By Tracy Robertson, St. Thomas United Church Minister
I love living in the NE. I love the ethnic and cultural diversity and that I can go for a bike ride for 1.5 hours and never see another Caucasian person. Diversity is what gives me passion and excitement and, quite frankly, makes life worth living. For me, diversity gives me a glance into the face and heart of God. All people are children of God, and their diversity is who God is.
That’s why I also love serving an Affirming Church. Being an Affirming Church in the United Church of Canada means that a community of faith has worked through a year-long process of publicly becoming a safe and inclusive space for LGBTQ+ individuals. The process ensures all voices are heard and honoured. A large part of the process includes sharing and hearing stories of those marginalized and oppressed by society but also by churches and how we as a faith community are able to begin making amends and ensuring our congregation is always creating and re-creating safe space that is inclusive of all.
This is why I love serving an Affirming Church. I love the lifestyle diversity that is celebrated and affirmed. I truly feel as though the Holy and Divine are out of the closet when all God’s children can express themselves as they are and have been created…and it’s all in God’s image! Wonderful.
So, how do we deal with the haters? Those who express their fear of people who are different from themselves through hatred and anger.
Love…that’s how. Love trumps all hate and the haters never see it coming. We are children of God – children of love. It’s through that unconditional love of God that the world will change to the better. God doesn’t create haters. Love doesn’t create haters. While we are all created in the image of God – of love – we also seem to think that we all have to believe, act, look, the same. How boring! God is a God of diversity and that diversity is something to be embraced and celebrated and lifted up.
When I was in Zambia on a youth exposure trip last August, we offered to host an Open Forum with the students of the United Church of Zambia University on the topic of Affirming and LGBTQ+ awareness. Although attendance was optional, all the students and faculty came. And, although being gay or lesbian is against the law in Zambia, most in attendance were open to a dialogue and wanted to learn how to love and care for everyone and all. They may not have agreed, but most truly wanted to learn how to be the love that is God and Jesus in the world. Part of the dialogue includes holding people accountable to hurtful comments and doing so still holding love at the centre of that accountability. At the start of the Forum, we did some intentional educating around creating and maintaining safe space during the time we were together.
Towards the end of our time together, one of the very few haters made a very inappropriate request. Specifically, this individual asked that I tell the group which of us from Canada were LGBTQ and then the Zambians could approach those people later and continue to ask them questions. Basically, I was asked to ‘out’ those in the Canadian group. Keep in mind, that being LGBTQ in Zambia is illegal. My immediate reaction, in my head and heart, was yelling “oh, hell no!” My heart raced and I feared for those of us on the spectrum. I was mad at the ignorance and insensitivity at this outrageous request. But in that split second, I was able to see this person through God’s eyes; through that lense of unconditional love and I realized that he had no idea what he was asking. He was ignorant to the severity of his request and what harm it could possibly inflict. At the same time, I had to hold him accountable by shutting down that line of questioning and let him know that the safety we created at the start of our time together had now been made unsafe with his question.
My hope is that he gently gained an awareness of how his question diminished the safety of the space. What I do know, however, is that this Forum, this space of discussion and vulnerability that we intentionally created, was a gift to most of those in attendance. I know this because we received comment after comment in the weeks following the Forum from individuals thanking us for opening their awareness to what LGBTQ means and what it means to minister and care for all people, including LGBTQ people.
When we respond to haters with love, we can continue to celebrate the diversity that reflects who God is in the best way possible. When haters come to the Pride Parade, and they will, respond to them with love. Create a chant of love as a gift to the haters. Overwhelm them with love for one another as a sign of God’s love for us all. Love…that’s how. Happy Pride Everyone! Be loud and proud of who you are and how you were created by God to be who you are. All are worthy and all of us are created in the image of God. And because God is love, we are created in the image of love. So let’s do what we’re meant to do and spread love instead of hate. Share love in the midst of hate. Be love…even to the haters. May it be so.