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Ragtag Film Society cuts ties with Columbia church after controversial sermon

Ragtag Cinema in Columbia.
ABC 17 News
Ragtag Cinema in Columbia.

A Columbia nonprofit will end its relationship with a local church following a Sunday sermon some found hurtful.

The Ragtag Film Society board voted Friday afternoon to sever ties with The Crossing after the church’s co-pastor gave a sermon on gender identity and transgender people.

The Ragtag Film Society operates the Ragtag Cinema on Hitt Street and puts on the annual True/False Film Festival.

“We have always known that there are many places where the values of The Crossing and our organization diverge, but a recent sermon has crystallized an unbridgeable difference between us,” the Ragtag Film Society said in a written statement. “The message, premised on the idea that trans and gender-nonconforming people are broken, has caused tremendous pain in our community. We do not believe that expression of authentic gender and sexual identities makes any person broken; it makes them whole and contributes to the richness of our community and lived experience.”

Keith Simon’s Sunday sermon asked “activists” whether gender reassignment was the best choice. Simon said people experiencing gender dysphoria, which the American Psychiatric Association defines as “a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify,” should be treated with compassion.

Simon referred to people with gender dysphoria as “broken” in his sermon and in need of compassion. Simon explained in a post on the church’s website Friday that the term is used broadly to describe society.

“We realize that this language is offensive to people from almost every community,” the post reads. “Yet, we believe that Jesus said he came to rescue those who know that they are not whole, that they are broken and in need of his love.”

Simon said in his sermon that people with gender dysphoria and transgender people were welcome at the church.

“The irony is that we weren’t trying to throw down the cultural gauntlet, but trying to help Christians in our community grow more compassionate,” the response said. “Many people have shared how this sermon helped them to grow in their compassion toward trans people.”

The Crossing did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.

The two groups started working together in 2009, with The Crossing giving a cash donation to the festival and film society. The church is a participant in the festival’s True Life Fund, which donates money to the subject of a film featured at the festival.

“This has never, ever been about money,” Wilson said. “The partnership was seen as a way to further a dialogue and further a productive dialogue. At times, it has done that very well. At times, it hasn’t.”

Wilson said he did not have a particular part of the sermon in mind he thought was wrong, but that he had listened to the concerns of other transgender and gender nonconforming people in town.

“I do believe in his heart that Keith Simon is trying to work through things that are difficult for him,” Wilson said. “And I think we lose something as a community if we don’t extend people some grace to work through those things. That said, there’s no space for hurt, there’s no space for harm done to vulnerable populations and to our trans community.”

Wilson said the end of the partnership would not mean an end to the True Life Fund, a fundraising effort at the True/False Film Festival for the subjects of a particular documentary. Wilson said that while members of The Crossing did donate to the fund, the church itself did not. Wilson said he hoped they would still be able to raise as much money for the recipients.

The Center Project, a local LGBTQ advocacy group, praised Ragtag’s decision on Friday.

“This week has been a challenging one for many in our LGBTQ community, as we’ve seen and heard the sermon and the ensuing discussions,” the group posted on Facebook. “This kind of support is affirming, healing, and deeply appreciated.”

The Unviersity of Missouri backtracked on an announcement its theater department made Friday severing ties with the festival. The now-deleted announcement signed by faculty members was made in “error,” according to school spokesman Christian Basi.

The Missouri United Methodist Church will still play host to True/False events, according to Teressa Gilbreth. The church goes by “The Picturehouse,” and has worked with the festival for the last several years. Gilbreth said the church had no intention of discussing the matter.


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