COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BP) — When Kelly and Tosha Williams planted Vanguard Church in downtown Colorado Springs 25 years ago, a lesbian couple was among the early converts.
“We actually started the church with about a dozen people, mostly unbelieving people,” Kelly Williams told Baptist Press Nov. 21, “and six of them were actually identified as either lesbian, bisexual or homosexual.”
Today, the Southern Baptist congregation averaging 700 worshipers sits less than a mile from Club Q, the LGBTQ nightclub where a mass shooter killed five patrons and injured 25 others late Nov. 19.
When Lillian attended Vanguard shortly after its 1997 launch, Williams first thought the woman was a man — perhaps named Leo. But her actual moniker was Lil.
“She actually invited her lesbian lover to our first small group gathering to launch our church. You can imagine as I figured this all out, I was like what in the world am I doing,” Williams said, describing his initial surprise decades ago. “I was very fearful. I did not have any experience in what I was doing. And my wife and I prayed and said we’re just going to see what God has. And over time, Lillian became a believer.”
Lillian gave her testimony of repentance at the 1997 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Dallas, Williams said, and moved to another state years later.
Vanguard has participated in community events focused on a variety of topics, including two discussions on LGBTQ lifestyles sponsored by Focus on the Family and other groups.
“Vanguard’s philosophy is homosexuality, the Bible says, is clearly a sin. But it’s not ‘the’ sin, it’s ‘a’ sin in a grocery list of sins,” he said. “For us, we’re attempting to reach the lost. We’re attempting to reach people who don’t have faith in Jesus Christ. Paul (the apostle) makes it very clear that there’s a grocery list of former sins that the people at Corinth dealt with.
“We don’t want to redefine sin. We don’t think that is the way, obviously, to go about living out biblical truth and grace and love.”
Williams is leading Vanguard Church in praying for those impacted by the mass shooting and is watching to see how God will use the congregation in ministry related to the tragedy.
“I don’t know how God will use us in this situation. I’m trying to be patient,” he said. “We’re going to continue to press in. We’re going to look for opportunities to bring the community together. We’re going to talk as a church about how we can serve and minister, certainly in this … holiday season. But it’s very early on. It just happened.”
Police arrested 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich as the suspected gunman accused of entering the nightclub just before midnight and immediately opening fire. Two patrons are credited with subduing him just before police arrived.
Aldrich faces five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of a bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury, CNN reported.
Vanguard Church grieves with others who are grieving, but does so without altering God’s perception of sin, Williams said.
“The old adage, ‘hate the sin, love the sinner,’ we would argue as a church that we can’t do that,” Williams said. “As a Southern Baptist church, we would argue that we love the sinner, and we hate our sin.”
Williams approaches pain, such as that ricocheting across Colorado Springs, as a universal language that connects all of humanity.