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Protest Signs

 

This is a snippet from a fiction project I’m working on:

 

It had been a long day. Not just because it was a wedding day but because the protesters unsettled her. She knew there were jack-asses abundant in the world, people who hated people who loved. But that these people would come to her house, line up in front of Lakeview as if they had a right to assemble on the hill above the house where she had grown up, where generations had grown up, seemed a sublime invasion.

‘One Man + One Woman = God’s Plan’ said one sign. ‘Queer Love is Satan’s Bait’ another said. The one that bothered her the most said simply, ‘God hates homosexuality. Repent and reproduce.’

I’m happy to say that nothing like that happened at Shawn and Chipp’s holy union service earlier this summer. The weather was fine, friends were joyful and Shawn’s father made a beautiful toast to the two grooms. On their service bulletin it said “A union of any kind is a time to rejoice. Love has no limitations.”

From the smiles on everybody’s faces you could almost believe there weren’t people in the world hell-bent on sexual bigotry, all in the name of their God.

Then there was another happy day I shared with Shawn and Chipp. On a bracingly clear and beautiful September Sunday I drove over to the West Stockbridge United Church of Christ for Shawn’s official installation as pastor. Friends and family had come from far away and congregational members had set up a lavish reception table in the church hall. I was the guest preacher, and honored to be there.

On their bulletins, the church has printed its statement of welcome:

Welcome to all who have no church home, need strength, have doubts or do not believe. Welcome to grandparents, to mothers, to fathers and single parents. Welcome to new friends and old. Welcome to people of all colors, cultures, abilities and sexual orientations, to old and young, to believers and questioning believers. Welcome to everyone!

I had worked with Shawn for four years when he was the organist to the church I serve. It was hard to see him leave, but he wanted to be back in the parish. The West Stockbridge United Church of Christ seemed a good choice. Open and affirming, they were completely unfazed by Shawn’s sexual orientation and welcomed Shawn and Chipp warmly.

And then I got this in an e-mail from Shawn just last week. I’m reprinting it here with his permission

Last night, on Sunday, October 28th the West Stockbridge UCC held our annual Harvest Dinner which is a fundraiser for the church, but also serves as a social event in town and also for people in surrounding towns. For about two hours before and during the first seating of this dinner, two men stood in front of the church building near the street with signs expressing hatred and homophobia. One sign expressed that our church is a “House of Sodom.” They were shouting angrily at everyone who passed by them to enter into the church. The town police came to try to get them to disperse, but they refused. Later, a Massachusetts State Police trooper did get them to leave.

For many in the church, it was their first outright experience of homophobia and was somewhat jarring. For me, it is a little creepy that there are people out there keeping tabs on area churches to note which ones are taking Open and Affirming stances and calling GLBT clergy [to be their pastors] so they can come and picket church events. I also wonder what kind of religious group these people are coming from where the priority is to berate one group of people rather than feed the hungry, clothe the naked......have they read the gospels?

It sickened me to read what had happened at the Harvest Dinner. It is one thing to write a scene in which there are fictional gay picketers protesting the wedding of two fictional gay men. It is another thing for a real-life person I know well and deeply care about to become the object of real-life bigotry and hate speech.

Shawn will take it all in stride—he’s a very balanced person. And it may make the West Stockbridge church bind more closely together. But such incidents are real and frequent. Such Bible-based bigotry is not to be tolerated.

In Chris Hedges’ compelling book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, he quotes Karl Popper, making a never-more-timely point:

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade as criminal.

And Shawn’s questions should be raised again and again until people who call themselves Christian finally get it. “What kind of religious group are these people coming from where the priority is to berate one group of people rather than feed the hungry, clothe the naked? Have they read the gospels?”

—Jo Page

jopage@graceniska.org


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