Celebration Church, a multisite church in Austin, Texas, will no longer be renting from the Austin Independent School District (AISD). LGBTQ activists have been protesting during Sunday services since the church started meeting at the Mueller Performing Arts Center last year. Now, the church is celebrating the purchase of a permanent location for its Mueller Campus, and LGBTQ activists are hailing the move as a victory.
“Celebration Church has entered into a purchase agreement to buy a building in the Koenig Lane area,” the church told The Austin Chronicle in a statement. “The growth of our congregation has allowed for this opportunity and we are very excited to have a permanent home for our Mueller Campus.”
Goodbye, Austin Independent School District
According to the Chronicle, Celebration pastor, Jim Kuykendall, told protest organizer Candace Aylor on August 18th that the church would no longer be renting the performing arts center. Celebration confirmed this decision for the Chronicle on August 19th and also clarified it would not be seeking in the future to rent any of the facilities the AISD owns.
Aylor told the Chronicle that the church’s decision was a result of the protestors’ “consistent, persistent, and collaborative” campaign. In a press release, she said, “This was the goal, getting bigots out of public spaces. It goes against our closely held beliefs to abide bigotry & oppression, especially when openly, publicly permitted.”
Celebration Church, however, is not lamenting the move as a loss, but enthusiastically announced the location of a “permanent home” for what it now calls its “Central Austin Campus.”
Protesters Still Not Happy with AISD
LGBTQ advocates took issue with the fact that Celebration defines marriage as being between one man and one woman and has called it sinful to have a gay identity. In response to pressure from the protesters, the AISD did consider restricting the church’s use of its facilities. The district did not take any action, however, after receiving a warning from the Texas Attorney General’s office that doing so would violate the Constitution and state law.
What the AISD did do was promise to take some of the rental money it had received from Celebration and put it toward helping students participate in Austin’s annual Pride event. But LGBTQ community members generally seem to think the district’s efforts have been halfhearted. When the AISD announced plans to use church rental money to fund Pride activities, one Facebook user said that if the district were “truly supportive,” it would stop renting to Celebration.
In the press release, Aylor questioned the AISD for not providing evidence that Celebration Church’s rental money was actually used to fund Pride activities. She also accused AISD police of being “on the side” of the church and even of unfairly targeting certain protesters. Said Aylor, “While the church has stopped renting from AISD, the coalition is not going to stop. Instead, it will continue pressing AISD on unanswered questions.”