Kim Davis, Savannah Eliseo And Jeff Sangl: Some Apostolics United Pentecostals And Homosexuality
Kim Davis Introduces Thousands To Apostolic Oneness Pentecostals
In 2015, many people for the first time heard about Apostolic Pentecostals, also known as Oneness Pentecostals, thanks to extensive media coverage on a situation in Rowan County, Kentucky.
For about half of 2015, Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis repeatedly made headlines as she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after a Supreme Court ruling. Media coverage continued past the first half of 2016 as the three lawsuits against her were dismissed by U.S. District Judge David Bunning on August 18. As her stand was based upon her religious beliefs as an Apostolic, it was the first time many people ever heard of this sect of Christians. Besides the issue at hand, people started wondering why she dressed as she did and inquired about her long hair, as well as wanting to know exactly what is an Apostolic Christian. It caused some to attend a church service and another to obtain an exclusive interview with her pastor. Yet the pastor would not discuss the teachings or beliefs.
The church Kim Davis attends is an independent Apostolic church where, as of the writing of this article, Daniel Carter is the pastor & Joshua Layne the assistant pastor. Solid Rock Apostolic Church is located at 7500 Us Highway 60 W in Morehead, Kentucky, and their first service was held in October 2011. Their phone was turned off and the original .org website was taken down due to all the publicity, but a little glimpse may be seen in an archival site. In addition, there is an archived screenshot of the main page. The newer .com website requires a password but an archival site caught it before they made it private.
When everything was transpiring with Kim Davis, some misinformation was being shared about her church and beliefs. When using the word Apostolic, one must determine what is meant as there are Apostolic churches and ministries which are not Oneness Pentecostal. For instance, the Catholic church is sometimes referred to as Apostolic, there is a church group which calls themselves the Apostolic Church, and some claim the name Apostolic who stress what is termed the five-fold ministry. None of these are Apostolic Oneness Pentecostals. The quickest way to determine if an Apostolic church or group is Oneness Pentecostal is to ask if they believe in the Trinity. If they say yes, they are not the type of Apostolic referred to in this article.
What a great many people did not know, and may yet be unaware of, is that Apostolic Oneness Pentecostal teachings view the majority of Christians as being unsaved because they have not been water baptized properly (by full water immersion with the name of Jesus spoken over them) and spoken in other tongues (to show that they received God's Spirit). In other words, the politicians using her for political advantage and many other non-Apostolics who supported her, would be deemed as not saved according to the teachings, even if they were believers. (It can become more complex than this, with others things added, but this article is not the place for that discussion. For information on how one of these groups believes, read this.)
David Bernard's Apostolic Response
As of the writing of this article, David Bernard is the General Superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church, an Apostolic Oneness Pentecostal organization that was formed in 1945. It is the same type of Apostolic church that Kim Davis attends. In an email released September 11, 2015, he addressed the situation with Kim Davis as follows:
"After the US Supreme Court ruled that the US Constitution contains a right to same-sex marriage, a Kentucky county clerk named Kim Davis refused to issue any marriage licenses. She is a member of an independent Apostolic church. A federal judge ordered her to issue marriage licenses, and when she refused, he jailed her for contempt of court. We called for prayer on her behalf, and some UPCI ministers attended a rally in Kentucky for her release. Thankfully, after some deputies began issuing licenses, she was released.
"As Bible-believing Christians we affirm the following: (1) Same-sex marriage is contrary to God's plan for the human race as taught by both the Bible and nature. (See the UPCI's statement at upci.org, which USA Today quoted at usat.ly/1EVzcbJ.) (2) The Supreme Court erred in finding such a right in the US Constitution, contrary to both history and law. (3) Freedom of religion is protected under the US Constitution, and therefore no one should be jailed for a conscientious refusal to endorse same-sex marriage. Our nation has a long history of providing reasonable accommodations for people of faith in situations such as this. (4) Our stand has nothing to do with bigotry against homosexuals, hatred, or opposing human rights. We should uphold the civil rights of everyone, including those who choose lifestyles contrary to God's Word. However, this does not mean individuals should have a right to redefine basic social institutions such as marriage to mean something they are not.
"There are potentially many situations in which Christians will face questions of conscience with regard to their employment. In these cases they seek to balance respect for governmental authority, employers' authority, and individual free will with their own conscience. As long as they are not committing sin, they have liberty to make appropriate decisions and to support the decisions of others. They should not ridicule or condemn those who make different decisions, however. (See Romans 14.) The church as a whole must respect the counsel of local pastors and the conscientious choices of individual members, while standing for religious liberty and moral values in society. Of course, if there is a direct conflict between God's law and human law, we should obey God rather than humans (Acts 5:29)."
Before Bernard became the head of the UPC, he was asked to answer numerous questions and some were related to sex and sexuality. See pages 109-115 of Religious Ethics: A Sourcebook.
The UPC has an official position on homosexuality that was adopted in 1977 and in 1990 and 2012, they developed positions about family where they went "on record as actively opposing any attempt to change the definition of marriage that broadens this sacred institution from the union of one man and one woman."
Mississippi House Bill 1523 & United Pentecostal Church Support
During the final week of March 2016 the Mississippi Senate approved House Bill 1523 (Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act), and the House subsequently approved the final version. It was signed by Governor Bryant in early April and is to become law on July 1, 2016. It is their response to the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.
On the last day of June 2016, a federal judge blocked the bill from going into effect. Ron Matis (see his connection below) says this was anticipated and he hopes the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will overturn this. The governor will be making an aggressive appeal according to Nola.com. It was later postponed until October 10, 2017.
The very basics of this Act is that the state government shall not take any discriminatory action against religious organizations who perform or refuse to perform marriages, refuse housing to or refuse to hire someone, and who decline to place foster or adopted children in a home. This all pertains to their religious beliefs. State government shall also not take any discriminatory action against individual people who render or refuse to render services "related to the solemnization, formation, celebration, or recognition of any marriage" "based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction".
This allows state employees to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses and performing weddings. In addition, it allows people to decline "to participate in the provision of treatments, counseling, or surgeries related to sex reassignment or gender identity transitioning" as well as "to participate in the provision of psychological, counseling, or fertility services based upon a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction". These are just some provisions of the bill.
It was reported that Ronald James Matis was in attendance during the Senate vote. It was stated he "represents the Mississippi District of the United Pentecostal Church". Executive Assistant Matis, who shares he has been the political director of the Mississippi District since mid 2013 and is the administrative assistant of the Woodlawn United Pentecostal Church in Columbia, is in agreement with the Act. It should be noted that Matis does not hold a ministerial license with the UPCI.
According to mpbonline, Ron Matis stated, "It's about letting people know that pastors, people of faith, aren't going to be discriminated on, against, for their sincerely held religious beliefs". He refused to comment on whether Pentecostal churches in the state were being asked to perform same-sex marriages and added, "Today, it's about the fact that we got a good bill passed." More information on his and the UPCI's involvement in this bill may be found in a May 2016 article. In addition, in the May 21, 2016 meeting of the Flatwoods City Council in Kentucky, they voted to "deny transgender usage of restrooms and shower facilities in government buildings." Pastor Anthony Keaton of Abundant Life United Pentecostal Churchspoke in support of the ban.
On April 6, 2016, the United Pentecostal Church announced their response to House Bill 1523. It was stated in part, "At the same time, we also want to express that we unconditionally love all people, recognize universal equality under the law, and support civil rights for all, including individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. ...Some of our members may exercise the freedom guaranteed by HB 1523 and similar legislation not to support certain marriages based on their religious convictions and the teaching of Scripture. However, we encourage all our members to treat everyone with the utmost respect and courtesy, recognizing that every human is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27)." (Members include ministers and individual members of certain UPCI churches. "Membership in the United Pentecostal Church International shall consist of all ministers and missionaries holding an accredited credential or license, and all members of local assemblies which are affiliated with us..." Article II of the UPCI General Constitution.) On May 19, they also issued a statement on transgenderism.
The Washington Times reported that the United Pentecostal Church has "longstanding connections with many of the politicians considering the legislation" and that conservative politicians have been attending the Mississippi District camp meetings "for years to sing, pray and shake lots of hands." Some may remember seeing clips of two politicians addressing one such gathering in the movie Borat.
Though the UPCI is "thankful for governmental protection of our right to hold these beliefs", the Washington Times shared that the "Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School issued a statement saying more than a dozen law professors ...analyzed HB1523 and found that the bill 'without question disrupts the balance between religious and secular rights and oversteps the limitations on state action set out by the Establishment Clause.'"
In late June 2017, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower federal court's decision to strike down House Bill 1523, allowing the law to take effect. (See this article.) It was again placed on hold as opponents sought a second hearing.
Previously in early 2014, Governor Bryant signed SB 2681, a religious liberty bill, into law. It was reported that Ron Matis and David Tipton Jr., the Mississippi District Superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church, attended the signing. David Tipton is bishop of the Pentecostals of Grenada church, where his son Damon Tipton is pastor. Of the current bill, Tipton has said "This bill protects people of faith from governmental discrimination. There's evidence of that (governmental discrimination) happening more often."
Some may recall the name as David is the grandfather of Kanon Tipton, who was featured on a National Geographic segment as he 'preached' in church (and at a UPCI General Conference) when very young. See here for more info. Hopefully Kanon was never taught to sing the song that a different young boy performed in another Apostolic church.
Apostolic Truth Tabernacle & Ain't No Homo Gonna Make It To Heaven
In May 2012, before Kim Davis made headlines as the Rowan County clerk, Apostolic Truth Tabernacle in Greensburg, Indiana, where Jeff Sangl is pastor, made the news, though they received much less media coverage. Apostolic Truth Tabernacle is affiliated with the Worldwide Pentecostal Fellowship, a group that formed when some ministers left the United Pentecostal Church after it was approved that ministers were permitted to advertise on television. The group fellowships with "authentic Apostolics" and hopes to bring about "a preferred apostolic future for all Apostolics". If the video below is representative of either, you can have their organization.
A young boy is singing on the platform at Apostolic Truth Tabernacle and the congregation is seen enthusiastically cheering, clapping and standing in approval as he sings words to a song that was obviously changed by an adult. (This is the original song written by G.E. Patterson.) Someone yells, "Yeah!" and I believe you can hear a man shout, "That's my boy!" after the first clip. You can also see Pastor Jeff Sangl in full approval in the background, smiling and cheering him on. Sangl neither stops the song nor admonishes those cheering. It would appear that perhaps they called him back on the platform to sing again because the video shows him going off the platform and handing the microphone to another boy who says a few unintelligible words and then leaves. We then see the original boy singing again, repeating the lyrics more than once, while no other child is seen on the platform. Here are the words:
I know the Bible is right, somebody's wrong.
I know the Bible is right, somebody's wrong.
Romans one and twenty seven;
Ain't no homo gonna make it to Heaven.
When the video went viral and many were outraged, the church on May 30, 2012 issued the following statement on their website: "The Pastor and members of Apostolic Truth Tabernacle do not condone, teach, or practice hate of any person for any reason. We believe and hope that every person can find true Bible salvation and the mercy and grace of God in their lives. We are a strong advocate of the family unit according to the teachings and precepts found in the Holy Bible. We believe the Holy Bible is the Divinely-inspired Word of God and we will continue to uphold and preach that which is found in scripture." This did nothing to remove the thoughts in the minds of many, that those in attendance were gleeful that certain people were not going to be in heaven. The love for those felt to be lost was not present.
After the video went viral, members of the church were quoted as saying, "The people who are upset just don't read the word of God. If we don't teach the children the truth early they will never learn" and "Of course we applauded a child who is singing a song about God." Those are your "authentic Apostolics" bringing about "a preferred apostolic future".
Teaching children in this manner is very problematic. Is the child learning to love or judge and hate? Are they learning about the Gospel or taught to parrot teachings or attitudes particular to their church and its members? Many children from Apostolic churches will tell others, including classmates and relatives, that they are going to hell simply because they do not adhere to one of the standards, such as women not wearing pants or not ever cutting their hair. Many of these children are too young to fully understand what they are being taught, as such would be the case with the boy in this video.
Savannah Rose Eliseo & Speak
Let's fast forward to after Kim Davis and move to early 2016. This time a United Pentecostal woman hits the internet with a song addressing homosexuality. Speak was released in January 2016. Savannah Rose Eliseo attends The Pentecostals of Greensboro (1807 Merritt Dr., Greensboro, North Carolina), a legally affiliated United Pentecostal church, where her father, Glenn Eliseo, is pastor.
Speak is not the first song she has recorded. She has a website and her music is available on iTunes, Amazon MP3, Google Play, or at CD Baby. The album notes for Speak state, "This song has changed me. As Christians, the Media is constantly trying to silence our voices and to force us to compromise our beliefs according to their decrees... Well, Media I'm talking straight to you... We will not sit down. We will not shut up. God's word will stand. You don't have the liberty to demand change. We are not afraid to SPEAK."
Announcing the release of her new work on January 7th, Savannah made a post on Facebook as did her father and the church Facebook page, which has shared about the song several times since then. One man wrote in response to her post, "Absolutely Give It To Them Sister! Amen!!"
Then on February 22, 2016, Savannah Eliseoannounced the release of a YouTube video of herself singing the song. It was also published on Vimeo by the church. Watch and listen for yourself. Please note that the destruction of the television set goes along with UPC teaching that it should not be watched. October 14, 2017 note: These videos have since been taken down by Savannah. The song apparently has also been removed on iTunes and CD Baby. It is still available on Amazon.
Below are the words to the song, to the best of my knowledge. 'Sending' in the chorus may be incorrect.
Speak by Savannah Rose Eliseo
Don't be spoon-fed all the lies
Saying that love will compromise
That it's not your choice
Well I refuse to take a seat
While they get up on their feet
Waving rainbows like its the new
Sunday message every week
I'm growing tired of the phrase
Saying I was born this way
Well I wasn't born yesterday
Media! I'm talking straight to you
Hold up, wait I still ain't thru
All these messages you're sending
Trying to gain a new recruit
Well if you all had your way
There'd be no way to procreate
So while you wave that flag
Wave goodbye to the human race
No it's got nothing to do with hate
So go and get out of my face
Such activity ain't enough for you
To try and build your case
What's true for me is true for you
Turn to Leviticus 18 verse 22
Is that too hard to do?
Conviction should have had a pull
God's Word will stand
You don't have liberty to demand change
God's Word will stand
You don't have liberty to demand change
Please don't be spoon-fed all the lies
Saying that love will compromise
It's not your DNA
It's not in your DNA
And I'm not afraid to speak!
While she wrote in part in her first announcement, "We love all people everywhere. ...Maybe you misunderstood our kindness and our respect by allowing you to voice your opinions, but the time has come to be clear", her eyes, facial expressions and actions in the video do not appear to express this love, kindness or respect. Do you see love in her expressions? Respect? While I am not saying she has no love toward those to whom she is singing, it cannot be seen or heard in either the lyrics or the video.
Response From Savannah's Mother
On January 12, 2017, I received the following email response to this article from Savannah's mother. It is shared in its entirety.
I read your opinion and comments concerning whether or not others, are meeting your designated standard as to what is acceptable concerning homosexuality. I will use this email to clarify the subject matter referred to in the song Speak by Savannah Eliseo. This song is written to the media and not to anyone individual precisely. The media is relentlessly, putting out family tv shows regarding homosexuality as normal. And gender as what ever one is feeling at the moment. In a day where elementary students in our own city and across the nation are being taught they can choose if they want to be a boy or a girl, it is no time to judge other christians as to whether they should stand up for the Bible. As the scripture says, Whose on the Lord's side?
While most of the last 10 years quiet, polite Christians like myself have waited patiently for the bombarding of Hollywood to back off of every new show having a homosexual, we have finally realized it is actually getting worse, because of our silence. While people are dying for their god "Allah", should Christians maintain their silence? No. We will speak. If you are offended by what we as Christians say, you certainly may share your opinion. Unless... you believe the Bible too.... If you do, then quit judging how other people do it. It's easy to be critical of those who are brave enough to step off of the side seats and get into the arena and fight for freedom just to obey and teach the word of God. You misunderstood the whole song. It is to the media. And no we do not all believe TV is exclusively the problem. Homosexuality dominating the media scene today though there is less than 5% who are homosexual. But we certainly better put up or shut up.
We better loudly start reminding the world of a certain book, the word of God, whose demands are not our own. Yet in spite of that fact, they are to be obeyed. You are also wrong in your attempt to claim we would put Kim Davis, or anyone else in hell. Sorry please don't make that judgement of all United Pentecostals, that job will be for the only righteous judge. It is his job alone to judge the hearts of human kind. We do not see them.
But if you can't see the bravery that it took for a 20 year old young woman, a chemistry major, a singer, a college student to stand up for the Bible and write a song to the media saying, quit forcing homosexuality down our throat. Quit making us watch homosexual couples in every family comedy and romantic movie that comes out of Hollywood then you just don't understand commitment.
Those expressions you judge as hateful in the song, are rather expressions of dead seriousness. Some of us, will be called on by God to lead the banner and declare God' law. Maybe others get to sit on the sidelines and judge us. But we must do as each one of us are called by God to do. We will not back up from the Bible. That thing, that we are not allowed even because of love or any other emotion, to change one word of.
The time for quiet, undercover christianity is over. For today in this land and others, people are dying for their god. We as Christians must and will stand for our God. Maybe you are the only one, whom you believe has the proper approach to this issue. I have been silent to long. This generation is the result of to much etiquette, silence, procrastination, political correctness and undercover christianity.
Now we are seeing the results of silence, wherein the youth of today are easily persuaded toward atheism. So let the brave go forth declaring the word of the Lord.
No in this song Savannah is not smiling because God calls this particular sin, an abomination. Yet let it be said, even as you look at expressions and make the judgement of "a lack of love", at least say, we were unashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation.
I'm sorry your experience to UPC didn't end well. I understand. Not every church is a great one since people are involved. But I am not sorry that serious expressions are used, when speaking up for a very important law in the word of God. I do thank you for the shout out on your blog even if you did not agree. It's always nice to know someone is reading and listening, as I did with yours this evening.
The Only Examples of Wrong Behavior?
The songs in question are far from being the only examples of wrong attitudes and behaviors of Apostolics toward people who are homosexual. For instance, when I received permission to make available Journey Out of the United Pentecostal Church and posted separately the thoughts expressed by some former UPC members who are featured in the book, I received an email from a current UPC minister in Portland, Oregon. He happened to dislike one in particular that was written by the ex-wife of a UPC minister, who was discovered to be gay after having served in the UPC for many years. This Portland minister chose to use crude language in his email, stating that she failed to share her husband "was a fudge-packing homosexual" and stated the man "died of AIDS, perhaps the recompense of reward spoken of in scripture."
In addition, through the years I have heard numerous people from various areas share stories of how their UPC or other Apostolic pastor or visiting minister would choose to be crude or belittling when making reference to homosexuals in sermons, such as referring to them as queers and faggots or saying things like God sent a destructive storm to kill or warn them.
How can such behavior be seen as anything but hateful, ugly, and unloving? You who act this way, when you are found guilty of some sin, would you like to be approached in a similar manner? Should church members call you derogatory names and sing about how you aren't going to heaven and then erupt into joyous shouts and applause? How would you feel?
Should Christians Be Writing And Performing These Songs?
Should Christians be writing and singing songs such as seen in this article? Can you imagine either of these songs being performed in a service when there are visitors? If someone who was homosexual were attending, wanting to know about God, what impression would they have? Would they feel comfortable in attending again or joining the church? Would they feel at liberty to approach leadership to ask questions?
What purpose do songs like these serve? Do they draw people to God or do they push them away? Do they portray Christians as loving or as hateful? Do they share of God's love or do they stir up strife, judgment and hate?
Melody Eliseo, Savannah's mother, blogged on January 15, 2016 about speaking up and the timing was too close to the release of her daughter's song to make it coincidental. She shared in part, "God's word says a lot of stuff that is rock solid. It has opinions on things, that it calls abominations. It names sin in every category, then defines it and subtitles it. My sins are not hidden from the scripture. Every time that Book is opened and spoken in my presence I reassess where I stand in its pages. We are told to proclaim it, that in it, are words of life. Yet if we stand for what it stands for, we are now called haters and that is scary, even to adults. No Christian wants to be called a hater. And so we stay silent on some issues that God is passionate about."
"...If I know there is danger ahead, a cliff that is hidden by trees, should I just warn no one about it? Would that be considered love? No, that would not be love! That is indifference! Indifference is the absolute opposite of love. Hatred is not the opposite of love, hatred is love spurned or turned. But indifference is the exact opposite of love. It is the ability to not concern ourselves at all with whether someone lives or dies in Christ."
Keeping in mind what Melody wrote, read what a friend of mine shared after watching Savannah's video. She, as well as many others, did not see "words of life" in her song or the one from Apostolic Truth Tabernacle.
"The song disgusts me, and it's not because I'm for or against homosexuality. My former pastor often blasted people for what he considered their sins. He said that people needed to be warned, and called his abusive words and the frequent public humiliation of those who disagreed with him as 'love'. He said that not warning them in this way was actually very UNloving. In this way he both excused his bullying, spiteful actions and twisted concepts of love to include terrible verbal abuse. This song reminds me so much of that twisting.
"It's sad, especially, because many people need more than anything to REALLY be loved. Gently, kindly, patiently. Love is not harsh and abrasive like this song is. Nor does love focus on 'us' v. 'them' and on how right 'we' are. The song doesn't reach out to those it's speaking out against. It doesn't show love."
Christians have a right to make a stand on this issue. Yet there is a vast difference between being "not afraid to speak" and speaking simply to make a statement and doing so without showing love or with showing hatred (think Westboro Baptist Church). In the two examples presented above, I have yet to hear anyone say they felt love in the songs or felt drawn to God by what they saw and heard. Any so-called warning of impending danger is drowned out through the cheers and laughter or the angry looks. Things like these give believers and Christianity a bad name, and rightfully so.
Paul admonished the believers at Ephesus. He wrote, "That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ". (Ephesians 4:14-15 KJV)
To the believers at Colosse, Paul taught they were to "Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man." (Colossians 4:5-6 KJV) In addition, Peter shared, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear". (1 Peter 3:15 KJV)
In the case of Kim Davis, while thousands supported her stand, thousands also felt her actions were hate-filled. While I personally disagreed with how she handled the situation, I did not see her actions as being hateful and she did not call homosexuals derogatory names, nor did she sing songs against them, nor stand and cheer while someone sang they weren't going to heaven. While her actions hurt people, I do not feel they were motivated by hate or ill-will toward anyone. I see a big difference between her and the performance of these two songs.
Not Limited To Apostolics Or Representative Of All
Before someone attempts to say I am insinuating that Apostolics are the only or worst offenders, I have no such thoughts. This type of behavior and lack of love by some is by no means limited to Apostolic Pentecostalism. Likewise, these situations are not representative of all people in Oneness Pentecostal churches. However, there are a number of churches and ministers, as well as individual members, that have no qualms about presenting their beliefs in unloving, ungraceful and unwise words and actions.
Page Added March 24, 2016 & Updated October 14, 2017
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