I pride myself on being San Leandro’s most infamous atheist. I came into local prominence a couple of years ago when I challenged the San Leandro School District to stop teaching overtly religious songs in school. I had been appalled to find out that McKinley Elementary School‘s evangelical Christian music teacher, Kathy Maier, had made my 6-year old learn and sing the song “Silent Night” which praises Jesus as God. Not kosher in my book. So when I read a letter on last Thursday’s San Leandro Times accusing the city of establishing religion by allowing the Calvary Chapel church/religious group to hold services at the newly opened Senior Center, I had to investigate what was going on. And apparently it’s much ado about nothing.
Calvary Chapel is a small religious group started/run by the Cortez family, who relocated their ministry to San Leandro from the city of Guadalupe in late 2009. They are fundamentalist neo-Pentecostals (competition for Faith Fellowship?) but they don’t seem to make too big a deal out of speaking in tongues. They’ve been meeting at the Marina Community Center since they started, and apparently now they are moving to the Senior Center. I don’t know if that’s because the Senior Center is more centrally located or if they were able to see the signs predicting the end of the Marina center.
Meeting rooms at the Marina and Senior Centers are available for rental by any member of the community. Non-profit groups, apparently including churches, are charged reduced non-profit rates during non-peak hours and regular rates during the peak hours that Calvary Chapel mostly reserves. Any group is allowed to use these facilities, provided they pay the appropriate fees & deposit, have insurance and don’t have a history of trashing the facilities.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t really want the government to have to inquire as to what every group who rents a room at a public building is going to do in the room. Whether a group of people want a room to hold masturbation workshops, have a Barbie convention or pray to imaginary cosmic entities, it’s really nobody’s business but their own.
The fees that Calvary Chapel pays the city for the use of its facilities, moreover, help tremendously in keeping the Senior Center open. And who can complain about that?
In what may be a sign of the times, the Creekside Community Church seems to be toning down its anti-gay rhetoric. Most conspicuously, it has redesigned the website of its Celebrate Recovery “Christian based” 12-step program to remove mention of “same sex attraction” as one of the addictions that it covers. Indeed, Creekside is going as far as having its Coordinator of Children’s Ministries, Peggy McGregory, deny the existence of that part of the program (alas, an archived version of their website from 2009 clearly shows it listed among other “addictions”, the page describing the program is not archived, but this is the standard CR same-sex attraction brochure). There is no other mention of homosexuality or same-sex attraction on its website, though its statement of faith suggests it continues holding the same fundamentalist beliefs it’s used to justify homophobia.
I can only speculate as to what is behind Creekside’s apparent retreat from condemning homosexuality. Locally, Creekside anti-gay stance came into play last year when a number of Roosevelt Elementary parents refused to let their children attend theatrical events at the Church. Creekside’s children theater program was started in order to provide an alternative to the theater program at San Leandro High School, which at the time was ran by a gay teacher. It had expanded to include elementary school kids and for a number of years, Roosevelt Elementary students would be taken to the church to see these plays during the school day. Last year, gay parents and their allies complained, given the church’s homophobic positions, and Roosevelt has now ended its association with the Church. Creekside counts as members several pillars of the San Leandro community, including a City Council member, and it may also be the negative attention the Church was drawing was starting to embarrass them personally.
But the issue may be a broader one. Homosexuality is becoming more and more accepted in the United States (at least among adults). Polls show a growing acceptance of gay marriage, with a majority of Americans being in favor of it. The surge of gay teen suicides last year, meanwhile, has brought attention to the deadly consequences of the homophobic rhetoric of churches like Creekside.
Whatever the reason for it be, I welcome the change.