Residents slam 'shameful' church for refusing to hold dying man's funeral because of gay son

Jessie Goodman, a hairstylist in Tennessee, sits with his fiance Brandon Smitty. (Credit: WTVC)

A Tennessee man, who is gay, says that a church will not hold a funeral service for his father because of his sexuality. Now, local residents are criticizing the church for its “sinful” discrimination.

“They’re punishing my dad for a lifestyle choice that I’ve made. It’s not me laying up there in a casket, it’s him,” Jessie Goodman told Chattanooga, Tenn. news station WTVC.

Goodman’s 71-year-old father is ill and his family believes he only has a few days to live. The family requested to withhold Goodman’s father identity to protect his privacy.

Before passing on, Goodman told WTVC that his father expressed only two final wishes. He wanted to have his funeral service at Lee's Chapel Baptist Church, the first church he ever attended, and to have his son sing a Christian song called “The Anchor Holds.”

Goodman, who is a hairstylist, told the news station he was making arrangements for the service at the Sweetwater, Tenn. chapel when the church leadership discovered that Goodman was engaged to a man named Brandon Smitty.

Now Goodman says Lee’s Chapel Baptist Church is refusing to host his father’s funeral service because his sexual orientation goes against the pastor and some of its congregants’ beliefs.

“As long as I was going to take part in any way, [My father] could not have his service there,” Goodman told WTVC.

Goodman did not immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment but told WTVC that a longtime congregant named Daryl Morrow told Goodman that if his fiancé came to the service that he would be asked to leave. Yahoo Lifestyle was not able to locate Morrow for comment.

"Of course the church doesn't agree with my lifestyle," Goodman told the news outlet. "And [Daryl Morrow] asked me if I would be OK coming and sitting there alone, knowing my partner could not come, and that if he did come, he would be asked to leave," said Goodman.

However, Morrow contested Goodman’s account of their conversation to WTVC, saying he simply said that Goodman’s partner should not attend the funeral. Morrow added that he felt that Goodman’s father should still be able to have his service at the church.

When WTVC contacted Lee’s Chapel Baptist Church’s pastor Jay Scruggs, he refused to comment and said he would only speak with the station after Goodman’s father passed. Yahoo Lifestyle was unsuccessful in its attempt to contact Lee’s Chapel Baptist Church for comment.

When Goodman broke the news to his father that he would only be able to honor one of his final wishes, he told the news station his dad was devastated.

"He did know that his funeral wouldn't happen there, and he had a very hurt look on his face when we told him that," said Goodman.

After speaking out about the discrimination he’s faced from Lee’s Chapel Baptist Church, hundreds from the local community have come to Goodman’s support and have called out the church for its “shameful” actions.

“Shameful that this organization refuses to allow a man his last wish (to have his funeral at their sanctuary) just because his son is gay,” a local wrote on the church’s Yelp page. “This is not a church that I would even consider visiting. What sort of Christians turn down family in their time of need?”

“Oh Jesse. This is so sad. I am so sorry you have been treated so poorly. As Christians, we can't shame people into believing like us,” one user commented on Goodman’s Facebook post. “It's terribly unfortunate that you have been made to feel less than at a time when every single one of them should have reached out to you in love. I am so sorry all the way around.”

Others online said that while they did not agree with Goodman’s sexual orientation, they believed it was wrong for the church to punish Goodman’s father for his choices.

“I may not agree with your lifestyle, but I will always love you,” one Facebook user wrote. “Regardless of his beliefs, Your daddy loved you whole heartedly, as he should have and it seems sinful to me to punish him for being there for his son.”

“True Christians do not judge that is God's place. Christians pray for fellow man. Punishing a person on their last request before passing of where to be buried because of beliefs of the child is wrong. You pray for the person not punish them,” another user wrote.

While Goodman at this time is unable to fulfill his father’s wish to have his service at Lee’s Chapel Baptist Church, he told WTVC he will be making good on his promise to perform the Christian worship song. Only the service will be held at a different funeral service home in the area.

Yahoo Lifestyle reached out to Brandon Smitty and Jay Scruggs for comment, and will update this post when we hear back.

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