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Pastor speaks out after library changed mind about hosting ‘Pastor Story Hour:’ Faith belongs in public square

A Massachusetts minister is speaking out after the Chelmsford Public Library changed its mind and allowed him to host a “Pastor Story Hour” following a previous decision to cancel the event. 

Kendall Lankford, the teaching pastor of The Shepherd’s Church, sat down with Fox News Digital to discuss the details that led to his battle with the library, the local protests that subsequently erupted, and how the popularity of Drag Queen story hours pushed him to go through with his own kid-friendly reading.

The story began when Lankford contacted the library. He was told the process on how to secure a room for his reading and filled out an online form. A few hours later the event was approved.

He planned to offer a Christian perspective on gender, reading from two books titled “God Made Boys and Girls: Helping Children Understand the Gift of Gender,” and “Jesus and My Gender.”

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He said the books helped to promote the message that both men and women are equal, intrinsically good, but also different. 

“I didn’t use the word intersectional or critical race theory, but that’s the world we live in. Where if you’re a boy you have less victim status then a girl. I was trying to show them—it’s a good thing that you were made a boy. It’s a good thing that you were made a girl.”

“Every single child in the room got that, it’s the adults that are confused,” he added.

Lankford later received numerous angry comments over the phone and on social media accusing him of homophobia, transphobia, and bigotry. Many called on him to cancel the event, labeling The Shepherd’s Church as a “hate group” and comparing Lankford to Hitler. Others said the church, by teaching biblical Christianity, was engaging in child abuse.

They pointed to a January 4 blog post from Lankford in which he referred to drag queens as “adult perverts with a penchant for sexualizing children.” When asked by Fox News Digital about the comments, Lankford said he stood by his words. 

“We’ve gotten to a place in society where we can’t even have any meaningful discussions anymore without someone throwing a temper tantrum. The adults have left it seems, and we’re in a country full of toddlers—and I don’t say that to be inflammatory or mean.”

He added that the act of teaching gender in a way that diverges from modern progressive politics and higher education has become so divisive that provocative dialogue on the subject has become nonexistent.

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“If we’re truly a pluralistic society, and we have tolerance for all views then we ought to be able to talk about those views in a meaningful way,” he said.

Massachusetts Family institute (MFI) offered their services to Lankford after getting word of online chatter in which Facebook users criticized Lankford and the library for allowing the event to take place. Lankford did not initially think their services was necessary. 

The day before the event, Lankford received an automatic email notifying him of the events’ cancelation. He was told it was due to “violations of the library’s meeting room and acceptable behavior policies,” which states that “proselytizing” is not allowed. The email claimed the Shepherd’s Church incorrectly suggested the library was a cosponsor of the event. 

MFI called the charges “patently false.”

Lankford then called back MFI and retained their services. They sent a demand letter to the library which claimed that the center had violated its own policies allowing anyone to book public meeting rooms. MFI also asserted that the library violated Lankford’s federal, and state constitutional rights related to free speech and religious liberty. 

Less than four later Lankford received a Facebook notification that the event was back following a discussion between library directors and a Chelmsford attorney.

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Chelmsford Public Library also offered comment to Fox News Digital and said the library has always been an “advocate” and “protector” of the right to free speech as well the principles of “respectful and kind treatment of others.”

“We believe the library needs to be a public space where every member of our community feels valued and welcome,” the library said. “We now recognize that our disappointment that actions taken subsequent to the approval of the reservation, and communications immediately before the event, seemed to violate some details of library policy and directs hate at members of our community played too large a role in our decision, to the detriment of our commitment to everyone’s right to free speech.”

The library also said that they “unintentionally erred” in an attempt to honor the above referenced principles and rights and apologized for any damage or hurt caused therein. 

“We are unequivocally committed to providing this space for Pastor Lankford to hold his event as scheduled,” they added, highlighting the “exceptional work” library staff does day in and day out. 

When asked why he had pushed to hold the event, Lankford said this: “We’re doing this because we love Jesus. Raising our children is important to us and living publicly as Christians is important to us. So, for our faith in Christ this is natural for us to do something like a Pastor Story Hour. The only thing I really regret is that it took us this long to figure out this is something we needed to do.”

Lankford also said he was inspired by his denomination’s passion to engage with youth after hearing about the pervasiveness of drag queen story hours across the country. 

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“If the Drag Queens can book a public space and read to children then why wouldn’t we take the opportunity to share our truth with children in a public way.”

Some called on Lankford to hold the event at his Church, but he said that would defeat the purpose, noting that the library is as much a space for Christians as anyone else. 

“You can tell us to go hole up in our churches but what you’re essentially telling us is that our faith doesn’t belong in the public square, and I reject that notion,” he said. “We have just as much right to be Christians on Monday and Tuesday as we do privately on Sunday.”

He added that Christians have retreated from the public sphere for far too long, and it is time to become a public faith again.

Despite anxieties on the morning of the reading, Lankford was relieved to find the event went off without issue. Protesters and several police officers gathered around the library, but everybody remained civil and respectful. Lankford took the opportunity to thank librarians for having the courage to put the event back on and said he was grateful for the good rapport with the head librarian. 

He said the event was huge for his church, bringing in 50 to 60 people, including at least 30 children.

Lankford said parents and kids that attended the event were excited by the prospect of future Pastor Story Hours. He revealed his every intention of renting the room each month, but expressed concern that the library may review its current policies and could render the church incapable of booking in the future. 

While the story may not yet be over, Lankford remains optimistic. 

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