Recently a church in Colorado refused to hold the funeral of a young woman when her family refused to “edit” a video of her life because four of the images had her showing affection to another woman—her wife. The deceased was a lesbian who was married with two children. Apparently the four slides were of her proposing to her wife and them kissing one another. The leadership of the church stated that they did not agree with her alternate lifestyle. Unfortunately the problem came up when the funeral home delivered the video to the church prior to the funeral, but no one in the church had time to look the video over until right before the service. Coming across the four images of the woman showing affection to her wife the church offered a compromise . . . take out the four images. The church, mortuary, and family worked hard to resolve the issue to everyone’s desires but both sides stood their ground . . . the service was canceled fifteen minutes after it was set to begin.
This story seemed a little strange to me. As a pastor I have done lots of funerals . . . a couple of hundred. Prior to all of those funerals I took the time to sit down with the family for several purposes: to console them in their loss of a loved one; to learn more about the deceased from their experiences; and, to plan the funeral service. In my mind all three are important, but the last one is especially important . . . so, how in the world did this funeral service in Colorado get all the way to the point that the church or its clergy did not know that the deceased was gay? Had they known that the deceased was gay from the beginning—which is an alternate lifestyle they did not agree with, wouldn’t they have refused the service in the first place? Sounds to me as if someone wasn’t doing his or her job. It seems to me that the pastor did not take too much time in getting to know about the deceased or her family.
I do not agree with what the church “did” in this situation. Nor do I agree with their reasons for doing it. I believe that all of God’s children have a place in the choir. What they did bugged me because I did not think that their actions were too Christ-like; but what bugged me more was the gall that they had in asking the family to “edit” the video of the deceased individual’s life. Basically, after watching the video, the church said that it was okay as long as a couple of images . . . a couple of seconds . . . were cut out of the final cut. It did not matter that the four images . . . the couple of seconds . . . that they were wanting to “cut” were also some of the most defining and important parts of that individual’s life. That bugged me.
There have been moments in my life when I have contemplated that final scenario in my own life . . . that moment when everyone in my life gathers to celebrate my life and usher me into the great eternal party in the sky. I have wondered what it would be like . . . who would speak . . . and, what would be said. I have also thought that I can pretty much control how that final scene will play out if I take the time to sit down and plan the whole thing out while I am still living. And, as I have said, I can pretty much control it . . . except for what people will say . . . except for what people will share. When that time comes, I will be long gone and out of the discussion. The situation of censoring a person’s life video prior to a funeral service made me think . . . not so much about the censoring, but about what might be said or shared that I prefer not even be dug up out of the ground where I buried or dragged out of the closet where I hid it.
Now you are probably thinking . . . What! The preacher has secrets! You are darn tooting that I do . . . we all do. Most of us prefer not washing our dirty laundry out in the public arena of life. All of us have embarrassing experiences in our lives that we would rather not have exposed whether we are alive or dead. All of us have done things that we regretted and were ashamed of that we would rather not have repeated. We all have our skeletons in the closet. When that day comes and everyone gathers to celebrate the lives that we lived . . . what will they say?
Of course, in all actuality, it really won’t matter. The dead cannot be embarrassed. The dead cannot feel regret. The dead cannot laugh. The dead won’t even be there . . . because they are dead! The wife is always telling me what the kids and I can do at her funeral if she dies before the rest of us. Like a good husband I always shake my head in agreement, but I remind her that she won’t be there and we will do what we need to do. She just winks, then smiles, and tells me that I had better not die before she does.
So, what will be the “final cut” of my life that will be shared in the end? Who will have the “final word” that wraps my life up? Who is going to lay it out there for the whole world to see? I imagine that I could write my own eulogy and hope that someone would share it, but I also know that it would be a heavily edited piece of work as the wife and kids would “correct” it from their experiences of life with me. If that is the case, why bother?
In the end, I will have no more control over how my life is shared than I have now . . . it is what it is . . . good and bad . . . happy and sad . . . embarrassing and regretful . . . the whole gamut of life. God already knows it. God was there throughout it all. Can’t hide anything from God. But, in the end, I do not want any individual or church to “censor” or “edit” my life because there is a disagreement over some part of my life that is found unacceptable in their eyes. I want my family and friends to be able to share whatever it is that allows them to acknowledge our connection to one another . . . to share whatever experiences that we shared that touched their lives . . . to speak openly and honestly about the love between us. People are going to say whatever it is that they say, and since God already knows it all . . . why should I worry. I just want to know that they will be given that opportunity without the worry of being told to go and “edit” my life before they plop me six feet under.
What the church in Colorado did was wrong on so many fronts. People have the right to celebrate the lives of those that they love with dignity . . . with honesty. Not just parts of their lives, but all of their lives. If God can handle it, the church ought to be able to handle it too. In the end the one making the “final cut” is not you or me or the church . . . it is God. I breathe a little easier knowing that . . . after all, God is loving, patient, kind, and full of grace . . . after all these years God still puts up with me and loves me. The “final cut” is in God’s hands. Amen to that!