It is a particular kind of evil when LGBT Christians who gather in a prayer circle are heckled by a crowd of more conservative Christians saying, “They’re not really praying,” and to a queer transgender person, “You’re an abomination.”
On Feb. 24, a group of LGBT activists attended a public worship service hosted by the National Religious Broadcasters. Every year, NRB hosts a conference at a Marriott; this year it was in Nashville.
The service was opened by famed Christian singer-songwriter Michael W. Smith, who unified the congregation. The sing-songy voices of people praising side by side reverberated around the massive ballroom. When the music was over, a prayer preceded headliner Rick Warren, who sauntered onto the stage with a practiced stealthy cool. Warren is most known for his best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” and as pastor of Southern Baptist megachurch Saddleback in Southern California. In addition to his open position “to never give up and never give in” to LGBTQI equality, he is also believed to be one of the ministers, along with Scott Lively, who founded ideas in Uganda that led to the “Kill the Gays” bill. The idea that he was chosen to headline the worship service was too much for the queer activists who attended. They came from all over Nashville and included community organizers, clergy from several Christian denominations, students and alums from Vanderbilt University Divinity School and American Baptist College and representatives from Soulforce and the “Know Your Neighbors” project.
In an organized fashion, the two-dozen activists stood up and began singing Christian songs from their youth. “I’m in the Lord’s Army” was one that got right-wing pundit Peter LaBarbera to call them homo-fascists. As the activists marched into the foyer, they gathered in a circle and bowed their heads in prayer. Those attending the conference were invited to pray with them and ignited a shock when some of them started to chant slurs, claiming that the prayers of the LGBT people weren’t even reaching God’s ears.
The theology of fundamentalist Christians is poised as an “us vs. them” scenario that reminds me of the children’s book “Butter Battle” by Dr. Seuss. The imaginary city is divided by citizens called Yooks and Zoosks who either eat bread with their butter on the top of the toast and those who eat it with the butter on the bottom. Silly, right? As a child, it sure did make me laugh out loud.
NRB has 1,400-plus members who are each resigned to abide by a code of ethics that forbids them to work with, promote or interpret scripture in favor of LGBT people. The doctrine is harmful and swings dangerously from ethics based on rhetoric so old and so righteous, that the theology doesn’t even apply to modern society anymore. The antiquated read of theology made prominent by old-timey preachers like Pat Robertson and anti-choice organizations like Focus on The Family is proof of a system that would rather build walls than have brethren.
For those of us on the outskirts of that monolithic theology, where are we to go? As queer people of faith, we are constantly cast as the orphan Oliver, looking in through the frosty window at the good ol’ wholesome family drinking hot cocoa together around the fire. That scenario leaves us in the cold with holes in our shoes. My friend Broderick Greer gave a defining talk Jan. 7 at the Gay Christian Network Conference held in Houston. He said, “Not all Christians do theology from the perches of power. Some of us do theology as a means of survival.” There are actually people who are trying to change the way that we live and perceive religion in America. I’m talking about those good actors who are cast across the stage of fundamentalism as fornicators, as fools, as predators, damned sinners, thieves and the bluntly unforgivable. Christian supremacy demands there be one route to God where only the right-wing conservatives hold the map.
But thankfully, more and more of us are finding our way back to faith, in spite of Christian supremacy, and are claiming our birthright as precious children of God. Maybe this is why queer stories matter. This is surely why my friend Broderick avows that he will live theology instead of studying it only to put it back on the shelf for another time. We may be Oliver Twist but because we are “powerless,” Broderick says, we must do theology “on the go.” I believe him when he points out that “theology [formed] from the text of our lives is how we make sense of God.” If there was a text formed from the night the activists were kicked out of the NRB worship service, I wonder who would play the part of the Pharisees and who would be the downtrodden looking for a savior. My guess is as good as yours.