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For 10 years, the Crossing, a megachurch in Columbia, Missouri, has been a sponsor of the True/False Film Fest, based in the same city. It was an unlikely partnership — on the one hand, the country’s premier nonfiction film festival, a hotbed of progressive values, and on the other a conservative evangelical institution. That bridge burned over the past few days, however, because of a sermon given by one of the church’s lead pastors. On October 18, the Ragtag Film Society, the nonprofit which runs True/False and Columbia’s Ragtag Cinema, announced it was ending its sponsor relationship with the Crossing.
“We will not give a sponsor’s place of prominence to any organization that discriminates or explicitly devalues LGBTQ+ citizens,” Ragtag said in its statement, in the wake of a petition and backlash calling the church’s rhetoric hate speech.
On October 13, Crossing co-lead pastor Keith Simon gave a sermon titled “Male and Female. Ancient Text. Modern Debate.” Addressing the subject of gender identity, it consists of a typical parade of anti-transgender talking points. Among other examples, Simon invoked Rachel Dolezal to argue against the idea of “identifying” as something other than what one was assigned at birth, and said: “God seems to think that our gender is incredibly important to who we are as people, that it reflects something about Him and His glory. Gender is not a social construct. Men and women are foundational to God’s plan. God is not pleased when we blur genders.” The sermon came in the context of Columbia becoming the first city in Missouri to ban conversion therapy on minors.
Simon cited Nazi Germany, as well as American slavery, to further his argument. Noting the current political movement of positive treatment for trans people (as if this is a majority opinion and they enjoy full institutional support as well), he asserted that cultural support does not automatically validate their experiences, since culture can be wrong. His example? “In Germany in the 1930s, the culture said something that is horrendously wrong! Be careful where following culture will lead you.” The video of the sermon hosted on the Crossing’s website is of a different version given the same day, in which the example was instead American slavery, but the one featuring Nazi Germany was captured and has been posted on social media. (You can see the relevant moment at around the 54:30 mark.)
The sermon sparked local controversy, and the Crossing went into damage control. The church ran a Q&A about the sermon on its website, while Simon posted a video response to the criticism on Facebook and wrote an op-ed further explaining himself for the Columbia Missourian. Local art gallery Sager Braudis announced that they were cutting ties with the church.
Meanwhile, Ragtag came under fire for its decade-long relationship to the Crossing. Members of the church have helped endow the festival’s annual True Life Fund, which awards money to the subjects of a chosen documentary. (Past recipients have included the leads of Midnight Traveler, Primas, and the Act of Killing follow-up The Look of Silence.) The Crossing has also consulted on RFS’s Alethea Project, which screens documentaries in various evangelical churches around the country, seeking to “use nonfiction film as a means to encourage productive, civil dialogue around difficult social topics” and “model bridge-building between churches and secular arts organizations.”
That relationship appears to have ended. In response to the controversy, the organization published a statement on its values on October 16, affirming that they “honor the dignity of every human and do not support discrimination in any form.” A Change.org campaign calling for Ragtag to divest from the church then launched on October 18 and quickly accrued more than 1,100 supporters. The nonprofit announced that they had done just that later the same day.
Ragtag’s post announcing the cessation of the sponsorship states: “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 … Ragtag Film Society values inclusivity and celebrates diversity. We embrace the voices and views of LGBTQ+ citizens, artists, and leaders in our organization and our programming.”
True/False cofounder David Wilson told a local news station that the festival will seek to continue the True Life Fund, albeit with new funding sources. Wilson informed Hyperallergic that the Alethea Project still exists, but that RFS will “need some time internally (and in conversation with folks outside the organization) to figure out where it goes from here.”