By Mike Talavera
The same month that the Austin Independent School District (AISD) participated in the Austin Pride parade, it will be collecting thousands of dollars from anti-LGBTQ Celebration Church for its rental of the Mueller Performing Arts Auditorium every Sunday.
Contrary to the district’s Welcoming Schools program and No Place for Hate policy which proclaim to include and defend LGBTQ students, Celebration Church upholds the backwards religious views that sexual practices outside of marital heterosexuality are degenerate. On its website, the church states, “Any form of sexual immorality, such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, pornography or any attempt to change one’s sex, or disagreement with one’s biological sex, is sinful and offensive to God.”
Celebration Church, based out of Georgetown, falls squarely in line with the mega-church brand, bringing in $11.9 million in operating revenue last year and accommodating several thousand patrons. A 2018 report found that there is a correlation between the size of a church and its attitude towards gender and sexuality, with none of the country’s 100 largest churches being LGBTQ-affirming.
Predatory and parasitical, mega-churches like Celebration Church are oriented towards capital more than the masses. Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen made headlines last year when he denied entry to Houston residents displaced by Hurricane Harvey.
Celebration Church pastor Joe Champion aligned with Osteen’s prioritization of church security over people when he hosted Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody for a “Security Summit” in the wake of the Sutherland Springs church shooting. At the event, attendees were thoroughly searched and bomb-sniffing police dogs made sweeps of the auditorium. Speaking to a crowd of hundreds, Champion promoted police collaboration.
“You know, 20 years ago if you had a police car in the front of your church, people would be asking, ‘Why are they here, what’s wrong?’ Now it’s the opposite,” Champion said.
AISD has defended its decision to do business with Celebration Church based on its proclaimed respect for the first amendment, an argument that has been regularly used by other governmental bodies to permit Neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan marches.
The liberal ideology embraced by the school district makes it open to progressive policies but weak at protecting them from the right. The district adopted the Welcoming Schools program in 2014 to promote diversity and train teachers on inclusiveness in the classroom.
As soon as the reactionary Concerned Parents of Austin group complained in 2017 that the program was subversively propagating the “LGBT agenda,” however, the district was quick to reform Welcoming Schools into the “All Are Welcome” program. The name change is reminiscent of the right’s inverting the progressive slogan “Black Lives Matter” to “All Lives Matter,” and the neutralizing effect is the same, with LGBTQ students being obscured from the policy in the process.
If liberal politics is what opens the district’s doors to backwards organizations like Celebration Church, its financial woes are what motivates the district to invite them in. The state’s recapture system forces wealthier urban school districts to give up a portion of their revenue to be redistributed to poorer school districts as an austerity measure to drastically reduce the state’s own education expenditures.
In a recent fiscal report, AISD’s chief financial officer predicted that by 2020, the district will be paying more in recapture than it will be keeping in revenue. Under these tight budgetary constraints, the district compromising with affluent parasites like Celebration Church will become more common, not less.
When the state strips educational funding from AISD, it leaves the city’s youth exposed to outside hate mongers. With a school district that is all too willing to cut deals with conservative reactionaries to keep their leaking ship afloat, it will be up to the people to demand the funding necessary for their children’s education. And if bigoted churches come to town opposing the existence of LGBTQ people, the masses must organize and take the fight to the church doors and oppose their existence in Austin.