A rabbi and a preacher went to a Pride parade ….
That is as far as I have gotten so far, because while everybody loves a parade, it seems four Starkville, Miss., aldermen do not, and they blocked me from getting to the punch line. I (a Baptist pastor) and my friend Seth Oppenheimer (a rabbi) planned to be a part of the proposed Pride parade.
I, for one, love parades. I grew up in and around New Orleans. Every spring they have numerous parades. There are multiple parades every day for several weeks, leading up to Mardi Gras Day — which is a day filled with, you guessed it, even more parades. In New Orleans, they look for reasons to parade in the streets. Grandma died? Get on down to the French Quarter and we’ll send her off with a parade.
I have not lived in the Crescent City in 30 years, and yet I am still not accustomed to the noticeable lack of parades everywhere I have lived since. There is always a Christmas parade, of course, and maybe a homecoming parade, and in Starkville there is the getting-ready-for-baseball-season Dudy Gras Parade. But I think we would all be so much healthier and happier if we just had more parades.
I am confused, then, as to why the four aldermen said “nay” to having another parade. They did not give a reason for their vote, and exited quickly out the back door when the meeting ended.
Perhaps they feel that two parades for a town our size is one, or even two, too many. A third might force us to change our nickname from StarkVegas to StarkOrleans, and that just doesn’t have the same “ring” to it.
I sense, though, that there is something more troubling at work here. Something unpleasant, something wrong, something discriminatory.
It appears that the four nay-saying aldermen do not like gay folks. They seem to believe LGBTQ persons do not belong in Starkville. We have been through this before. Remember the board meetings regarding a non-discriminatory policy protecting the rights of LGBTQ persons employed by the city? Remember the meetings about the city’s “plus-one” insurance benefits? The Pride parade vote echoes those votes in targeting a particular group of people and saying, “We do not want you here.”
The most disappointing aspect of all this is the apparent “Christian” reasoning behind it all: that God hates gays.
Such an understanding of God is too small. Interpreting the Holy Scriptures in order to condemn the LGBTQ community is too narrow, too legalistic, too short-sighted. A limited view of God and Scripture fails to see the larger story of scandalous grace at work from Genesis through Revelation; it fails to follow the unpredictable Spirit of God moving freely, without restraint, and always finding the most excluded “outsiders” and welcoming them in; and, it fails to be humbled by the Gospel texts which reveal the wildly-inclusive love of Jesus and the wide diversity of God’s kingdom.
Christians are involved in the Pride events. This I know, because the organizers Bailey McDaniel and Emily Turner are a part of my church family, and because members of my church planned to participate.
Of course, some of those who would participate are Buddhists. Some are Jewish. Some are atheists or agnostics, or are otherwise non-religious. Yet, commmitted Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, and so on, would have been involved, too.
LGBTQ persons work in our stores and in our schools. They cook or serve in our favorite restaurants. They do incredible, ground-breaking research, teach in the classrooms, and work behind-the scenes as administrators and staff all over Mississippi State University’s campus. They entertain us in school bands and drama clubs, and they excite us in sporting competitions. Like it or not, gay and transgender sisters and brothers sit in our church pews every Sunday — whether openly at the few gay-friendly churches or “in the closet” among the many not-so-gay-friendly churches.
It is a disgrace that the aldermen consider them “second-class” citizens. It is a disgrace that they do so apparently believing it is the “Christian” thing to do.
Every time in the Gospels that “God’s men” (and they were all men) exclude, ignore and push to the margins — or outright condemn — categories of people, Jesus immediately turns up walking among, hanging out with, laughing and crying and eating with those “wrong kind” of people. The scholars and teachers of God’s law were upset that Jesus would walk away from them; they accused Jesus of being a gluttonous drunkard, a sexually impure man because of his friendliness toward known prostitutes; Jesus preferred the company of wild “sinners” than the company of the good, “righteous” people.
It does not take much to imagine the religious leaders accusing Jesus of being gay, because, if we believe the Gospels, clearly Jesus would be laughing and celebrating with his friends at a Pride parade.
I hope I get the opportunity to join Jesus, my friend Rabbi Seth, and all my other friends and neighbors and church members, and walk in Starkville’s first-ever Pride parade in March.