During my years in public service, one of my efforts has been to bring together our communities of faith, work through past differences and look for opportunities to build bridges where they did not previously exist. Where once there was division, I have sought cooperation to improve our community.
Recently, the city took the opportunity to recognize the 60th anniversary of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. This was through a proclamation requested by the district commissioner, Heather Moraitis, and it represented an opportunity to resume the process of conciliation within the faith community.
Proclamations are something every mayor does to mark special occasions.
Within this past month, I also issued proclamations for such things as Water Conservation Month and the Pine Crest School’s girls swimming and diving team winning their state championship. Not only did I view the Coral Ridge proclamation in that context, but I also have appreciated the church being part of my larger conversation about tackling Fort Lauderdale’s intractable problems.
Some of you may ask: So, what was the controversy then? There exists a long and bitter history between the church’s founder, the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, and Fort Lauderdale’s LGBT community. That led some to question the appropriateness of the proclamation.
Thirty years ago, I picketed Dr. Kennedy with many of my LGBT colleagues. There were rhetoric and deeds that denigrated all of us who are gay, lesbian or transgender. We were rightfully outraged.
I’ll share one story in particular – that of my late friend and colleague, Justin Flippen. He died tragically a year ago while mayor of Wilton Manors. He told me how he underwent two years of conversion therapy at Coral Ridge when he was in high school. Simply put -- that was wrong.
But Fort Lauderdale is an evolving community.
Coral Ridge’s current pastor, Rob Pacienza, readily joined my interfaith effort as have other evangelical Christians such as Stephan Tchividjian of the National Christian Foundation and Eddie Copeland of Church United. So have leaders of LGBT-affirming religious institutions — the Sunshine Cathedral, the Church of the Holy Spirit Song and Etz Chaim synagogue.
Together, we have made much progress because we understand that there is more that unites us than divides us. We all want to help address the vast needs in our community — the homeless, the poor and elderly in need of daily sustenance, the problems of drug and alcohol abuse. I could go on.
In the spirit of wanting to move away from the past and look for ways to bring our community together, Pastor Pacienza and I agreed to put down in writing a joint statement regarding our work together. It follows: