Transcript from Pride Sunday sermon at Sojourners UCC, June 26th, 2016.
Every time I preach here at Sojourners, I always start something like this…
“No matter what, no matter who you are, what you believe, what you doubt, no matter who you love, or what you’ve done, no matter what you look like or what you wear, no matter what, you are welcome in this place. Know that you are loved.”
This statement, I believe, is an accurate one. However, today I want to get a bit more specific.
No matter what, you are welcome here! However, you may not be comfortable here. If you believe that gay people are an abomination, you will not feel comfortable here. If you believe immigrants are ruining this country, you probably won’t feel comfortable at Sojourners. If you dislike the imperative that #blacklivesmatter, you might have the desire to leave during my sermon.
And that is okay. Actually, it is good. Comfort feels good but discomfort is good.
Today, Pride Sunday, is a reminder that we cannot be all things to all people. It is a reminder that discomfort is not the same as disenfranchisement. Being offended is not the same as being oppressed.
I say this because there are many folks in the world, and in our Charlottesville community, who will take offense to the fact that a church, a Christian church, is holding a Pride Sunday. “Gay pride has nothing to do with church,” they say. “It’s appalling and it’s sacrilege!” they say. “Celebrating gay pride during a worship service is so, offensive.”
And to that I say, okay, be offended. Because I truly believe that being offended is not the same as being oppressed.
We progressive Christians are often handcuffed by the fear of offending others. Because, dammit, a lot of us have been mistreated and even dehumanized by church people. So we don’t want to do that to others. And that’s good.
But, when we stand up for goodness and justice and equality, people will feel offended. People will claim that they are being oppressed by our struggle for full humanity.
When you’ve been brought up in a society in which you’ve always had the power and the privilege, even a little bit of equality feels oppressive. When you’ve been lead to believe that you are more holy because of your normalized sexual orientation, you’re going to feel mighty offended when those LGBTQ+ folks start claiming they are just as holy as you.
Equality is offensive to those who used to have the upper hand.
For this reason, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights has been sterilized. Particularly within the church. And, I believe, most particularly in the progressive church.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am often infuriated by the “pastors” who say awful things on Youtube. But that vitriol is mostly a gimmick. And while I understand that gimmicky vitriol is pretty popular in our country, I am most enraged by and most afraid of those leaders and those communities who preach love and openness and yet sit comfortably within their cocoon of privilege.
Churches might allow lesbians in their pews but deny them the pulpit. Churches might say all are welcome, but only display heteronormative examples of family. Pastors might call for equality but refuse to show up at a Pride event. Even the most progressive of churches are afraid to be branded as the gay church, because that might be offensive to others.
I was on the leadership team of a new church plant called RISE. From the get-go, we desired to be fully inclusive and safe. I petitioned the leadership team to make RISE a reconciling congregation. Reconciling congregations are ones within the UMC that state upfront and outright that LGBTQ+ persons are affirmed and celebrated.
I was surprised at the pushback I received.
My peers exclaimed…
“Why do we have to explicitly say that we accept LGBTQ+ people? Everyone knows we’re welcoming! They just need to come and see. Why should we make a statement about gay people being welcome but not other people? What if people think we only care about gay rights? What if people think we’re a gay church?”
The LGBTQ+ community has been the group most loudly ostracized by conservative Christianity. The religious right rests its institution upon the purported sinfulness of the LGBTQ+ community. I am a preacher lady and I’m still scared as hell to walk into a church that doesn’t explicitly welcome and honor my queerness. That’s why we need to explicitly tell LGBTQ+ people that they are welcome and cherished.
Many churches proclaim that everyone is welcome! The exclusive UMC bureaucracy even professes that all of their churches have Open Hearts, Open Doors and Open Minds. Yet they would refuse to ordain me and suspended my pastor for officiating my wedding.
Churches don’t want to explicitly support Pride because it might offend others. But, when we have the capability of choosing whether or not to offend others, we are privileged. And unless you are a trans woman of color, who is differently abled, undocumented, homeless, un-educated and non-english speaking, you probably benefit from some level of privilege. This privilege should not make us feel bad, necessarily, but it should make us reflect.
Is it okay to offend those with privilege to bring justice to those who are oppressed?
Well, you know who was really offensive?
Jesus. The answer is always Jesus, y’all.
Jesus didn’t talk in generalities. He didn’t command people to love ‘everybody.’ He constantly, specifically, told stories and performed miracles and challenged systems in order to lift up the marginalized and oppressed.
In “Why Jesus Would Say ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Derek Flood says this,
“After all, Jesus did not say “blessed is everyone,” but “blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20). He did not say “as you do it unto everyone, you do it unto me,” but “as you do it unto the least” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus did not say “love everyone,” but “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Continually Jesus drew our attention not to loving people “in general” but to specifically caring for those we would tend to discount or condemn.”
Jesus didn’t play nice. He especially didn’t play nice with the pharisees. He didn’t worry about offending them. He said…
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”
He knocked over stuff at the temple and broke the rules of sabbath and told rich people to give up all of their wealth. And he encouraged and blessed and was present with the least of these.
He knew that specificity matters. He loved everyone for sure, but he took special care to focus his efforts toward those who desperately needed to hear that their lives mattered. He made sure the widows and the orphans and the adulterers and the illegal immigrants knew that they were fully human and fully lovable.
Jesus threw a pride festival for the most despised in his community. And for this, he was despised by the religious and political elite.
I know that, for some, this idea of Jesus at a Pride festival might be disorienting. Celebrating Pride during church might feel awkward and misplaced.
And for those who have been molded in the Christian tradition, the idea of celebrating pride can be difficult. Followers of Jesus are supposed to be meek and humble, not proud. How is it okay for people to celebrate how awesome they are?
Several years ago I asked similar question to my favorite professor. I had the great, challenging opportunity to take some courses that examined race, religion and how they were interconnected. One course made me examine my own whiteness. Another helped me investigate how religion contributed to the civil rights movement. And one day after this course I asked David, my professor, some questions about power and pride.
I asked, “Within a Christian context that promotes peace and humility and sacrifice, is it okay to stand and shout for black power? Or for LGBTQ+ pride?”
I don’t remember his exact words, but I will never forget what he taught me in that moment and through out many other conversations.
As long as David has to teach his black son to keep his hands out of his pockets in convenience stores, it is a religious imperative to help make him proud of his black skin.
As long as LGBTQ+ youth are attempting suicide at alarming rates, it is a religious imperative to help make them proud of their sexuality and gender identity.
As long as transgender women of color are the most likely victims of a violent attack, it is a religious imperative to help make them proud of their gender identity and the color of their skin.
Beloved souls within LGBTQ+ community are being shamed, fired from jobs, beat up, bullied, turned away and murdered and yet we question if Pride has a place in church. And we’re scared of being branded a gay church. And we’re afraid to wear our rainbow hearts on our sleeves.
Sitting comfortably in our own cocoons of privilege and loving everyone who joins us inside is not enough.
I hope the whole world calls Sojourners the gay church. That way young LGBTQ+ people who are barely holding on know that they have a place to come and be known and be loved.
As we here at Sojourners grow and shift and learn, perhaps someday people will call us the immigrant church or the black church or the trans church. And I will say yes, yes we are that. I will say it proudly. Because being specific matters.
Like Jesus, we are called to be visible. We are called to be present on the margins. We are called to be utterly specific about our pride.
Phrases like all are welcome or all have a place here or, yes, even all lives matter; those phrases carry no weight. They don’t have the teeth to sink in to the systemic oppression that is killing us. Our lives depend on specificity.
If we don’t wave our rainbow flags and shout our pride from the top of the steeple of our church, then who will?
The lives of beloved LGBTQ+ people depend on our specific pride.
And, dear friends, please don’t hear this as a criticism. Sojourners has been Prideful for many years. Many of you are Prideful advocates in the community. This is a reminder that Pride matters, and it matters big. And this is a challenge, because it sure is easy for us to get comfortable in our safe spaces and grow weary of venturing out to challenge oppression in places where we aren’t so comfortable.
We must challenge our own privilege, our own fears of being judged or fears of offending those with the power or the money or the respect. Offending power for the sake of justice is not merely okay, it’s a Biblical and moral imperative.
And, as a reminder, unless you are a trans woman of color, who is differently abled, undocumented, homeless, un-educated and non-english speaking, you probably benefit from some level of privilege.
I have to check my privilege all the time. I’m white. I’m cis gendered. I’m educated. I’m married. I’m financially stable… the list goes on. This privilege should not make us ashamed, but it should make us reflect.
Reflect. Be visible. Be proud, specifically! And do everything in your power to make sure every marginalized and oppressed child of God knows how deeply they are loved.
And remember what love looks like. Religious intolerance cannot be disguised as love. Refusing to nurture another due to our beliefs is not love. We don’t love others by simply tossing up prayers for them, we love others by getting in the trenches with them and staring them in the face and saying dammit you will not do this alone.
Love hard. Love, specifically.
And in the words of one of my favorite theologians, Killer Mike, “Stay encouraged, stay invigorated, stay confronting bullshit at every turn.”
Let it be so.