- Mahatma Gandhi
"For all of those who don't fit in; who follow their instincts and are told they sin...this is a prayer for a different way."
- Neil Tennant
Last night, I found myself down at the Wrangler, perhaps my favorite bar in Denver, where the types of guys I like (big beefy bears) tend to congregate. One of my friends, a fellow choir queer and director of Mosaic, the only queer youth chorus in Denver, happened to mention that a very, ah, shall we say interesting service was gonna go down at First Plymouth Congregational Church the very next morning. I knew the director of music down there, so I put it in my mind to perhaps go.
As it turned out, I was singing at another church down around the area, so once we sang our (maybe 90 second-long) spiritual, I meandered on down to this church to see exactly what was going on.
The last thing I expected to see was this music director clad entirely in his übermasculine tight-fitting black leather Tom of Finland regalia. (That link is rated R, by the way.) But there he was, looking...good god-DAMN, hot as hell! And what a mindfuck it was to see him behind the organ, playing the doxology and hymns with all the flourishes you'd expect from a serious church organist. A really cool mindfuck.
It's one thing to have a church claim that it's open and affirming, which is your standard basic code for "welcoming all sexual orientations." And most churches that claim this really do follow through on it. But the service today totally blew away any other service I've been in.
First off, the pastor was wearing a rainbow-colored stole. Second, his sermon could not have been any more affirming and accepting of us queer folk...not to mention his continual linking said sentiment to what Jesus taught and how he acted. And third, he invited a woman to come up front and tell her difficult story of her struggles with being a lesbian, growing up in pre-Stonewall America, trying to exorcise her demons with alcohol, and finally accepting herself for who she is, and kicking alcohol to the curb once and for all. (She is now getting married to her partner in Iowa next weekend. What a beautiful thing that is.)
But it was the music that really brought the house down. After the sermon, the choir did an awesome version of Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar," reworded as "I Love This Church," echoing all the inclusive language that the original song has. So fun. But seriously, how can you top an affirming service like this that uses a wicked version of "It's Raining Men" as the postlude? With choir members dancing in the aisles and handing out rainbow-colored scarves for everyone to wave around? Damn. You'll never see this in a good Lu-the-ran church, like I'm so used to.
Afterward, I talked with a few women, none of whom could have been any less than 70. They all talked about how they couldn't wait to start on their "bar ministry," going to gay hangouts and...well, not proselytizing per se, but just establishing their presence as a church that is on our side and welcoming. First stop: Hamburger Mary's.
======================Now. I've been to other affirming churches all through my life. Lutherans are genuine and willing to debate the question of how sexual orientation fits into the Christian tradition, and I give them major props for that. The Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers) have a long-standing tradition of radical social activism. They may have been the first Christian-based church to consider unions between two men or two women as equal to a union between a man and a woman, if I correctly remember what I read years ago. (Alas, Quakers as a whole are deeply divided on this issue.) And the United Church of Christ (jokingly sometimes referred to as "Unitarians Considering Christ") also is quite welcoming, including openly gay men and lesbians as pastors and other clergy. Indeed, one of my favorite churches up to this point (a UCC church) has been Spirit of the Lakes in Minneapolis, with Rev. Rebecca Voelkel as perhaps the most excellent and passionate pastor I have ever had the great fortune to worship with, regardless of sexual orientation. I've been blessed.
Incidentally, the Metropolitan Community Church is also a fully affirming church, though I've not been to their services as much. I've also been blessed to worship as part of the community at a "More Light" Presbyterian church in Portland called St. Mark Presbyterian - small, tight-knit, and wonderfully welcoming and compassionate.
I have never experienced first-hand any Southern Baptist, pentecostal, or charismatic bigotry or homophobia in my life. Maybe I've been sheltered, but at some point, I just wanted to see for myself if there were churches that really were welcome and affirming of who I was - a gay man who had recently come out. The good news is that there were, and still are, all over the place.
The evil view that gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered folk are hated by God and condemned to hell after their sinful life on this plane is deeply wrong, but unfortunately still alive and well. It's seriously damaging Christianity as a whole, and is being used as the basis for breaking apart families. It's permanently and needlessly wounding individuals who otherwise could be whole. It's causing untold amounts of fear, anger, and anguish. And in some cases, it's contributing to murders and suicides of our queer brothers and sisters. It needs to stop.
Churches like the ones I've described above are wonderful, and so highly recommended to anyone who, because of their sexual orientation, have been cast out of their church and feel like their God has condemned them. Not all Christians are homophobic. Some do take Jesus' teachings to heart and openly show love and compassion for everyone, regardless. And this, really, is what Christianity is, and should be, about.