Every Thursday night at eight o’clock
I meet with a group of local pastors, congregants, seminarians, students, and neighborhood folks at the doors of the Pasadena Police Station to pray. We light candles, sing songs, pray for justice, and we remember the tragic loss of a member of our community: Reginald “J.R.” Thomas, a young black man and father who struggled with mental illness that died in a police encounter September 30, 2016.
This meeting that we’ve come to call “A Subversive Liturgy” began as a peaceful protest of state violence against black people, but over the past 12 months it has become a place of healing, hope, and ministry where all kinds of people can name their suffering in the presence of God. Immigrants, women, people of color, and LGBTQ people have all found space there.
Keeping this vigil for a year has been not been easy, especially with the 24-hour news cycle constantly signaling that we should be outraged or afraid. From the death of Jordan Edwards to the New Cold War to Charlottesville to hurricane Harvey, there is so much to care about that skipping the vigil about an individual death is tempting. But Kelly, one of our core leaders, almost never does.
Kelly is a compassionate, candid, energetic, and creative young woman. She is a pillar in our little worshipping community, and she proudly identifies as queer. In our year of keeping this vigil, she has rarely ever missed a Thursday night. I am so thankful for her faithfulness to our gathering because I am always so personally blessed when it is her turn to write the service.
Even though she is a white woman, she has helped me to articulate the unique burden of living-while-black in America to God at times when I am at a loss for words. Just this past week, she brought this prayer for us to pray:
It was just what I needed to pray. I thanked God for those words.
Meanwhile in Nashville
A coalition of evangelical Christian leaders convened this past week to make sure that people like Kelly know--in case they were somehow unclear about it--that they are not willing to worship alongside people like her. In what is being called “The Nashville Statement,” they made their doctrine plain:
I have trouble with this statement.
Statements like these are easy to make when we’re pretending that we’re just talking about abstract concepts like “homosexual immorality” or “transgenderism.” We’re not talking about abstractions, though. This conversation is about people: whole people with feelings, dreams, aspirations, pains, needs, and names. We’re talking about Kelly. I know that you probably don’t know her, but I can’t not see her face when we talk about shunning and shaming, firing and refusing services, stoning and sending queer people to hell.
LGBTQ people suffer a great deal in our society. They are ridiculed, discriminated against, overlooked, shamed, and killed. I have trouble believing that God wants for things to be this way. I have to believe that all people, including LGBTQ people, are entitled to the dignity appropriate to all human beings: which must at least mean the freedom to live without fear of physical, social, or political violence.
I know that there are scriptures like Leviticus 20:13, explicitly stating that same-sex relationships are punishable by death. I have trouble believing that laws like that actually reflect the full mind and imagination of God; but even if such laws do just that (I’m just humoring the idea here), I’ve come to the point in my life that I have to be honest: I don’t have it in me to willingly and knowingly oppress other people, especially if it involves violence.
If God requires it of me to oppress people to be a Christian, I’m going to hell. I just don’t have what it takes if it means I have to think the victims of pulse nightclub had it coming, or it means refusing to render services to gay people, or it means pretending trans people don’t exist, or it means shunning LGBTQ people--knowing full well that I am adding to the social pressure that causes so many to take their own lives. If God wants gay people stoned to death, He’ll have to do it Himself.
I can’t pretend to fully know the mind of God, but I do know that I have experienced God’s presence and grace through through Kelly’s ministry with us at the doors of the police station on many-a-Thursday night. I have trouble believing that ministry is illegitimate. That's my statement.