At about 7:30 Sunday morning, April 28, 2019, two young men stood on the sidewalk near our church sign (and Rainbow and Trans flags) and unfurled large signs declaring homosexuality to be a sin. I walked out and greeted them calmly. I asked what church they were from, wondering if perhaps they were from Westboro Baptist Church, known for its inflammatory hate speech against LGBTQ+ folks. But each was from a different local Bible church. They said they found our church on the “Gay-affirming website” and that I was going to hell for leading my flock in ways against scripture, since the Bible clearly declares that homosexuality is a sin.
I countered that I agreed with them that the seven passages of scripture that refer to homosexuality are very clear that those specific actions absolutely should be condemned, because those passage refer to homosexual rape, pederasty (men having sex with boys), and cultic prostitution, but the Bible knows nothing about same-sex orientation with lifelong monogamous relationships and so on.
Certainly I didn’t think I was going to convert them to my way of thinking, but I thought it was worth planting a seed…
One of them said, “I know about this. I wrote a paper on it.”
Hiding my smile, I replied, “You wrote a paper? I’ve been studying this since before you were born.” I gave him a book to read, but he said he wouldn’t read it. I asked him, “What is the greatest commandment, according to Jesus?”
He said, “Love your neighbor and yourself and love God with all your heart.”
I replied, “Yes, but not just your heart, but also your mind, soul and strength. If you refuse to read the book, I’d say you are not loving God with all your mind…”
As I was walking away, he called out, “John Knox (one of the founders of Presbyterianism) wouldn’t be allowed inside your church!”
I said, “No, you’re wrong. We welcome everyone, including you. I invite you to come in and worship.”
Frank Bliss appeared and, in his usual loving way, talked with them and invited them to come with him when he travels to the border to minister to immigrants. Being a much better Christian than I am (as we all know), he also brought them muffins and doughnuts, which they refused.
I called the police to let them know that protestors were here, acknowledging that they had the right to be here, but that we would appreciate more frequent patrols, which the dispatcher said would happen. And of course, we had our security person watching the camera feed from all around the building. But I don’t think there is anything to worry about from these two men. Actually, I am very surprised that it took this long for a response to our Rainbow Flag. I expected that the building would at some time have been spray-painted with hateful messages or the flag destroyed. I have received the occasional unsigned letter over the years….
What I told the worshippers at first service, “We have been expecting something like this ever since we first put up the Rainbow Flag. Today we have been blessed. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:101-2)’”
When worship was over, I was disappointed to see that the protestors had left, because, learning from Frank’s example, I wanted to bring them coffee.
We are grateful for free speech, but I am profoundly sorry that the Bible is being misused to encourage hate. I encourage you to follow Jesus’ injunction which appears later in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:43-44)”
The timing of the protestors was perfect, as the theme of the children-led Messy Church worship was all about standing up and speaking out against injustice. Mary told me after church about her conversation with the kids, who had seen the protestors and I invited her to share it with you.
Before the 8:15 service, the children asked why the men were saying that we were going to hell (as they walked into church). We talked about God’s inclusive love for every person and how some folks misunderstand Jesus’ love for ALL. I let them know that as they share stories about people standing up for what is right, by naming and living love, they are brave and true and honest. We prayed for courage to speak God’s Word to God’s people. During our Faith Formation hour, the children were in unanimous agreement that God creates ALL people, and that being part of the LGBTQAI+ spectrum is not a choice…it just IS. Piper said, “God made everyone different and wants us to be different. It’s beautiful.” Eliza said, “Those men are just trying to get us to agree with their opinion. God’s truth is love, it isn’t an opinion.”
I could not have been more proud or more moved by our young people at Oak Grove. I truly believe that our future is in good hands. Pastor Mary