Today this post is appearing on my blog and that of Believe Out Loud, which will be running selected posts beginning today. Thanks be to God and to all those who made possible the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage announced after this posted!
“Pride is faith in the idea that God had when God made us.”
–Isak Dinesen, nee Karen Blixen
I often quote this insight from Blixen’s memoir, Out of Africa, during LGBT Pride Month.
This morning on Atlanta’s public radio station, an interview reminded me of the religious objections to Atlanta’s Pride Parade, formerly in June, the month that marks the anniversary of New York City’s famed 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, considered the birth of the modern LGBT movement in the United States. (I personally prefer to think that our contemporary movement began nine months earlier—a good gestation period!—with the founding of the Metropolitan Community Church on October 6, 1968.)
Charles Stanley, the senior pastor of Atlanta’s First Baptist Church, was unhappy with the Pride parade’s route down Peachtree past his church. He once declared AIDS was “God’s curse” on gay people, the interviewee reminded listeners. Confrontations between church members shouting Bible verses and holding anti-gay signs on its steps and the offended marchers prompted the church to hire security guards to stand between the marchers and the church edifice, one subsequently torn down when the congregation retreated from urban life to the suburbs.
Across the street, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, though to this day hampered by a denominational ban on any support for LGBT Christian causes, decided to pass out cups of water to the marchers. Their senior pastor, Mike Cordle (misnamed in the interview as “Mark” Cordle), had decided to resurrect a dying city church by reaching out to the LGBT community.
Writing of this in my 1994 daily meditation book, The Word Is Out (Oct 25), I quoted Mark 9:41, “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose their reward.” As one of those marchers, I wrote, “We may not have known we bore any resemblance to Christ, but these Christians saw Christ in us. Their reward was that we saw Christ in them.”
My late mother in California resisted the increasing volume of her Baptist worship, sometimes choosing instead to watch Charles Stanley on television. On one of her visits to Atlanta, she asked if I would take her to worship at First Baptist Church to hear Dr. Stanley. I didn’t want to spoil her image of him, but I gently said that I thought he was anti-gay. She said, “Oh, he never says anything negative about homosexuality on television.” Being my chief supporter, that would have soured her view, having stopped watching Florida preacher James Kennedy because of his anti-gay rhetoric.
A gay African American neighbor, who once sheepishly admitted attending First Baptist Church, told me at the time, “They never broadcast his anti-gay sermons.” But I did not tell Mom, and dutifully took her to worship at their new location, a Big Box building with a church-like interior that was a cross between the perfection of Disneyland and the artificiality of a Hollywood set, which of course, it was. His sermon, itself a mix of pop psychology, self-help, and the gospel, was interesting and not objectionable. I encouraged Mom to wait in line afterward to have the book she had just bought in the church gift shop signed by Dr. Stanley. He was gracious as I fumbled with Mom’s camera to take a picture of them together. For her, he was a rock star.
The fall before she died Mom confessed to me that she had always known God loved everyone, but she had never understood that God loved her specifically and individually until then. I said in mock dismay, “Mom, haven’t you been reading my books?!” Yet Dr. Charles Stanley was partly the reason for her spiritual insight.
Both Rev. Stanley and Rev. Cordle would go on to have public marital problems. I already knew the latter’s compassion toward gay people, but I hoped the former’s trouble might sensitize him to those who are judged for their sexuality.
I hoped Dr. Stanley might have learned Karen Blixen’s corollary to her insight about pride:
“Love the pride of God beyond all things, and the pride of your neighbor as your own.”