For the past several years, an unidentified religious group has been protesting the St. Petersburg Pride festivities. Every year, the same group is parked behind some barricades on either side of Central Avenue along 27th Street. It is unknown what church they belong to, if any. The URL at the bottoms of their signs leads to a DNS error. Based on their chosen Scripture verse (John 11:25-26), they belong to some sect of Christianity.
Admittedly, they toned down their antics a lot this year. The past two years involved male protesters shouting at passing LGBT persons through a megaphone, promising death and damnation if they didn’t turn from their evil ways. This year involved playing a pre-recorded sermon on a loudspeaker and holding signs that basically said, “Jesus died for you” in about a dozen different ways. A toned down message, for sure, but it wasn’t enough. Passers-by were familiar with this group and either ignored them, screamed profanity at them or gave them the middle finger. The damage was done.
Can we blame them?
Christians have done more damage to the name of Christ with anti-gay propaganda than can possibly be repaired in a single generation. Droves of LGBT persons have left Christianity because humans preached hate (even though Jesus preached love). Then there are countless LGBT persons that are still devout Christians even though they endure hate. Christians ought to be ashamed of, and heartbroken by, these all too common occurrences. We, too, are sinners. Just as Jesus hung out with prostitutes and lepers, we are called to love those who are oppressed. This does not happen often enough.
A small counter-protest emerged, with LGBT allies sporting signs that said, "My God loves everyone," "God loves gays" and "Jesus loves LGBT people too!" What resulted was an outpouring of positive support for the counter-protests. The passers-by in the LGBT community shouted in support, gave the counter-protesters high-fives and hugs, and asked to take pictures with them. For once, they were told that Jesus loves them instead of "repent and or go to hell."
What can be learned from this experience? LGBT persons do not hate God. Many of them are Christian, or want to be, based on the conversations that were going on Saturday night. But collectively, Christians are driving them away. Instead of imparting the joy that comes from having a meaningful relationship with a loving God, we are trying to impart God’s judgment, which we have absolutely no business doing. Is it any wonder why so many LGBT persons feel violated just by hearing his name? We drastically need to change how we communicate with the LGBT community. Our message needs to be, first and foremost, love.