disrupt GMCHC, they would be trespassing, could be charged with a hate crime, would be provoking other members who wouldn’t be as diplomatic as others, and would probably end up getting their collective asses beaten by the 6-8 thousand members who attend there. It would make national news alright… and it would give the religious right and homophobes more reason to continue bashing gays.

    The other thing it does is reinforces that hypocrisy I talked about earlier. How would you react to Fred Phelps and an army of like-minded people coming into a gay establishment where you were to disrupt things? Church are private entities, entitled to freedom of association. If you don’t like what the church has to say, just don’t go.

  • Why do you all expect ANY church to change their religious doctrine? Most devout Christians believe homosexuality is a sin! No one would expect Mormons, Jews, Muslims, or any other religion to change their beliefs for one sect of society. And all of you wishing hate on this man and his church are just as bad as the people you are condemning.

  • No where in the sermon in question did the pastor says he hates gay men or lesbian women he has never encouraged his members to hate anyone. Many members of the church are convicted during the sermons because the word finds you and makes you consider your lifestyle and whether how you are living measures up with Christ’s expectations of Christians. That is what the word is supposed to do. It isn’t supposed to adjust to you; you have to adjust to it. He simply stated that male/male and female/female sex can not physically create a child and that God put Adam and Eve together to procreate and be a family. How is that hate? Everyone isn’t homophobic and everyone doesn’t have to condone the way a person chooses to live gay or straight. That doesn’t make someone a hatemonger. Anyone that has attended this church knows the pastor speaks against ALL sexual SINS not the people. Whether you are straight or gay he talks about the wages of sin he discourages fornication, adultery, drug use, witchcraft, stealing, lying, gossiping, hating etc. So you these guys aren’t the first or the last that will get their feelings hurt. The Word has cut me many times but in that same word I have gotten the tools to make things right with God. These men made the right choice by leaving the church if they want a crowd pleasing message every week. Everyone wants salvation but salvation requires some personal sacrifices just read the New Testament if you aren’t sure. It’s not about hate or doctrine it’s about learning to keep the commandments set forth in the Bible. Bishop Owens is a loving, truthful and straight-forward leader and I admire his courage in the face of many nay-sayers. A true minister has to preach the word and look out for the soul not preach to appease the massses. I can only pray that one day the men that left will understand that the sermon wasn’t a personal attack but a minister has to be accountable to God for not telling the truth to his people.

  • shorter responses actually get read. footnote.

  • Several previous comments have said that they did not feel that the preacher was homophobic or bigoted. But the author, the couple, and the majority of gay people interpreted that same sermon as such.

    Fifty years ago, when a white preacher said that God made black people to be servants, and that black people should know their place in society — The white people did not interpret that as being racist or bigoted, but the black people in the same audience did.

    This is the same thing. Most of the straight people in the audience were mostly nodding in agreement, and did not interpret those comments as being bigoted. But, the gay people in the audience did.

    The straight people should do a Bible study on homosexuality. It won’t take long, as the topic really isn’t mentioned in the Bible at all. There are just a few verses that are sometimes misinterpreted by preachers who have not actually studied the subject. I recommend a text — (Helminiak, “What the Bible really says about homosexuality”, 2000, Alamo Square Press, New Mexico. IBSN 1-886360-09-X)

  • This is why all homosexuals should just leave Christianity all together. Until they redact the Bible and remove references to the sin of gays, etc. Chriatianity will NEVER really be a safe, welcoming place for gays and lesbians. Consider Humanism. a non-theistic replacement for religion. A very liberal and progreessive and modern philosophy.

  • GOD is the God of all flesh. Instead of buying into the thoughts and feelings of your flesh and mind; give The LORD a try in the realm of the spirit not the flesh and then see if you still agree with a life of homosexuality. Satan wants human beings to be deceived; but GOD desires for all humans to know the truth. Real life begins with Christ not with the lust of human flesh. I myself am not perfect; but I am free from alot of fleshly struggles because of my surrender to The LORD GOD Almightly. I don't hate anyone because they are gay ; but I do pray deliverance from the deception of a homosexual lifestyle for all who are living such a life. I don't believe mankind or any flesh was meant by The LORD to live in intimate sameness; especially since The BIBLE calls it having STRANGE FLESH. Don't settle for STRANGE FLESH; but settle for a life of HOLINESS and RIGHTEOUSNESS that will please our LORD and SAVIOR YESHUA!
    GOD Bless all humans; straight and gay in the name of YESHUA!

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