Rich and Eric McCaffrey, at their wedding last summer, went public with a controversy at their Episcopal church — since resolved — over the baptism of their infant son. (Photo: Facebook)
A pair of gay Florida dads will have their son baptized this summer, following a soul-searching controversy within their Episcopal church that concluded with a meeting with — and the blessing of — their local bishop.
“We talked about my being a part of the baptism and I told them I would be happy to do so,” said the Rt. Rev. Gregory O. Brewer, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, in a statement. “We look forward to celebrating Jack’s baptism at the Cathedral in the near future.”
The dustup began in late April, when husbands Rich and Eric McCaffrey were scheduled to have their infant son Jack baptized at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando. But before the baptism, according to the Orlando Sentinel, the men said the church’s Dean Anthony Clark told them that it was being postponed due to objections from some members of the congregation. (There was also a reported discrepancy between Clark and the two dads as to whether the date of the baptism had actually been tentative or definite, which added to the problem.)
That’s when Brewer stepped in, telling the Sentinel that he’d meet with the couple. “I want to get to know them as people and for them to get to know me. My focus has to do with them. Why is this important to them? That is what I want to know,” he said. “It has everything to do with the intentions of the parents. Whether they are active in the church and Christians in the community is far more important than whether they are gay or straight.”
The Episcopal Church is for the most part LGBT-friendly, ordaining openly gay clergy and blessing same-sex unions. But individual congregations can vary greatly when it comes to these issues. Brewer, in fact, was one of a dozen bishops to oppose a provisional approval of same-sex unions in 2012.
One of the dads, Rich, made the private back-and-forth public by posting a message about it on his Facebook page on May 2, aiming to “raise awareness to our community, and to offer perspective to a reticent institution.”
In his post, Rich noted that he and Eric have been together for 15 years and that they were married in New York in 2014, and that adopting their son Jack has been a “highlight” of their lives together. Regarding their faith, he continued, “it is important for us to provide Jack a spiritual foundation he can build on throughout his life. Baptism — the rite of Christian initiation — is a significant moment. Being a gay couple, we knew we wanted to be part of a community that would be open to and respectful of our family.” They settled on Episcopalian — a denomination that’s made “tremendous strides” toward inclusiveness over the years, according to Integrity USA, a non-profit organization of LGBT Episcopalians — and “quickly felt at home” at the Orlando cathedral. Plans for the baptism were set, he explains, but three days before it, Clark contacted them to express that some congregants were having an issue with them being gay parents — the first to have a child baptized at St. Luke.
“I was speechless, angry, and heartbroken,” wrote Rich. “Jack’s baptism turned out to be the very opposite of what it should have been. It became about Jack having two dads, rather than a community opening its arms to a joyful little soul, one of God’s children.”
In response, the Christian social justice organization Faithful America organized a petition in support of the dads, which has so far been signed by more then 25,000 people.
It may be hard for some to understand the strong desire of an LGBT person to remain a part of a faith that has rejected him or her, but the pull is a common one, according to Joseph Ward, associate director of the Religion and Faith Program of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBT equality organization. “People should not have to choose between who they love and what they believe,” Ward tells Yahoo Parenting. “Faith communities are just that — community — and I think for people of faith a lot of things draw them there. It’s not any different for LGBT people.” The Episcopal Church is one of the more supportive of gay and lesbian members, he says, but no matter what faith tradition an LGBT person grows up in, “what those traditions mean to individuals is important to their wholeness, to their identity, and despite rejection, they may still feel connected in a meaningful way.”
In a press release, the Cathedral Church of St. Luke noted, “It is with great care and concern that the Cathedral and the Diocese of Central Florida mutually address this situation with all dignity and respect for the family, the child and the congregation… It is important to note that the Dean and Cathedral have always intended to baptize this child. No one, including the Bishop, “denied” this baptism. We regret the delay, apologize for it and are working with his family on a revised date that will accommodate their schedule and respect the sacrament of Holy Baptism of their child.”
As for the dads, the resolution seems to have brought a sense of closure. “We are appreciative and are looking forward to the baptism to take place this summer. At the same time we know on many fronts there is healing to be done which will take time,” Rich wrote in a Facebook update on Friday. “Some may question why we are choosing to return to the Cathedral. We are returning because we still have faith in the goodness of people, and we trust people have good intent and ultimately will do the right thing… I close with one more lesson for Jack: Aspire to live your life with grace and forgiveness. You will be better for it.”