A sermon delivered Sunday at The Crossing has caused some community members in Columbia to boycott businesses and events with ties to the church.
A group called Concerned Citizens started a petition on Change.org on Thursday asking the True/False Film Festival and Ragtag Cinema to stop accepting funding from The Crossing, which currently sponsors both organizations. The petition has circulated on social media and more than 1,000 people had signed it as of Friday afternoon.
In the sermon, co-pastor Keith Simon addressed how he thought Christians should think about about gender dysphoria. The American Psychiatric Association defines gender dysphoria as a difference between a person’s assigned gender and the gender with which they identify and includes "significant distress or problems functioning."
Simon spoke about his interpretation of a verse from Genesis, the first book of the Bible.
"God seems to think that our gender is incredibly important to who we are as people, that it reflects something about him and his glory. Gender is not a social construct. Men and women are foundational to God’s plan. God is not pleased when we blur genders,” he said during the sermon that was posted on The Crossing's website.
Simon said he uses the name with which a person identifies and emphasized the importance of compassion.
"Maybe that should be our reaction to anybody: compassion. Maybe we don't have to have anything to say right away. Maybe we can just listen and learn and empathize," he said.
In addition to the boycott, Concerned Citizens requested that True/False and Ragtag release a public statement “condemning The Crossing’s intolerance of LGBTQ+ and Non-Binary people, and reaffirming their own support and dedication for inclusion and protections of all people.”
Sager Braudis Gallery declared Thursday that they were severing their ties with The Crossing, one of its largest sponsors over the last five years, according to a statement from the gallery.
“We are cutting ties, effective immediately, as a show of solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community but also as a protest against institutions who perpetuate and use their powerful platforms for content of this nature,” the statement read.
That leaves the organization without a sponsor for the Masters Exhibit, its biggest exhibit of the year. The gallery asked people to contribute to the exhibit if they were so inclined.
Ragtag Film Society made a statement on its blog Wednesday about its values and The Crossing after being notified about the sermon and receiving messages of concern from community members.
“From the beginning, both organizations (True/False and Ragtag Cinema) have acknowledged our differences but forged an unlikely partnership based on a shared hope that we can facilitate conversation around challenging issues,” the statement read. “Today, we explicitly affirm our stated value of Inclusivity and specifically emphasize that we honor the dignity of every human and do not support discrimination in any form.”
In response to the diverse reactions from the community, Simon posted a reaction to his sermon on Instagram. In the video, he talked about the message in his sermon and its purpose.
“They said that it was hateful,” Simon said in the video about the negative reaction to the sermon. “I don’t think so. I tried as best I could to present the truth of Scriptures in love, to speak the truth in love.”
Simon said he believes the message in the sermon has been taken out of context.
“My understanding of transgender condition is that a person feels like there is a mismatch between their gender identity and their biological sex,” Simon told KOMU. “That’s all I mean when I say that all of us are broken in some ways, different ways.”
Simon went on to explain that he hopes to continue the dialogue with the LGBTQ community and has reached out to those sharing his sermon on Facebook to learn from them.
“We appreciate our relationship with True/False and Ragtag. They’ve been fantastic partners,” Simon added in an interview with the Missourian on Thursday.
“What they do in the community is really helpful to Columbia. We’ve always known that they don’t agree with us on lots of things and vice versa. We don’t agree with them on everything. But we think it’s been good to model for our community how people who disagree can still respect one another and learn from one another.”
Ragtag responded to the petition and said it is “gathering feedback to share with (its) leadership and board as (it) evaluates (its) sponsorship with The Crossing.”
The Crossing sent an email to people on its email list Friday afternoon with a link to a FAQ about Sunday's sermon.
Tara Prindle contributed to this report.