My former colleague, Harmon Smith, who taught at Duke Divinity School as a professor of Christian ethics, taught me this phrase for expressing what it feels like to be in a room of self-appointed, self-deciding righteous people: "It is like being the lion in a den of Daniels."
That is what it felt like when I entered and left the "Ministers in Training" classroom at Upper Room Church of God in Christ in Raleigh, NC.
Yesterday, I blogged the discussion we had in regards to a difference of interpretation in how we read the texts. I must say, in hindsight, I think I made cracks in the thin veneer of the Rev. Patrick Wooden and touched his very soul, especially when I kept asking him about Jesus, and not the Bible, being "God's love letter to the world." He couldn't disagree with me...or God.
This morning, I went onto Google (something I should've done before I went Sunday morning) to see what I could find about the Church and Patrick Wooden. Pastor Wooden has a history of speaking hate-laced rhetoric of all LGBT people. Lo and behold: the Church has gotten so involved in being against LGBT people that they took a chartered bus of 100 people to Chapel Hill, NC to protest against the Town Council when discussing endorsing marriage rights of LGBT people. They have a history of simply attacking all the advances made by the LGBT community in public places (Click here to see some of his sickness, and the sickness of the church).
What I came to find out while I was there, in his fortress, is how much control Pastor Wooden has of this church community. Sorry to say, but Pastor Wooden acted some times like a bully rather than a gracious host, trying to shout me down, which one never does with a "goy" from Brooklyn, New York. When I got into a discussion with a doctoral graduate from Duke University (who went to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Duke University, both equally conservative), slowly tearing apart how Rev. Wooden reads and interprets Scripture, Wooden tried to break in, but I put him off, staying engaged with the young scholar. He tried some more, but I was starting to crack through the veneer of how to interpret Scripture using historical cultural criticism (a hermeneutic known well within the academy) with the other scholar (besides me) in the room. Patrick Wooden kept pushing his agenda, and I just kept pushing back. I soon came to see that there was really no interest in dialogue but only advocating his position...converting me was his goal.
The most fun was at the very end, when I was trying to pick up my books behind Patrick Wooden. Not knowing what I was doing, Wooden danced lightly upon his feet, hands in the air...even lighter than most drag queens I've seen and known. Hmmm...
While it is good to be out of the den of Daniels, I think it is important to go into that context and preach a Gospel of love and grace, leaning upon the "everlasting arms of God" at times, who stood with me throughout the 90 minutes. I saw some people questioning the pastor, and listening intently as I picked apart the pastor's blatantly anti-LGBT message with the young scholar's intellect. I saw the dawning sense of hypocrisy come upon one woman's face as I pointed out to her that Paul would be horrified to see her, a) being trained as a leader and, b) wearing gold necklaces, earrings, and braided hair (Read 1 Timothy). Yet she could rationalize a way of being in that room and being trained. I asked for hands of those divorced, and while at first there were none, I asked again: a good 10% of the class were divorced. And we all clearly know what the Bible says about divorce (Thou shall not, according to Jesus in all four Gospels), but still they found a rationalization for being in that class.
And trust me, 10-15% of the class members were part of the "club," the "family, "the community" known as LGBT, though they held their head's down low and asked no questions. But my "gaydar" went "ping" with many in the room.
Would I go back? Yes. It is important to keep engaging with those whose hearts and minds may be filled with hate or wish to express hurt and resentment toward those of us who are LGBT, because God's grace is stronger than any human wall we may build up to hide from God's grace. What is most important is to meet such resistance with grace and love. After all, it is all about embodying Christly gestures (a previous book I wrote).
Dean's wish is this: that one day, pink halos will descend from the heavens and alight upon the LGBTQ people in congregations and parishes, identifying who we are. It will be more than 10-15% of the Church.
Look up! Watch out! Here they come! Halos galore!
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