Our entire family, including my wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, and my two kids, took part in the Portland Gay Pride parade this weekend. We stood on a float in the rain and waved to thousands of people lining the streets, from the park blocks to the riverfront. It truly was a joyful day, but of course, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of the church officially being represented in the parade.
Why not just take part as individuals? Why bring such a polarizing issue into the spotlight, especially one that might make many people uncomfortable?
Here are five reasons we, as Christian institutions, need to take public stands on behalf of our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer sisters and brothers:
1) Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It's one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone's God-given orientation or identity. It's entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow.
2) The Churches' window of opportunity to be on the right side of history is closing. At the risk of sounding opportunistic, too many Christians found themselves on the rather embarrassing end of the debate about slavery, desegregation, and even women's rights and in some cases still today. Nearly anyone with a compassionate heart and some sense of history would look back on those movements as something for which Christian churches should have been champions on the forefront. Yes, some were, but certainly not enough. And honestly, if we continue to advocate for some people being treated as "less than" others in any way, how can we claim the Gospel as our mandate with any credibility? We're seeing history change before our eyes with regard to same-sex rights; shall we be remembered, once again, as one of the few holdouts clinging to the social equivalent of a flat-earth mentality?
3) People need to know where their sanctuaries are. Despite much progress toward equality for LGBTQ persons, there still is an inherent fear, or at least anxiety, about where one will be tolerated, if not openly welcomed. By taking such a public position, churches assure those seeking refuge from a lifetime of judgment or condemnation that there is a place for them.
4) We're commanded to go to those in need of God's grace. Sure, it's all well and good to take an official stand as a congregation or denomination from a boardroom or in a set of bylaws no one will ever read. But saying we're affirming of LGBTQ rights takes very little risk on our part. If someone has taken the bold step to be open and forthright about their identity or orientation in the public sphere, the least we can do is act in kind. Yes, it's vulnerable and a little bit scary to go as a group of Christians to a pride parade. Someone might reject us. Someone might unload their pent-up pain or anger toward Christianity on us. Much like they've had people do to them, no doubt, being part of the LGBTQ tribe. Jesus didn't sit back at the temple and wait for people to cue up and ask for his grace; He went out into the world, noticed where the needs were around him and addressed them, head-on. Why, as followers of the path Christ illuminated for us, should we expect our work to be any different.
5) Love is without condition. Period. Perhaps you're still wrestling with the "gay issue" because of your understanding of scripture. As long as you're at least wrestling, I applaud that. It means you care. But if you use such reservations about an issue to withhold radical, boundary-smashing love and grace from any of God's children, you're denying the humanity at the heart of the Greatest Commandment while navel-gazing and calling it Bible study. Your LGBTQ brothers and sisters are worthy of your love and grace, and God's love and grace, as much as those you find it so easy to love. But Jesus is clear that we should not be content with loving the one's we're already comfortable loving. The very people who you struggle to open your heart to are the ones to whom you are commanded to give yourself fully. With all your soul, strength and mind. And if we can't stand shoulder-to-shoulder on such principles as this, what in the hell are we worth as Church universal?