Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Integrity and the 2011 Portland Pride Parade

A Reflection
Andy McQuery
Diocesan Organizer, Oregon

**The author would like to note that this year's Integrity contingent was led by the Rt. Rev. Michael J. Hanley, Bishop of Oregon, a first in diocesan history."

Look at the rainbow, and praise him who made it; it is exceedingly beautiful in its brightness.

That verse (Ecclesiasticus 43:11) is from the lessons appointed for the daily office on Trinity Sunday in Year 1, which thi s year coincided with Portland’s annual pride parade. Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people, indeed.

Some of us may wonder why it is important – or perhaps, even whether it is wise or proper – for the church to participate in such an event, and so on behalf of the local chapter of Integrity, the Episcopal Church’s organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folk, I would like to offer some reflections.

First, this isn’t about homosexuality; it’s about demonstrating that Episcopalians are people of faith who are also interested in and engaged with the real world. The people our church needs to reach in order to grow – indeed, even survive – are not concerned about homosexuality. The question of whether gay people and their relationships are normal and good has been settled. You might think that is a naïve statement given the ongoing political and religious controversies, but as the objections to equality grow increasingly hysterical, the public tires and wants to move on.

The world on the other side of the red doors has no idea what’s been going on inside. They don’t know what an Episcopalian is. In their minds, Christians are all the same, and what they know is that Christians are anti-gay. They also know, even if they’ve never set foot in a church, that Jesus came to preach about love and forgiveness and taking care of the poor, and then they turn and see us fighting over how old the earth is or proclaiming that gay marriage will lead to the end of civilization. Trust me: it’s not our liturgy or our incense or our music that people find alienating, it’s our furious passion for the trivial and the irrelevant.

**That’s why the sight of more than 100 people of all ages, backgrounds and orientations representing 13 congregations marching together in a gay pride parade behind a banner that says, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You!” still shocks and surprises, even as many of us wonder, “Why are we still talking about this?!?” after more than fifty years of internal deliberation. We need to take that conversation through the red doors and out into the world; it gives people hope that some churches are actually living the Gospel, instead of using it as a tool of intimidation and division.

Of course, reaching out to the gay community is an important part of this. I am frequently asked why churches should specifically reach out to GLBT people instead of emphasizing that we welcome all people. The answer is that the church does not have a reputation in living memory of condemning, say, interracial marriage. A black or mixed-race couple looking for a church home does not need to worry that they are going to be denounced from the pulpit. We need to make a special effort to engage sexual minorities precisely because we made a special effort to exclude them. Gay and trans people know that church signs that read “All Are Welcome!” often come with an invisible asterisk meant for us that says, “Not you.”

There is much healing still to be done. As a young person, I left the church because I was taught that homosexuality was an abomination and incompatible with a Christian life, and I gave up in desperation because despite my efforts and prayers, I couldn’t fix it. I didn’t resent the church, I hated myself and was disgusted with my perceived spiritual and moral failure. I was so terrified of God that I could not even talk to a pastor or anyone at church about it, I just left. It was unnecessary for me to endure that and, twenty years later, it’s inexcusable that it still happens. Young gay people, their friends and families and people who have suffered tremendous spiritual abuse at the hands of the church need to see us in that parade. I believe this is what Jesus meant when he reminded us that no one lights a lamp only to hide it under a bucket.

Truly, this year we were all ‘deacons for a day,’ processing out into the midst of the people and proclaiming the Gospel. The last time St Matthew’s Parish was in the news was the tragic day when so many of the members left the Communion, partly because of the gay controversy. Had the story ended there, it would have been as if the evangelists left off on Good Friday. But that’s not where it ends. St Matthew’s joined us in the parade, and is back in the news. The body that was broken lives. This is not about homosexuality, this is about the resurrection.

Andy McQuery is a classically trained musician who, naturally, works as a financial analyst for a Fortune 500 company in Oregon. He washed up on the shores of The Episcopal Church in 1994, and currently attends St John the Baptist in Portland and serves as Integrity's diocesan organizer for Oregon. Raised by a Southern Baptist father, he is given to quoting scripture and has come to believe that there is no such thing as TMI (too much incense)."

 This article first appeared on the Diocese of Oregon website. Republished by permission.

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