Ragtag Film Society ending its sponsorship with The Crossing leads to discussion about gender identity, partnerships, free speech

Kevin Smith gave a sermon that many considered to be transphobic, which led to a public outcry for Ragtag Film Society to cut ties with his church.
Keith Simon, the Co-lead Pastor of The Crossing Church, delivered a controversial sermon on Oct. 18, 2019 discussing gender identity and dysphoria. Photo Courtesy of Facebook via @theCrossingComo

The Ragtag Film Society, which includes the True/False Film Festival, will end its sponsorship relationship with The Crossing church after Co-lead pastor Keith Simon delivered a sermon about gender identity and dysphoria. The organization announced the ending of the relationship in a statement on Oct. 18.

This decision comes after several members of the community created a petition calling for the organization to cut ties with the church.

True/False Film Festival has received $35,000 from the church and an additional $8,000 for Ragtag Cinema, according to the Change.org petition.

In the Ragtag Film Society’s statement, the organization said that the values expressed during Simon’s sermon have created an “unbridgeable difference” between the two.

“Most of the message we want to convey is in the statement itself,” True/False co-conspirator David Wilson said. “It speaks to the partnership and the history. It speaks to why we reached a moment where it felt untenable to continue that partnership with The Crossing. It speaks to the LGBTQ community of Columbia who were so hurt by the pastor’s words.”

During discussions of whether or not to end the partnership, The Crossing posted a Q&A on its website to answer questions about the church, its stances on transgender issues and the sermon.

"We have never had a problem having partnerships with people who have different beliefs than we do," Simon told The Missourian. "But we understand that in today's world, that's becoming more and more difficult."

Simon did not respond for further comment on the matter.

To view and listen to Simon’s sermon visit The Crossing’s website.

The Process

The Ragtag Film Society began to hear from members of the community on social media and through email the Monday following the service. Then management began to formulate a temporary statement to release within 24 hours.

After that, the executive committee of the board of directors met with the Ragtag Film Society executive leadership to discuss a recommendation for the board of directors. At the end of the meeting, the executive committee voted to recommend ending the relationship with The Crossing. That night, the board of directors met to discuss the recommendation and voted unanimously to end the relationship and approved the official statement to be released immediately after the meeting.

Future Funding

In the 2019 fiscal year, the Ragtag Film Society received $400,000 from sponsors for the festival and Ragtag Cinema, according to Jeremy Root, past president of the board of directors in an email.

Wilson said it is too early in the process to know if this decision will have any effect on other sponsors. On Oct. 21, The Missourian published an article with the headline “Ragtag: No replacement yet for The Crossing funding.”

“That’s true, but that also sounds very alarmist,” Wilson said. “It’s significant, and while there’s work to be done, it’s hard to say exactly what that looks like right now.”

Wilson said there have been internal discussions within the organization for months about the matter, which have been heightened since the controversy.

Discussions will continue to address what kind of partnerships the organization wants to go into in the future.

Role of Free Speech

Ragtag’s decision to cut ties with The Crossing comes after the MU Department of Theatre announced in a letter that it will not allow the festival to use its facilities if it were to continue its sponsorship with the church.

When MU administrators saw the letter, the university said in a statement the theater department was in error and “inconsistent with [MU’s] value of free speech.” The statement went on to explain that the involvement of the university with True/False “does not signal either endorsement or dispute for the viewpoints of its other sponsors.”

“The Department of Theatre was in error when they put the statement out,” Christian Basi, director of the MU News Bureau said. “The decision that they described would have discriminated against an organization for a viewpoint, and that goes against the First Amendment of the Constitution. It is not the university’s position. It is the position of the Constitution of the United States.”

A group of MU administrators and the UM System Legal Counsel, a team of legal representatives acting on behalf of the UM System, met to discuss the matter once the letter was published. Basi said they immediately knew the letter was not correct and they had to correct the situation.

“There is no facility on campus that is a specific facility of a particular department,” Basi said. “All the facilities that are within the university’s community are facilities of the University of Missouri. While a particular department or area may have responsibility for maintaining them, all of our facilities are subject to all of our rules and regulations as well as laws, regardless if those are state or federal.”

Looking Back at It

The Crossing member Erin Smith said that since the sermon, the church has let families know they are available to discuss gender identity with them.

Smith attended the church service on gender identity.

“It sounded [like] a pretty standard message,” Smith said. “One of the things they try to do is convict Christians and making sure we’re being loving and continuing to follow our journey of life from a following Jesus standpoint … I thought it would convict some people not to [make jokes about transgender people], because it’s not what we’re called to do.”

Senior Noel Jerrell, a transgender man, first heard about the matter when he saw the article in a newspaper when he was at work and immediately read all he could about it.

“Do I think that The Crossing is somehow a hate organization? No,” Jerrell said. “Do I think that this pastor when giving his sermon had any kind of malevolent or evil intent? No. Do I think he's an evil person? No, I don't think that at all. He probably had good intentions, for lack of a better phrase, when giving that sermon.”

Jerrel said that as a political science major he understands the issue can be complicated.

“That language, no matter its intent, is dangerous and harmful,” Jerrell said. “It's harmful to every trans person involved in film festivals. It's harmful to every trans person in the Mizzou system. It's harmful to every trans person in Columbia. The things said in that sermon are exactly what people cite when they deny transgender people medical care, when they deny us housing, when they deny us work, when they beat us, when they kill us.”

Edited by Laura Evans | levans@themaneater.com

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