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Church members pinned down a worshiper and tried to ‘pray the gay away,’ he alleges

An LGBTQ pride flag flies along with the U.S. flag in front of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kan., in April. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Sean Cormie said that everything about the Sunday service was going fine, right up to the moment the pastor began preaching about the sin of homosexuality.

The 23-year-old gay man said he was there Sept. 8 with his partner, Gary Gardner, because his mother and stepfather are youth pastors at the Blackwell, Okla., church. He wanted to worship with them.

Then, Cormie said, First Assembly of God Pastor Bill McKissick’s sermon veered. He paced around the room and said there was someone in the church at that moment who was guilty of homosexuality, an “abomination of a sin,” according to Cormie.

That’s when the pastor pointed straight at Cormie and Gardner, Cormie said in the Facebook post he wrote about the incident, and members of the congregation stood up and circled around them, “praying the spirit of homosexuality out of us,” Cormie wrote.

When the couple rose to leave, he said, Cormie’s grandmother pushed Gardner, who then got up and ran out of the church. Cormie describes being pinned down by family members and other congregants, about a dozen people in total, then slammed into a wall and punched in the face.

All the while, he says, they were yelling and crying, trying to “pray the gay away.”

As soon as Cormie broke free, he reported the incident to the Blackwell Police Department, according to KFOR, an NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City. Police Chief Dewayne Wood told The Washington Post that the incident is being investigated and that a report will be available when more details emerge.

“I was so embarrassed,” Gardner told KFOR. “I felt about two inches tall when this started.”

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Gardner didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Cormie referred The Post to his message on Facebook and answered some questions about the incident.

The Pentecostal church’s pastors, McKissick and his wife, Tami, told KFOR in a statement that the incident was a “family matter that escalated.”

“Our church would never condone restraint of any person unless they were engaged in violent activity,” the McKissicks said. “There is much more to this incident, and we are cooperating fully with law enforcement to hopefully bring all of the facts to light as a rush to judgment is not in anyone’s best interest.”

No one answered calls to the church Wednesday morning.

Cormie, who came out last spring, told KFOR that he believes homosexuality is a sin but that it’s also his nature. The Assemblies of God believes that homosexuality is a sin but that one can seek reconciliation, according to one of the church’s position papers.

Nancy Petty, senior pastor at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., doesn’t agree with the Assemblies’ view. She said every week, she sees true believers who are gay and who are struggling to accept themselves and their faith simultaneously.

“The first thing I say to them is that you are God’s beloved child just as you are with no need to be any different than who you are,” she said, adding that the church has used the Bible for years to oppress gay people, slaves and women.

Matthew Vines, author of “God and the Gay Christian,” said many LGBTQ Christians often resolve the tension between their orientation or identities by leaving the church or faith, reassessing key passages of the Bible that are often used to condemn homosexuality, and learning to live with internal battles of being gay and having faith.

“It’s just people who are trying to live the best they can,” he said of the third option. “They also recognize that’s not a livable belief."

Petty said it’s inexplicable for a church to try to “pray the gay out” of people in 2019.

“Find a community that can support you, nurture you and help you at least hear some different perspectives,” she said.

Mark Forrester, senior director of public relations and communication for Assemblies of God, said church officials weren’t familiar with the allegations against First Assembly of God.

“The Assemblies of God believes that all people are created in the image of God and are worthy of respect and dignity, regardless of their personal beliefs,” he said in a statement. “We certainly condemn any acts of violence or acts against an individual’s will.”

H. Frank Cargill, superintendent of the Oklahoma Assemblies of God Ministries, said he had no firsthand knowledge of the incident.

“The Assemblies of God churches of Oklahoma welcomes and treats with respect, compassion, and sensitivity all who experience same-sex attractions. We hold no malice toward, or fear of, homosexuals and those struggling with sexual identity. Such attitudes are not of Christ,” he said in a statement.

Cormie said he doesn’t believe all churches are like First Assembly of God.

“I am a proud gay Christian,” he said in his Facebook post. “Praying daily to God for justice and mercy on these sad acts of the church’s actions as a whole."

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