Cody Manning, 6, speaks to 501st Legion Badlands Garrison leader Cpt. Phasma (Teresa Nuthall) while aunt Bren Myette, 17, looks on during the Grande Prairie Pride Society’s Pride Week Family Carnival on Saturday June 24, 2017 at the Grande Prairie Regional College’s parking lot in Grande Prairie, Alta.
Gord WaldieSt. Paul’s United ChurchHi, my name is Gord. I am a cis-gendered heterosexual male and my preferred pronouns are he/him/his. Admittedly, that is an odd way of introducing oneself, and really not many of us would do that. However I can make that statement without worrying that any of that information will lead to me being treated differently or condemned or attacked. But what if instead of cis-gendered I said trans-gendered? What if I said gay male? Then I might be placing myself in a vulnerable position.As we sit here in the middle of Pride month, I think we need to look seriously at the questions raised above. How good are we as a community at letting people know that they are welcome and accepted and loved no matter their sexuality or gender identity?Humans are really good at drawing lines to divide each other. And if we are honest, the church is just as prone to doing that. In fact, some might argue that communities of faith are better at drawing lines to keep others “in their place” than other parts of society are. The challenge is that God appears to be pushing us to go the other direction. As a song we sometimes sing in the United Church says: “My Lord colours outside the lines… and takes me into places where I’ve never been before and opens doors…” The God I meet in Christ is a God who pushes me to ask why the dividing lines are there, and maybe even erase them.In the first creation story in Genesis we are told that God says “let us make humankind in our own image”. And so we proclaim that all of humanity bears the image of God. If everyone we meet is made in God’s image who are we to denigrate them because of their identity? Moving to the Gospels, Jesus is clear that the most important thing to do is to love our neighbours either as we love ourselves or as we have been loved. Can we actually claim to love people if we do not accept key parts of who they are?Last year at the Pride carnival, a number of people expressed surprise that a church would have a booth there. Those comments did not surprise me. They did sadden me. Part of what I heard in those comments was a reflection that for many the church has been a place that is at best unfriendly, at worst openly hostile to LGBTQ+ folk. And it is an honest reflection. The church has to be honest enough to name that it has behaved hatefully toward LGBTQ+ people in the past and in the present, usually based on a few pieces of Scripture paired with tradition and old biases.The church has, in my opinion, been wrong. Just as the church has learned or is learning that traditional attitudes toward the role of women or racial differences were wrong the church needs to learn that God is calling us to a new understanding of the place of LGBTQ+ people in our faith communities. The church has done harm. The church needs to repent (which means more than name that we were wrong, to repent means we commit to going a new direction) of what has been done in the name of faith.Earlier, I said that the church, like the rest of humanity, is good at drawing lines to determine who is in or out. Online you can find cartoons by “NakedPastor” (https://nakedpastor.com). The artist pushes us to ask where Jesus is leading us as people of faith. One of my favourites is one with a bunch of people drawing little boxes while Jesus is busy erasing them.Humanity is created in God’s image. That is a holy statement. That is an affirmation that, unless you believe God makes mistakes, all of us carry the image of the divine. Jesus challenges, asks, commands us to love each other both as we love ourselves and as we have been loved by Jesus. Historically, the church has gotten that wrong. The church has been a place where what we now call hate speech has been shared—sometimes aimed at women, sometimes aimed at people of colour, sometimes aimed at our LGBTQ+ neighbours. We need to stop that. If our understanding of God leads us to act hatefully toward a neighbour based on gender, race, sexuality, or any other criteria, then our understanding of God is flawed.An old hymn reminds me that, “The love of God is broader than the measures of the mind.” God is calling us to an expansive understanding of what it means to be a child of God. God is challenging to love each other. Happy Pride Month.