By Bert Montgomery
A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. This week, I learned just how true that is.
I’ve written thousands of words over the past several years about how the Church has failed our gay and lesbian family members, friends and neighbors, and why I, as a minister of the gospel, seek to welcome and affirm, and fully include, everyone both in the Church and in civic life. Not only are my words written for all to see, but I have spoken such messages to groups, on panels and from pulpits. Thousands and thousands of words.
But when I recently asked a friend not to publicly post a picture of a Christian brother and me goofing off in which he puckered up and I leaned in and kissed him on his cheek, I had no idea how hurtful my request would be.
In the context of a fun evening at a church fellowship, when people were posing for pictures, the picture in question was taken. Later, I asked the photographer to please not post the photo of “the kiss”; my reasoning was that while it was quite funny to us, it may not be good for public viewing (me being the pastor and all). I figured that people outside of the evening who didn’t know the context would criticize not just me as a pastor, but the church, and people in the church. My motive was to protect everyone — after all, it was just silly fun anyway.
Though I didn’t know it, the picture, however, had already been posted. After my friend received my request, she immediately deleted the photo. A few days later I learned how important that picture was to some friends of mine. What was done in the spirit of fun on the spur of the moment, it seems, had very significant meaning to others. My credibility increased as a minister among my friends in the LGBTQ community because, to quote one of the comments I received, “It was awesome that a straight pastor would be cool enough to jokingly have kissed another guy.”
When the photo disappeared, and inquiring minds discovered that I requested it not be posted, my credibility sunk. The impression my action gave was that I was afraid of “looking gay.”
One friend wrote to me, “It feels like someone thought there was something inherently wrong with the photo.” Meaning, that it is one thing to say it’s OK to be gay, but that doesn’t mean much if I’m not secure enough to not worry about people thinking I am gay.
Another friend wrote to me: “I think it would be good for people to know how these things can harm. I know it’s something that most people in the Church wouldn’t understand, but the fact is most people in the Church have never felt physically unsafe because of the way they look. Most people in the Church have never been harassed in a bathroom. Most people in the Church have never spent more time on a date looking over their shoulder than enjoying their date. And I think it is important for straight people to understand that what they might think is a bad thing can actually make others feel safe, even if it’s something small like a silly photo.”
That last sentence is the one the hit me the hardest. “It is important for straight people to understand that what they might think is a bad thing can actually make others feel safe, even if it’s something small like a silly photo.”
I’ve always liked to think of myself as an advocate for and an ally of those on the margins, as a person willing to stand in solidarity with anyone feeling left out, and especially with those being forced out and treated unequally and unjustly. It’s at the core of my faith — that as Jesus identified himself with the outcasts, so should we as Jesus’ followers.
A simple request to not post a photo showed me how so far I am from reflecting the Good News of Christ in my actions. All my thousands of words don’t mean a thing if my actions keep me distanced from others, if my actions show my solidarity with the status quo rather than with those striving for equality.
So, here’s the photo. Nothing special, nothing serious, nothing but simple light-hearted fun. But for my LGBTQ friends, neighbors and members of my congregation, it’s worth far, far more than even 10,000 words of support. It represents solidarity.
Besides, Scott and I were just doing what the Apostle Paul frequently instructed us all to do anyway — greeting each other with a holy kiss.