When an idea comes to me on a hiking trail (AKA my “sacred space”) I most often count it as a good idea. My mind is relaxed and I have no distractions. I would soon be heading down to San Francisco for Gay Pride weekend in June of 2008 to work with my friends at Freedom in Christ , (FIC) a fully affirming Evangelical church (near Franklin & Ellis), pastored by a very dear friend of mine Pastor Maria Caruana. I could picture an idea and needed to make it work. Once at home, I searched my dresser for a white tee shirt , got out some blotter stamps and went to work on the tee shirt.
I spelled out “Hurt by Church? Get a Straight Apology Here” on both sides, big. Big enough to be read at a distance. And big enough to make me feel completely exposed in a crowd. No hiding in crowd on this one.
I go to SF Pride each year to be with and work with my GLBT brothers and sisters at FIC. I help at a water booth they staff at Pride on Saturday and in information booth on Sunday. But, mostly I walk around wearing my tee shirt and feeling more naked than the truly naked people. There are quite a few folks who have no clothes on or no tops or wear only very skimpy clothes. But, try strolling with the “Jesus bulls eye” on your front and back. This Jesus, the One who many think is the driver behind the anti-gay nastiness that has been hurled at the gay community. Even I get tempted to cover up my shirt in crowds. You can hide the front with crossed arms, but not the back. Genius plan, God.
Often I stand at the FIC booth to talk, answer questions, hear stories and hand out information and FIC produced CDs, but the most successful engagements come when I walk around the Civic Center area. People stare at my shirt, lips moving, eyes popping open. They motion me to stop. They look at my face, they quickly try to assess my authenticity and then ask about my intentions either quite haltingly or aggressively. Not much in between. One year, I walked around with Freddy, my sweet buddy in his “Christian + Gay = OK” tee shirt. He carried CDs and informational materials for FIC. We talked to lots of people in tandem. Hugs, tears and smiles are exchanged.
One of my favorite stories, oh, actually I have lots of favorite stories, involved a teen girl who had just come back from Church camp. She was at Pride with a straight friend who encouraged her to deal with this confusion of her sexuality head on. The friend was very supportive of church-camp-girl being a lesbian and wanted to help in a tangible way by accompanying her to SF Gay Pride. It was she who saw me and dragged the just-back-from-church-camp friend up to me. She pointed at Freddy’s shirt, “Is that true? Do you believe you can be gay and Christian?” We talked. They cried, they laughed, we hugged. No one can resist Freddy G. White. She told us she had not wanted to make a choice , but knew she couldn’t change her orientation. She had chosen to “quit Jesus” and now, after talking, the dating was back on.
I’ve never experienced one nasty confrontation at Prides. Never. I have gone to the Wiccan and sex workers booths to chat, talked with completely naked men (oh, they did have shoes on), men in S & M gear, old war veteran partners in wheelchairs, transgenders who are into S & M, the tough, young, Chicana dykey chicks —the whole gamut. All have a story of being tossed out, not being good enough, having to make a choice between faith and orientation , being asked to change or told they are not welcome. And, most never go back to faith communities. They often wander on over to Buddhism; it is welcoming. I cried with one woman as she told me she loved to teach Sunday School and, you could tell she was probably very good at it. Once she fell in love with a woman , she was un-fellowshipped. She never looked back. I invited her back.
“Hey Church Girl, come over here and talk to me.” No problem. I was raised on the streets of New York; I don’t shrink from much. He was in his interesting Folsom Street Fair appropriate leathers, all buff, whip in hand and straps across his chest. “What’s the deal with this Jesus? Why does He hate us so much?” Now if that does not make a Christian weep, there is no hope for your theology. I listen to hundreds of stories over a Pride weekend. I don’t know the results of the dialogues. I only started blogging this past year so there has been no way for people to reconnect with me. Till now. Now, I can point to a place where they can read a view of Scripture they may have never seen. I want to be able to point back to God , back to church, back to this Jesus who never “quit” them.
My friends at FIC do a wonderful job reaching out. They go yearly to the Folsom Street Fair in their purple “Gay + Christian = OK” tee shirts just to hand out water and be available for spiritual conversations. That is edgy and the Jesus of the New Testament would be right there with them. Every year at SF Gay Pride, and this will be their seventh year in the parade, Freedom in Christ Evangelical Church has a float and it is a stand out. Amongst all the groups and marchers, the dykes on bikes, the Mikes on trikes, there they are, the FIC congregation on a float declaring “Christian + Gay = OK”. I have ridden on the float with these my brothers and sisters singing techno-pop versions of praise and worship songs. We sway and lift our hands in worship in our colors-of- the-rainbow choir robes. What makes me smile/makes me cry is the number of people along the parade route of 1.2 million people that sing along with us; they know these songs from past years in churches.
Pastor Maria tells me that in the first few years, the crowds did not know how to receive them. Were they anti-gay? Surely they must be, they are a church. Now, folks expect to see the tiered float with the choir and Angel Stephen glittered in white dancing on the top tier. The year the float happened to stop very close to the Westboro Baptist Church crazies, “Amazing Grace “ was playing. I don’t think I have ever sung or felt that hymn more deeply than in those five minutes. To stand with about 20 GLBT believers in my orange choir robe, alongside people I really love, a fortress against the hatred hurled in the name of Jesus, is a profoundly spiritual moment.
Last year, I opted to walk (and run) alongside the float to hand out hundreds of information bags to people along the route. Yes, sporting my “Hurt by Church? Get a Straight Apology Here” tee shirt. How do you pick the right people I wondered? When those clever answers come to me, I say “thank you God”. If I saw people who were singing along with the music blasting from the float, I knew they had a church background. I would head directly to them and offer them a bag. The response was usually a silent nod of gratitude and knowing. Eyes connecting and a blessing spoken.
I know this is not the typical Christian response to Gay Pride events. Most of us ignore the Pride events and some will use it as a “ministry” opportunity. Two years ago, I got into an email exchange with Dr. Michael Brown of Charlotte, NC and of the Coalition of Conscience. He and his co-sponsor, Lou Engle of The Call and the “Kill the Gays Bill” in Uganda (in)fame, sponsored a march called “God Has A Better Way” during Charlotte Gay Pride. This is their yearly response to Charlotte Gay Pride. The goal (which I do not think they met) was to have “five hundred worshippers, prayers, dancers, musicians and praisers” march from their church to a church facility immediately adjacent to the Pride festival area. The video is now gone from youtube, but I saw what appeared to be about 250 people in bright red tee shirts emblazoned with “God Has A Better Way” walking to the Pride area where Dr. Brown and others spoke on a public address system. They talked about the corruption of America and the destruction of the family; one man recalled a prophetic vision of the church rescuing the GLBT people. In Jesus name, amen. Then, the red-shirted (m)asses , walked into the crowd to “love on people”.
I engaged with Dr. Brown many, many times in the weeks prior to Charlotte Pride pleading with him to not do this the planned way. No movement, no surprise. I actually had to cover my face in disgust when I saw the video from the event; I knew the impact of their actions. It would not be positive. Michael Brown proudly stated in his radio show that two or three “God Has a Better Way” people got to pray with folks at the event. Now, I know two or three people are very important, but my God, and I do mean, my God—all the people that were pushed even further from my God. Ahhhhh!
We Christians look like fools and bigots with a “God Has a Better Way” sort of action. How much more effective is engaging others in grace with a truly loving heart? Forget the “love the sinner and hate the sin” drivel. Jesus never said it, it is not in the Bible and we keep quoting it as a validation for bias. God does have a much better way and His people don’t seem to know what it is when it comes to gay/trans people. It is so, so simple. Love. Now, that is something Jesus talked a whole bunch about.
This summer, I will be at as many Pride events as I can get to in my “Hurt by Church, Get a Straight Apology Here” tee shirt. The tee shirt I wear was duplicated by Big Star Branding, TX and my buddy, Kori Ashton. I won a contest for “Be a Big Star” when the folks that believe in this action voted for me enmasse. (Thank you all, really.) Christine Bakke-O’Neill duplicated the original design and Richard Archambault suggested I use the hashtag #str8apology. The result of the collaboration is a teeshirt that I hope others will wear. The tee is as raw and as big as the original. Are you brave enough to wear it and mean it? If you are, bring your tissues to your local Pride event; you will hear stories of pain that never should have happened.
This is what I think the church should be doing. Apologizing and meaning it. We have gone the “laws and rule route ” and it sure does not work. Maybe what we actually need is more grace? What a Jesus-like concept. Who someone is attracted to has nothing to do with God’s love for them. Everyone means everyone. All means all. Whosoever means whosoever.
Gatekeepers step aside, God has a better way and this maybe the formula: figure out what makes you so skimpy on grace-giving, fix it (this process is usually long and gets you to focus on you which is pretty Biblical if you are bent on looking for sin), go listen to the stories and be brave enough to keep your mouth shut, and then, listen some more. And, when the agony for the damage done by well meaning parents, friends and churches hits your Spirit, acknowledge the wrong and apologize. Hug. Smile. Next. Sadly, you will never run out of “nexts”.
And, if you are one of those hurt by church and by well intentioned, but just don’t get it Christians, I apologize. That is not the heart of God. He adores you. He wants you back, He never “quit” you.