Reaching the Limit with Pastor Robert Gardner of City of Faith International

Prior attempts to reach Robert over the past nine months:

July 3, 2020––6 Ways the Church Can Address the LGBTQ+ Suicide Epidemic

July 13, 2020––Dear Pastor: Sermons on Queer Folks’ “Delusional”, “Reprobate” Minds Drive LGBTQ+ Suicide

July 31, 2020––20 Affirmations and Readings for Folks Raised in Anti-LGBTQIA+ Church Families

September 13, 2020––Focus Your Repentance Inward, Not on Antichrist Conspiracies Stereotyping LGBTQ+ Family

November 13, 2020––10 Tactics of Anti-LGBTQ+ Pulpit Bullies

Pastor Robert Gardner of City of Faith International (Springfield, Tennessee).

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

To begin, I want to be clear that Robert Gardner has issued no private or public apology over the past 9 months. Behind every single attempt to help Robert understand the seriousness of his missteps, there have only been good intentions to expand his exposure without any judgement at all. I was willing to go above and beyond, and to provide whatever guidance or tools to help him grow. In my heart, there was ample commitment, interest, and patience that could have helped prevent arriving at this unfortunate point.

Contrary to what Robert believes, I am neither attacking him, nor plotting against him, nor warring with him. I gave it my all trying to educate Robert on his blindspots, biases, and willful ignorance. The escalation of this fallout has everything to with Robert’s combativeness, pride, resistance, and stubbornness.

The Robert described above isn’t the Robert I grew up with, and probably isn’t a believable version of Robert that others will recognize. But for the sake of congregants who have confronted this version of Robert, I am speaking up, regardless of the consequences. I’m already aware that some closeted LGBTQ+ congregants of City of Faith International, in Springfield, Tennessee, have approached Robert and my aunt, begging for reassurance that God wouldn’t destroy their souls.

Robert pushed us all to this point, and exposed himself, by waging his imaginary war against a non-existent LGBTQ+ enemy of the Church. The lesson here? When receiving feedback, it’s much easier to apologize humbly, listen attentively, and [un]learn––rather than bury your head in the sand, plug your ears with cotton, and choose denial over truth, as you play mind games, stir the pot, and pretend to be victimized. This is the second time Robert has placated my mother with disingenuous excuses and promises to stop his Bible-bashing, then obstinately carried on with his exclusionary, fanatical extremism.

Pat Robertson of The 700 Club says gay men wear sharp rings to intentionally and secretly spread HIV via handshake.

At the very least, Robert could have simply dropped the issue. But for nearly a year now, he has continued driving home misinformed beliefs. How does Robert’s anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric play out beyond church? People have weaponized his same talking points to rationalize bullying me until I quit jobs, flashing weapons to intimidate me, flinging feces and urine my way, spitting on me, threatening to kill me, throwing trash at my head, and trying to run me over as I crossed the streetto name just a few examples of targeted, unprovoked hate crimes I’ve faced as an LGBTQ+ Black person, on top of racism. Yet, Robert hasn’t relentlessly shamed these sinners. His crusade for repentance never targets those with bloody prayer hands.

Robert has never seemed — at least not to me — interested in understanding. To me, Robert has seemed more committed to asserting authority and superiority. There always seems to be an assumption that behind whatever good deed I do, lies blind faith in man-made institutions, faithlessness in the church and God, a selfish fixation on my will instead of God’s will, refusal to give God the glory for what I’ve overcome, a vain desire to take all the credit myself, and malicious plotting against him.

Even when I advocate for policies combatting hunger, homelessness, and disparities in education and healthcare — social problems Robert created an IRS-registered 501(c)3 to combat — he has taken issue with my advocacy, which, on a systemic level, directly supports his own initiatives.

“In just the past two years, Drollinger has written multiple blog posts about the dangers of homosexuality. In a 2018 post, “Understanding the Book of Leviticus Today,” for example, he compared same-sex relationships to a woman who “loves her cat” and predicted the embrace of gay marriage would be akin to choosing “a path toward extinction.” NBC News.

When a queer man like myself engages in the same community action as Greater Faith Community Action Corp., I’m suddenly “carnal”, “double-minded and unstable”, “secular”, and “worldly”, or a “false prophet” who worships idols. Robert knows absolutely nothing about my relationship with God, yet it seems as if he’s distorted my activism to paint me as “unanointed”and “unwilling to give God the glory.” Only someone who truly believes LGBTQ+ people are “demonic” and “heathens” would spin my advocacy as anti-Biblical or vain.

“Suppose a brother is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. You foolish person…”

— James 2: 14–26

It seems that with every accomplishment, Robert is right on my heels to detract from it, to find a flaw, to tear me down, to misconstrue it as being in some way so faulty, he would prefer that I had not helped anyone at all. It seems, to me, that Robert feels compelled to humble and humiliate an unashamed and unintimidated queer man, one he can’t indoctrinate or shame into submission.

At least forty percent of Middle Tennessee’s homeless youth are LGBTQ+, and mostly Black––half report that their religious families kicked them out on the street. This regional figure reflects only those youth who felt safe enough to anonymously contribute to survey research, and mirrors the national rate of LGBTQ+ homelessness.

I respect elders, but my dignity grants no passes — not even to elders — for repeatedly ridiculing me publicly. I will forgive the past for anybody who is genuinely apologetic, but the past is still the present if you’re still repeating it two services a week, almost a year later. I accept that many have not walked in my shoes, but I will not allow anyone who has never journeyed my path to authoritatively dismiss or oversimplify the oppression I face — or misconstrue it as a choice or identity crisis — simply because they deny mistreatment they have not experienced firsthand.

This video comes after Tweeting about passage of the Equality Act on Thursday morning, and Robert’s Thursday evening Bible study referring to “demonic principles being passed at the White House.” Over the past 9 months, he has exposed his own pattern of checking my social media before writing every Bible study lesson and/or sermon, in search of spiteful motivation to fire him up.

CNBC.

Evangelists weaponizing anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda is all too common, but toxic church culture also negatively impacts more than just LGBTQ+ people.

Hear the tone used to describe other groups and issues: the contempt and superiority, in reference to concerns like addiction, psychological disorders, overdose, divorce and remarriage, premarital pregnancy, medical treatment — even community organizing around elections, and voting out corrupt politicians who brutalize and exploit the vulnerable, in the same manner as Biblical dictators and tyrants like Herod. Circumstances that differ from person to person are altogether dismissed as personal failures, distorted as straying from God, and stripped of complexity.

“Anyone who doesn’t provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

—1 Timothy 5:8

True Colors United.
True Colors United.

Please stop allowing pastors play God, assume who does not have a relationship with God, preach from an ‘us vs. them’ standpoint, and punish anyone who objects to them cherry-picking scriptures to humiliate marginalized groups. Speak up, together, when they vindictively mischaracterize others’ self-respect as bitterness, defiance, rebelliousness, or sensitivity.

“Nigel Shelby, a 15-year-old who committed suicide in April after persistent homophobic bullying, is calling for an investigation into her son’s death. Shelby’s mother is calling for an investigation into her son’s death. She says that school administrators at Huntsville High School in Huntsville, Alabama. may have had some influence on Nigel’s mental health. He had spoken to them and was told that being gay was a choice.” Source: Roland S. Martin.
Pastor Kevin Swanson wasted no time declaring that the devastation Harvey wreaked in Texas was due to Houston electing an out lesbian, Annise Parker, as mayor. (The fact that Parker had already left office last year didn’t seem to matter.)” LOGO.

Another thing — with Black communities facing health disparities for Alzheimer’s, diabetes, fibroids, heart disease, sickle cell, suicidality, and more, let’s not overspiritualize healing from illness. In addition to prayer, staying healthy may also necessitate prevention/early intervention. Getting Black folks tested and diagnosed requires at least reasonable acknowledgement of science. Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who led development of the COVID vaccine, identified herself as a Black, Southern, and Christian scientist. There are plenty of Christian doctors, nurses, scientists, therapists, etc. Churches fail Black folks with simple-minded, black-or-white, either-or thinking, and by shunning any knowledge/resources beyond the Bible/church/pastor. Neither your pastor, nor anyone else, is an expert on every single subject.

Lastly, we disempower people from fully reaching their potential, by framing their personal initiative as giving themselves the glory more than God, or dismissing critical reflection as them being “booksmart”, “carnal”, “double-minded”, “secular”, or “worldly.” We’re allowed to change, evolve, expand, [un]learn, and rethink things, in light of new experiences or exposure. Churches must stop expecting people to compartmentalize and shrink, until they no longer even recognize their individuality. Church shouldn’t feel like a cult or the military. It’s intrusive and overbearing for a pastor to use exclusionary, fear-mongering, superstitious, and willfully ignorant rhetoric to demand conformity, or stigmatize people’s differences and pasts.

them.

The arrogant behavior depicted here is especially un-Christlike, considering that well-intentioned family members have repeatedly advised how it comes across as unapologetically condescending and degrading, controlling, hypocritical, obstinate, passive aggressive, petty, reckless, self-centered, and short-sighted — not to mention envious and insecure, since I am half Robert’s age.

If Robert truly can’t discern between someone’s critique of church homophobia, and an anti-Christ attack against him and the church, he should crack open the book I gifted his household last year, Love Period: When All Else Fails, by Pastor Rudy Rasmus––the Black Houston pastor who stood up to address the congregants who, the previous Sunday, had abruptly left during the middle of his sermon affirming LGBTQ+ people and LGBTQ+ Christians.

_____________________________________________________________

Coretta Scott King, 1996, Atlanta Gay Pride Festival.
“Unknown to many, Bayard Rustin was the heart and soul of the civil rights movement in the United States. As Martin Luther King Jr.’s chief organizer, he helped translate the philosophy of nonviolence into direct action by organizing the 1963 March on Washington. So why isn’t he more famous? Bayard’s commitment to speaking truth to power was matched by his commitment to living out his own truth as an openly gay man. But being his authentic self in an era of widespread, open homophobia often kept Bayard away from the spotlight. From the home they once shared in New York City, his longtime partner Walter Naegle reflects on the life, love and legacy of an American hero.” Source: Great Big Story.
“I was beaten with a Bible, and told I need to repent the demon of homosexuality and expel him from my body. At 13, I was sent to my grandfather, and he and his church put me through conversion therapy to try to change me. First, I was forced to do manual labor in the yard, from sunup to sundown, while repeating Bible passages. I was told all my friends would die of AIDS. I was not allowed to communicate with anybody. I couldn’t even talk to my mom on the phone. The more I tried to resist, the more abuse increased to what’s called forced fasting––which is just a polite way of saying I was starved.” HiHo Kids.
“Jamel Myles’ mother, Leia Pierce, didn’t learn the bullying he endured was getting worse until after his death. He told his sister students at the school were telling him to “kill himself.” | NBC Nightly News.
“In a humorous talk with an urgent message, LZ Granderson points out the absurdity in the idea that there’s a ‘gay lifestyle,’ much less a ‘gay agenda.’ TED-Ed.
WJHL.
“The Knox County Attorney General’s Office said it is looking into a church sermon by a Knox County Sheriff’s detective who called for the government to arrest and execute LGBTQ community members.” Knoxville News Sentinel.
“16-year-old Channing Smith, who had not publicly identified as LGBTQ, was cyberbullied by classmates over his perceived sexuality when private text messages were made public last week. His family wants the teens involved to be held accountable.” NBC News.
“One church in Tennessee says that a man’s gay son will not be allowed to attend his father’s funeral.” Eyewitness WTVO WQRF.
First Corinthian Baptist Church.
Sunshine Cathedral.
Why this LGBTQ-Inclusive barbershop is so important to its Crown Heights community. Vice News.
“As Russia prepares to host the Sochi Winter Olympics, Europe Editor Matt Frei reports that the country’s campaign against gay people shows its worst side just when it hoped the world would see only its best.” Channel 4 News.
“A mob of right-wing Poles has attacked a pride march in the town of Bialystok, one of several areas declaring themselves to be LGBTQ-free. The incident represents the realization of the fears of the U.S. ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, who worried a conservative Polish newspaper’s pledge to distribute anti-gay stickers would stoke violence. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.” PBS NewHour.
“In 2017, police in Chechnya began a crackdown against LGBTQI citizens. Hundreds were arrested and tortured, simply for who they love or how they express their gender. One of those people was Amin, who we helped escape to Toronto,” said Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell. Human Rights Campaign.
“(Banjul, October 21, 2013) ”Southern Africa’s Anglican archbishop calls for an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. “Respect the gift of difference,” says Most Revd Dr. Thabo Makgoba, challenging arguments that culture, tradition, and religion justify the marginalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people.” Human Rights Watch.
“Nigeria made same-sex marriage and gay rights activism illegal last January. Since then, gay Nigerians say abuse and extortion have become commonplace by state-sponsored vigilantes, police and public mobs. As part of a week-long series “Nigeria: Pain and Promise,” special correspondent Nick Schifrin reports on the threats and violence that LGBT citizens face in that country.” PBS NewHour.
“Ghanaians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) suffer widespread discrimination and abuse both in public and in family settings.” Human Rights Watch.
“An 80-year-old Canadian man appears to be the latest victim in a wave of violence against the LGBT community in Honduras. According to reports, he and his partner died after they were brutally attacked in their home in the coastal town of Tela.” CityNews Toronto.
“The legal fight over gay marriage in Tennessee is not over. In fact, lawmakers just filed a bill in hopes to void the supreme court’s ruling on same-sex marriage.” NewsChannel 5.
“A Tennessee county commissioner launched into a homophobic rant at a local meeting Monday night, claiming that a “queer running for president” is “about as ugly as you can get.” His comments drew applause from some members of the audience, but other officials in Tennessee quickly moved to condemn the comments.” CBS News.
FOX Nashville.
“Religious people who are critical of the LGBT community and the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage are ‘hypocritical,’ Georgia pastor E. Dewey Smith said in a videotaped sermon that was posted Thursday. The Young Turks.

__________________________________________________________

Mental health and suicide prevention resources, courtesy of The Mighty:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 24/7, (English: 800–273–TALK; Spanish: 1–888–628–9454; Veterans: Press 1 or text 838255; Deaf/hard of hearing/hearing loss: 800–799–4889 via TTY).

Crisis Text Line, 24/7, (text “START” to 741–741).

Trevor Project , 24/7, (1–866–488–7386 , 24/7).

Trans Lifeline, 24/7, (U.S.: 877–565–8860, Canada: 877–330–6366).

Crisis Centers Worldwide

_____________________________________________________________

Araya Baker is an educator, therapist & writer who promotes disability, education & health equity, across borders, faiths, generations, identities & movements.