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.