It was a sunny day at Veterans Park on Saturday, July 16, the day of the second annual Klamath Falls Pride festival. The previous year, our church had participated as the only visible Christian presence at the event. But that was last year, this year was different. This year, an Oregon State Representative led a prayer meeting before the event, out of concern for what Pride meant for our community. Another Christian group came with signs of protest and their own P.A. System where a man preached at the Pride gathering for about 4 hours straight (if you think I’m long-winded, you have no idea).
Fifty-feet-away, our church had a table. We had stickers with the United Methodist cross with a Rainbow flame, candy, and a sign with our church name and the UMC motto: Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. I wore a t-shirt with our logo on it, that read, “Break the rules, love everybody.” For the five hours we were there, we would hear words of judgment hurled at our neighbors and we sought to embody a different form of Christian spirituality. One that spoke of love, and hospitality and welcome first, not words of judgment, rejection, and dismissal.
We didn’t speak directly with the other Christians there, though I made eye contact and smiled a couple of times. Our role there was not to get into a shouting match with those we disagree with, but to share the love of Jesus. We had several good discussions with LGBTQ folk who had a church, faith tradition they had left because, as they’d come to terms with their orientation or gender identity, they were no longer welcome in those spaces. Some would come to our table upset, having just talked to the other Christians on the sidelines, a few with complaints about how they were mistreated. We would listen, and we would remind people of Christ’s love and acceptance of them.
Hearing the stories of our LGBTQ neighbors was a sacred moment for me and I was moved by the spiritual hunger the LGBTQ community has. I shared with people my conviction that the Bible tells us the story of God’s redemption and love for people, and I would tell them, “If anyone ever weaponizes the Scripture against you, you can be sure that they are reading God’s story wrong.” Mostly, people just appreciated that we were there. A lot of our LGBTQ neighbors only experience judgment and exclusion from those of us in the church. Our church’s presence at Pride told a different story, as we sought to honor each person’s uniqueness and we approached them with genuine interest and love.