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Rev. Deb Conklin, Rev. Liv Larson Andrews, Rev. Chris Snow and Pastor Jan Shannon at the 2014 Pride Parade in Spokane/Contributed photo

Hopeful pastors march for Spokane’s LGBTQ community

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I wrote this at 9:30 p.m. on the evening of the 23rd Annual Spokane PRIDE Parade and Festival, and I’m tired. For 23 years, Spokane’s LGBTQ community have bravely taken to the streets in a march for inclusion and respect, and for 23 years there have been Christian groups in attendance who think that homosexuals and transgender people are living in sin. These groups come with their signs and their megaphones and they tell me and mine that God hates our “iniquity” and that we are going to hell. Twenty-three years is a long time and the argument still rages. This was only my second PRIDE parade, and I’m already tired of the fight. Tired, broken-hearted but hopeful.

I’m tired of defending the Bible’s view on homosexuality (by the way, the Bible has nothing to say on homosexuality). The verses that are often quoted and preached against homosexuality are being mistranslated, misquoted, taken out of context, and the surrounding verses which shed light on their true meaning are ignored. I am no biblical scholar but I have studied enough to know that if any person tried to take each and every word of the bible literally, which I believe no one truly does, that person would not be able to live in our post-modern world without having to hide off in the woods alone. I don’t need to explain what this type of living would look like since one man has already tried it, and you can read about that here. I’m not going to try and explain what the bible says about homosexuality, because another writer has already done that too, and you can read about it here.

I’m tired of being told that being gay is a choice. It’s a ridiculous statement and has been proven completely false. Medical science and psychiatry have determined that being gay is not abnormal, regardless of what some might like to believe, and again, if you’d like to educate yourself on that topic you may read about it here and here. There’s even an audio teaching on those inflammatory verses by Sister Carol Perry of Marble Collegiate Church in New York and you can access it here. You see, it’s not hard to find information on what the Bible teaches about homosexuality, but you do have to be willing to learn. If your mind is already made up on this issue, then…go get some ice cream! Why are you wasting your time here?

My broken heart comes from too many moments like this one; during the parade, in the cold and the rain, a few hardy souls from my church, Westminster UCC, were in the park setting up our booth for PRIDE. There were already quite a few teens milling around, either eager to get the party started (as this generation would say) or possibly because they are homeless, and most of them were wearing rainbow colors and t-shirts expressing their sexual orientation, and holding the hand of a same-gender partner. They looked on with some interest at all the activity, but then they noticed our church sign…and the crosses…and their faces quickly changed from calm inquisitiveness to suspicion and fear. And it cut me to the bone to realize why; because they realized we were a church. Why are they afraid? Just as they did during the Spanish Inquisition, our crosses mean pain. The pain of rejection by parents more concerned with propriety or their neighbor’s opinion. Parents who would reject their own flesh and blood rather than face the derision and scorn of their church. Parents like these have always existed, and we are shown one particularly unfortunate example of such parents in the Bible, in the book of John, chapter 9. Here we see parents so scared of the church elders that they won’t even speak up for their son when he was called a liar. So, it’s not new, this type of parent, but it’s still heartbreaking to see the devastation they wreak on their kids. LGBTQ youth are committing suicide at horrendous rates, and they are not doing it because they feel loved and affirmed by our society; they feel rejected and ridiculed and outcast.

So, why am I hopeful? Because of this (see photo).

Rev. Deb Conklin, Rev. Liv Larson Andrews, Rev. Chris Snow and Pastor Jan Shannon at the annual Pride Parade in Spokane/Contributed photo
Rev. Deb Conklin, Rev. Liv Larson Andrews, Rev. Chris Snow and Pastor Jan Shannon at the annual Pride Parade in Spokane/Contributed photo

There are many churches in Spokane and all over the US that are open and affirming, welcoming the LGBTQ community into full membership and service. Today, as we four pastors marched side by side, no one talked about how our theology differs or traded Bible verses to prove that our denomination is better than theirs, we marched in true solidarity caring only about showing our city the love of our God. These debates over homosexuality always devolve into verse-swapping. As clergy, we four could certainly have spent many hours trading verses and arguing about this or that point of doctrine but to what end? Jesus didn’t tell us to “Go into all the world and make sure everyone is sinless and perfect in every way and scare the hell out of them.” He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” And, when asked which commandments needed to be kept, Jesus did not say, “Don’t commit homosexual acts,” no, Jesus actually only quoted 6 of the 10 Commandments (see Matthew 19:16-22 for the whole story).

I’m hopeful also because of conversations like the one I had (am having?) with Eric Blauer on SpokaneFAVS. Open, honest, direct but respectful conversations that prove to me that Jesus’ model works, because, you see, Jesus asked more questions than He ever answered. Jesus dialogued constantly and with everyone, sometimes getting a little hot under the collar (did they have collars?) but Jesus engaged people in conversation. So, though I may be tired and heartsick, I will continue to engage in dialog, ever hopeful that those teens in the park may find their way into one of the open and affirming churches in Spokane and find love there.

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3 comments

  1. Christopher Snow

    My heart was struck as we were walking together and is still reeling from the realization of the need in not only our community but also the larger community for the clergy, and churches who are open to make it knows that we are here to love you as you are. As I heard over and over during the parade; “Thank You” from sincere individuals who had been hurt by the church I realized there is still much that the church needs to do to live into loving one’s neighbor as themselves.

  2. Jan, thank you for the kind acknowledgment. Though I disagree with a number of points in this article, 🙂 I do respect you and value you as a new friend. I think your vulnerability and conviction are admirable. I truly respect your willingness to engage, converse, present your views and most importantly walk them out in public. You advocate for the dignity and rights of the vulnerable, abused and marginalized in our community and I support that, gay or straight. My relationships with the progressive wing of SpokaneFAVS has been a valuable learning experience for me. It has continually placed the face of people into the forefront of the issues of various debated positions or policies. It has humanized the dialogue and debate and helped foster civility where depersonalization has usually dominated. Thank you for being part of that work. I think, together, we can all make Spokane a better place to live, work, love and worship. Sincerely, your friend, Eric.

  3. I am always pleased at well spoken and thoughtful pieces here, and at the parade, was pleased with the civility shown to those who announced my sin and condemnation, but was more pleased as the parade drew near to the park that the crowd between the parade and the free speech group grew in size and volume to cheer the parade passed them. And drown them out. A fitting metaphor in action.

    The suspicion of the church is earned from the words of rejection, whether delivered by family, pastor or free speech groups who announce another’s sin and condemnation using the religious words as justification. Only by continued dialogue and invitations can those suspicions and hurts be eased. Even showing up at and participating in the parade provides a pause, a chance, in melting the suspicion.

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