I am a white, heterosexual, Evangelical Christian female. I have never been screamed at for being white, heterosexual, Christian or female while attending a public event. No one has ever publicly tried to demean me or attack me for the core of who I am, and certainly, I have never been subjected to loud, constant threats of being hell bound and perverted. Not only have I not been the target of such vitriol, I would also never participate in spewing angry poison over another human. And so it is true for the majority of the Christian church. Never been there, never done that.
But, verbal attacks towards the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (glbt) community are common at Gay Pride events.
Kind, well-behaved, moderate Christians are unaware of the damage being done, in the Name of God, toward the glbt community in public spaces. Because I go where members of my straight, conservative Christian tribe tend to avoid, I experience the poison regularly directed at gay and transgender people.
Perhaps some insights will jolt you out of ignorance and deference into compassion and action. Some faith communities are represented at gay pride events; groups of Catholics, Mormons, United Church of Christ, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists and Presbyterians show up in booths and in Pride parades; but strikingly absent are the Evangelicals, Baptists and other conservative denominations. We have ceded the loving and kind conservative voice in the gay and transgender public spaces to one that is hateful, threatening, mocking, arrogant, taunting and mean.
You’ve seen the ugly street preachers on YouTube and think they are the exception; they are not. You think they are fringe and ineffective; you are wrong. You are confident and comfortable knowing they do not represent the way you live your Christian life, so you turn away. In your absence and silence, what you know to be true about Christianity, the love and forgiveness, the grace and the mercy, is being distorted to the glbt population, their families and those who love them.
Last year at Pride Charlotte, I stood for almost six hours in front of rotating groups of over a dozen open air preachers; I heard the poison they spewed at people. They say they are motivated by taking the Gospel and God’s love to the streets. If you were to hear them, you would be deeply ashamed to be associated with the shared label of “Christian.” I have never, and that is a thoughtfully chosen word, never, seen a positive response to any street preacher at a Pride event.
There is a range of approaches used by street preachers. Some stand on boxes or ladders and shout; most have bullhorns. Others resemble men off to war with uniforms emblazoned with the words “TRUST JESUS,” “FEAR GOD,” and variations of calls to repentance. And always, there is fire — fire printed on signs and tee shirts, fire stitched on hats. It is figuratively and literally overkill. “Hell” is dominant; “love” is an almost invisible second. They look like bands of invading thugs and they are shockingly arrogant and offensive.
They assume there to be a rigid line of demarcation separating them, “the Christians,” from the glbt people, the “unChristians.” They are wholly uneducated about the spiritual status of festival-goers. The majority of glbt people, just like the rest of “us” were raised in Christian homes, hold God to be important in their lives and have made professions of faith.
Open air preachers at Gay Pride events yell about sexual orientation as perversion. They relegate orientation to a behavior; then, they constantly liken it to the destructive behaviors of substance abuses along with the other favorites: adultery, lying, cheating, fornicating and stealing. They recklessly and blindly accuse from their parapets and threaten every passerby with Bible verses.
A few weeks ago at Montana Pride in Bozeman, the lone-man-on-the-ladder screeched that everyone in the parade and those on the street watching would be thrown into “the 12,000 degree lake of fire.” I just stared directly into his eyes. “Stop lying to these people. You are using God’s word for destruction.” As expected, the retort was a variation on the usual attack,
Sister, you are leading these people to hell. You are a heretic, you Jezebel. You will burn in hell, you witch. You need to repent now and be saved.
Always remaining calm I responded, “No, I am not going to hell; no, I am not a heretic, a Jezebel or a witch; no, I am doing what I hear God asking me to do.”
I have never, and, again that word is carefully chosen, never heard a message of love from any street preacher at a Pride event that would attract people to the Jesus they say they represent.
Even the well-meaning open air preachers are doing harm at Pride events. At San Francisco Pride, June 24th, I spent time standing in front of four such men from a Calvary Church in Santa Rosa, CA. I am quite sure they had positive intentions when they arrived on Market Street. I wore a “Hurt by Church Get a #str8apology Here” tee shirt and was walking down the parade route handing out “Christian+Gay=OK”® stickers and buttons, resources for locating welcoming churches, listening to stories and offering apologies for the treatment of the glbt community by Christians.
I invite conversation with a smile and kindness; it is effective and welcome.
The expected and usual response came from the four men. I was told I: am going to hell, am a heretic, have the blood of people on my hands, am a deceiver, am not loving people, haven’t read the Bible. “No,” I told them, “you cannot imagine the damage you are doing right now, so I am going to stand here and do the right thing.”
Their diatribes were the customary fear-filled, threatening, centered on the heat of hell and the pain of eternal burning messages. Did I hear love? No. I never do from these people.
Most often, I ignore the screaming men on boxes or ladders with bullhorns. When they sought to engage me and discipline me with individual verses, I offered the address to my blogsite. “I have written over a half million words on this topic, gentlemen. What I care about right now is how you are representing Jesus to these people and the destruction you are doing.”
Rarely do they listen to any point of view that challenges their “truth.” That day, however, was a bit different; I had “back-up” along. Ed and Todd are well educated in the Scriptures, possess peaceable attitudes and are confident communicators.
We opted to engage the foursome.
They lacked understanding and the knowledge reported forty years ago by medical professionals that homosexuality is designated to be a normal variation of human sexuality. Forty years is quite a long time warp to miss. Bisexuality is not a concept they could grasp. Their world is pink or blue, heterosexual or perverted.
We talked to them about what is going on in the gay Christian community and challenged them to go visit an affirming church of gay believers. Predictably, their first response was physically pulling back from me. “I am taking a step away from you,” the head-proselytyzer told me. “Well, then, I am taking a step towards you,” I told him and I offered him the resource information again. He told me, “I am not interested in your heresy. Why would I ever walk into a place that teaches heresy?” “Okay,” I was thinking, “You would come to a place with a party atmosphere, alcohol, occasional drug usage, and partial nudity. You would knowingly subject yourselves to being cursed at. These things are acceptable, but walking into a House of God where your dogma may be challenged is not acceptable?”
“I would wish for you to be in a faith community of gay believers and see if the Spirit of God in you resonates with the Spirit of God in them. Then you would know what God is doing in the gay Christian community,” I suggested. “That experience goes against the Word of God,” he countered. “Okay, why is it that we straight people are allowed to have experiences in the Spirit, yet we reduce every experience that a gay person has to flesh? Do you see where that is wrong?”
I asked one of the Calvary Chapel gents, “Do you even know the history of growth in the Calvary Chapels? Do you understand how Calvary Chapel grew in the late 60’s and early 70’s in the Jesus-people movement?” “Sure,” he told me, “with Chuck Smith.” “No,” I corrected him, “both Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard Movement were sparked by one man, Lonnie Frisbee, a gay man, conveniently written out of your church history. But none-the-less, a gay man started the rapid church growth. And did you know that Chuck Smith Jr. is fully affirming of gay Christians?” Of course, he did not know this. Their dogma had completely segregated the words “gay” and “Christian,” even from their own faith history.
“We do not judge anyone at our church, not even homosexuals. We welcome anyone in our church,” we were told. When people say this, my inner default is, “Oh, yes you do.” To test this, Ed and I tried to act out a scenario of walking into church hand in hand, a common Sunday morning scene in many church parking lots. Then I suggested, “Now, imagine me as Ed’s partner.” That behavior, we were told, would not be acceptable because we would be “causing others to stumble.” The slight public displays of affection for a heterosexual couple quickly escalates in the same sex analogy to full-on sex between two men in the minds of the street preacher Bible-men.
To them, homosexual orientation is not about romantic, emotional, spiritual and sexual attraction to the same sex, it is always reduced to the one action of anal sex between two men. Personal disgust clouds their reason and they cannot understand that the natural feelings they have for the opposite sex are mirrored in a gay person’s attraction to someone of the same sex.
“Did you need to have sex with a woman to know you were heterosexual?” Todd asked. “Well, no.” “Then is it being gay that is the issue for you or is it the act of sex that is the issue for you?
The four men all stopped the open air preaching to be in conversation with us. We talked about what makes a person “Christian.” Is it belief in Jesus plus something we do? Again, we invited them into community with gay believers. They seemed opened. The head man that did most of the offensive labeling of me at the onset even apologized for his behavior towards me and asked for the information for my website.
They began to walk away and I went back to my public interactions. A few minutes later, we continued down Market Street and found two of the four ready to set up their ladder again. This time, we literally sprang into action. Ed hopped up on a trash can and declared a loving Gospel message above the crowd and I handed out more swag. The two men took their ladder and went down the Powell Street BART steps, done with preaching.
Okay, I know that most people lack the skills to engage this type of public poison with calm, educated, Jesus-like, kind responses. But, you can stand as a wall of love between the hatred, condemnation and ignorance that spills its cancer onto the glbt community. Doing the right thing in front of people that are doing the wrong thing produces stark visible differences and recognizable fruit.
How do festival goers react to the street preachers? Ignoring is the number one response. Other responses include anger, cursing, yelling, verse battling, graphic and offensive retaliatory responses, posing for pictures in front of them, kissing and they trying to offend with physical actions in front of them. And the one thing that is not measurable is how many times even apart from THIS time, that they have been, and will continue to be told: God hates you, God hates what you do, God hates who you are, you are perverted, you are going to hell, you are broken, you are animals, you need to change, you will burn forever. All in the authority, they say, of God.
How do people react to my message of love, apology and information? Excitement, smiles, gratitude, hope, hugging, crying and joy. They want their pictures taken with me; not to mock, but in amazement that they came across a Christian who acts like Jesus. They want to know where to go to church and how they can reconcile the verses in the Bible with their orientation. They want to know if God REALLY can and does love them; if He has not forgotten what they once had with Him.
I have magnificently simple and magical stories from Gay Pride events.
At Pride Charlotte, 2011, I had been standing in front of the street preachers and listening to the insane, aggressive, offensive rhetoric for about an hour. Two hundred Christians under Michael Brown and his group “God Has a Better Way” had come to the event with a message of “get fixed and God will love you.” They were clumped together in shady spots gawking, having now handed out all the “free” water they had brought. I can only describe it as a “snap” in me when I looked out at the crowd of mostly youth in front of me. The sense of injustice and anger at what my fellow Christians were doing to God’s precious gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people started rising from within me and I could not have stayed silent. One hand went up, my eyes closed and I was screaming louder than all four of the hate-filled voices behind me.
Jesus came to fight oppression. Jesus came to fight injustice. Don’t listen to these people. They do not speak for God. Jesus came to bring equality. He loves you just the way you are.
And there was more that I cannot remember. It was not me speaking.
A crowd gathered and they were hooting, clapping and screaming back:
This is the Jesus we want.” “This is the Jesus we love.” “We want her Jesus, not yours!
Nobody wants the ugly Jesus the street preachers bring to Gay Pride events. Nobody.
In San Francisco, six gorgeous young black women in little more than their underwear and heels were creating quite a stir for groups of men taking their pictures. This was all happening while I was standing under and in front of the bull horned street preachers.
I walked over to them and asked “Any of you young ladies raised in churches where you no longer feel welcome?” All of them “OH, yes!” in varying words. Me: “You do KNOW that God adores every one of you, don’t you? He is WILD about you.” They each asked for one of my “Christian+Gay=OK®” pins or stickers.
We chatted, and they told me that I had the message they wanted to hear, not those f*ckers. I told them that I was a Mom with a daughter near their ages and that I was going to tell them what I tell her: “Make good choices, ladies.”
These young women were so grateful and responsive. All this was acted out in front of the street preachers. Real love verses condemnation. As they walked away, I said, “Hey girls, let me say a blessing over each of you,” so I did and ended it all with, “Be safe and make good choices.” They each hugged me goodbye. “You’re kind of like a Mom out here. A Mom for God. I like you. Thank you for your message. Thank you for being out here,” said the leader of the girl-pack.
Love and kindness in the name of God is far more attractive than screaming verses.
Did any of this touch you? Do you understand that the message from the loud “Christian” voices at Gay Pride events is a false, hateful, angry depiction of Jesus based in the fleshly judgments of men? Most of these people will never venture into a church, my church or your church of kind, moderate Christians. Why would they?
Few Christians are telling the real Good News in the streets.
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? Let me help you reconcile your sexual orientation with the Bible. He is crazy about you and would love to get back into your life. 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.
“Blessed are the peacemakers. They will be called Children of God.”
It is easy. It is Scriptural. It is necessary. It will stretch you. It will bless you. It will change you. It will change the church.
If you want to join me, the next major public action in which I am asking for help is Pride Charlotte,Saturday, August 24th and 25th. With the passage of Amendment 1 in North Carolina, there is an increased need to extend love, and ask for forgiveness of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community for the discriminatory actions of voters in NC. You might also consider sponsoring some of the give-aways I hand out to the festival-goers.]