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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Same Planet, Different worlds

Being a Day in the Life of a Straight, Conservative Evangelical Fledgling LGBT Activist, 
Part 2

UT Knoxville Crazy Preacher
My oh my, what a week this has turned into.  I shared with you already about the crazy street preachers who showed up on our campus and started screaming at everybody last week.  Sometime Wednesday afternoon I was struck with an overwhelming conviction to protest these guys.  It was such a strong conviction that I felt it had to be wrong.  But, no, God was definitely nudging me to do something about it.  And the more I looked into these guys, how they work and what they preach, the more I felt I need to make a stand.  The question was, how does one Christian picket another?  Biblically, that gets very interesting-- and I don't think there's a good answer to that.  And, how much does the LGBT activist me and the Christian evangelical me get to coincide on a project like this?  That was an even harder acrobatics routine... 

I finally decided on copying a protest I'd seen pictures of in Athens, GA against the KKK-- signs that say only "Love" on the front, and a code of conduct on the back.  That's one of my signs right there.  I also decided that I had to do this as one Christian speaking back to another, so I made some larger signs with a few Bible verses on the back about love to make my stance on the whole thing clear.  My favorite, and the sign I was going to hold had 1 Corinthians 13:2 on it:  "If I have a faith that can move mountains and have not love, I am nothing." 

So, because I was still a little queasy about picketing what is, ultimately, still a Christian message even if it's not a Christian approach to the Gospels, I needed some advice.  I started with my husband, who eventually just shot me a baffled look and said, "Jackrabbit, I don't know.  The big problem I'm having is that this isn't something I would personally do because that's not how I operate."  Then I asked my minister friend.  He was on the fence, but cautiously optimistic.  I asked one of my pastors after church on Sunday.  He was extremely ambivalent, but for some reason he wouldn't tell me not to do it.

Finally, I asked a couple of ministers at a non-denom Christian ministry for a little insight into the Christian campus community and see if they were interested in helping me out.  They were overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Oh, thank goodness, I thought.  Finally somebody understands.  But, to make my motives clear, I felt like I had to tell them why I felt led to do this.  So I told them I was a member of our LGBTA as a straight supporter, too.  That got them a little flummoxed.  On the one hand, they thought it was just awesome that I was both a Christian and a part of that counter-culture because they hadn't figured out how to do that yet.  On the other hand, they thought I needed help. Help for what?   "Jesus always sent out disciples in twos," they kept saying.  Um, we'll see what happens with that. 

But in any case, I talked to a larger campus ministry meeting (where I didn't come out as a LGBT member, which was a serious mistake) and told them what I was up to.  They seemed pretty enthusiastic.  But then I had to go to my LGBTA meeting thirty minutes later and give the same pitch.  Here's what happened...

I showed them a LOVE sign and explained what I wanted to do.  They were pretty enthusiastic about the idea of protesting the street preachers, and I was surprised at how willing they were to stand next to me with a big Bible verse on my sign.  But then the questions started:
"Can we make fun of them?" Someone asked. 
"Well, no.  It's a silent protest.  Besides, look at the front of the sign!" 
"Can we make faces, then?"
"Um, no.  Same reason."   
"Can we interrupt them with noise or anything?"
"Nope.  Silent protest."  One guy tried to get creative.
"Um, can I, like make a big sign with Bible verses about how the moon gives off its own light or the world is flat and stuff?"  It was hard not to snort with exasperation. 
"Can you get that to fit into the 'Love' theme?"  I asked patiently. 
"Wow, that's hard... I guess I could find a way to do that," he conceded.  Then another guy stopped to ask me one more question:
"Did you tell any campus ministries you're planning on doing this?"  Silence in the room. 
"Uh, yeah," I said, and I told them which one. 
"They're actually okay with you doing this against the preachers?" He asked incredulously. 
"They were pretty enthusiastic," I said.  The room almost erupted with excitement. 
"This is so great!  I'm going to bring my rainbow flag tomorrow, okay?"  one girl said excitedly.  I stopped in my tracks for a moment.  What will all those campus ministers think of a giant rainbow flag? I asked myself, panicked.
"Um...  I think that's okay," I told her.  That girl, "Martha," grinned excitedly and took off.  I emailed those campus ministers to get some advice and to warn them ahead of time if they walk up to see a huge rainbow flag in the middle of the protest.   

So, I get a call this morning from one of the two ministers I had talked to (Who I'll call "Torben"):
"Hey, Jackrabbit, I got your email last night and wanted to touch base with you," he said.
"Okay, so what do I do?" I asked him.  Silence for a moment.
"Well, my feeling is that they need to respect what you're standing for, right?  And bringing that flag isn't doing that, is it?"
"Why don't you think so?"  I asked. 
"Well, because that's changing the nature of the protest.  If they want to join in, fine, but they have to do it under your terms."  Is it really?  I thought to myself.  I thought that was sort of the point. 
"Look, I'm not going to tell my friends they have to step back into the closet if they stand alongside me," I countered.  "That'd undo all the good work I've done in there so far." 
"But if they stand alongside you, they need to stand for you as well, don't they?"   Torben asked.  "That's not asking too much, is it?"  I had to think a moment.  Yes, it is, I decided. 
"Torben...  That's what my LGBT friends tell me every week," I told him.    Silence on the other end.  
"What do you mean?" 
"That if I'm standing alongside them, then I have to stand for them." 
"I see."
"Welcome to a day in my life, Torben," I told him.  "I feel like a ballerina dancing en pointe on a straightedge razor." 
In any case, so far it hasn't even been an issue.  I woke up to a steady stream of rain soaking everything that still hasn't stopped-- and no sign of Crazy Preacher Man.  I think they got rained out and will be a no-show for today.  My meticulously painted signs are sitting in the back of my car, I feel tied to the quad looking to see if they're there, and I'm wondering:  what the heck was all this for?  With the money and time I spent on signs I could have done one of the following:
  • Fed a room full of homeless people a hand-cooked meal
  • Sent the money to a friend going on a medical mission to Sudan-- and driven to South Carolina to deliver it
  • Bought an awesome little wireless remote for my wicked new camera and taken pictures of sunsets all weekend
  • Donated it all to To Write Love on Her Arms and spent the weekend playing frisbee
  • Gone to see Alice In Wonderland in 3-D about six times 
  • Blown it all on a day-trip to Dollywood (I am in Appalachia, after all...)
Well, I guess that the answer is that this was an exercise in Christian obedience.  And acrobatics.  We'll see how long I can keep all these balls in the air-- Christianity, social justice, GLBT activism-- in the air before I fall off the high wire...

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