Here on Long Island, New York, (not the “deep South” or some other easy stereotype of a community steeped in hatred and phobia), I write this in response to an anonymous email, published by print and electronic media reaching millions of people, that expressed opposition, in quite vulgar terms, to the LGBTQ-theme at one of the upcoming Alive After Five (AA5) events that was sent to many business and government leaders. AA5 is a street festival that draws between 20,000 and 30,000 people per event in the summer. This is the second anti-LQBTQ incident in Patchogue, Long Island, that has been covered by the press in just one week. Patchogue, ironically, is heralded as a national model of urban/suburban development; so this undercurrent of phobia and hatred is certainly not the image the community wants to project~ but it is there nonetheless, and recurrent. Many fear that the LGBTQ theme this year will be fraught with contention and counter-demonstration, including a proposed “Straight Pride Day” ~ all of which affirms the “I told you so” that many good people advanced in belief that there is indeed “a can of worms” that the LGBTQ theme of the “family event” will entice.
I am a Patchogue pastor who is ordained in the United Church of Christ (UCC), which also ordained its first openly gay minister, Rev. William Johnson, 47 years ago. (I say “openly” gay because, whether they knew it or not, the Christian church has been ordaining not-openly-gay pastors for a couple thousand years). I am also an “openly heterosexual” pastor who is openly supportive of LGBTQ persons and their rights as citizens and as children of a loving God.
The UCC lost many tens of thousands of church members and churches that withdrew from the denomination over issues of full inclusion of LGBT members and clergy. Withdrawing from openly welcoming and affirming churches was and is their right and privilege. Such schisms that are splitting the church, unfortunately, continue to this day in a few denominations, even in Patchogue. Backlash is to be expected against the LGBTQ theme at AA5. But I hope and pray that, now that the LGBTQ theme has already been established ~ the organizers, business sponsors, government representatives, residents and visitors will stay strong and keep faithful to their plan. Hatred is ugly, as is fear; but hatred and fear are inherently more amenable that complacency and indifference. And such anonymous (i.e. “closeted”) attacks in the media can actually inspire pride, courage and joy.
There are many millions of religiously-affiliated persons, churches, fellowships and synagogues that proudly welcome LGBTQ person in their congregations. The UCC is not the only denomination that sanctions and performs the weddings of same-gender and non-binary couples. Other denominations have openly LGBTQ pastors as well.
The anonymous author of the letter in question stated that holding a LGBTQ theme event at Alive After Five is “blasphemous against God.” Blasphemy is showing disrespect or insulting something sacred. I never thought of my heterosexuality as “sacred.” But if, as the Bible states, “God is love” ~ then it is easy to believe, as do I, that all persons, regardless of their gender, sexual preference or identity, are equally loved in the eyes of God. Jesus never said a single word about homosexuality. Not one.
The church I serve (Congregational Church of Patchogue) is directly on Main Street, in the “eye of the storm” of Alive After Five. I have a feeling, deep in my soul, that this LGBTQ theme AA5 is going to be a colorful party. I hope and pray that we will be safe. Have fun. Stay proud. And choose your battles. We also intend for our church to throw open our doors during the AA5 so we can have a 30 minute sing-along of some great “religious” and “church” hits such as “Amazing Grace” (John Newton), “Stand By Me” (Ben E. King), and “A Change Is Gonna Come” (Sam Cooke).
Peace Whenever Possible,
Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter