The Center for Inclusivity made a call for people of faith and conscience to join them at the Pride parade in Chicago to counter-protest the hateful religious extremists who show up each year. The goal was to #makelovelouder, a tongue and cheek way to elevate love for human beings over ideology. I went to support my friends and because I felt like this was something Jesus would do.
We wore purple "Make Love Louder" t-shirts and stood in front of the vindictive religious protesters to protect parade goers from their verbal assaults. I imagined we would encounter some hostile protesters, but I was not prepared to hear the barrage of vile, hate-filled words blasted out through a megaphone for 8 straight hours. Their sound system amplified the hate for a block in each direction and the volume was so loud I felt their words literally reverberate inside my body.
Their language was so offensive and emotionally abusive, fifteen minutes into the protest, I wanted to leave. Their words were a blend of hate speech, Christian fundamentalism, and right wing politics. In the same breath, one protester condemned everyone who showed up to hell, made lewd sexual statements, and publicly rejoiced that there was a white man back in the White House. The Christian extremists tag teamed, each taking an hour shift spewing their message of filth and hate. They instigated conflict with people passing by, made suggestive accusations, and gloried in emotionally traumatized anyone they could, all in the name of God.
Two stories stood out to me from the day that bore witness to the truth that love is louder.
When the religious extremist group said some particularly evil things, such as accusing everyone attending the parade of being child molesters, we shouted out "make love louder, make love louder." But even with thirty plus people screaming, our voices weren’t loud enough to compete with their sound system. I decided to run to a nearby Target to buy the loudest Bluetooth speaker they had, but still it only partially blocked out the sound. Desperate for some relief for ourselves and others, a few of us started drumming on a large metal outdoor sculpture located right next to the protesters. The drumming was loud enough to drown them out so we kept it up. More people joined in and eventually we had over a dozen people drumming, including several kids. We were using sunscreen cans, umbrellas, spoons, and anything we could find. People passing by gave us high fives, thanked us, and drummed along. We continued drumming for the next three to four hours until the parade ended and the group disbanded. Looking over at the young kids drumming to silence the voices of hatred was a beautiful witness to the power of love.
At another point, a group of forty or so churches marched by in the parade holding up signs that all people are welcome at their churches. When I saw the different churches and denominations, it gave me hope. Even though this one church was there to demean and degrade, there were so many more churches there to demonstrate God's love and welcome.
I am a straight, white, Christian male and I found it very difficult to hear the things being said and not want to retaliate. I was humbled and touched by the graceful ways the Center for Inclusivity Co-founder Alicia Crosby and Board Member Darren Calhoun patiently handled the hostility, and found ways to protect and care for people who were triggered and traumatized. My eyes were opened in a deeper way to the onslaught so many LGBTQIA brothers and sisters are forced to endure on a daily basis, often at the hands of well-meaning Christians. While this was a very explicit and blatant example, I know everyday microaggressions and subtle homophobia can be just as damaging to the soul. I also realized that though I don’t associate myself with the Christian extremists who were there, I have been guilty of believing and espousing less extreme versions of what they were saying.
Growing up, I used the word "gay" in derogatory and undignifying ways, even when I professed to be a serious Christian. I have believed theology that aligns more closely to the protesters than the churches who were open and affirming. Lastly, I have remained silent amidst passive and active discrimination toward LGBTQ people. Like other prominent evangelical leaders and organizations, I have let pressures from the Christian evangelical establishment and fear of backlash silence me from standing with victims of trauma and making love louder.
For these things, I repent.
And now, I feel the compulsion to firmly turn in the opposite direction: to express affirmation and love for the ones I had ignorantly disparaged, to align more closely with churches that welcome, than Christians that don't, and to see silence in the face of oppression as one of the worst kinds of sin. I want to make sure I am speaking up for and standing with victims of trauma and injustice, even if it means standing against my own faith tradition.
The morning of the Pride parade I tweeted this: “I love God. I love justice. I love Scripture. I love LGBTQ people. I don’t see a contradiction.” I had a conservative friend immediately take issue with my statement. The quick, reflexive instinct to counter a statement of love for LGBTQ people showed me how ingrained the disdain toward LGBTQ people is, especially in the Christian community, and how hard and radical Christ’s simple command to love is.
My experience at the Pride parade has reinforced the ways theology and ideology are so often elevated above love for human beings. I believe this is what angered Jesus so much about the religious leaders of his day. They created stumbling blocks and barriers between ostracized people and Jesus.
I have come to the conclusion that my theological interpretation, however strongly I may believe it, does not give me the right to define anyone else’s identity. I have also concluded that any theology that would not take a stand against the religious hate, bigotry, and homophobia we witnessed at the parade, is a damaging and dangerous brand of theology. For any theology that does not support the humanity and dignity of all people made in the image of God, is seriously flawed.
Regardless of what I believe theologically, I will not stand in the place of judgement, as the protesters did, and make declarations of who is or who is not clean before the Lord (remember even the apostle Peter had to confront his own bigotry and widen his view of the inclusive grace of God in Acts 10). The radical love of God even challenges me to hold out hope that God’s grace extends to those religious extremists who so misrepresented and maligned God’s truth.
The church is in a time of deep discernment, debate, and denominational division on the issue of sexual identity. For myself, I am choosing to side with love. I believe love compels us to affirm people’s God-given right to discern their identity (even if we don’t understand or agree), to be treated with dignity as humans created in the image of God, and to be free from discrimination and oppression (especially when it’s done in the name of God).
I believe our role as Christian leaders in a diverse and changing world is not to impose our view of theology onto others, but to create space for people to engage with God and one another as their full self, and trust the work of the Spirit to bring us all to maturity in love and completion in Christ. That will require a lot more faith from all of us.
Perhaps we could heal many of the deep divisions within the church and world, if we simply made love louder!