Journey Story

Spreading Hope At Spokane’s Pride: A Pastor’s Testimony

by Jan Shannon

Photo (l-r): Rev. Deb Conklin, Rev. Liv Larson Andrews, Rev. Chris Snow, and Pastor Jan Shannon

It is the evening after the 23rd Annual Spokane Pride Parade and Festival, and I’m tired. For 23 years, Spokane’s LGBTQ community have bravely taken to the streets in a march for inclusion and respect, and for 23 years, there have been Christian groups in attendance who think homosexuals and transgender people are living in sin.

These groups come with their signs and their megaphones telling me and mine that God hates our “iniquity” and that we are going to Hell. Twenty-three years is a long time, but the argument still rages. This was only my second Pride parade, yet I was already tired of the fight.

Tired and broken-hearted, but hopeful.

I’m tired of defending the Bible’s view on homosexuality even though the Bible has nothing to say on homosexuality. The verses that are often quoted and preached against homosexuality are being mistranslated, and misquoted, taken out of context, while the surrounding verses, which shed light on their true meaning, are ignored. I am no biblical scholar, but I have studied enough to know that if any person tried to take each and every word of the Bible literally—which I believe no one truly does—that person would not be able to live in our post-modern world without having to hide off in the woods alone.

I’m tired of being told that being gay is a choice. It’s a ridiculous statement and has been proven completely false. Medical science and psychiatry have determined that being gay is not abnormal, regardless of what some might like to believe, and there’s even an audio teaching on those inflammatory verses by Sister Carol Perry of Marble Collegiate Church in New York.

You see, it’s not hard to find information on what the Bible teaches about homosexuality, but you do have to be willing to learn. If your mind is already made up on this issue, then…go get some ice cream!

Why are you wasting your time here?

My broken heart comes from too many moments like the following; during the parade, in the cold rain, a few hardy souls from my church, Westminster UCC, were in the park setting up our booth for Pride. There were already quite a few teens milling around, either eager to get the party started (as this generation would say) or because they are possibly homeless—most of them were wearing rainbow colors and T-shirts expressing their sexual orientation and holding the hand of a same-gender partner. They looked on with some interest at all the activity, but then they noticed our church sign—and the crosses—and their faces quickly changed from calm inquisitiveness to suspicion and fear. It cut me to the bone to realize why—because they realized we were a church.

Why were they afraid? Just as they did during the Spanish Inquisition, our crosses mean pain. The pain of rejection by parents more concerned with propriety or their neighbor’s opinion. Parents who would reject their own flesh and blood rather than face the derision and scorn of their church. Parents like these have always existed. We are shown one particularly unfortunate example of such parents in the Bible, in the book of John, chapter 9. Here we see parents so scared of the church elders that they won’t even speak up for their son when he was called a liar.

So, it’s not new, this type of parent, but it’s still heartbreaking to see the devastation they wreak on their kids. LGBTQ youth are committing suicide at horrendous rates, and they are not doing it because they feel loved and affirmed by our society; they feel rejected and ridiculed and outcast.

So, why am I hopeful?

I’m hopeful because there are many churches in Spokane and all over the U.S. that are open and affirming, welcoming the LGBTQ community into full membership and service. On the day of Spokane Pride, as we four pastors marched side by side, no one talked about how our theology differs or traded Bible verses to prove our denomination is better than theirs—we marched in true solidarity caring only about showing our city the love of our God.

These debates over homosexuality always devolve into verse-swapping. As clergy, we four could certainly have spent many hours trading verses and arguing about this or that point of doctrine, but to what end? Jesus didn’t tell us to “Go into all the world and make sure everyone is sinless and perfect in every way and scare the hell out of them.” He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” And when asked which commandments needed to be kept, Jesus did not say, “Don’t commit homosexual acts.” No, Jesus actually only quoted 6 of the 10 Commandments (see Matthew 19:16-22 for the whole story).

I’m hopeful also because of conversations like the one I had with Eric Blauer of Spokane Faith and Values.

Open, honest, direct but respectful conversations that prove to me Jesus’ model works.

Because, you see, Jesus asked more questions than He ever answered. Jesus dialogued constantly and with everyone, sometimes getting a little hot under the collar—did they have collars—but Jesus engaged people in conversation.

So, though I may be tired and heartsick, I will continue to engage in dialogue, ever hopeful that those teens in the park may find their way into one of the open and affirming churches in Spokane and find love there.

Originally published on Spokane Faith and Values; Photo submitted by author