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Into the Lion's Den 

We send a heathen sodomite to The Cool Church in the wake of a controversy about TCC's teachings

Anti-gay Christians have no idea what they're talking about.

Case in point: The Cool Church's Web page on homosexuality. It's an absurd hodgepodge of distortions, generalizations and unqualified assertions stated as indisputable fact--but what else did you expect? You can only get so much mileage out of talking points approved by the American Family Association.

Someone looking to confirm preconceived notions about homosexual men behaving like amoral, sex-crazed animals, however, would likely come away satisfied.

Intrigued by a recent Arizona Daily Star article showing just how uncool The Cool Church--aka the Tucson Community Church--is toward gays, and wondering if pastors would mention it in the following Sunday's sermon, my roommate and I decided to take a trip down to TCC to see what was what.

We got to The Cool Church on the northwest side a little late for the 11 a.m., Sunday, July 8, service, after deciding at the last minute that we wanted to see TCC founder and head pastor David McAllister--the undisputed star of the show--in the flesh, instead of going to the satellite church nearer to our home.

Little did we know that McAllister was being simulcast to the other TCC branches (there are four locations total); indeed, TV and commercialism seem to be inextricable parts of what makes the church tick. It was almost like we stepped out of our car and onto the lot of Universal Studios Tucson.

Children slurped down sodas they'd bought at The Cool Church food court, and there was a lazy summertime air, as if people had casually stopped by for a glass of lemonade and a touch of salvation.

After checking the crowded auditorium where McAllister was speaking, we decided to hang back in the "crying baby area" just outside, where two TVs mounted high on the wall allowed people not to miss a minute of the proceedings. The multimedia presentation, with graphics illustrating the pastor's points, was slick and well-tailored to Americans living in the 21st century.

Many people, young and old, sat glassy-eyed in the two rows of folding chairs that had been placed in front of the TVs. I noticed a line of tykes walking like partridges from one building to another behind us.

Teenagers came and went, infrequently taking note of something McAllister had said. There were no crying babies, but an occasional parent did walk outside dragging an unruly child by an arm.

It seemed as if McAllister was just wrapping up discussing what he called "the hit piece" written by the Arizona Daily Star. He pledged to continue targeting the downtown area, that den of iniquity where homosexuals gather, in his efforts to lift people out of sin. He told churchgoers not to let this fiasco distract them from their work of saving people.

Glancing at my program, I noticed a little blurb about the Star that concluded with this: "This attack by this group (Wingspan, Southern Arizona's LGBT community center) and the AZ Star is a reminder that TCC is in the battle against sin and for people's souls on behalf of Jesus and is willing to take a STAND--even if this LGBT activist group and the AZ Star don't like it. We're here to stand for God and please Him."

McAllister encouraged people to write letters to the editor, but he also said that the powers that be at the Star were preventing many of their missives from being published. So he pushed his followers toward the more-democratic Star blogs, that bastion of sober, thoughtful debate.

Naturally, my ears perked up when McAllister talked about how he's been accused of being gay in the past.

"I can't tell you how many times I've been called a homosexual," he said. McAllister noted how ridiculous that idea was, considering that he's been married 27 years and has numerous children.

Yeah, right--ridiculous. Tell that to Ted Haggard or former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey.

Granted, McAllister didn't make my gaydar go off. He looked like a scary Backstreet Boy, wearing a green-and-blue collared shirt and oversized, JNCO-style jeans like the kids (used to) wear. Bleached-blonde spikes jutted out from his scalp, and his craggy face seemed at odds with his youthful, buoyant way of speaking.

At first blush, it would be easy to confuse him with an aging ex-raver.

After dealing with the Star story, McAllister gave a sermon, the gist of which can be described thusly: "Don't necessarily forgive." It dovetailed nicely with all the homosexual talk.

McAllister said most Christians have it horribly wrong: You don't pardon a person until he realizes the error of his ways and repents. In other words, don't forgive--let's say a homosexual, for the sake of argument--until the recipient of your forgiveness sees everything exactly the way you do.

If sinners don't make the effort to see things The Cool Church's way, then they are the ones who are putting up "an invisible barrier," he told his flock. Implicit in much of what McAllister was saying was the notion of us--the underdog, the righteous, David--vs. them--the elites, the sinners, Goliath.

It was an odd sermon in that it contained both a clip from The Cosby Show--McAllister's self-professed favorite program--and a mugshot of Jeffrey Dahmer, who, he noted, was responsible for raping, killing and eating boys.

Was he holding up a homosexual cannibal as a subtle example of gays everywhere? It certainly seemed that way.

After he concluded the service, it was clear that McAllister doesn't believe homosexuals exist; in his eyes, there are only straight people who commit homosexual acts, and those who don't.

The scariest part may be that all of the music, the graphics, the heartwarming scenes from The Cosby Show, acted as an effective, kid-friendly way of delivering a domineering, exclusionary message.

Wide-eyed children were everywhere. They were eating, playing in the grass and, every so often, getting caught in the orbit of a man with spiky bleached hair, who was talking to them about the Cosbys, Jeffrey Dahmer and Jesus through a TV set.

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