DALLAS (Christian Examiner) – The largest predominately gay church in America was evacuated for several hours Sunday over a bomb scare prompted by what the church called "suspicious packages" left in a construction area near the entrance of the church.
According to a statement released by the Cathedral of Hope, the church's early morning service, scheduled for 9 a.m., was moved outside when several pieces of black luggage were discovered unattended.
Church officials called Dallas police and the department deployed its bomb squad as a precaution, but police found only clothes and a cell phone in the luggage.
"The Cathedral of Hope was evacuated at about 8:05 this morning following some suspicious packages found on the premises," the church wrote on its Facebook page. "This will not deter us from worship this morning and we will continue to not walk in fear or allow instances of hate to overcome the promise to love."
Two hours later, the church posted another announcement that the "packages have been deemed harmless, and we are headed back inside just in time for the 11 a.m. service."
Security at the church was already at a heightened state after a series of attacks on gay men in the Oaklawn area of Dallas, but a church spokesman said the church was being cautious after the attack on the Pulse nightclub – a gay bar – in Orlando last Sunday.
The church's pastor, himself a homosexual, said "clicking noises" were heard coming from the bags so they evacuated the building.
"We've been the victims of hate crimes before and we know what to do in these circumstances," Neil Cazares-Thomas told the Dallas Morning News. "We will gather, we will worship, we will continue to preach that message that love wins."
There was, however, no real threat. Police said the noise coming from the bag was the low battery warning on the cell phone in the luggage.
The Cathedral of Hope, which claims 4,500 members, is affiliated with the United Churches of Christ and is the largest nearly exclusively gay church in America. It claims its mission is to "reclaim Christianity as a faith of extravagant grace, radical inclusion and relentless compassion."
In reality, the church is far from scriptural in its approach to human sexuality. It describes itself as a "VIP" (vibrant, inclusive and progressive) church. It also claims allegiance to the teachings of the Progressive Christianity, which disavows biblical teachings on marriage, the family and human sexuality.
Cazares-Thomas was involved in the founding of the Metropolitan Community Churches, an international effort to open churches to gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and transgender members.