Thursday, July 09, 2009

Homophobic Latino preacher in line to join Chicago's City Council

The Chicago Tribune reported on Tuesday that a Latino Pentecostal preacher who has built a following of 4,000 worshipers through his ministry at the New Life Covenant Church in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood is poised to join the city's City Council despite his troubling views on the issue of homosexuality ("Pastor who opposes homosexuality may get Chicago City Council seat").

Outgoing 26th Ward Alderman Billy Ocasio - who vacated his seat to become a senior adviser to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn - has asked Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to appoint the 44-year old Reverend Wilfredo De Jesús in his place as a well-known and respected leader who has provided an array of community services in the area through his church [Daley has until August 1st to make the appointment and could decide to appoint a different person to the seat although the norm is to go with the previous seat-holder's recommendation].

Named in the article as "one of Chicago's most influential Latino pastors", De Jesús is said to have used his ministry to help local gang members to abandon their criminal activities, to provide assistance to homeless individuals, and to give support to immigrants in need. Last year, he was an invited speaker at the Democratic National Convention and joined Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) "on a nationwide tour to promote the legalization of illegal immigrants".

But the Reverend is also on record as opposing homosexuality based on his belief that the Bible calls it a sin, and has opened the doors to his church to those who preach that homosexuality can be repaired or cured through prayer, raising concerns among LGBT leaders in Chicago and elsewhere that - when it comes to LGBT issues - De Jesús will let his homophobic views lead the way if he becomes a Council Member. From the Tribune article:
In an interview last year, De Jesús told Christianity Today that his paramount priorities were opposing abortion and homosexuality. In a neighborhood newspaper story about a proposed new high school geared toward gay students, De Jesús raised the specter of a virgin being harassed by gays or lesbians to have sex.

And a member of De Jesús' congregation posted a testimonial on the church Web site about how she "started doing drugs, drinking, partying, gang banging, fighting and hanging with the wrong crowd. I also lived a lifestyle of homosexuality and sexual immorality."

Through the church, she wrote, "I was delivered from homosexuality, anger, bitterness and resentment."

De Jesús does not disown those views. Asked repeatedly whether he viewed homosexuality as a sin, De Jesús replied: "I didn't say that. The Bible says that. I don't sit in a seat of judgment."

But he insisted that he has always been compassionate to all.
Here is also an excerpt from a transcript from a piece that ran on Chicago Public Radio ("Possible Heir to City Council Seat Worries Gays"):

New Life Covenant is part of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal fellowship that considers homosexuality a sin. Rev. De Jesús says his beliefs about sexuality stem from the bible.

DE JESUS: I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Last fall, New Life Covenant brought in a former transsexual named Sy Rogers to preach. Rogers speaks around the world about how finding Jesus set him on a new path. New Life Covenant staff members said the church recorded Rogers’ sermon. They declined to give us a copy. But here’s Rogers addressing a Florida congregation. He preached from 1 Corinthians.

ROGERS: Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers nor male prostitutes, nor homosexual offenders or thieves, nor the greedy, nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. This is 2,000-year-old evidence that reminds us that saving sexual sinners is not new business with God.

In Chicago, many gay activists first heard of Rev. De Jesús last year. He was leading a group of clergy members trying to derail a planned city high school for gay students.

DE JESUS: I felt it that it was a form of segregation.

And an excerpt from a May 27th Windy City Times article which has additional information about De Jesús' opposition to the high school ("LGBTs upset over possible new alderman")
Jessica Pupovac ( of the site Pupovac Reports ) reported that some local LGBT-rights activists named De Jesús as the main reason the plans involving a proposed Pride Campus—a school that would have been populated by LGBT students—did not develop. When asked by Pupovac about the accusation, De Jesús responded, “What about that girl who is a virgin, who is being harassed by lesbians and guys to have sex, and yet you're going to build a gay school? It's not fair.”
Now that his eye is on the Council seat, De Jesús has tried to underplay some of his previous statements on homosexuality or the teachings of those who might preach at the New Life Covenant Church.

In the Tribune, he pledged to seek funding for a planned homeless shelter for LGBT youth in Humboldt if he was named to the City Council, and said he had never preached hatred of gays. "You won't see me standing at the corner of Division and California saying, 'You're going to hell. You're sinning, you're drinking, you're homosexual.' Nobody will ever see that," he said.

On Chicago Public Radio, he said that he was in favor of domestic partnerships and said "I have people who come to my church who are gay. I hug them, embrace them."

Speaking to the Tribune, Zenaida Lopez, a manager at the HIV/AIDS community service organization Vida/SIDA, says that any opposition to De Jesús comes from outsiders who don't know the community - or understand the special relationship that the Reverend has with the local Latino community. "People in Boystown are telling us what to think when we wouldn't even be welcome in that neighborhood," she said to the reporter. The agency, according to this 2004 WCT article, serves "Latina women and sexually active young people".

The Tribune also says that the Reverend has a number of supporters who are gay, without naming them. According to yesterday's Windy City Times, which does name names, at least two of them have withdrawn their support ("Opposition to De Jesús grows"):

In Chicago, many LGBT activists know him as the pastor who put the brakes last year on a planned Pride Campus, a school that designers hoped would act as a model school, providing a safe and affirming environment for LGBT and questioning youth and their allies.

Although De Jesús says that his opposition to the school stems from his belief that it would segregate LGBT youth, one former congregant, Esmeralda Román, said she left his church because of a sermon that he gave about the school that she said felt more “like an anti-gay rally.”

Román, a lesbian, had asked De Jesús just weeks prior if she and her partner and their three children were welcome to worship at New Life Covenant. De Jesús said they were.

“We didn't go back because we didn't feel safe there,” said Román. “I have sat in churches and seen people being hypocrites, people lying, people stealing—but I never felt hate like that at church. That's exactly what I felt.”

The article also described a meeting between De Jesús and 30 LGBT leaders which didn't do much to change views that he was not a homophobe:

On June 3, a network of about 30 LGBT activists and community leaders met with De Jesús at La Bruqueña restaurant, 2726 W. Division.

“People asked him very pointed questions about his Web site, which has a page about homosexuality and how it's sinful and wrong. They asked him if he would change that, and he said absolutely not,” said Rick Garcia of Equality Illinois, who attended the meeting.

“Somebody asked, 'What if your daughter told you she was a lesbian?'. And I looked at this guy's reaction and it was sad. He looked like somebody threw cold water on him. He said something to the effect of, ‘That's not how my wife and I raised our family.' Then she pushed him and he said ‘Well, I would want to know who did that to her.'“

“I have to say that I don't think he swayed anyone in that room in his favor,” said Garcia.

“Many of us at the meeting were not confident that Rev. De Jesús would be able to separate his religious views from his role as an alderman,” said Lourdes Torres, president of Amigas Latinas, an organization that advocates for lesbian, bisexual and questioning Latinas, and their families.

Torres said her concerns go beyond his stance on sexuality and include his position on other hot-button issues, including a woman's right to choose.

Torres said she is disappointed to see other longtime LGBT advocates discount his social conservatism. Torres said she originally signed onto a letter endorsing his candidacy, at the urging of several members of the local Puerto Rican community, but that after learning more about him she asked that her name be removed.

“I think gay issues should be put at the same level as all of the other issues that they see as important—gentrification, immigration, workers rights. It's unfortunate that it's not considered significant enough,” she said.

Interestingly, despite those who might claim that opposition to De Jesús mostly stems from outsiders, it is encouraging that the strongest voices against his appointment as a Council Member have come from the Latino community itself and from those who live in the district as shown in the quote above and the one below. Some are afraid to give their name while others speak on the record as this segment from the Chicago Public Radio piece shows:

In Humboldt Park, several gay Puerto Ricans say the prospect of Rev. De Jesús joining the City Council worries them. None agreed to speak on the record. They say they don’t want to cross some Puerto Rican leaders who’re backing De Jesús.

A gay Puerto Rican on the city’s North Side is speaking out. Julio Rodríguez is president of the Association of Latino Men for Action (website here).

RODRIGUEZ: We shouldn’t be afraid to say who we are.


RODRIGUEZ: In the Latino community, especially the Latino gay community, we’re striving to feel confident and comfortable about who we are and what our views are and what our issues are.

Rodríguez says that makes it harder to tackle some of the 26th Ward’s pressing issues, like housing discrimination and AIDS. His group last week wrote Mayor Daley to express concerns about Rev. De Jesús [ED - the full letter can be read here].

Among the Puerto Rican leadership supporting De Jesús for City Council is long-established cultural organizations like the Puerto Rican Cultural Center which has advocated for LGBT rights in the past but are following Alderman Ocasio's lead. I hope they follow the lead of Amigas Latinas and the Association of Latino Men for Action and join them in opposing the selection and sending a clear message that the Latino leadership in Chicago will not support the designation of a homophobic preacher to the City Council.


The De Jesus blowback continues (Progess Illinois)

Daley: Multiple candidates vye to replace Ocasio (CBS2)

Meet you at the corner of Church & State (Towleroad)

Opposition grows to anti-gay Rev. De Jesus as Chicago Alderman (Rod 2.0)

Will anti-gay minister be appointed as a Chicago Alderman? (Rod 2.0)


Grumble, grumble - and a mea-culpa (July 10, 2009)

More reaction to Rev. Wilfredo De Jesus' bid for a Chicago City Council Alderman's seat (July 12, 2009)

Homophobic Pentecostal preacher no longer being considered for Chicago City Council ( July 18, 2009)

Pro-LGBT rights Latino advocate sworn-in as Chicago's 26th Ward Alderman (July 30, 2009)

1 comment:

Xavier said...

I was one of those 30 people who attended the meeting at La Bruquena restaurant that day with Pastor De Jesus. The vast majority of those who attended did not live in the 26th Ward.

Interestingly enough, it was from those very people that questions about important community issues like gentrification, the development of Paseo Boricua, violence...etc were absent. It was from those activists who live and work in this community, who organize LGBTQ events (which most of De Jesus' discontents do not attend), and fight homophobia and transphobia on a daily basis in the schools, programs, and institutions of Humboldt Park, that a real dialogue took place.

Please name an evangelical pastor who would meet with a group of LGBTQ leaders? Which evangelical pastor would explain herself/himself on hers/his beliefs to such a group? Which evangelical pastor would support the construction of a gay homeless shelter in Humboldt Park?

For those who live and work in the 26th Ward would know that a great Alderman like Billy Ocasio would never choose a replacement who would not work for and support the diverse experiences and initiatives of this community. Furthermore, it is from De Jesus' discontents whom I see building the racist, sexist, and elitist so-called "Boystown" and not those institutions of Paseo Boricua-Humboldt Park that are in the 26th Ward. Furthermore, as the Puerto Rican (and Latina/o) community continues to suffer gentrification (which De Jesus is against) then there will not be a forum in which to dialogue about important issues such as these. Being a "Latina/o leader" means nothing if you do not have a community to lead. ¡Fuácate!