Today marks the end of my first week spent in Portland working as a church-planting internship with the North American Mission Board. This week has been simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating; fully embracing the post-Christian culture of America with the gospel is truly the adventure of a lifetime.
This week we’ve had orientation about Portland and a little sightseeing. The donuts are better here—they just are. I’ve had so many. I ate a chicken biscuit a few days ago that truly made me love Jesus more. Also, I’ve played chess in the park with total strangers and listened to cello players at the farmer’s market.
However, besides eating great food, taking in the city life and enjoying all the beauty that Portland has to give, I’ve seen the darkness of Portland.
84 percent of the people here are unchurched. Only 16 percent of the population in Portland profess to be Christian; it is estimated that only 4 percent of those who profess Christ are actually true followers. Portland is a broken city, but God is showing me how to be the light in the darkness in ways that I never have been.
Saturday, walking through downtown, I stopped at a window to look in. A flyer announced some art galleries in the area; I was intrigued. Just as I was about to snap a photo of the flyer, a man walked up and invited us in to see an art presentation.
Once inside, my friend Kristin and I were informed there would be a speaker and a musician presenting for a discussion about the role that faith plays in the LGBT movement. In fact, the musician was going to share a liturgical piece entitled Mass Requiem: LGBT A Working Title. Woah. After much prayer and discussion, we were both in agreement that we should come back for the presentation.
There were two speakers at the event; first, the composer explained much of his inspiration for his music. Second, the main speaker, who was a nationally renowned LGBT activist, shared her opinions. Both speakers celebrated the Supreme Court decision that happened the day before resulting in the legalization of gay marriage, reiterating the #lovewins hash tag.
I was quite moved by the speech. Although I disagreed with many of the ideas presented, I was able to see the humanity in the eyes of the audience. I saw their hurt. With every “amen,” “yes” and muffled vocalization of agreement I heard that they did not feel valued: by their family, by their friends, by the church, or by God. The speaker profoundly stated that after the Supreme Court ruling, she felt like LGBT individuals “mattered a little bit more.”
Next, I was given an opportunity I never thought I would have: discussing the role of faith and LGBT advocacy in a small group. Never have I been so nervous to say something; yet, I was still more nervous that I wouldn’t say anything.
After listening to opinions of the role of art in the LGBT community, I shared my beliefs with five people who identify themselves as members of the LGBT community. Using the language that the speaker had used earlier, I called myself a ‘Bible literalist.’ I explained that I believe much differently than they do, but that I still valued them as people. I explained that the Supreme Court decision might have made them feel as if they “mattered a little bit more,” but they have always mattered to Christ.
I went on, apologizing for the homophobia of Christians, telling them that they should be treated as humans with value, proclaiming that fighting for kindness toward LGBT individuals is right and communicating the fact that I truly wanted to care for them.
After a short pause, one of the people in my small group, the composer, thanked me. He said that I was the only conservative Christian to have engaged in honest dialogue with him in the entire year that he spent composing his piece. The majority of the group seemed overjoyed that we had come… God is so good.
If I could describe to you one of the scariest moments of my spiritual life, it would be this one right here. My hands were shaking, I wanted to cry, and I didn’t say all the right things. If any of these people come to know Christ, it will be as a result of the power of the gospel, not the power of my rhetoric, for sure.
What have I learned from this divine appointment? The LGBT community doesn’t need any more judgmental glances or hellfire sermons. They need to be shown the truth with kindness, respect, hugs and invites to coffee. They need to be shown the love that Jesus would show them:
“Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?’ But when Jesus heard this, He said, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” (Matthew 9:9-13)
The story doesn’t end here. Kristin and I obtained several email addresses from friends we made at the event. One individual, whom we plan to meet up with soon, responded to Kristin. He recounted how he had been at the Naked Bike Race (an annual event in Portland) and how one Christian man began yelling with a bullhorn, “God is angry with all of you! Everybody here is going to die and go straight to hell!”
His reaction? “I appreciated your message much more.”
Update, September 24, 2015: We did hang out with this man we met at the LGBT Faith Discussion Group; he is an older man with kind eyes and a love for watercolor painting. When we met him, he was an atheist. After many discussions, emails and adventures with us, He surrendered his life to Christ in early August. He still lives in Portland and hopes to join a church soon. God is good.