This past week, thousands upon thousands of people participated in the annual St. Petersburg Pride Celebration which culminated in a parade and a street festival. Sleepy St. Pete has the largest Pride extravaganza in the southeastern United States. This is something for our city to be PROUD of especially since Florida is not a liberal bastion like Massachusetts or California.
Our church has supported the Pride initiative in St. Petersburg since its inception being one of the few churches to walk in the first Pride Promenade through the streets of Kenwood. Lakewood UCC voted to become an Open and Affirming Church in 1998 intentionally welcoming people of all sexual identities into the full life of the church. The UCC has been ordaining gay people since the 1970’s and supported the Supreme Court case which led to the legalization of gay marriage. As a heterosexual, married woman and a mother, I am exceedingly proud to be part of this church!
As part of the Pride festivities this year, I attended the Interfaith Pride service at the First Presbyterian Church downtown. The service was well planned and included leaders from differing faith traditions. The music was lively and uplifting. The speaker was from the Muslim religion and one of a handful of “out” gay imams in the world. While there is great vigor for Pride in the Tampa Bay area, this service did not reflect that extensive support. It was not very well attended. And, if you think about it, that is really not surprising because there has been much religious condemnation of homosexuality and the diversity of sexual and gender expressions. At the least, many religious settings have been subtly unwelcoming of sexual diversity. I am from the Christian tradition and I know this to be true in Christianity. I doubt if anyone reading this has escaped seeing images of supposed Christians preaching anti gay sentiments sealed with the threat of hell. From friends and colleagues, I understand that these things also happen in other religious expressions.
Before the Civil War, there were Christian abolitionists energetically trying to rid the country of the scourge of slavery. BUT there were also Christians and not only in the South, that adeptly used scripture to defend slavery as God-ordained. There were sermons upon sermons preached in sanctuaries on Sunday mornings declaring slavery to be the will of God; a blessing even, not only for the slave owners but for the slaves themselves. Yes, in churches on Sunday morning, in worship, this was proclaimed in the name of God.
To Christians in the US who go to church today, that is unimaginable. It was a heinous misuse of scripture and tradition and authority. We know that now. We see it. The church was wrong. And many denominations and expressions of Christianity in the US in recent decades have repented of those sins. There has been acknowledgement that defending slavery in the context of the Christian church was wrong. The church let human prejudice poison its message.
Churches that decry homosexuality today, churches that name homosexuality a sin, are wrong about this just like the churches that defended slavery. And the time will come when this will be acknowledged and recognized and there will be repentance. The sooner the better!
Happy PRIDE to one and all of the wonderfully diverse human beings created in the Divine Image!