Grace Community Church Pastor Steve Riggle says he is not anti-gay nor a “gay-hater,” noting that he had prayed with gay people dying of AIDS.
Houston’s Grace Community Church is known for it’s “outreach” as long as you are not gay or have HIV/AIDS. The church routinely helps with rent, payments for medication and other in kind services for people in need but several Houstonians say Steve Riggle’s church has denied them because they have AIDS. Now taking advantage of his mega-church pulpit on Sunday morning, Pastor Steve Riggleof Houston’s Grace Community Church advanced his crusade against Mayor Annise Parker’s public support for same-sex marriage by urging Houston’s lesbian mayor to either stand up for traditional marriage “or do the honorable thing and step down.”
Speaking at the congregation’s 10 a.m. service, Riggle promised some 3,000 worshippers “the shortest sermon that has ever been preached in this congregation.” After reading 25 Bible versions of the Genesis account of marriage as a man “leaving his father and mother and being joined to his wife,” Riggle spent the next 50 minutes reading a letter he wrote to Parker last week, summarizing her response and then reading a new letter he has written to the mayor. In January, Parker joined her colleagues at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., in calling for legalization of same-sex marriage. She also proclaimed Valentine’s Day as Freedom to Marry Day in Houston and said on cable radio that President Obama needs to “evolve” toward support of marriage equality.
“Houston is a city supportive of equal rights and tolerant of opposing opinions – a city where individuals may disagree with one another without being personal,” Parker said in a prepared statement Sunday. “I am standing with 160 mayors, including other Texas mayors, who have taken the same public position. My focus remains on creating jobs and building a safer city.” At the morning service, Riggle also objected to the description of Parker’s partner as “the First Lady of Houston.” “While you are certainly entitled to your personal views and lifestyle that does not embrace traditional marriage – even if I happen to disagree with those views, and I do – it is very disturbing to me when you’ve made statements as an elected official that are contrary to what the people have decided should be the foundational values and definitions that define our culture,” Riggle said, reading from his initial letter to Parker.
Delivering his marriage jeremiad in calm, measured tones, Riggle accused the mayor of violating both the Texas and U.S. constitutions she had sworn to uphold. He noted that in 2005, Texans approved a constitutional amendment that defined marriage solely as between one man and one woman. He noted that 76 percent of those voting approved the amendment, including 72 percent in Harris County. “Respectfully, if you cannot uphold the Texas Constitution, then you should do the honorable thing and step down,” Riggle said. His congregation responded with the first of numerous ovations. “When you speak for us as the mayor of Houston, when the people of Houston have overwhelmingly expressed their will and you speak about this issue without their expressed will, I do have a problem with that,” he said.
Asked about Riggle’s message last week, Parker said, “I do my duty to uphold the state Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. I swore an oath to that. I take that oath very seriously, but I have my First Amendment rights to free speech. We all have that right and I’m sorry that they don’t understand the Constitution.” Riggle denied the mayor’s charge that he was acting out of personal animus. “I made it clear that I did not write to you because you are gay,” Riggle said, quoting from his response to the mayor. “I wrote to you because as the mayor you have chosen to advocate for what the citizens of Houston and the citizens of Texas have overwhelmingly spoken against.” He said that he was not anti-gay nor a “gay-hater,” noting that he had prayed with gay people dying of AIDS. “Just because I disagree with the life style choices that people make does not mean that I hate the people who make those choices,” Riggle said, as his listeners responded with applause.
Responding to Parker’s claim that she had received hate mail from so-called religious-right activists, Riggle said he apologized if she had received anything from Grace members that could be classified as hate mail. “Just so you are aware,” he said, “this week I have been called an idiot, stupid, a dirt bag …,” he said. “That is all from just one group that claims to represent your community.” Offering a long list of social services provided by the 15,000-member Grace Community Church, including assistance during Hurricane Ike, Riggle also noted that the Harris County Republican Partywill be using the Grace Community Church building as the site of its county convention in April. He maintained that the congregation has offered its building for community use from the beginning. “”As far as I know, the Democratshave never asked,” he said.
Riggle’s feud with the mayor isn’t the first time he’s been involved in issues involving elected officials. In 2008, Americans United for Separation of Church and State accused Riggle of violating federal tax law by endorsing a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. The minister concluded his remarks Sunday morning with an allusion to Joshua, recalling that the Old Testament figure drew a line in the sand and urged the people of Israel to declare which side of the line they would be on. Unfurling a blue rope on the Grace Church stage, Riggle urged his listeners to stand up and declare their support for the proposition that marriage is between one man and one woman. The congregation responded with a sustained standing ovation.
“We believe in Christian values, and she’s imposing her personal values on this city,” said Grace Church member Katherine Hayes, who teaches nursing at San Jacinto College and who frequently applauded her pastor’s remarks about the Houston mayor. “According to the Constitution and the Word of God, it is ordained by God that marriage is between one man and one woman.” “It’s not directed toward her personally,” said Anthony Hayes, her husband. “According to the oath she took, she has to uphold the Constitution.” The last time I checked, Mayor Parker has not performed gay marriage ceremonies, therefore, I am not sure how Riggle thinks she is not supporting the constitution. On the other hand, denying people with AIDS help could present some problems with the feds. This could get very interesting.
HENRYVILLE, Indiana — (DMN/Star) – All day, the sky was black. Other than that, it was a normal Friday at Henryville High School and Henryville Elementary, which sit next to each other in the heart of downtown. But as dismissal time neared, a warning came: Bad weather is on the way. The two principals decided to start dismissal 20 minutes early, about 2:40 p.m. — a decision that would later prove critical. Children ran to their buses; older students dashed to their cars and pulled away.
The sirens went off. About 30 people remained at the elementary school, more than half of them children. Principal Glenn Riggs ushered them all — including kindergarten aide Roberta Cooper and her son Nick, 15, a sophomore at the high school — into his windowless office on the first floor. Tornado drills were routine, but this was no drill. Recalling Friday’s events the next day, Roberta Cooper kept wiping tears from her eyes. Friday, her eyes were dry. The 55-year-old stayed calm. “It’s what we’re trained to do,” Cooper said. “The kids come first.”
Inside the office, everyone huddled under the tables and desks. The children were “real quiet,” she said. Meanwhile, the school buses had started on their routes. When Aliene Hamm heard her 16-year-old daughter Mary was on her way home early because of the storm, she wondered what the principal was thinking, sending the children out into this weather. “At first I thought it was a bad thing,” Hamm said. “Then I realized it was a blessing.”
As the skies grew even more threatening, the bus driver feared for her young charges’ safety. The driver pulled up to a stop and asked the parent waiting there if the four children left in the bus could seek shelter in that home. Waiting in her car at the end of the driveway for Mary to come home, Hamm received a text from her daughter, saying she was safe. At that point, Hamm looked out of her car and spied the funnel cloud. “It was about four miles from our house, but it was so large I could see it,” she said.
Dayna Wilson’s bus driver also knew she needed help. When the children boarded, the sirens started going off. She warned them to keep their backpacks on their backs so they could leave the bus quickly when she reached their stop. But she could not outdrive the bad weather. One boy on the bus sat looking out the window, chanting, “We’re going to die, we’re going to die,” Dayna said. Eleven-year-old Dayna, afraid of tornadoes, said she was “bawling.”
A mother pulled up to the bus to pick up her child. The bus driver asked her to take Dayna, her brother and three others and drive them to safety. The silver car “went about 95 miles an hour,” speeding over the interstate just ahead of the tornado, Dayna said. The driver pulled into a church in downtown Henryville and rushed the children into the basement. “The tornado was so close I could see the clouds fluttering around it,” Dayna said. Once downstairs, Dayna ran to the safest spot she could imagine: “I was in the bathroom, singing to God,” she said.
Back at the school, the principal’s office was eerily quiet as the adults and children huddled together. The only sounds were the crashes and smashes of heavy objects dropping. “I could feel the pressure on my ears,” Nick Cooper said. After about 20 minutes, the storm passed. Dripping water leaking into the office was the only sign that bad weather had even come through. Then the staff opened the door to the office. “We looked out. We saw the front of the building was gone,” Roberta Copper said. “The whole building was gone up to where we were at.” The adults assured the children: We’ll just stay here until the storm passes.
The sirens went off again and they resumed hiding under the desks. They did not leave the small room until about 4:30 when the state troopers led them through the remains of their school to a nearby community center. “The debris was blocking the exits,” Nick Cooper said. “It was just horrible.” The teachers waited until all the children had been reunited with their families to leave. Cooper and her son discovered that a telephone pole had decimated their car. In shock, they made their way to their home about a mile away, which was unscathed. The two Coopers spent Saturday helping a friend whose home was destroyed.
A few blocks away, Dayna, her mother Deannna Razer, and her little brother made their way to the Henryville campus. Dayna pointed to a hole on the second floor. It had been her fifth-grade classroom. “I think I’m going to move somewhere else,” she said. Both the high school and elementary school will be closed all week, the school’s website says. It does not say what will happen after that. More than half the school is gone. On Saturday, what had been the parking lot was full of broken glass, upended cars, buses and other debris. But the billboard in front of what used to be Henryville Elementary was intact. “Our hearts are full of hornet pride,” it read. Not a letter was missing.
I know a little something about disasters. Hurricane Ike destroyed homes, businesses, downed power lines and flooded a lot of Houston and Southeast Texas back in 2008. Help was plentiful and quick. FEMA and the Red Cross mobilized within hours after the storm went through. Still there are things storm victims need and need desperately that can’t wait to wade through government red tape. That being said, volunteers are going to find it difficult getting into a disaster zone for several days or weeks after a storm. In Southern Indiana, State Police are asking people not to come to Clark County or other areas hit wanting to help at this point. “We still have power lines down, gas lines that need to be secured so this is not a stable area for recovery efforts,” State Police tell DMNEWSI.
For those seeking a way to help the survivors of this week’s tornadoes, FEMA suggests making donations to members of its National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (National VOAD) partnership, with provides a list of affiliated relief organizations and local chapters. Information can be found on FEMA’s blog and on the partnership’s Facebook page.
Many local governments and voluntary agencies, such as the American Red Cross and Salvation Army, are providing shelter to disaster survivors displaced by the storms.
FEMA suggests cash donations are the best way to help relief groups. Below is a list of some non-profit agencies and the different ways one can contribute to those in need:
– Sending “REDCROSS” via text message to 90999 will charge $10 to your next cell phone bill to distribute to the American Red Cross.
– Sending “STORM” via text message to 80888 will charge $10 to your next cell phone bill to distribute to The Salvation Army (You will need to reply “yes” when asked).
– The American Red Cross’ web site offers a search for local Red Cross chapters: redcross.org/where
– In addition, you may check with churches and food banks in affected communities to find out about specific local needs.
– Feeding America, a group that works with food banks, offers lists of local food banks and contact information searchable by state or zip code: feedingamerica.org/foodbank-results.aspx
– The Salvation Army can be reached here: donate.salvationarmyusa.org
– The American Red Cross can be reached at (800) RED CROSS (800-733-2767).
– Feeding America can be reached at (800) 771-2303 (National Office).
– The Salvation Army can be reached at (800) SAL-ARMY.
American Red Cross
P.O. Box 37243
Washington, D.C. 20013
The Salvation Army Disaster Relief
P.O. Box 100339
Atlanta, Ga. 30384-0339
Survivors Safe and Well List:
The Red Cross’ “Safe and Well” registration page allows survivors to notify family members, and for family members to search a list of those who have registered on the site.
Imagine strolling through John Wayne Gacy’s old neighborhood or strolling through Dean Corll’s old haunts in Houston’s Heights. It’s hard to see how anything educational or informative could be gained from such an activity but that’s not stopping a Wisconsin marketing company from offering a walking tour of notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s old hang-outs. The sister of one of Jeffrey Dahmer’s 17 victims joined others in protesting a Milwaukee walking tour of the serial killer’s haunts Saturday, calling out to tour organizers that they were “just as evil” as Dahmer himself.
Janie Hagen’s brother, 25-year-old Richard Guerrero, disappeared in 1988 and was one of the first young men Dahmer is known to have murdered. On Saturday, Hagen criticized the new walking tour as merely an attempt to make money by turning her brother’s murder into macabre entertainment. “This whole thing opens up a lot of old wounds, a lot of painful memories,” Hagen said while holding a sign calling tour-organizer Bam Media and Marketing heartless. “It’s that same hurt all over again.”
The new walking tour of places where Dahmer trolled for victims drew attention this week after criticism prompted online deal-maker Groupon to take down a promotion for discounted tickets. But Bam Media said it would not cancel what it calls a legitimate exploration of criminal history. Hagen was one of about 20 protesters who followed the first small tour group of four customers Saturday. The protesters chanted, “Stop the tour,” but generally kept their distance.
Tour guide Nicholas Vollmann wasn’t dissuaded. He led the group up and down the street for about an hour, stopping at buildings that used to house the gay bars where Dahmer cruised for his victims. Reading from notecards, he named the victims whom Dahmer met at each place, detailed their sexual activity and described how Dahmer killed and disposed of the victims. Afterward he said sympathized with the protesters, but believed the tours would go on. “The protests are not likely to continue,” he said.
Dahmer, a chocolate factory worker, spent years frequenting Milwaukee-area gay bars. He was arrested in 1991 and admitted killing 17 young men, some of whom he mutilated and cannibalized. He was serving life prison sentences when a fellow inmate beat him to death in 1994. The apartment building where Dahmer stored body parts eventually was razed. The area now sits in the middle of a revitalized section of Milwaukee, with new restaurants and bars in remodeled buildings that once housed the bars where Dahmer went. A number of police cars drove past Saturday as the tour group and protesters crossed paths. The two sides generally avoided conversation, except for occasional protesters calling on the tour group to desist. “You’re just as evil as he was!” Hagen shouted. “You’re putting Milwaukee to shame!”
One protester held a sign that said, “You may not care but we do.” Several tour participants said they found the experience interesting and educational. One sightseer who identified himself as Paul Smith, 26, of Waukesha, said there’s a difference between hearing about a serial killer and seeing firsthand where he actually stalked his victims. “You look at it now and it’s all these nice buildings,” he said. “You really wouldn’t think all these horrific things happened here.”
Murderabilia is a word coined by Houston Crime Victim Advocate Andy Kahan to describe the burgeoning industry in which high-profile murderers/serial killers peddle their personalized items via dealers on the Internet. Once an underground market, murderabilia was popularized by the internet, making it accessible to everyone. EBay was once the main conduit for buyers and sellers of murderabilia to ply their trade, however, after a 2-year campaign led by Victim Advocate Andy Kahan, eBay no longer allows the sale of murderabilia. Kahan appeared with Anderson Cooper on CNN last month suggesting that “no one should be able to rob, rape and murder, and then turn around and make a buck off of it; it is blood money plain and simple.”