"If the world hates you,
be aware that it hated me
before it hated you."
When I arrived at the church this morning I discovered that someone had ripped down our Rainbow flag. Only a tattered fragment remained attached to the frame. The flag had survived less than a week.
It was only a flag, of course.
It’s not a big deal. No one was injured and there was no related property damage.
But now that it is gone it feels like we have lost more than a flag.
How can anyone hate anyone that much?
We became a Reconciling Congregation five years ago. We did not do it sooner because it seemed unnecessary. We told ourselves that everyone already knew who we were and what we stood for, and we did not need to formally declare ourselves open to everyone regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
When we had the meeting to formally vote to become a Reconciling Congregation, several people wondered out loud whether it was really necessary. But only one person spoke against the proposal. She was new to our congregation. She said that she felt she had been sent by the Holy Spirit to tell us that homosexuality was a sin. She not only believed that it was an abomination, she believed literally in the biblical punishment of death, although she conceded that was not possible in the United States.
Those who had doubted the need to take a stand were immediately convinced. As one person wryly observed, “I think maybe she really was sent by the Holy Spirit . . . though not in the way that she believed.”
We announced the decision in our monthly newsletter, we put a statement on our website, and we include a statement in every Sunday’s worship bulletin.
But we did not put out a rainbow flag.
It seemed unnecessary.
But in the wake of the recent vote at the Special Session of General Conference in St. Louis at the end of February, we felt like we had to do something.
For those of us who are LGBTQIA and for those of us who love and respect our LGBTQIA siblings, the news was heartbreaking.
The Special Session rejected a compromise that would have allowed each congregation to choose their own path, and by a narrow majority (53% to 47%) delegates passed the Traditionalist Plan which rejects marriage equality and makes mandatory penalties for clergy who officiate at same sex weddings. It strengthens the rules against ordaining or appointing LGBTQIA clergy. It also requires clergy and bishops to sign a loyalty oath stating that they will uphold those provisions of the Book of Discipline.
The new plan doubles down on what was already a bad policy. It is hateful and unchristian and we felt like we had to do something to make it clear that we were not them; that our local United Methodist Church was not in alignment with the vote in St. Louis.
Pastor Carol Reale found a large rectangular piece of fabric that had previously been used in a Sunday School program as part of Joseph’s “coat of many colors” and put it up out front.
Then last week we got a real rainbow flag and Carol attached it to a frame by the church sign next to the road.
Last night at youth group, one of the kids, who is transgender, told her how much it meant to him to come to the church and see that sign. “It makes me so happy,” he said. “We have to keep it up forever!”
Yes. Apparently we do have to keep it up forever.
The flags are not expensive. We will buy more.
The hatred is a bigger problem.
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