A historic Methodist church in Birmingham, Alabama will break with denominational policy to host a “family friendly” screening of the “Arthur” episode that flung conservatives into a frenzy and pushed the state’s public television station to opt out of running the programming.
The Birmingham First United Methodist Church will hold an event on June 15 to screen the “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone” episode, which features Arthur’s third-grade teacher Mr. Ratburn getting married to his male partner. The premiere episode of the 22nd season of the PBS show was well-received on Twitter, but prompted uber-conservative talking head Sebastian Gorka to declare a “culture war.”
While it didn’t specifically comment on the content of the episode, Alabama Public Television told AL.com last month that it wouldn’t air it because it has a “trust with parents about our programming.” More than a decade ago, APT also opted to skip an Arthur episode that featured a cartoon character who had two mothers.
The Birmingham church event advertises “wedding cake, sparkling apple juice and surprises” on its Facebook page. First Church was chosen by the local Sidewalk Film Festival event coordinators to host the screening because of its “mission is to be an open place for all and for many years we have been advocates for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons not only in the life of the church, but in all of society,” Rev. RG Wilson-Lyons told TPM in a statement Tuesday.
It’s not the first time the Birmingham church has been chosen to host screenings during the pro-LGBTQ film fest, the church said.
“We have seen the good that can come from sharing our space with our partners who seek to elevate conversations about justice in our community,” Wilson-Lyons said. “First Church sees this screening as another opportunity to raise awareness for justice, equality, and liberty for all persons.”
The United Methodist Church as a whole is historically known for its social justice advocacy — recently, hundreds of clergy formally condemned former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the Trump administration’s family separation policy.
But the Birmingham church’s choice to host the pro-gay marriage screening breaks with broader United Methodist policy. According to it’s website, the Birmingham First United Methodist Church is part of the broader United Methodist denomination, but identifies as a “reconciling” Methodist church, which is an organization of congregations that push for LGBTQ-inclusive policies in Methodist doctrine.
In February, the United Methodist governing body voted to, in essence, maintain the position it’s held since the 1970s: LGBTQ people are welcomed, but the church still bans “practicing” gay clergy and same-sex marriage. The church also voted this year to maintain its belief that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
The decision has created a rift between liberal and more conservative congregations across the U.S. and other parts of the world.