I joke that I’m always the last to know about the Indianapolis Gay Pride celebration. For years I only found out about it afterwards, when I saw a story on the news, or one of my friends asked if I had attended. Even though I’ve been involved with the gay and lesbian community in Indianapolis for thirty years, there’s apparently some gay communication network I was never a part of.
So I’ve never gone. I’ve heard a lot about it. But never gone. I understand it’s fun and affirming.
The last couple years, due to some obscure celestial alignment, and well, Facebook, I’ve actually heard about it beforehand. And this year I not only heard about it, but read this interesting post by Steph Mineart on her Commonplacebook blog.
Steph provides a well-researched report on two “anti-gay” Christian churches who have rented booth space and will be present at this year’s Pride celebration. She even provides a pic of the offensive button handed out by this group in the past. A button which says “Pride” in very large letters, and in fine print quotes the rest of Proverbs 16:18, “goes before destruction.” Such a loving and grace filled sentiment to share with LGBT people!
Steph’s report suggests, and I don’t doubt it’s veracity, that these churches have rented booth space this year, as they did last year, to gain access to all the attending sexual sinners (“sexual sin” is a popular term used by certain evangelical Christians these days so I’m using it here) in hopes of getting at least some to repent and become born-again Christians. This has, very understandably, raised the hackles of many people. There is talk of requiring “vendors [to] sign a Core Beliefs document” starting in 2014.
So I need to say something about this to all the LGBT people in Indianapolis and their allies. The worst thing we can do right now is act like these two groups are in any way a threat to us and make a big deal about their presence at IndyPride.
I know the spiritual damage similar Christian groups are doing and have done to our people. I know. Intolerant Christians nearly ended me thirty years ago.
But times are changing and we must carefully consider if adversarial action is still as necessary as we once felt it to be. I want to propose to you that we, LGBT people, now find ourselves in the position to either live into the peaceful, loving, tolerant, and diverse society we have been advocating for the last fifty years, or adopt the same exclusive, judgmental, and abusive outlook that has caused us so much anguish in the past.
Basically I think we should look at this as a test. A test to see if we really believe what we have been saying about there being room in this country for people whose differences feel threatening. Like us. Like these two Christian churches.
What the Hell Do I Know?
Readers familiar with my work know that the interaction between evangelical Christianity and the LGBT community is of particular interest to me. I was very active in my church growing up, but left in my late teens due to the fact that in 1979 my unwillingness to hide my sexual orientation was a Big Problem. For them, not me.
Losing my church home was an incredibly wounding event that caused me to view most Christians through a lens of fear. And the fear was constantly reinforced as I witnessed, decade after decade, people loudly proclaiming to be Christian heaping abuse on our people.
However, even through all of it, I understood that the actual philosophy suggested by Jesus was, as I have often stated, a valid spiritual path. What Jesus was talking about must not be confused with the perversion of his message advocated by many facets of institutional Christianity.
Within the last ten years I have come to a clear realization that just because most of the people who have caused pain and anguish in my life identify as Christian, it is utterly wrong for me to preemptively judge people who self-identify that way through the lens of fear created by those who have wounded me. I am much better served by reaching out with love and kindness as I would to anyone else.
Friends, don’t kid yourselves. The justice and equality we seek has led us right to the door of “the church.” That’s where the people are whose minds and hearts are set against us. Almost everyone else knows us, and has decided we’re a damn fine bunch. It’s time that we, as a people, ascend the steps, knock on the big wooden door, and invite them out to join us in conversation. Maybe entice them with some homemade gluten-free, sugar-free cookies the lesbians brought. Or maybe we ought to let the guys bring the snacks…
Coming to the realization that I must not fear and demonize all Christians, and to actually begin to treat Christians fairly and loving, are two very different undertakings! Coming to the realization was hard. The other, the putting it into practice, feels nearly impossible at times. But I have committed myself to the effort, as I think we all must.
I have many Christian friends now, some of whom have been working for LGBT equality within Christianity for more than 30 years. Friends like Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott who courageously wrote the groundbreaking book, “Is the Homosexual My Neighbor: A Positive Christian Response” in 1978 and are still working toward justice for our people through the organization they helped found, the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus. What I have found, in my 10 year association with them, is that Christianity is thick with good people.
What Is It With these Christians Anyway?
In the course of my work with EEWC-Christian Feminism Today, I’ve had to interface with more evangelical Christians and their work than I ever expected. I’ve noticed one thing in particular that has bearing in this discussion. Some pastors of small, ineffective churches are turning to the “gay issue” as a way of increasing their stature as “right-fighters,” both with their congregations and in their communities. This has proven to be a great way to attract fear-based people who are especially threatened by any social change, to both attend their churches and give them money. Fear is exactly what these pastors are selling. They are the people talking about the “homosexual agenda. ” They are the people talking about how we are a dangerous group intent on “converting” others to our “lifestyle.” I find this so humorous because I’ve never known one gay person who thinks it’s even possible to “convert” anyone, yet I have known literally hundreds of Christians obsessed with converting everyone in the world!
An egotistical pastor from Kansas showed them how it’s done. I don’t mention his name because I don’t want to give him any more publicity. Get a community (or a nation) stirred up about your intolerant and dramatically unkind anti-gay actions and get talked about everywhere. The bottom line is that nobody would know about him, except a handful of people his followers have annoyed, if the media didn’t constantly provide his church with free advertising. The reward for his reprehensible behavior is attention. Toddlers anyone?
So in the case of the two churches renting booth space at the Indy Pride celebration, their presence may feel like an aggressive act, and it is meant to be aggressive, make no mistake. But it’s an aggressive act that doesn’t necessarily lead to an associated injury. Yes, it’s irritating that they have chosen to crash our party and annoy our guests. But it’s not wounding, just irritating. And they want attention. We must not give it to them. It’s not much fun if nobody pays any attention.
And finally, it’s none of our business if some of our people are persuaded to “denounce their sin” and become chaste members of the Christian community. Every single LGBT person, like any other person, is responsible for their own thoughts and actions. If one of our own is conflicted enough about the intersection between their spirituality and sexual identity to believe what the people staffing these booths will tell them, instead of seeking out the myriad other affirming resources now available to gay Christians, then I believe the illusion of “conversion” is a path they must walk. And it’s not our job to stop them. All we can do is make sure they have options, and the loving and caring Christian groups here in Indianapolis will make sure of that.
We Have To Embody the Change We Want To See
We LGBT people are advocating for a climate of tolerance and a society that celebrates diversity. We are, simply by our courage in being out, proving a million times a day that we are no spiritual or physical threat to anyone. We are changing hearts and minds by the simple act of sharing our beauty and insisting that truth be spoken and justice be done. The majority of people are learning that a society embracing diversity is not as uncomfortable as they thought it would be, not as dangerous, not even as different. We are not a dangerous and unkind people. We are a gentle, loving community full of fun, full of heart, and full of hope.
Certain other people, yes, many of them proclaiming themselves to be Christian, are clinging to antiquated ideas about our human expression, and our worthiness as children of God. Those people are casting about fearfully, attempting to stop the world from becoming a place where LGBT people can live comfortably. And some of them are ramping up the efforts to make us uncomfortable. But their only weapons are ideas. We have some pretty rockin’ ideas of our own.
Let’s make sure our reaction to this situation is not about our own anxious projections of danger. Let’s make sure we are reacting to two little booths and a few annoying people at IndyPride, and not reacting to years of spiritual wounding at the hands of other Christians.
And please, let’s not get into requiring vendors to sign some agreement that says they think just like we do. That is not us. That has nothing to do with our core value of a world enriched by diversity. Are we really scared of people with different opinions? EEWC can’t have a booth at some Christian conferences because of “signing” rules just like the one being suggested for Pride. We lose too much credibility by adopting that fear-based way of dealing with “others.”
I said at the beginning that we could look at this situation as a test. And here’s the only question.
Can we, as a people, overcome our very real fears long enough to show some confused people what radical hospitality and living into a respectful, diverse society really feels like?
I know the answer, and I think you do too.