Today in worship, members of the Human Rights House Church of Southminster shared their reflections from participation at the Boise PRIDE festival in June 2013. This is the 3rd year our congregation has been at the rally, marched in the parade, and had a booth at the festival, passing out over 80 cases of free water this year on a hot day.
We wear shirts that say either “Jesus loves you, we think you’re fabulous” or “Hurt by the church? Get a straight apology here.”
We apologize to people who have been hurt by the church. They share their stories with us, of living a lie for so many years, of being told they were broken, wrong, or less than. It is sacred and humbling to be able to carry the weight of their stories, hopefully making their own burden slightly less heavy to bear.
The members of the House Church (our small groups that gather around a mission focus each year) shared their experiences. Here are a few they have given me to share with you.
The Scripture reading this morning was 1 Corinthians 13.
First, from Rich and Julie Anderson, who spoke together.
Rich: This year, like the last three years, our family attended the Boise Pride Festival at Ann Morison Park. For Julie and myself, we never questioned whether or not we would take the kids with us to Pride. It was understood that it was a family thing, our immediate family as well as our church family. Our family’s first Pride was a humbling experience for the adults. For the kids, it was bright colors and greasy food, but above all, it was a bonding moment for the Anderson clan.
Julie: Three years ago, our daughter was 8 and our son was 10. In our home we have never made a big deal, or any deal really of what it means to be gay or straight. There was never a big sit-down talk or hushed conversation explaining what it meant. And maybe because my brother is gay it was never necessary to explain anything, it just was what it was, but I have watched as many of my friends have struggled with bringing up the issue in their homes. I am certainly not here to judge any other parent on the way they raise their kids. I’m convinced we all find new and creative ways to mess our children up on a daily basis, and the Anderson house is no different.
But talking about, supporting and discussing gay lesbian and transgender rights is one thing Rich and I have never questioned. We’ve debated on how much screen time is too much, or what healthy meals actually look like. But this issue that seems so big to so many has never perplexed us and as a couple we’ve always agreed on how to handle it.
Rich: The way we have chosen to handle it is with casual honesty. When my brother-in-law came home to visit and brought a boyfriend, we did what everyone does when a relative brings home a significant other. We introduced him as Uncle Brian’s boyfriend. Our kids never questioned it. Not at two and not at 12 when my brother-in-law married his soul mate. Our kids were not shocked; they were not damaged; they were just kids who saw love and another uncle to spoil them.
Julie: Each Pride, Rich and I have watched our kids get more and more involved, from the fun of planning to passing out the water. This year Katie even brought the idea of giving out dog treats to the pooches that were there. She drew two boy dogs with bow ties and a heart around them and we taped it to the front of a jar full of treats. Like Rich said, we look forward to the bonding experience with each other and with our church family every year. We have, however, gotten some flak for our approach on this subject. I had a mom say to me once, “I would never take my kids to Pride, but that’s just because we have such strong family values.” I will not question what values those are, or begin to preach to someone else about what is right for them and their family. I will, however, reject the notion that our family is lacking in values because of the decision to raise our children in a fully inclusive environment.
Rich: “Family values” has become a buzz phrase for the media and political groups to toss around to determine who is inside and outside of certain circles. But when you get right down to the heart of the phrase, it really is very simple. What does your family value? And this is the reason we go to Pride every year as a family. We value togetherness, we value love, we value God, and we value inclusiveness.
Julie: In our living room, I have a decorative sign that reads,
“This family may not have it all together, but together, we have it all.”
I believe that is true for the Anderson house, but also on a broader scale. The theme of Pride this year was “Life Gets Better Together,” and isn’t that true? Together we are better than we could ever hope to be on our own. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve God’s people at pride with my family and with my church family. Life really does get better when we’re together.
And this from Carolyn Blackhurst:
God’s Love Is…
As we were walking to the Capital building for the Pride Rally and parade, a young woman asked us about our shirts. She said when she first saw us, she thought we had come to protest because our shirts had the words “Jesus” and “church” on them. As we walked, she shared her story with us. She had come out to her youth pastor, and her youth pastor tried to fix her with a program to un-gay her. She was shunned by her church when she decided she could not change.
This young lady was not only one who told a story of youth leaders, youth groups, Pastors and churches rejecting them because they came out. Person after person shared that kind of story. One woman’s story of rejection was especially heartbreaking because it was a Presbyterian church that asked her to leave.
We decided she had come full circle coming to Southminster’s tent. I held her hands and told her she was perfect just the way God made her. She was a child of God, and loved and that anyone, any church, who told her otherwise was telling a lie. I apologized to her not only on behalf of the church, but on behalf of the Presbyterian denomination.
Offering a safe place to draw, and share stories, and to hear stories, and offer an apology, and a bottle of cold water creates a space for people to be vulnerable; to have an open heart. Some people were angry, and just needed someone to validate them and tell them they had a right to their hurt and anger, and an apology. I think many people needed to hear that they were equally loved and created by God, that they’re okay, and there’s nothing wrong with them. That the Bible and Jesus were not filled with hateful messages about the LGBTQ community. Some were surprised to hear that nowhere in the bible does Jesus even mention homosexuality.
But Jesus certainly does talk about love.
Late in the day a man came to our tent. After asking me some questions, it became clear that he wasn’t there in support of what we were doing. He was, in fact, there to challenge us. He asked me what the meaning of “love” is. Before I could answer, he said “because love is not an emotion“! I agreed. He then asked me, “what is love, what is GOD’S love”?
I told him I thought God’s love was what Southminster was doing at Pride. He just didn’t get it. He became more angry, and tried to argue until he was asked to leave. That interaction with such an angry person really disturbed me. I thought about for days. 1 Corinthians 13:1 kept turning up randomly in my days following Pride: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
I think what bothered me the most was that he took advantage of our vulnerable space. He was the opposite of the love we were offering, claiming to be defending the bible, but really just being a clanging cymbal. Unable to comprehend, God’s love.
I wished he could have understood what I meant when I said that God’s love was what Southminster was doing at Pride:
God’s love is handing out 80 cases of free water, no strings attached.
God’s love is Randy, the Crumes, the Andrews, Andy and Chris and others running to the store to bring more water as we would run out.
God’s love is the Andersons, and Stokes coming as a family to hand out water and listen to people’s stories.
God’s love is your pastor standing on the Capital Building steps, wearing her stole and talking to people, a visible reminder that the church is also a place of love and inclusion.
God’s love is Kem bringing donuts and corndogs to share. Last year at Pride we met Kem for the first time, now she is standing under the Southminster tent, a part of our family.
God’s love is the big old smile on Emilee’s face as she handed bottled water to thirsty people.
God’s love is Andy and Chris sharing with people the story of their Blessing at our church and the love and support of Southminster.
God’s love is Chris Dahlke listening to someone’s story and apologizing to them on behalf of the church, even though he has been hurt deeply by Christians in the past. That is Chris offering God’s love and God’s grace. That’s courage, and vulnerability.
And God’s love is present in the drawings and stories being told, and heard under the Southminster tent at Pride.
This is just a small piece of what I wish the clanging cymbal man would have seen and experienced. Maybe then he would understand just a little more of what God’s love is, the depths of which none of us can fully fathom.
The last story I heard at the end of the afternoon was from a woman who came to the tent in a fancy purple and black dress. I told her she looked beautiful. She shared her story. She is a transgendered woman who tried to live her life the way her family, church and society would deem normal. Finally, at the age of 50, she decided to be the truth of who she was, a woman, and in the process she lost everything. Her family, friends and church all rejected her. She said when she turned 50, she knew she had to live authentically. Pride was her first time going out into the public as a woman in a pretty dress. I apologized to her, told her God loved her, and that she was beautiful. She gave me a hug and a smile and in that, I saw God’s love.