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O Scum all ye faithful: Christianity gets the punk-rock treatment at this Denver church

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But even with the wide collection of ideals and personalities that are encouraged at Scum, when it comes to issues like sexuality or abortion, the church swings to the right. "I think we're probably more conservative than we want to be," says Liann, who adds that she has many gay friends and is not necessarily 100 percent pro-life, though she also is not a liberal.

"Theologically, we're very conservative," Sares explains, "but we're far, far away from being fundamentalists." Still, he becomes somewhat uncomfortable when these controversial issues are brought up. He and other members of Scum worry that the church will be lumped in with gay-bashing, abortion-clinic-protesting groups like the Westboro Baptist Church (best known for its "God Hates Fags" signs). "Sometimes [people] will talk to me about their sexual struggles," he explains. "And they're in the struggle already; it's not like I'm causing the struggle. They're conflicted and they want to talk about it." Sares says he often points these sexually questioning young people to the scripture, though at times he will also direct them to Where Grace Abounds, a counseling center for what it describes as the "the sexually broken."

"WGA seeks to be a third voice within a culture that often leans toward the extremes of 'blanket acceptance' or 'blanket condemnation' of homosexuality," explains WGA executive director Roger Jones. "On the continuum between these two extremes, WGA is positioned in the middle: 1) God accepts everyone as they are. As for all of humanity, He has a plan for us, which includes how we express our sexuality.  2) God's standard for sexual expression lies within the boundaries of heterosexual marriage, but homosexual behavior is not better or worse than any other sexual activity that lies outside these boundaries."  

While Jones says that no one chooses their sexual orientation, sexual behavior is a choice. He and Mike Sares both believe that while God does make some people gay, it is best that they remain celibate.

"I think that is really sad and hypocritical," says Lonnie Hanzon. "Had I known that, I never would have helped them. Because I'm gay."

Hanzon bought the building Scum now calls home back in 1998 and spent years and almost a million dollars renovating the property, where he lived and ran Hanzon Studios.

But in 2008, when Scum came calling, he was broke and the bank was about to foreclose. The church was looking for a new location after leaving the Church in the City on East Colfax Avenue. Hanzon says he worked hard to convince the bank that a church called Scum of the Earth could survive and be a good custodian of his beloved church building. Ultimately, he sold it to Scum for about $625,000, and even threw in his grandfather's Fiat and took on a $15,000 tax debt on the sale.

"If I'd known they were so conservative, I would've just let the bank foreclose," says Hanzon, who explains that he feels strongly about this because he has family members who work for the anti-gay Focus on the Family. Hanzon, who regularly cites God as having a strong influence on his life, is a member of an interfaith community that is accepting of LGBTQ in a way that Scum is not. "I would've just let the place rot if I'd known this," he continues. "I thought I was doing something for the grace of God, and this is just...ugh."

Sares and others at Scum say they did not mislead Hanzon in any way, although they acknowledge there was some miscommunication when they bought the building. "I respect Lonnie Hanzon as an artist and admire him as a compassionate, kind human being," says Sares.

However Scum got its new home, it's proven to be a mixed blessing. Despite the fortune that Hanzon spent on renovations, when the Denver Fire Department paid a visit in July, it found the building in violation of several fire codes and forbade Scum of the Earth from holding services there. Right now, Scum is holding its evening services, complete with free dinners, at His Love Fellowship Church, two blocks away. It could cost upwards of $250,000 to get Scum up to code, and the church — which raised the money to buy the building at a gala fundraiser — barely gets by on the meager tithings its congregants can afford, along with random donations from other churches. "It's looking like it's going to be pretty expensive," says Joshua Dylan. "It's pretty rough, because we don't have a lot of money."

******

Unlike Lonnie Hanzon, the anarchists living in collectives around Scum were well aware of the church's position on homosexuality. That's exacerbated the tensions between two scenes that, on the surface, would seem to fit well together. Not only do the anarchists and the church members dress the same, but they're both vehemently pro-bicycle, are very environmentally conscious, and aren't opposed to dumpstering for food. But once their Christian identity is revealed, many Scum members have found punks in the neighborhood taking offense. "To try and mask [Christianity] with a punk uniform is trying to avoid responsibility. I mean, the punk movement is opposed to everything Christianity stands for," says Maria, who's somewhat exhausted by the friction between Scum and secular anarchists. "I've had a lot of people tell me they felt uncomfortable coming to the house because of the large Christian presence there."

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Josiah M. Hesse
Contact: Josiah M. Hesse