Springfield Pridefest Speech, 6-15-13

by Phil Snider

[A video of this speech can be viewed here, but for some reason the last few lines of the speech didn’t get recorded…]

As someone who grew up in the churches of the Bible Belt, it’s been a long journey getting to this place today. If you would’ve told me 20 yrs ago that i would be marching at Pridefest, I never would’ve believed you. Actually, I probably wouldve said, “What’s Pridefest?” 😉

I remember being taught that being gay was sinful — and that those who are gay — those who live the “homosexual lifestyle” — were condemned.

At first I simply accepted the church’s teachings without really thinking all that much about it. But over time, as I met more and more people who are gay, I started to sense a disconnect, and this feeling grew and grew.

I vividly remember prayer meetings where people would literally lay hands on those struggling with what was called the demon of homosexuality, and they’d try to pray the gay away. I remember a couple of friends who tried so hard to be straight –
they’d go to therapy,
they’d pray,
they’d try so hard,
yet time and time again all this only made them feel worse about themselves, that despite all of their best efforts they’d never measure up in the eyes of God. It was like the system was set up for them to fail.

And I remember feeling very frustrated at God about all of this. Thinking how unfair God must be.

At one point along the way I thought about homosexuality as a sin along the same lines of alcoholism or adultery (this is still all too familiar in Christian circles), but after a while even that didn’t add up in my mind. For instance, if one is an alcoholic, and gives up drinking, one’s life improves, it gets better. And if in a relationship neither partner cheats on the other, well, obviously, that’s much healthier for the relationship. And I started to notice that people who are gay don’t tend to get better over time when they try to renounce their sexuality; in fact, the LGBT people I knew who were most healthy were actually the ones who had come to terms with their sexuality and didn’t try to repress or ask God to change it, but had accepted it as part of who God created them to be.

I really wasn’t sure what to do. All I knew was that I was in the process of changing my mind, and I didn’t know where that would take me.

There’s a great scene out of Mark Twain’s novel the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that’s become really important to me.

It features Huck going back and forth wondering what to do about his friend Jim, a slave who Huck had helped escape. Huck knew he was supposed to return Jim to his owner, and that he could get in big trouble for helping a slave get away.

Huck had been taught — by social convention and by the church — that everyone has their place, and for slaves this place was with their master.

In helping free Jim, Huck also knew he was going against what he had been taught — by social convention and by the church. In Huck’s words, “the plain hand of Providence [was] slapping me in the face, letting me know my wickedness was being watched from up there in heaven.” He recalled the Sunday School class where he learned that people who treat slaves the way he’s treating Jim “goes to everlasting fire.”

So out of fear, in order to do the “right thing and the clean thing,” Huck decided to write a letter to Jim’s owner, telling her where she could pick Jim up. Huck said that after writing the letter he “felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time, and I knowed I could pray now. I was thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. . . . But then I went on thinking. And got to thinking about our trip down the river; and I see my friend Jim before me, all the time . . . and somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him.”

Huck thought about his friendship with Jim, and he thought about the letter he was supposed to send to Jim’s owner. He went back and forth, back and forth, wondering what to do. Then Huck took the letter and held it in his hand. “I was atrembling, because I’d got to decide, for ever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’ — and I tore up [that letter because I couldn’t betray my friend].”

For Huck, there was a deeper ethic or deeper truth at work than what he was initially taught by social convention and by the church, a truth that valued the dignity of all people, including slaves, and he began to realize that what the church taught Huck about slavery was flat out wrong.

And I started thinking about all of this in relationship to my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. When I began to consider the possibility that the church got it wrong when it came to slavery and women’s rights, or that the Bible often reflected the prejudices of the culture in which it was written, it was like I was able to see with new eyes.
I started to believe the church got it wrong when it comes to the LGBTQ community as well.

Nowadays, I don’t advocate for the rights of all people in spite of my faith, but precisely because of my faith. I recognize that from a historical perspective, the teachings of the church have often fallen short of the measure of love, and anytime the teachings fall short of the measure of love, as Jesus taught us so well, then the church is called to reconform and reconfigure so that it better reflects the measure of love at the heart of Christianity. For if love is the only measure, St. Augustine once said, then the only measure of love is love without measure. Nowadays, it’s my faith in Christ that makes me more inclusive of others, rather than less, because, for me, he embodied beautiful love without measure. And of course this love extends well beyond religious boundaries, it’s at the heart of many different religious traditions around the world.

In closing, A lot of people say I’ve got a lot of courage as a pastor to come out in support of the LGBT community. That I risk my job and such…

And I appreciate such sentiments and all. But I also want to say that there are many other pastors like myself, several of them here today, and I also want to say how grateful I am to work with the incredible community of people at Brentwood Christian Church, whose amazing encouragement and support allows me to vocalize my support.

But more importantly, I remind people that any kind of adversity I face as a straight (cis) white male ally is nothing compared to the daily adversity felt by my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters —
• those who wonder if they can come out at work, and still keep their job or their set of friends,
• or who wonder if they can be honest with their families about the deepest truths that make up so much of who they are,
• or who are not allowed to legally walk down to the Springfield court house and get the same marriage license that I can easily get without batting an eye, simply because I was born as a straight white male.

So we are here today to celebrate you, my LGBT friends:
• for you are the ones reflecting such beautiful courage,
• you are the ones building the legacy,
• you are the ones on whose shoulders future generations will stand.

You have reason to feel great Pride on this day!

Thank you.