Editor's Note: Guest blogger Marg Herder is a writer, visual artist, musician, website designer, and spiritual seeker living and working in Indianapolis, Indiana. She writes for Christian Feminism Today and serves as the organization's office manager and web developer.
On May 26, 2013 Indianapolis blogger Steph Mineart put up a post on her Commonplacebook blog, "Anti-gay Churches have Booths at Indianapolis Gay Pride Event," that was quickly shared by many in the Indianapolis LGBT community via social media. In the post, she provided a well-researched report on two anti-gay Christian groups which had reserved booth space at the 2013 Indy Pride celebration.
It was clear the groups had chosen to come to Pride with the intention of convincing at least a few of the attending sinners to repent, forswear their "unbiblical lifestyle," and be born again in Christ Jesus. This agenda, very understandably, raised the hackles of many people in the LGBT community. There was an outcry to ban the two groups, and within a few days Indy Pride organizers reported that they had engaged the two Christian groups in a cordial discussion in which it was mutually agreed that the groups would not be present for the Pride celebration and their registration fees would be refunded.
I applaud Indy Pride's ability to reach peaceful consensus through open communication with the two Christian groups, and I appreciate that the resulting decision will make many people in our community breathe a sigh of relief.
Prior to this announcement by Indy Pride, I posted an essay, "Two Anti-Gay Christian Groups At IndyPride - This Is Only A Test," on my blog. I urged the Indianapolis LGBT community to pause and carefully consider the implications of our collective and individual response to this situation. Would we live into our ideals of tolerance and diversity, or would we acquiesce to our own fears?
I am very grateful for the opportunity to explore this issue in more depth here on The Bilerico Project website.
Who am I to be writing about this?
Readers familiar with my work know that the interaction between evangelical Christianity and the LGBT community is of particular interest to me. I am a lesbian feminist who writes and works for the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women's Caucus, the Christian organization that publishes the website Christian Feminism Today.
In my life, I myself have been wounded by anti-gay Christians. I was very active in my large Protestant church growing up, but left in my late teens. In 1979, my unwillingness to hide my sexual orientation was a Big Problem--for everyone else, not for me. Losing my church home was an incredibly wounding event that profoundly changed my life. The pain I experienced caused me to view all but a few Christians through a lens darkened by fear. And, of course, my fear was constantly reinforced as, over the next two decades, I witnessed people who were loudly proclaiming to be Christian as they heaped abuse on people like me.
But in the last ten years I've slowly come to realize that my fear, though understandable, doesn't serve me particularly well, doesn't serve our struggle for equality, and doesn't serve the Divine. Only love does that. There is no room in the fearful heart for love.
Additionally I have found, in my association with evangelical (often anti-gay) Christianity, that it is thick with good people. Once I came to understand anti-gay Christian people as individuals, not as just a bunch of figures fleshing out a scary label, they became much less dangerous to me than my own fear had made them out to be.
Doesn't fear keep us safe?
Every one of us in the LGBT community has been injured by the thoughtless and sometimes hateful rhetoric of people who self-identify as Christians, but the mechanism and repercussions of our very real wounds are poorly understood. That's where fear enters.
Because of my own experiences of being hurt, like many of us, I have become fearful of people who claim the Christian label. The trouble with fear is that once it starts talking it doesn't know when to shut up.
Just the other day I was at a multi-faith event and a musician began singing a song about Jesus. Instantly, I felt my stomach tighten and I found myself assessing the situation, looking around at the people listening, looking at the musician himself, trying to determine if I might be in some type of danger. Was his song going to contain some derogatory reference to me or my people that would spoil what was otherwise an enjoyable evening celebrating the richness of spiritual diversity? Would the people in the audience nod in approval?
I knew, rationally, that I was in no real danger. I was surrounded by peaceful spiritual seekers, many of them friends of mine. But fear appeared anyway, unbidden. The fear I have developed over the years is now and forever a part of me. It is triggered irrationally, and there's little my conscious mind can do to prevent it.
Because I've worked on my own awareness of the fear mechanism, I was able to simply acknowledge the existence of these feelings and allow them to dissipate. I have chosen to cultivate an awareness of my fear response, but many in the LGBT community do not have similar understandings of the mechanisms of their own fear.
Why do these anti-gay Christian groups hate us so much?
So let's get this out of the way now: I'm not going to talk about the family in Kansas or other people who act like that. These groups represent only a small number of people on the fringes, and we have to stop thinking of them as somehow representative of anti-gay Christianity. The fear and anger they intentionally create in all of us helps to prevent us from engaging more reasonable LGBT-intolerant Christian people in kind and loving conversations that could effect change.
Very few of these anti-gay Christian groups hate us. Most will fervently profess their love for all people. Sure, a lot of them seem to have a real disconnect when it gets down to knowing how to act lovingly toward us, but I think that's mostly because they don't realize the harm they are causing.
In my opinion most Christian organizations that take an anti-gay stance would be much happier if LGBT issues would simply go away. Our issues are proving to be so divisive, even for them, that it's difficult to keep discussions from getting out of control. People threaten to leave. People accuse other people of being heretics. Discussions are heated and unpleasant.
Just this year I witnessed first-hand how one evangelical social justice organization actively suppressed any discussion of LGBT issues (see my reporting about The Justice Conference). But this can't last. These organizations are going to have to engage in the conversation or risk becoming culturally irrelevant. We, LGBT people, need to be there to participate, to be lovingly present, supporting those people of faith who stand with us and support us. And that means being able to move past our own fears. That means living into love.
Why should we be loving when people deliberately hurt us?
A very few lash out at us from deep shame, intending to injure, yes, but more out of hatred for themselves than us. There are others who feel that any tactic, any action that stops us from engaging in "sexual sin" and thus condemning ourselves to eternal torment in hell is by definition a loving action. The only thing that really matters to them is bringing souls to Christ. I've found most anti-gay Christians are often honestly unaware that their actions are injurious, and most would stop if we could lovingly and kindly help them to understand the actual results of their actions.
To help anti-gay Christians understand what is really happening, we must overcome our fear and talk about our pain and suffering in a way that sets the stage for forgiveness and healing, all the while being careful to avoid speaking in ways that could lead to defensive reactions. We need to illuminate what is really happening, the reality of the outcome, without anger, assigning no blame.
When many of us don't fully appreciate and recognize the extent of our fear, we can't even sit in the same room, let alone start the conversation we need to have with anti-gay Christians. They remain oblivious to the harm they are causing; we remain oblivious that our fear is actually serving to exacerbate the problem. Isolation only serves to perpetuate misunderstanding and a climate in which there is no pressure to change.
Can I get an Amen?
Our community has many evangelical Christian friends. Some of these people have been working for LGBT equality within Christianity for more than 35 years, like Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott who courageously co-wrote the groundbreaking book, "Is the Homosexual My Neighbor: A Positive Christian Response" in 1978. And some of these people, like Rob Bell (read this Christian Post article about a recent interview exchange) and Brian McLaren (see this article on Tony Jones' blog) have only recently, but humbly, offered unequivocal support of our cause.
Friends, we've got to stop kidding ourselves. The justice and equality we seek have led us right to the door of "the church." Most of the anti-gay people are hanging around just inside. We've come to the point where avoiding the anti-gay people in these churches is counter-productive to our quest for full equality. We can't ignore them any longer. We have to walk up the steps, knock on the big wooden doors, and ask the LGBT-intolerant people inside to engage with us in a fearless, respectful, and loving conversation.
Is there an echo in here?
In the online discussion following Steph Mineart's blog post and my response, many people said something to the effect that anti-gay Christians can do whatever they want in their own churches but they shouldn't be allowed to do their thing at our Pride celebration. People spoke angrily about the two groups of people who wanted to have booths, objectifying them, even comparing them to the KKK. People said it would be irresponsible not to protect our people, especially our young people, from the injurious agenda of the anti-gay groups.
I found these comments to be enlightening, because in essence they echo the fearful statements made by anti-gay Christians themselves. We're all talking the same language, and it's the language of fear.
This is where I start to cry
I have such faith in us. I think LGBT people are uniquely predisposed to be able to recognize and understand how to allow love to overcome fear. I know, I know-- but I think we have had to become slightly different from everyone else in a very important way, and we just might be able to embrace and teach a more loving way of moving through the world. I want this for us.
Each of us as an LGBT person has had to recognize and overcome our internal fears about accepting ourselves and speaking out about who we are. Each of us has determined that love is too important to be denied, no matter how fear-inducing its pursuit may be. Back in 1979, the depth of the love I felt for my first partner was so clearly real, true, and even spiritual, that it was enough to let me crash through the fiery illusion of danger projected by my fear. Each of us has experienced standing on the other side of fear, safe in the gentle embrace of love.
And now the question is, can we choose to move through fear to embrace love again, in a very different situation? Are we that courageous? Are we that amazing?
I think we are.
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, 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 that is inclusive of the LGBT people they once feared is not as uncomfortable as they thought it would be, not as dangerous, not even as different.
In our idyllic projection of the future, LGBT people will be loved and valued. Discrimination against us will dwindle down, and prejudicial actions will not be tolerated by anyone, or in the eyes of the law. In the last fifty or sixty years we have watched this future bud and, in many areas, bloom-- in our society and in our own lives. Some have felt the change more than others, I know this. But all in all, we are watching our collective dream come true.
Now is the time to become intimate with our own fear, so it doesn't prevent us from living into our own ideals of tolerance and diversity. We must make sure there is no distinction between the kind of behavior we demand from everyone, including all different types of Christians, and the behavior we ourselves exhibit.
Maybe we didn't quite live into this in Indianapolis last week. But maybe that situation showed us something important about ourselves. And maybe next time we'll celebrate real diversity, even when it feels dangerous.