One of the most severe forms of bullying is the misuse of the Word of God — a Book with an intrinsic message of love — to try to coerce people to conform to their theology; or worse, to do harm to people. At Pride Charlotte on Saturday, August 27th, not only did I witness the some of the most egregious embodiments of spiritual bullying, but I joined the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community as the unfortunate target of that bullying for six hours, solid.
I went to Charlotte with Lisa Salazar, fellow Board member of Canyonwalker Connections, for two reasons: to exemplify the inclusive love of Jesus with str8apology and conversation; and to stand against the actions of “God Has a Better Way”(GHABW). GHABW brought 200 Christians into Pride Charlotte with tee shirts printed “GodHasABetterWay.com,” and to hand out water, postcards, bracelets and concert invitations all consistent with their message: either change your orientation, or change the expression of your orientation in order to be in relationship with God. As Lisa and I walked and prayed around the perimeter of Pride Charlotte that morning, we did not know we were stepping into more public hatred than either of us had ever before faced.
I have attended many gay pride events to communicate the str8apology, and assumed Pride Charlotte would be similar (but with a heightened twist of countering the GHABW intrusive message responses). What I had not encountered previously though, was street preachers who are heaven-bent on abuse of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. You can dress it up by clutching a Bible to your chest and tossing out some cherry-picked Bible verses in between your screams of degradation, but it still amounts to nothing more than a public torture chamber – of course all in Jesus’ name. What I had not encountered previously though, were street preachers heaven bent on abuse of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Watch the videos that one screecher put up on YouTube (go to 11:00 and remember, this is their edit, which is making them look “good,” not the really damning stuff, yikes!). And then, if you are still able, check out a few others. For six hours, these dozen or so men mixed God’s word with attack, threat, condemnation and mockery, and spoke it under the guise of love and warning. Most people walk past them; many pose for pictures in front of them with signs of their own or while kissing their same-sex partner to mock back; others try to engage them in a sane dialogue. It is a special experience however, to listen to it all in an extended format. I did not see one fruitful, Jesus-birthed moment between these men and any pride participant. Not one.
Mockery of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community was common. Again, watch the video LINK. If I were positioning myself as a messenger of God, I might be a bit more cautious and smart about what I posted on YouTube. They were savvy enough, for the most part, to edit out the interactions I was having with people close by. The stark contrast in the difference of reflection of Jesus was obvious. They taunted with the typical verbiage: “sodomite,” ”pervert,” ”sexual pervert,” ”homo.” All expected. But, interspersed amidst the barrage of condemnation (peppered with Scripture of course, praise Jesus) was delightful commentary such as this, when Buddy, praise Jesus, saw a woman walking with a dog:
Ma’am, don’t bring a dog into a sodomy festival. Be careful. Don’t bring a dog into a sodomy festival. You don’t know what these wicked sodomites will do. There’s nothing that they won’t do. Get a dog out of this place.” Or, when offered a drink by a young gay man, he said
“No, I don’t know where your mouth has been.” Or, when he was explaining some convoluted story about getting a shot of medicine in the behind to rid someone of homosexuality, Buddy, praise Jesus, followed with:
“Oh, but that is not the only thing these people want in the rear.”
“Homosexuality is a threat to national security, to the city of Charlotte,” to which Buddy added later, “At least you are willing to admit that homosexuals are extremely violent people. Look what God did to Sodom and Gomorrah! If homosexuality continues, God might wipe us out again with fire and brimstone!” Or,
“If the sodomites want to be all by themselves, rent a hotel ballroom or convention center. But if you want to bring your wickedness into the streets of Charlotte, we will be there taking a stand against you.
Hmmmm, a display of Jesus’ warning, Jesus’ loving, Jesus’ healing techniques? Strange approach.
I had very few direct exchanges with the screechers; not because they didn’t try, but because I ignored them. I did point my finger in Buddy’s face and in my best New Yorker, “don’t f-with-me” tone, said, “Stop it. You are disgusting and mocking people. You are the coarse man of the flesh. Jesus would never speak like you do.” To which he scolded, “You say not one word of rebuke to these sodomites, yet you rebuke me, woman!” “Yes,” I told him, “They are not setting themselves up as a man of God. You are.”
These guys are slick in technique. Typically, they engage in conversation and frustrate the other party. One man, the granddaddy of the open-air gang, was there. He was there, that is, until he was arrested for breaking City of Charlotte sound ordinance laws. He had been warned numerous times to “turn it down,” but finally he could not resist the need to loudly and boldly declare how God felt about the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. Was he reading from the Psalms or Galatians about love and grace? Nope, Romans 1.
I watched his polished technique closely when he engaged some people. Two young beauties that were clearly in love had gone screetchergroup to group questioning them, “Why is God so against me loving my girlfriend? Tell me, why is it wrong for me to fall in love?” The man of God would then tell her, in a sweet, condescending voice, “Darlin’ it is not me judgin’ you and tellin’ you. It is Gawd. He is the One telling you that it is abom-nation. You’re going to hell unless you repent.” Yada, yada, yada. I stood very close to this conversation. Annoyingly close for the granddaddy of them all; I was beyond social graces. I leaned in as it escalated and said, “Honey, do not leave here until you talk to me, understand?” And so, it continued until the questioner got intensely frustrated and erupted. Sappy mockery takes its toll eventually on the oppressed.
One of the young women talking to the soon-to-be-arrested “man of God” exploded, “F*** you, f*** your f***ing God too. I don’t want anything to do with you and your f***ing God!” She stormed off, flipping them all off. Nice job boys, one more entirely frustrated person trying to find her place in life, love and God. As she left in a fury, preacher man was calling out, “That’s right. You have the devil in you. That is the way you homosexuals are. Heathens, this is why you need Jesus.” The balance of his group were all nodding agreement and mumbling equally non-loving judgments with their banners of condemnation held high, wearing tee shirts and hats emblazoned with both the warning and majesty of God.
I walked a few feet away from the stone-throwers and put my arms around both those young women to form a little huddle blocking out the noise of the continuing condemnation. What I said to them was a variation of what I said over a hundred times that day to individuals and groups.
“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 18,000 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, all day long. Not deceit, not “ear tickling” heretical messages, just “get back in the game.” (Part three to post 9/03) Most of this played out directly in front of the screechers. They were not pleased with me. To add to the offense of my position of defense, I am a woman. Control, homophobia and misogyny seem to be a trinity for this group. Imagine God using a woman, in plain view of the Pharisees, to do healing and inviting, as they stood a few feet away, convinced they were God’s divine tools of repentance? It was an amazing scene played out over and over, all day long. Within a small circle of pavement, were two divergent “come look at God” techniques: one causing destruction and repulsion, and the other offering healing and invitation.
I want to be clear here: I had no intention of standing as a buffer. None. This is not what I usually do. I am naturally a nurturing Mommy type; I love people; I can have conversation with a rock. God glued me in front of these men. I had never seen anyone stand as a buffer for hours, but this was God’s plan. It was like a mania in me; I had no option. It was also not “Plan A” for Ken, Buddy, Justin, Richard, Shane, Brian, Stan, Flip and gang. Standing only feet in front of them with my “Hurt by Church? get a #str8aplogy here” shirt and loving “the sinners” was a red flag to them. And, they choose me a a new target. They yelled at me for hours, calling me and saying to me:
- Spawn of Satan, devil, witch
- Deceiver, liar, wolf in sheep’s clothing, ear tickler, false prophet, heretic and of course, the group favorite, Jezebel
- You are the “worst person at this event. Worse than every homo-sex-ual here because you lie to these people.”
- “You are going to burn in hell.” “You are walking to destruction.” Three men of God even prayed prophetically for me that I would be destroyed and my life would be full of destruction. (Thanks for the uplifting prophetic words gents. Gosh.)
- My lifestyle (huh?) was an abomination to a Holy God
- My knowledge of, reading of and studying of the Word of God was reduced to nothing.
- I needed a man to control me. (Really) And that is why women should not preach, teach or lead. We are easily deceived and will lead others astray.
- “You will be called to account for your actions before a Holy God.” I told them “I hope so, because what I do, I do it in His name.”
(Oh, Richard Pope, you can stop calling me now. You are calling a computer recording and I will not answer you. I, too, love the Word of God. You, however, are several chocolates short of a Valentines box of Jesus’ love.)
For the past year, people have prayed intentional prayers over me (thank you), for the protection of my ears and soul when the venom comes at me. I get lots of nasty-grams; they never get to me. To have all that directed at me verbally was a new high, or low. I heard for hours what was said to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community of the Charlotte area. I listened to one-on-one conversations of utter condemnation. I watched the faces and body language of these dozen or so men. Bibles in hands, threatening messages on their shirts, hats, banners and handouts. They would tell you they were there to “warn in love” and to urge pride participants that they needed to get right with God. If this is part of the Jesus PR team, we need not look further as to why gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people don’t feel welcome in churches. And, dear ignorant man, 84% of the people you were yelling at grew up in the faith and many of the ones that did not walk away are incredibly bright, shining examples of Jesus. And yes, they are gay; yes, they are transgender; and no, they do not need to repent for being created.
These street preachers/screechers are bullies with Bibles and I do not think they are going to disappear. They go event to event and excitedly tell each other (they would do well to close down their Facebook walls), “See you at X event or Y city. We can carpool down from here. Can’t wait to see you, brother. We’ll be kicking out some demons there.” From what I saw, they could save on gas, go to forest clearing together, and have plenty of demons to deal with. They were one banjo short of a “deliverance” of their .
Is this the public voice of God that Christians want spoken at events? There will always be those in the fringe on the edge that are extremists. But, these yellers are the ones that are ever-present and driven. At least the “God Has a Better Way” folks were not screaming and mocking; they are not exempt from the exclusion, however. They were using their handouts and conversations to direct people to a “you need to get fixed” site.
I know the bulk of us Christians are right in that middle spot of deciding how we feel on this issue of inclusion —do we fully integrate the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community with our own? And in the meantime, what do we do in the public spaces — the spaces where lgbt people, and especially lgbt youth (the most vulnerable of all targets) are being barraged with messages ranging from thinly-coated intolerance to obvious hate?
How about declaring love with the same passion that hate and intolerance are declared? Do their declarations contain the revelation of Jesus that you want expressed in the public arena outside your churches? I am convinced that these street screechers are driven by self-serving goals; they must be. I saw no benefit from their presence. I did not plan on standing between these bullies with Bibles and their targets in Charlotte. I know to my core that that was my place on that day in the Kingdom.
You don’t need to go all mega-buffer crazy like I did; you can do simple actions. Invite a lesbian couple for a meal and listen to their story. Stop telling and start listening. See that little boigirl your daughter hangs out with? Take her along on the next family camping trip and get to know her. Does your faith community teeter-totter on this issue? Invite open dialogue and make sure some of your gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender congregants get equal say. Show up at a gay pride event, get a booth and let the glbt community know that both you and God want to hang out with them. Remember, 84% were raised in faith. Christ is not an unfamiliar concept; Christian love, however, is. They just happen to be same-sex attracted. They have spiritual relationships with God just as heterosexuals do. Faith is a heart issue, not a “genitalia and what you do with it” issue.
If you are a believer in Jesus, I would hope most of us would never wear a “repent or burn” shirt to a gay pride event or even a condemning “God Has a Better Way” shirt. Try being brave and humble and wearing a “str8apology” shirt and help repair the damage Christians have done to God’s rainbow children and those that love them.
A final word of gratitude and appreciation for the Peacekeepers at Pride Charlotte. They are the ones in the fluorescent green vests surrounding the street screechers. You did a magnificent job! I asked one woman how she tolerated the crazy talk all day. With a perfectly calm face and response, she said, “I do this for a living.” Oh, I thought, mediator, police officer, divorce attorney? “I work with emotionally disturbed children,” she replied. What an accurate comparison. Sadly.
Series on Pride Charlotte :