I had a message pop up in Facebook the other day, my friend Kurt from St John’s had been poking around my blog and reading some of the things I have written on LGBTQ inclusion and acceptance. He correctly pointed out that I was a little out of date… he didn’t say “dude, you’re slacking off,” but he should have. He would have been right.
He also graciously offered me permission to share a short article he wrote this past year for St John’s on what it meant to be asked to help our parish organize a group to march in the annual Pride Parade in DC. He did a great job organizing, by the way… it was my first Pride Parade and I’m hooked.
Here’s the text of his article, and a few Parade photos… please receive it as a gift from Kurt, a brother in Christ, a humble man and a deeply good soul.
Pride Parade Story by Kurt Ellison
It wasn’t long ago that someone stopped me and said, “So what’s the deal with the Pride Parade? Why is St. John’s marching?”
That is no small answer!
As a teenager that grew up at St. John’s, I could tell that we were definitely a church that was not of one mind about the whole gay issue. We had gay clergy, but when it came to choosing a new rector in 1997, St. John’s said overwhelmingly (in its profile survey) that it did not want a gay rector. (Yes, it’s true!)
As St. John’s wrestled with where it was and searched for a new rector, so I was wrestling with who I was – a gay kid who loved my church (and I still do). Living in Chicago as an adult, I found myself at the annual pride parade, and fascinated by the churches that were marching in the parade, and thinking, “Wow, my home church (St. John’s) would never do this!”
Years later, I moved back to the area to look after my ailing parents, I eventually came back to St. John’s and was curious to see how things had changed. Imagine my surprise when Susan Pizza and Sari Ateek eventually asked if I would write a grant for the Norwood Parish Fund to get us to participate in Pride.
I had to think for a while, and pray seriously about it. I was the type of person to watch a parade, not necessarily march in one, much less write a grant proposal, or organize a contingent. In my prayers, I could picture God having a good laugh saying, “HA HA, Kurt! You thought St. John’s would never do this! Now you have to man up!” How could I say no?
I wrote the proposal to the NPF. It got approved (kudos to the NPF folks!). We bought frisbees with the church logo, a banner, and advertised in Crossroads. 25 people showed up to march. We had a blast!
The gay community does not always receive a welcoming message from churches (understatement!). Other churches, while supportive and inclusive are not necessarily putting their message of welcome out there. Marching in the parade tells a whole community that they are welcome at St. John’s. It is a positive risk for the Gospel.
What amazes me still after three years of marching is how grateful people are to see the churches marching in the Pride Parade. All along the parade route we hear time and again, “Thank you for coming!”, and “Thank you, St. John’s!” In 2015 it is no small thing to say, “ALL ARE WELCOME HERE!”
Our pastor, Rev. Sari!
…and the man of the hour, Kurt!
Below is one I took at the Parade in 2016!
You are not alone.
To every one of my Muslim friends and neighbors, you are not alone. The demonizing of your religion will not go unchallenged. Threats to discriminate against you because of your faith will not go unchallenged. You are our neighbors, friends and family. There are so many Americans, so many Christians, who will defend you.
To every immigrant, even those who came to us undocumented, you are not alone. We will still speak of your dignity and worth and celebrate our connection as human beings. You are our neighbors, our fellow humans, and you matter to us. Your children matter, and we will not leave them forsaken.
To every woman who feels that deep pain in their soul when men use and excuse demeaning language like “grab them by the pussy,” you are not alone. We will continue to hold people accountable for their words and actions. We will always speak of your value and we will defend your bodies and rights.
To every LGBTQ friend and neighbor, you are not alone. We have seen important civil liberties achieved in the last decade for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer minorities, and we will not sit idly by when those are threatened. You matter to us, and we will continue to safeguard your life and liberty.
To the millions who have healthcare for the first time, and those who finally have coverage even in the face of preexisting conditions, you are not alone. We will not sit idly by while your health is threatened by political games and rhetoric. We will fight for you and with you to keep the healthcare you so desperately need.
To our non-white friends and neighbors who have been vilified, faced condescension, and suffered demeaning, racist abuses, you are not alone. We will continue to stand with you for equality and truth. We will continue to work for a day when no one’s race or ethnicity is used as a weapon to disenfranchise, demean or discredit them.
To refugees around the world and those who have made it to US soil, you are not alone. We will not allow you to be further victimized by fear and suspicion, but will loudly proclaim your dignity, value and humanity. You are our sisters and brothers.
Those holding public offices change, but some things will never change. We will always stand together to create a better world, a safer world and a more beautiful world where our diverse gifts and shared dignity brighten every dark time. We will work harder each day to embrace love and accept our differences, and we will safeguard one another against all threats. We will stumble and we will misstep, but we will always rise and be better for our shared efforts.
You are not alone.
A four-year-old blog post of mine on preachers inciting violence has been coming to mind lately in light of the recent events in Orlando, and the hate-filled preaching of some pastors. Violence is a sickness, especially violence shrouded in religious piety. More than ever, our world needs those who will love in the face of hate and work to heal the sickness of these preachers. I’m sharing a recent nasty example from a pastor’s Facebook postings, and then linking in my blog from four years ago on preachers who incite violence. Lord, have mercy.
Recent nastiness in the name of Christ…
My post of four years ago: On Preachers Who Incite Violence
We must loudly and strongly, with civil tongues and constant hearts, repudiate these voices and their messages. We must stand against these messages of hate and violence. Silence is not an option, no more than violence. Answer them with sure, true and sincere messages of love. May our voices never cease to sing and weave the story of God’s unending love.
Sunday afternoon Teresa and I asked Isaac what they had studied in youth group class that morning. He said they had talked about “rules” and done some reading in Leviticus. If I recall correctly he said something along the lines of “Man, there’s some crazy stuff in Leviticus.”
First, let me simply concur. There are many things in the scriptural book of Leviticus that seem quite crazy to us, today. As a few examples, we have to stop enjoying our bacon, but even more than just bacon, no fat! (Leviticus 11 & 3). We also find ourselves in a Hipster paradise with no rounded beards… all squares and angles, baby. (Leviticus 19) And sorry, Maryland, no more of the planet’s best crabcakes! (Leviticus 11)
On a far less humorous note, verses from Leviticus that proscribed certain sexual activities are used today to condemn and promote hatred toward our valuable LGBTQ neighbors, friends and family. (Leviticus 18 & 20) Not awesome.
It was a great conversation starter with our son to share an important principle: I love and revere our scriptures, and showing them the utmost respect often means knowing when not to quote them. Those verses from Leviticus seem crazy to us mostly because they are from a far away place, far away time and for a far away audience. As a white, GenX, Texas raised Evangelical turned Episcopalian, I could hardly be further from the context and time of the Levitical audience. We’re separated by time, geography, culture and we’re even different religions.
There’s nothing respectful about quoting and handling scripture as though we aren’t in a different time and place. In fact, for scriptures to be most understood and beneficial to us today, we have to be aware and accepting of our own time and place. This way we let the message for that time be what it was, and we trust in God to help us understand the message for this day and time. Some of those messages may be the same. Some will not.
When it comes time to quote something, let’s hold tight to the timeless values and ideas that transcend and permeate our scriptures from beginning to end, as summarized by our Sovereign: 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40 If we’re serious about finding an application for the verses from Leviticus in life today, we’ll do so within the love Jesus points us toward. Any application or understanding of the Law will be upheld by or be removed by that love.
Book review time! The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical’s Change of Heart.
I’ve been meaning to pick this up and read it for a while; I finally ordered a copy on Amazon and have taken a couple of weeks to read it. The cover and title make no equivocations on the author’s view point and end goal: looking to scripture for a faithful understating of same-sex marriage.
I like the way the author begins by telling some of his own story. Maybe it’s because I’m a GenX’er, but I like to know something about an author before constructing my matrix through which to filter her or his words. Just because it’s in a book and even managed to get published, that’s not so big a deal to me. This author seems to be a keeper. He’s a well-spoken (written) gentleman who carries that special evangelical pedigree that makes his book intriguing. I related with him immediately in his spiritual journey within a church tradition that was non-affirming of our LGBTQ neighbors and in his journey of changed understanding on how we read and apply our scriptures to sexuality and life.
I also related to his central angst: the traditional teaching on how to read our scriptures and apply them to the lives of sexual minorities is not working. In fact, that teaching and its application is damaging countless lives and souls, and it’s hard to synchronize that with God’s grace and love. The author doesn’t have a gay child or family member, and he isn’t coming to terms with his own sexuality… he is coming to terms with his faith.
Often those who have not sought and found a way to read scripture that affirms our LGBTQ neighbors will assume that Christians who do accept and affirm sexual minorities have in some way compromised scripture or adopted a value system that places cultural and social understandings above scripture. Nothing could further from the truth. This author is very relatable in his love of scripture and desire to reconcile our reading and application of it with a God of grace and love who is more than the scriptures. I won’t spoil the whole author’s whole story because he tells it better than I can, but I found him very relatable as fellow Christian-in-process.
How To Read The Scriptures
Reading the scriptures is a central focus for the author, and reading them in a way that gives a consistent and coherent framework for understanding God and making a faithful daily life. The first four chapters are about reading scripture in a responsible and faithful way that allows us to better understand God and ourselves, in both the time of the scriptural witness and our own time. I found his critique and response to proof-texting certain passages to be clear and correct. The use of any verse or passage, divorced from it’s context and intent, and haphazardly applied in universal terms, is fraught with danger.
I especially appreciate the way the author expresses his search for a “good-sense” framework for reading scripture and understanding God. It’s more than encouraging, it’s down right life-giving, to relate to a God of good-sense and love instead of an arbitrary set of codified words on a page. And that does not in any way attack or lessen the authority of God. More than anything it invites us into a relationship with God which resonates more with the scriptural witness that the way most of us were taught in our churches. If you were raised like me, our early faith was summed up in a bumper sticker I saw often growing up, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.”
Honoring God and Marriage
Chapters Five through Nine carry us into the way our author makes sense of scripture and life in understanding homosexual orientations and the gift of marriage. He wants to do more than just dig at one passage or two passages; he wants to develop a deeper view of marriage and what it means to share a love with another person in the way that God so totally and selflessly loves us.
Though well thought through, the book is not a large theological treatise or a heavy scholarly work. There’s not a lot of Greek parsing or mounds of historical footnoting to get through. Many will find that a little frustrating, but others will find it refreshing. His writing style is welcoming and engaging, and he enjoys being consistent and logical. His approach comes across as common sensical.
The author loves God, loves scripture and loves and accepts his gay neighbor, and he has shown that our scriptures do not necessarily keep us from doing all those at the same time. His journey is about better understanding God and following the scriptures in a faithful authentic way that makes the most sense and proclaims the best news for all people. I recommend this easy to read book to everyone engaging in the conversation around sexuality and sexual minorities in the church. I especially recommend it to those have struggled to reconcile a disconnect between what they have been taught the scriptures to be saying on sexual orientation and the amazing faith and beauty they see (or hear about) in their gay friends and family.
Today, I’m feeling really grateful for an acquaintance of mine, Justin Lee. He’s the kind of guy I want to say is my buddy, but we haven’t hung out all that much. We did have a chance to sit a few years ago at the Wild Goose Festival and enjoy some beer and pizza one afternoon… and to offset the anemic feel of our just being acquaintances, I’m throwing in a pic of he and I together last year in DC! =)
Justin wrote the book, Torn, and it’s great. He’s the founder of the Gay Christian Network, and he also recently gave an excellent ten minute snapshot of both the predicament in which LGBTQ Christians often find themselves, and the wrong hurtful ways that straight Christians are responding to that predicament. It’s worth so much more than ten minutes of your time! Here’s the link, and Justin’s ten minute remarks begin at the 41 minute mark of the video. Enjoy!
Click below to jump to Justin’s site with the video, and go to minute 41 for his remarks!
I was just sitting there yesterday and wishing that we didn’t have to have the LGBTQ label set for talking about our many friends, family and cherished neighbors who identify outside the heterosexual majority or the rigid gender norms of our society. I was thinking, “What if I start putting as S along with the LGBTQ to include those of us who are straight: SLGBTQ? Would it be an understandable way to assert that we are all human and more connected in our similarity than disconnected in our differences? Does it convey our oneness?”
We use labels for some fairly justifiable reasons. Labels help us avoid confusion. Labels help us delineate between people, groups and things at times when it most matters to make useful distinctions. But we also know that labels can harm, bully and de-humanize. We have to handle labels with extreme care. As an overly privileged American white, male, Christian, clergy person, I have to be very careful and aware that my use of labels has the potential to disenfranchise people and to show gross paternalism and condescension.
I’ll still be using the LGBTQ label, and I don’t have plans at this time to try to mainstream the use of SLGBTQ. But I also want to take a moment and remind myself, out loud, that we are all humans with God-endowed dignity, value and beauty. Even as I use the LGBTQ label I reject it as a replacement for the beautiful persons, the women and men I know and love who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. I suppose I’m also a little selfish in hoping that my own value and gifts shine brighter than the S and the other labels I carry myself.
Can I ask that we all take a moment to wrap a little extra padding around our words and attitudes, a bit more of a protective coating for our neighbors and ourselves? We all have ideas, beliefs, arguments and propositions which we hope to advance in conversation and action… can we make sure that a mutuality of love and concern prefaces all of those and takes precedent over all else? Jesus connected love of neighbor with love of self, a mutuality of dignity and concern, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:34-40) Try not to see an S or an L or a G or a B or a T or a Q in front of you… see a human being, a neighbor, and love them intensely with purity and sincerity.
Day to day I need both to love and to be loved. I can’t know today if you need a reminder to love others or to love yourself. I can’t know if you need more to be reminded that you’re loved or to grow in love for others. I only know that we’re all in the same boat. I love you. Please love me. We all need love and we all need to love. Let’s not allow anything to stand in the way of either movement in our lives. Such is the work of Christ.