Meeting with the adversary, Part II

[A quick note on language: The word “adversary” is used because my adversary is not my “enemy.” I am not “fighting” my adversary, but rather I am resisting what my adversary may believe or contending what my adversary teaches. My adversary is my friend and brother or sister and not one to be fought, but one to be respected even if we disagree and even if we find ourselves on opposite ends of a particular subject or issue.]

On Wednesday, I posted (“Meeting with the adversary…”) about the Soulforce Equality Ride (official site) presentation I gave to a small group of folks at the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship in Winston-Salem, NC, and how I had met there a member of a very large, more conservative Baptist church just outside of Winston-Salem.

At the end of our short conversation, I asked Bobby which church he attended and he graciously informed me. I again thanked him for being so willing to come to the presentation and, since he had come all the way out to see me, I told him that I would most definitely be honored to attend worship at his church sometime in the near future.

Yesterday, I was able to make the drive to the 800+ member church and attend worship there.

I have to admit, it was a little weird. I grew up Baptist and still consider myself Baptist in many respects. I had not, however, been to a conservative, independent Baptist church for some time. It was if I were returning to my old church out in Lewisville.

I went to the church because I had made “Bobby” (name changed for privacy reasons) a promise, but I also had a mission: one to show both Bobby and the members of this congregation that gay and lesbian people are just as Christian and just as worthy to attend and appreciate God’s worship as any other person. I also wanted to show that being gay was not something to be ashamed of, for I did not hide it from them; I simply wore a rainbow-colored ribbon on my sports jacket.

Before attending the church, I looked at its website. I scoured it for information regarding their religious points of view and doctrines, as well as their church activities. I knew what I was getting myself into by attending this church. On their website, they proudly state that “We believe that any form of homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, bestiality, incest, fornication, adultery, and pornography are sinful perversions of God’s gift of sex.” They also proudly state they are participating in Return America’s rally on March 6 at the North Carolina State Legislature.

There is an important thing to note: Our adversaries in the quest for religious, social and legal equality do not all come from the same mold. They are not all like Fred Phelps, but on the other hand, not all of them are very nice or loving, either.

The members of this congregation, at least the ones I spoke to directly, were very nice and welcoming. They thanked me for attending their church, but I couldn’t help but have the feeling that their “thank yous” were merely diplomatic in nature, as they certainly knew I wouldn’t ascribe to their beliefs on certain subjects and that I probably disagreed with them mighty heavily (ooo, that sounds Southern, lol). I also couldn’t help but have the feeling that I was being escorted around the church by ushers. From the time I walked in the door until an usher was able to find Bobby for me, there was not a time when I was standing alone or without someone beside me.

When were able to find Bobby, we both smiled and embraced in a warm hug. We went to find a seat and we chatted a bit before the worship service. Needless to say, a few heads did turn toward my direction, no doubt staring at the rainbow-colored ribbon on my jacket.

The worship service was fantastic. I hadn’t been to an old fashioned, Baptist service in forever. I absolutely love Southern Gospel music and the choir, the trio and the duet at various parts of the service, along with the congregational hymns, were just amazing!

In the opening prayers for the service, I could hear the pastor alluding to diversity, but I knew it wasn’t the type of diversity which would be large enough in scope to encompass me. He spoke of how everyone in the congregation came from different backgrounds and experiences and that in the eyes of God we were all welcome. I couldn’t help but wonder if the pastor would include gay and lesbian people in that statement of inclusion.

Then came the sermon. The pastor spoke on I Corinthians Chapter 2, the differences between the “natural” person, the “spiritual” Christian and the “carnal” Christian. Of course, his sermon had, in my opinion, nothing to do with the hot-button social issues of our age – including abortion and homosexuality – but they were, of course, mentioned. I wish I could remember exactly what he said regarding homosexuality, so that I could quote it to you, but I cannot. In summation, it will suffice to say that the Pastor regards homosexuality as evil and an abomination and that “traditional marriage” must be defended.

After the sermon, Bobby earnestly wanted me to know that the Pastor doesn’t always preach against homosexuality and that he hoped today would be one of the days on which the topic didn’t come up at the pulpit. Sadly, it wasn’t. Bobby told me that he thought I believed most Christians were bigots and I told him that I didn’t believe that. I told him that most Christians have their hearts in the right place and while some Christians are bigots or prejudiced, most of them are not. I told him that I did believe that there were a great many Christian leaders, especially those in the fundamentalist movement, who are bigoted and prejudiced though.

I won’t delve into the entirety of the conversation between Bobby and me, for it was a private one, but I will say that I do feel we have made a truly human connection… the type of connection that automatically disallows out-right prejudice or hate. A type of connection in which true discussion, conversation and, hopefully, reconciliation can occur.

The conversation I had with the Pastor on the way out of the church, however, was quite different. There certainly was not present the type of connection made between Bobby and me. Our exchange was civil, diplomatic and polite, but it was far from loving, welcoming or respectful. I truly believe that the Pastor is coming from a point of true intention. He truly believes that homosexuality is evil and that gay and lesbian people must be saved from this sin. Because he truly believes this, he also believes that what he is doing is right. I do not believe what he does is coming from a conscious point of hate.

However, do not be fooled: It is hate and it is prejudice. It is just not conscious. No matter how nice the bubble and gift wrap, the message that proclaims gay and lesbian people are sick and sinful based on nothing more than how they identify themselves as fellow members of the human race is a message of hate and prejudice. “Love the sinner and hate the sin” has some nice bubble and gift wrap, but at its very core lies a message of exclusion, rejection, despair and defamation.

“Well, hello there Bobby! Who is your friend?” the Pastor asked.

“Nice to see you today, Preacher. This is my friend Matt,” Bobby responded.

“Nice to see you young man,” the Pastor said, turning to me.

“Thank you, Pastor. I enjoyed your message today,” I told him.

“Well, thank you and thanks for attending service with us today,” he responded.

“Thank you, sir,” I said.

“Please feel free to attend worship with us anytime, perhaps I’ll see you next week,” said the Pastor.

I responded, “Well, thank you, sir, but I’ll be out of town next weekend and then on a trip that will take me out of state for two months.”

“Well, perhaps we will see you in May,” he responded.

“Well, Pastor, I wanted to tell you we might disagree on your assertions regarding homosexuality,” I stated bravely, still shaking his hand and looking him right in the eye. Hence, began our exchange.

The Pastor proclaimed that one cannot argue with the Bible and that his church upholds the Bible. He said that he had read thousands and thousands of studies of how homosexuality is harmful to society, to children and how it destroys families and that is why marriage must be protected.

I interrupted him, “Well, Pastor, divorce is also very harmful to families. Must we also create a Constitutional amendment banning it?”

He never answered directly, instead deciding to talk about how the “offended party” in a marriage must have the right to defend him or herself against the spouse who engages in adultery (the “alienation of affection” statutes). Of course, he had no real answer to my question. That is why he did not answer it.

“Pastor, as you may already know, today is ‘Amazing Grace Sunday,’ the bicentennial of the end of the Word Slave Trade,” I said.

The Pastor interrupted saying, “There is no similarity between race and homosexuality. Being gay is not something in-born, it is a choice.”

At this point I was tempted to ask the Pastor exactly when he chose to be straight, but I held my tongue, instead stating, “Well, Pastor, Christians at one point, sadly, used God’s Word to ordain the justification for slavery.”

“Oh, yes they did, son,” he replied, “But they used His Word incorrectly.”

“And so it is the same today, sir,” I responded.

At this point we had been talking for a while and the line of those waiting to leave the church was getting long. I moved to end the conversation, offering him my business card with my contact information on it. We both agreed it would be nice to talk again and I hope we will.

Since the beginning of my participation in the Equality Ride, I have met with and talked with people I probably never would have met if it had not been for my decision to be involved in this journey. Six months ago, I would have never attended worship at a church such as the one I attended yesterday. I would have never met Bobby and I would have never been able to show my human face to the people of that church and to their pastor.

As I sat in the sanctuary yesterday morning, I looked around and saw all the faces of the people. What struck me most was seeing the faces of the many, many young people my age and younger. Without a doubt, there was a young, closeted gay boy or girl sitting in that congregation being forced to listen to what the Pastor had said regarding them and me. I only hope that my presence has helped to assure those who may be struggling to reconcile their persons with their God, that such reconciliation and a positive and happy life is possible.

I hope that Bobby and I can continue to converse and one day, I hope reconciliation will occur. I hope that my presentation of a human face, of a person unafraid to proclaim truth about his own personhood, stays alive within the Pastor’s heart. I hope that something might change in the heart of the woman standing beside the Pastor (perhaps his wife, but I’m not sure), who recoiled with disgust and loathing, who snickered when I began to discuss these issues with him. I hope that the young people in the congregation that day will find something to counter the mis-information and un-truths they have heard about gay and lesbian people their entire lives – and I hope they will grow up to be truly loving, accepting and embracing of the radically inclusive Gospel of Christ.

One Response to “Meeting with the adversary, Part II”
  1. Brandon Greeson says:

    As I set here reading your response, I wipe my tears. I’m so proud to hear how you have boldly taken a stand for honesty and fairness. Your voice represents hundreds of people who are not able to voice those words.

    Matt, we’ve only known each other for a very short time, but I’ve seen a world of growth in you in the last few months. I commend you for engaging in good dialog and I too pray with you that the Pastor will take you up on your offer to talk more.

    Please know that you have the prayers, thoughts and support of all your LGBT family and even our non-gay allies. Keep engaging the adversary and working for peace!

    All my best,

    Brandon Greeson
    hickory, nc

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