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Why I didn’t argue with a Moms for Liberty counter-protester
Christians need to stand with queer people, not argue with those who oppress them or to defend Christianity.
Last, I joined Power’s protest of the hate group "Moms For Liberty" and I was glad to be with like-minded people of faith who believe in the dignity of LGBTQIA people. I was proud to stand in solidarity with secular groups who believe in the same thing. It’s a boon to my faith to find others who hold the same views of God and of queer people with me. But it was disturbing to experience the vitriol of the counter-protesters who claimed Jesus would bring fire and brimstone upon us. In light of the Supreme Court's decision that a website designer can decline to do business with queer customers, I felt discouraged about Christianity for taking a role making the U.S. a regressive and inhospitable place for queer folks.
The reality is that in the U.S., Christians are too often on the side of the oppressors of queer folks. It is a deflating prospect for those of us who stand with God but also with queer people. It makes sense that queer folks and their allies would be suspicious of churches and of Christianity. It makes sense that people would leave the faith. While I deeply empathize with their position, I remain a Christian, a pastor and proudly queer.
The counter-protesters hurled insults and threats using the Bible, ignoring the extensive scholarship that interprets the Bible very differently. As they shouted about God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah — disregarding Ezekiel’s prophecy that Sodom’s sins were “pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease but did not aid the poor and needy” — I was at a loss. Correcting their misunderstanding of scripture would hardly undo the damage that they had already done to Christianity and to queer people.
I deeply resonate with Linn Marie-Tonstad’s view that debates around LGBTQIA inclusion “...produce exhaustion and boredom and have done little to advance thinking about sexuality or to deepen theological reflection.” In so many ways, I am tired of trying to convince Christians who are not affirming to change their minds and join the movement for queer liberation. It requires a tremendous investment to engage in such discussions and produces diminishing returns, in my experience. The framework of the conversation — usually a discussion about the Bible and theology – misses the heart of the matter — that some hearts and minds are already set against queer folks. Furthermore, as I looked at the appalled and disheartened faces of my comrades, and I realized that the pain that they incurred at the hands of Christians couldn’t just be undone by a new understanding of the Bible and theology. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a path for redemption for non-affirming Christians, but it will take more powerful forces to change their minds.
Certainly, my path toward becoming affirming was personal. I was deeply affected by the harm I caused to others and also to myself. A sober reflection and deep listening to queer people can be a way toward transformation for those who aren’t affirming. But I don’t think that is where the bulk of our work should be. Rather, we should be collaborating with queer-affirming Christians and queer people to ensure that we create safe and liberatory spaces for them.
More than that, our action should be political in nature. We should be working to affect changes in our society to ensure queer liberation. Cultural movements and change is the ticket toward changing minds and hearts. As much as I don’t think queerness should be normalized, what should be un-normalized, so to speak, is Christian oppression of the non-normative. Large segments of the Christian community family to affirm women, much less queer people. It will take a revolution in values to change this, and it seems unrealistic for that to happen person-to-person, heart-to-heart. No amount of personal conversation or education is adequate for the kind of change we need.
Even though personal conversations and intellectual engagement with the “clobber passages” can affect the minds of the willing (see Robert K. Gnus, among others), in my experience, they simply do not have an impact on those whose hearts are hardened.
Many queer people have found their otherwise not-affirming parents to be “converted” because of their personal experience. There’s a reason the Respect for Marriage Act passed both chambers of Congress, with many Republicans voting yea. Many of those conservative voters voted yes because of their own personal family ties. Personal relationships can lead to change; but we can’t bank on them. Many LGBTQIA folks have come out to their family, only to be rejected, disavowed, and further marginalized. And I am afraid to say that within Christianity, that story is even more common. Asking queer folks to put their lives on the line in hopes that someone might affirm them is naive.
So instead of burdening queer folks, it is essential for allies to side with them, support them, and love them. If allies spend their time trying to change minds — that’s a gamble and a long shot. Even if it should occasionally work, it may not be the best way to support LGBTQIA folks.
I had a choice to make when the counter-protester from Moms For Liberty started yelling about the judgment of Jesus, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the need to repent. realized I could argue with her, or try to convince the queer folks there that I’m not that sort of Christian — or I could simply stand with them and let my actions to do the talking. Up against forces that are much more powerful than my personal witness, I decided to fortify the power and will of those on the side of LBGTQIA folks. From my perspective, that is the most compassionate and practical thing to do.