The Lititz Moravian Congregation apologized to Lititz Chooses Love and the local community in a statement issued April 7 for its efforts in attempting to stop the activist group from hosting its Pride event in Lititz Springs Park in June.
In the statement attributed to the church’s joint Board of Elders and Board of Trustees, the congregation said its decision made at the end of February to deny a permit to Lititz Chooses Love to use the park for its festival after the Lititz Springs Park Board had approved the event “hurt our family members of the LGBTQIA+ community, the members and friends of our congregation, and the larger Lititz community.”
Lititz Springs Park, which is owned by the Lititz Moravian Congregation, was originally maintained by the church. However, in 1956, the management of the park was handed over to an independent board of trustees.
The park board overrode the church’s decision to deny the festival permit during its March 14 meeting, approved a motion to present Lititz Chooses Love with a contract “for use of the entirety of Lititz Springs Park” for the event scheduled for June 17, 2023.
The church said it was retracting its March 10 statement it initially released because of “inattentive communication breakdowns” that included giving “undeserved credence to information and accusations” made about the 2022 Lititz Pride Festival in the park. In its original statement, the church said Lititz Chooses Love “failed in its stewardship of the Park on several fronts” during the June 19, 2022 pride festival, including the inclusion of political statements by speakers and a drag queen performance.
“As leaders of this historic church, we confess that we have hurt many people in the greater Lititz community,” the church said in its April 7 statement. “We acknowledge that our actions have caused many to mistrust our commitment to welcoming all. We humbly ask that you forgive us, receive our requests for conversation, and allow us to serve you as the hands and feet of Christ.”
Lititz Chooses Love responded on social media to the church’s statement within hours of its posting, thanking the congregation “for acknowledging the harm that was done and retracting their original statement. We look forward to our continued discussions about supporting the lgbtq+ community in healthy ways Thank you for choosing Love.”
New Church Statement
In its April 7 statement, the church said it had a conversation with representatives from Lititz Chooses Love over the drag performance from last year’s festival, saying it learned from the activist group that “not all Drag performances are adult-oriented, and as an artform they are not inherently sexual.”
“We confess our ignorance and lack of understanding of the daily harassment, abuse, and threat experienced by members of the LGBTQIA+ community and repent of our part in providing fodder for those who bully, harass, and threaten them,” the church said in its statement. “We thank Lititz Chooses Love for the time, energy, patience, and emotional labor freely given already as we journey to new insights. We will seek to become better educated and aware so that we may lead our congregation toward becoming a truly open, safe, and welcoming church.”
A video posted on social media of the drag performer at the 2022 Lititz Pride event shows a stack of one-dollar bills sitting on the stage next to the performer as they lip-sync the song “I Know Where I’ve Been” by Queen Latifah. The video shows the drag performer with crossed legs and a tight top with visible protruding nipples and at least one child dancing on the stage with the performer.
The church also said it was “instructed” by Bethlehem-based attorney Richard E. Santee Jr. that “Permitting gatherings and promoting a social justice agenda does not constitute political activity, as it has traditionally been interpreted by the IRS…” In its March 10 statement, the church said Lititz Chooses Love violated the park’s Declaration of Trust, which clearly prohibits “political activities including, without limitation, campaigning, demonstrations, rallies, etc.”
“We acknowledge that Lititz Chooses Love is a registered 501(c)3 organization and as such, is permitted by law to speak on social justice issues without being considered to have engaged in political activity so long as they do not promote a particular candidate or party,” the church said in its most recent statement.
Videos posted on social media from last year’s festival show at least one official participant made political statements on the main stage in the park. Jontel Toland, a Lancaster resident, gave a spoken word presentation on the history of Juneteenth, the federal holiday highlighting the end of slavery after the Civil War. In his presentation, Toland openly talks about reparations to be paid to minority communities, along with other controversial topics.
Santee also reviewed the governing documents regarding administration of the park, the church said, and confirmed that the Lititz Springs Park Board has “sole decision-making power over the day-to-day workings of Lititz Springs Park.”
The church said its leadership team has “entered into dialogue” with the park board and organizations like Lititz Chooses Love to “assure that all events held in the Park align with the charge in the original Agreement of Trust that the Park” and to provide a “park and place of attractive and healthful resort and recreation” for the community.
“We appreciate the willingness of all parties to discuss in advance plans for scheduled events in order to assure compliance with established policies,” the church said in its statement. “We look forward to a renewed and active relationship with the Lititz Springs Park Board, one in which the Park Board maintains and operates our beautiful park in furtherance of its legacy, free from outside interference, and congregational leadership provides resources and partnership in accordance with the Operating Agreement.” The Lititz Pride Festival scheduled for June 17, 2023 overcame one of its final obstacles when Lititz Borough Council approved the festival at its March 28 meeting as part of approving special event and activity permits.