Hard Hearts, Minds On Faith's Front Line

Hard Hearts, Minds On Faith's Front Line

By Daniel J. Webster Dwebster@episcopal-ut.org

We stood there facing one another. I was standing on the steps wearing my clergy collar. They were on the sidewalk holding their well-worn bibles, megaphones and signs.

As the people arrived for the Interfaith PRIDE prayer service at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark, I would welcome and direct them to the open door. Those on the sidewalk would shout disparaging and sometimes offensive words occasionally quoting one of the six bible passages to condemn homosexual persons.

The line was clearly drawn. My faith and theirs, and what it draws out in each of us to proclaim the gospel could not have been more different.

I know you cannot win bible arguments with proof-texters. Anyone can quote something from the bible to justify one's stand on almost anything. Bible verses have been used to justify slavery, capital punishment, oppression of women, the beating of children, and the slaughter of the Jews.

So the shouts and epithets about the bible were things I knew I just had to ignore. But knowing something and doing it are two very different things. Hearing them repeatedly quote Leviticus and loudly shouting "abomination" as people arrived finally caused me to engage them.

"That shirt you're wearing, I'll bet that's a cotton-polyester blend," I said. There was a moment of silence. (I could hear the music inside the cathedral, wishing I was singing with the 250 gathered). "The Leviticus code of laws also forbids wearing garments that are made of two different fabrics." (It also -- among other things -- forbids tattooing, cutting one's hair, and declares people with physical deformities are not welcome at the altar). Teaching moment?

They responded by dismissing the different translations of the bible that the Episcopal Church officially recognizes. For them, the King James Version is the only accepted scripture.

By now most arriving for the service were inside the cathedral. I returned to a posture of ignoring most of their taunts. It's hard to do that, I discovered. "You're a reprobate," one said after quoting the word from his bible. "Pastor Reprobate! That's what we have here. Pastor Reprobate!"

I ignored that.

They warned me I was placing my immortal soul in serious danger. They said it was their duty as they read scripture to warn me and all those attending the service that their souls are in very serious danger. I still ignored them.

"Sir," another shouted, "are you heterosexual or homosexual?"

"That, sir, is none of your business," I retorted strongly. He kept asking. And asking. And asking. When my silence convinced them nothing else would be said, two of them began demeaning my church because we ordain women clergy. My silence ended.

"My wife is a priest at this cathedral and she's a very good priest!" I said as forcefully as I could without shouting. "And we have a female bishop who heads up our church in Utah!," I added.

They began quoting the traditional anti-women passages. I ignored them as they tried to bait me into more endless dialogue with them being right and me wrong. My silence must have frustrated them.

"Well at least we know he has a wife," one said to another. "Yes," I responded, "but you still don't know whether I'm heterosexual or homosexual."

The service was more than half over by the time I was able to get inside. I did see the eight candles burning on the altar.

Four had been lit for healing, four for hope. The voices of the Salt Lake Men's Choir, with whom I used to sing, lifted me again to hear the blessing they sang upon us all.

The Rev. Lee Shaw's sermon spoke of the God I know and believe in so strongly. One who creates everyone and everything out of love. Lee's words reconfirmed in my heart to work for justice and peace in the world and respect the dignity of every human being.

I prayed for my brothers and sisters on the sidewalk. I prayed that hardened hearts, on both sides, would be softened and open to the spirit of God. I prayed that one day all people, regardless of the differences we have drawn in this world, could be seen the way God sees them as truly lovable, truly unique and truly God's. As never before I was able to pray the words of the closing hymn, "Lift Every Voice":

"Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us; sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on, till victory is won."

The Rev. Daniel J. Webster is director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Utah; a member of Integrity, the Episcopal ministry for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons; and is married to the Rev. Gwyneth Murphy.

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