On Saturday, August 27th a group of about two hundred Christians marched into Pride Charlotte with “God Has A Better Way” (GHABW), an action formed by The Coalition of Conscience and the Speak the Truth Project. Three quarters of the group, including children, wore red tee shirts bolding declaring the message and website “God Has A Better Way.Com”. The balance of about 30 people were “plain clothes” street evangelists.
I heard about the GHABW action two weeks before the event and decided to go to Charlotte with a str8apology action that I have done at many Gay Pride events. Some have striven to label me a “gay activist”; a term that is often used to dismiss my intentions and the core of my Christian beliefs. Would you label Martin Luther King as simply a “black activist,” missing that his passions were deeply rooted in his faith that called him to strive for justice and against oppression? I, too, am driven by my faith, which compels me to fight against oppression and injustice (Isaiah 58). I am keenly aware that some Christians will and do use the Bible to exclude an entire class of people not only from social equality, but more egregiously, from the benefits of a relationship with God both now and in eternity. So, I took Str8apology to Pride Charlotte. Str8apology is a Christian action. We see the value of positive expressions of God’s love and are acutely aware of the damage caused by conditional and condemning messages from some Christians.
I went to Charlotte for two reasons: to celebrate the richness and diversity of the Queen City in a spirit of the inclusive love of Jesus with apology and conversation; and to stand against the actions of GHABW, which were viewed as intimidation and a corruption of the unconditional message of God’s love. Lisa Salazar, my transwoman friend and fellow Board member of Canyonwalker Connections, came along. As we walked and prayed around the perimeter of Pride Charlotte that morning, we did not know we were stepping into more hatred than either of us had ever before faced.
There were two kinds of “not-God-love” that we saw: the noisy, “you-are-going-to-hell,” obvious hatred; and the silent, condemning, “you-need-to-change,” conditional variety that can be done so smoothly with a smile. We experienced both. And more importantly, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community in the Charlotte area were the direct target of both. Which is worse? I don’t know. Choose one: hear the “you are the scum of the earth” condemnation clearly stated in loud, angry voices, or: be lured with a cool bottle of water and a pretty postcard to a website which will tell you that orientation change or celibacy is necessary in order to gain the equal access to God that heterosexuals enjoy. Pick your poison.
Along with GHABW in the midst of Pride Charlotte, there were groups of street preachers/screechers holding garish, accusatory banners, Bibles, megaphones, pamphlets and even a shofar to round out the carnival atmosphere. I do not want to lump these two approaches of engaging the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities together. The street preacher gang deserves its own assessment, coming up.
I have good perspective on this issue of sexual orientation and the Bible. Having been both a Christian in the “you cannot be gay and Christian” camp, and now a fully affirming Christian, I understand a belief system that drives one person to tell another person they need to change so that they can both get the ticket to heaven and have a more fulfilled life here on earth. Been there. Our faith does dictates that we “make disciples.” The “how” of that is the sticky part. When you march en masse into an event intended to affirm same-gender attracted people with the intent to discredit who they are, is it really “loving people to God”? The stated goal of GHABW was to: “walk through or surround the event to evangelize, sing, pray, hand out water and reach out with love to those in attendance while resisting the (gay) agenda.” Knowing that people will see God that way that we represent Him, the result is more important than the intention; I am not impressed when people fast and pray for 21 days if the action is not a godly one. If God is in it, there will be good, solid, resultant fruit from it. “‘Everything is permissible’–but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’–but not everything is constructive.” I Cor. 10:23
I sat on a wall across the street from the pre-Pride rally with Lisa, listening and watching. Rules of engagement were read and agreed to with a signature by each red shirt-wearing participant. Rule number one: “speak the truth in love.” Having read books and articles, and having read and engaged many exchanges with GHABW leader Michael Brown, I was fairly confident that, although “loving people to God” was the intent of the march on Pride, that would not be the result. Further solidifying my concerns, L ou Engle, (from TheCall, and known for his involvement in Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” Bill), was one of the leaders of the 21 days of fasting and prayer leading up to the GHABW action. Engle, originally scheduled to be at Pride Charlotte as he was in 2009, was called away on “other kingdom business.” Actually, Engle was again in Uganda the Sunday before GHABW, introducing TheCall Uganda and working with Ugandan pastors to further progress on anti-gay legislations there. Michael Brown is also on the Board of Engle’s TheCall; we are clarified by the company we keep closest to us.
Knowing all this, I safely assumed that how I engage people in “truth and love” and how the GHABW group would engage the same people would be completely divergent. The GHABW truth is: you must either live as a heterosexual or be celibate in order to be holy and welcomed by God. “The opposite of homosexuality is holiness” mantra. My theology and Bible study leads me to a different conclusion. Brown’s truth is not my truth, nor is it the truth of the Christian gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities and the growing number of affirming Christians. Their view of love is not my view of love; we have different revelations of what the Jesus-variety love looks like. Marching into a space designated to be a zone of safety from harassment, with an agenda contrary to that to the core of the participants, even when that space is public, would not be seen as “loving,” kind, or respectful.
So, before even one step was taken towards Pride Charlotte, Rule #1 of engagement, “speak the truth in love,” was rife with problems. An hour of worship, speaking and group declarations of “LI-BER-TY” and “FREE-DOM” to those at the Pride Charlotte event followed.
I am very concerned that Brown has a strong bent against the transgender community; it is particularly grievous to me. There I sat with a friend that I love, Lisa, a Christian transwoman, and Brown announced, “and Heaven forgive if they have transvestites on the stage; you (GHABW participants) cannot speak out from the crowd (against transgender people).” Over and over, in books, exchanges, posts, articles and speaking, Brown discounts the medical validity of the issue of gender dysphoria. In fact, Brown himself has a male to female cousin that he insists on referring to as “he/him.” He calls Lisa “Lisa” and publicly refers to her as: he, him, man, gentleman. Check her license and docs, Brown. Not only is she solid in her personal relationship before God as a woman, the Canadian government calls her such. Again, I understand the discomfort with the issue of trangenderism. I was there. The way in which Brown speaks of transfolks is intensely dismissive and bone-chilling destructive. I am convinced that transgender people are the next group the church will target; and Brown is leading the brigade. To those empathetic to the trans community, you need to watch Brown closely — I mean “Hate Groups”-candidate watch him closely. I have tens of thousands of personal, unpublished exchanges with Scott Lively ( solidly on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Groups” list for intentionally lying about the glbt community); the similarity of the style and tone between Brown and Lively are frightening. If we Christians are to police our own inside the House of God before those outside the House do it for us, I am blowing the whistle. Watch this man and ensure that his voice does not become so loud that people outside the House think it is our voice, or worse–God’s voice.
Think I am exaggerating? You just need to look at the fixation of photos and negative attention the GHABW group dedicates to transgender people. They are about 1/20 th of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, yet Brown and the photographers of GHABW obsess over them. Again, you may not understand the issue or know any transgender people, but, by what authority does anyone dictate another person’s path both to and with God? Born with a matching brain and genitalia? Wonderful, fortunate, average you. If you lay your burden of “normal” on a transperson, you will be contributing to the 41% attempted suicide rate. Not fitting into society’s definition of “gender” is not a reason to target, bully, disrespect or dismiss a transgender person especially if you self identify as Christian! Need understanding? Then go to Gender Dysphoria Organization and learn. Until you bleed with grace and love towards the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and especially the transgender communities, keep both your silent and your noisy judgments out of their precious lives.
Brown says he has love and compassion for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. Not possible — the words and actions do not match. All one needs to do is read his own words. Judgment-filled, slanted, manipulative assessments against the glbt community are the staple. Read any post of his on the event. Do you see love and compassion, or judgment and mockery? You decide.
Thirty street evangelists lead the way to Pride Charlotte while the red-shirts stayed at the rally tent singing. Up the hill to Pride they went, unmarked, to “share the love of Jesus.” I ran into many of them throughout the afternoon. I wish they had learned a more creative entree to engage me when they saw my “Hurt by Church? Get a str8apology here” tee shirt than: “Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God?” Come on honey, if I did not believe that it is God and the Scriptures that compel me, I would have been kayaking on Lake Tahoe and not sweating in Charlotte. Two young evangelist women even lied directly to me when I asked “are you part of the group that came up from the First Baptist Church?” “No,” one replied as they sat in the shade on a bench eating and drinking, “we are just here sharing the love of Jesus.” First, girls, don’t lie; I took a picture of you walking in front of me when you left the rally. Lying doesn’t pave the way for a dialogue of truth. Next, if you are going to be the aggressor into an event where your theology and presence is not welcome and is contrary to the intent of the event, be willing to hear how the people you are there to convert may feel about what you have to say. Don’t push the reset button to “Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God?” at every pause. I have been reading and studying that Book since before you were a zygote. I offered my card with weblinks to many of the street evangelists. Almost without exception, they recoiled from my offer, (as if I were handing them an illustrated Kama Sutra). “I’ll just throw it away,” I was told several times.
Someone (a straight prophet who took me off to the side in a church so that no one would hear him affirm me) once gave me a great piece of advice, knowing this work is difficult and messy: “If you have a ten ton message to speak, you better build a ten ton bridge of relationship that can support it.” It is a simple courtesy to use good relationship skills to listen and not tell if you are seeking to convince someone to change the very core of who they are. Absolutely without exception, every GHABW person, street evangelist and street preacher I engaged, was convinced that homosexuality (being gay, acting on it, not repenting from it) is a sin that must be dealt with to get into the “whosoever believes in Jesus shall be saved” club. Handing someone a bottle of water (with the godhasabetterway.com stamped on it), a rainbow bedecked postcard (pointing to a “you must change to please God” message), a “Rainbows Belong to Noah” multicolored bracelet (with godhasabetterway.com stamped inside it) or an invitation to a free concert (featuring an anti-gay message) is not relationship, and it is most definitely not love.
For those of you who say you are unique, precious and fearfully and wonderfully made, is it really love to tell people that they must duplicate your path to God when the first step on that path is the denial of who they intrinsically are: same-sex attracted humans? Being gay, lesbian or bisexual is an orientation just as heterosexuality is an orientation. Being a transgender person is a gender identity issue. These are not behaviors that need correction, no more than my heterosexual orientation needs to be corrected. I just am. I never made a decision; I am just heterosexual. Born gay or not is most often the split in the road at which “love” takes a huge detour to “conditional love.” Show me your no-longer-gay poster child and I will drown you in a sea of people who tried to change to please you or the God you say you represent. No one gets to pick someone else’s journey to and with God. No one. No one else gets to block someone else’s path to and with God. No one. Not a well-intentioned mother of six, a college-aged evangelist hot to share the Word, or a manipulative movement leader. No one.
Statistically, 84% of the people inside the Pride Charlotte event were raised in the church. My exchanges with people bore that out. Many who had already been down the GHABW-suggested route. Some of them found a way around the wall of red shirts in their lives, but the majority gave up and took another road. And then we have the gall to criticize how they live after we reject them and exclude them from our houses of worship!
I have worked in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community for over six years. When I saw that amoeba of reds shirts coming into the Pride event, I actually cried. God’s people marching “in love” on other children of God dictating the “better way.” The view stunned me to my spirit.
What I saw for the next two hours was largely a group of disengaged gawkers. They were there for about two hours. Once the water was given away, the bulk of the red-shirters wandered and clumped in groups chatting. “Would you like water?” Great intro. Along with the postcard leading to a site, a concert flyer or a bracelet telling you to change to please God. “Would you like a side order of silent condemnation with that cool water?” Yeah, I have seen the pictures posted by the GHABW folks, and interestingly, I met many of the subjects of the photos from my hundreds of exchanges throughout the day. Two were even friends. One woman was telling the GHABW people to back off; she had gone to seminary and was filled with the Holy Spirit and was doing just fine with God. Another woman is a part of gaychristian.net, to which I belong. Let me assure you, Donna has tried your “better way” and her intent of conversation was to tie up the GHABW folks so that engaging with others was minimized. She was discussing Scripture in which she is secure. I think I can safely assume that both these women will be sharing eternity with the King of Glory and me. (Oh, and thanks Donna for inviting another young woman I talked with, hugged, cried and prayed with to your Friday night Bible study. Part of the radical gay agenda: Friday night Bible Study. P A R T Y !)
Brown walked the Pride event monitoring the forces with Matt Barber from the Liberty Council, ( who I assume was there to “protect” the rights of the marchers) clearly enjoying the red-shirted groupings, and looking for the kink. He was observed by a friend taking pictures only of the “off-color” booths, not the pottery or art or tours; or the catering or crafts; or PFLAGS, or churches, or recycling tips or hats, or jewelry booths. Just the ones that would tickle the fancy of the gawkers, readers and listeners. Oh, and the drag queens and transgender folks on the streets and entertainment stage held particular interest for Brown and the GHABW people. They did not engage them, they just took pictures. With obsession.
The GHABW group may not approve of, agree with or see any value in my approach to engaging people at Pride events or in the str8apology actions. Brown publicly says I am am misguided and a “false prophet” (at least that was kinder than what the street preachers screamed at me all day.) Oh well. This is the typical conversation I’ve had with several hundred people, from one-on-one conversations to dialogue with small groups of up to eight.
“Do you know that God loves you just the way you are? Do you know that He created you just the way you are and He sees your beauty? You are so beautiful to Him. Did you grow up in any faith? . . . “What happened, why did you leave (if they did, which was the most typical answer)?” . . .“Let me help you reconcile your sexual orientation with the Bible. Go to my website and check out the VERSES link. If you have any questions, engage me there. There is also a link on the side that will help you find a church in your area that will welcome you and if you can’t find one, write to me and I will hook you up with an online streaming church in a denomination you are comfortable with. Here is a brochure for The Gay Christian Network, an online community of over 18K gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians to support you. So don’t feel like you need to walk away from God–He is crazy about you and would love to get back into your life. Okay? Don’t listen to all this conditional stuff, go figure this out. Talk to me, let me help you. And, you really are gorgeous just the way you are.”
That was my message. Not deceit, not conditions, just “get back in the game.” And you know what? It brought hope, smiles, hugs, tears, excitement, jumping-up-and-down joy. People were dragging their friends over to me. “Tell her.” “ Tell him.” I will do an entire post on the stories of the day. Hope-filled, joy-filled exchanges that will, yes will net good fruit.
GHABW hopes to export this action to other cities. OH. MY. GOODNESS. Please God, no. I’d even call the GHABW action “spiritual masturbation”: good for the GHABW participants only. There may have been some lovely conversations and a few prayers, but come on, do the math. I am ONE person and I engaged hundreds in a positive way. What the Holy Spirit does with anyone need not follow my expectations for him or her. Love, real love, draws. Fake love, manipulative love, fear-based love, conditional love stinks. No one is fooled for long. The few comments on the redirect site for the Rainbow Promise postcards were of disgust. Once again, a false hope of acceptance dashed by rejection. Real love does not manipulate.
The intentions of GHABW were to: reach out with love (FAIL), and “resist the radical gay agenda.” To do the latter, the group would have had to time travel to the seventies when groups of conservative preachers and politicians created this mythical “gay agenda” that some folks are still so busy resisting (with courage). People, all people just want acceptance and equality. Is that so tough to understand? And, aren’t those some of the gifts Jesus came to offer? Oh, and the religious people of His day, they killed Him. “Don’t go changing up our nice little club with Your open doors policy, there, Jesus.”
You want to engage anyone for God? Then learn grace so deeply that it pours out from your every pore. It should drip out when you talk with the sweet little boigirl in her baseball cap with her briefs peeking out. It must ooze uncontrollably when a gay man tells you his story of rejection by the church. It should seep out from your skin when you see a biracial lesbian couple smile at you. Grace is the perfume that makes a transgender person feel safe with you. Until you understand grace for others that is not co-opted in some cheap, silent judgment with a bottle of water, stay out of the area set aside for protection from harassment. These folks ask for one day, one day where they can be authentic. Pride Charlotte was an incredibly friendly, well-run, fun community event. GHABW were the intruders; they would seek to shut it down or force it back into a private space, or worse, export it to other Pride events.
If a handful of str8apology people and affirming churches can welcome the outcasts back to investigate a loving God, let those of us who know how to love with Jesus’ love do that. Keep your conditional rules at your houses of worship. Think long and deeply about intentions and impact on the lives of others. They are not “projects”, they are people who God treasures. Be advised, you do not dictate the rules for God’s House of Worship. God does have a much better way. If you can’t figure it out or understand it, GET OUT OF THE WAY, because a revival IS hitting the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christian community, and more are navigating their way around your red shirts and your “repent or burn” banners; and they are finding it. And, if you cannot see it, chances are you are still part of the oppression.
Join me: In a positive action, if you are straight and GHABW and street preachers make you angry, join me in a str8apology at your local Pride Event. Repair the tear using grace and love as the balm and healer. All you need to do is show up with Jesus attitudes in the shirt and “gravity” will take over. People are drawn to love.
[Thank you to the dozens of you who made it possible with last minute donations to get Lisa and I to Charlotte. And a huge, special dose of gratitude to Steve and Becky Knight and family, who hosted us and got us to and from the airport at unhuman hours. Much respect and honor to Steve Knight and Andrea White who were brave enough to stand with me in the str8apology action. It was quite an eye-opener for them! I am sure we will all be back in Charlotte next year — join us.]
Series on Pride Charlotte :