Many are saddened by the First Baptist Church's recent decision to close a day-care center so old that many parents taking their children there this year were taken to the same place during their own childhoods.
“We're devastated,” said parent Theresa Westbrock. “It was a special place.”
Many also express concern, mixed with anger and disgust, that the Church might have closed the center because of distaste for gay folks and fears that gay workers or gay parents might be forced on the center if it continued to accept federal funds.
Pastor David Burrows denies that the decision was related to the recent Supreme Court case and that “fear of homosexuals was not a factor.”
He says the decision was purely financial. He also says the center would have needed a new security system and additional personnel.
Angry parents aren't so sure. Pastor Burrows definitely stated that the Church should not be taking federal (or state) funds because then the government acquires a right to impose restrictions. Parents note that the money feeds kids, and that the day care center has been taking federal funds for quite awhile – so why quit now? As to the finances, parents say many of them volunteered to pay more than the present quite-reasonable fees; and they add that many of the additional costs expenditures are one-time capital expenditures.
Burrows reiterated to me that no Baptist church should be taking “state funding for any of its ministries.” To him, that's a line that shouldn't be crossed, and the existing situation was highly unusual for a Baptist church. Perhaps the fact that he's only been here a couple of months partially answers “Why now?”
Although the final vote by Church membership occurred the Sunday after the Supreme Court marriage decision, the Church administration had decided earlier to recommend the closing. Thus the recommendation could not have been a reaction to the court decision. (A lawyer might note that the Church administration could have foreseen the decision, as most of us did; but I'd give the Pastor the benefit of the doubt.)
Secondly, although folks are correct that many of the expenditures are capital investments, the Church's long-term plans include a possible move to Sonoma Ranch Boulevard within the next ten years. If such a move is indeed likely, capital investments to the present location are less appealing.
The Pastor also noted that while some folks volunteered to pay extra, some of the federal funds that would be foregone had gone to help parents who couldn't afford the full fee, let alone an increased fee.
The parents who think anti-gay feeling played some role in closing the center might be right; but the Pastor does marshal some pretty good reasons to suppose it was a minor factor (perhaps swaying some church members in the final vote) or none at all.
If so, I'm glad. It's sad to see this place close. I'd have been far sadder to learn that the church was disrupting so many families just to spite gay folks. I know that that kind of hatred exists here in Las Cruces, but I keep hoping it'll dissipate.
And it will. Fewer and fewer young people really care whether someone else is a different color, religion, or ethnicity or has different sexual preferences. In earlier generations, the Other was unknown and therefore feared. Now, even in small towns kids know kids who are different, listen to singers who are different, cheer for athletes who are different, or watch movie stars who are different. Logic would tell you, and the polls bear this out, that bigots could soon become an endangered species.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 19 July, and will appear later today on KRWG-TV's website.]
[I'd be interested in hearing from readers -- particularly parents or others who may feel the column treats the Church too favorably, or readers with comments on my thesis that bigots might be an endangered species.]