Gay Bars and Megaphones

The following is a paper I recently wrote for a class in Diversity as part of my graduate degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The project was to experience a minority group in their environment and report on how the experience affected me. I chose the LGBT community and a local gay dance club/bar for my report. Enjoy.

No one told me

hate preachingI was a straight man attempting to have a “minority experience” at a gay bar with my wife after dinner on a Friday night. No one told me that gay bars don’t get busy until after 11pm. Who knew? It was just after 9pm and there we were: my wife and I sitting alone in a massive dance club, music pumping, light show activated, $8 cover charge paid and completely alone. Not exactly the “gay experience” I was hoping for. With kids asleep at home and a babysitter ready to expire in an hour, we decided to hit the street and track down a good gay experience, freestyle. And it didn’t take long.

Enter the Megaphones

The area of town we were in is known for being somewhat of a gay district, replete with gay bars, coffeehouses, restaurants and you’re run-of-the-mill artsy shops and, of course, your band of weekend warrior street preachers with megaphones. The preachers were stationed across the street from a popular restaurant toting massive banners and literally yelling at the newly forming crowd through blaring megaphones the usual street preacher message of “repent or burn,” delivered in an extremely arrogant and condescending tone. The crowd was informed that not only gays and lesbians, but drinkers, masturbators and a host of other behaviors were sure to render eternal torments on deserving sinners.

My wife and I pulled up to some outside seating in front of the restaurant, ordered some drinks, and settled in for what was sure to be a showdown between the gay community and the street preachers. Indeed, there were some entertaining exchanges, but the entertainment lasted only a few minutes before I began to feel overwhelmed with a sense of disgust and embarrassment. Mind you, this was not the first time I had witnessed hateful street preaching, but, for reasons I will describe below, this occasion really affected me to my core.

Sad, Angry and Frustrated

This minority experience helped me to see Christianity through the eyes of the gay community in a way I have never known. Let me back up and set the stage. At the gay bar my wife and I interacted with only one person, our bartender. He was an incredibly nice guy: happy, cordial, professional, personable, everything you want in a great bartender. On our way to the club my wife and I expressed to each other our mutual anxiety of what was before us. We both seemed to fear that we would be rejected by the patrons and made to feel ridiculous for being an obvious straight couple in an obvious gay bar. But, by the time we left we felt perfectly at ease (thanks to the bartender), and as we walked down the street we were both sort of giddy and even more happy to be out on the town.

As we turned the corner and ran into the street preachers the mood of the evening took a sharp downturn. We were assaulted by shouts of hatred and condemnation trumpeted from megaphones in the name of Jesus. It is difficult to explain what happens to me internally when I witness this sort of thing, but I’ll try. I came to Christ as a young teenager in a wild charismatic church in Mesa, Arizona. For nearly 20 years I was faithful to the independent, Evangelical movement and believed that it was the closest thing to authentic Christianity around today. I even chased my aspirations of being a pastor by finishing my bachelors degree in Pastoral Ministry at Oral Roberts University—one of the foremost Evangelical universities in the world. I came to my end with the movement when I recognized its historical bankruptcy in relation to the ancient faith, its endless internal divisions, and a myriad of personal experiences which convinced me that the movement was a counterfeit; revelations which came to a head while completing my masters degree in theology at the same university. In its place I discovered the ancient Orthodox Christian Church and three years ago was baptized into its ranks and have never been more at peace and in love with God and His creation than I am today. That said, now when I am confronted with what I consider to be a great aberration from the authentic Christian faith, parading in the guise of Christianity, preaching a gospel of hate and ridicule, every ounce of my being turns immediately both sad and angry. It takes a lot for me to sit quietly and merely observe when everything in me wants to jump into the heat of the debate.

I Get it Now

A great contrast was formed in my mind between popular street-preaching Christianity and the gay community. I felt the insults as if I was the gay man the preachers were attacking. With the happy and accepting gay bartender still fresh on my thoughts the outright evil emanating from these preachers was made plain before me in a way I’ve never experienced. If I were a gay man out for the evening and experienced this scene it would only serve to convince me that Christians were blind, knuckle dragging hypocrites whose time in history had official come to an end; then I would have turned the corner and been on with my night more convinced of my own purity in contrast to the Pharisees with bullhorns than I was prior to witnessing them. I would not have stopped to engage them in debate for the simple reason that blinding hatred and hypocrisy is not cured by debate, but by the sort of life-revelation that neither I nor anyone could mediate for them.

This troubles me on many fronts. First, that many will never know authentic Christianity but will only ever have for their example these sorts of hateful, self-appointed deceivers posing as preachers. Second, that anyone claiming to know Christ could even entertain the idea that God would have them hit the streets and shout at “sinners” till the break of dawn. Third, that many in the gay community will use experiences like this in the manner described above—as fodder for unconditional rejection of Christianity.

I was not a Mere Observer

The rest of the story is that at one point in the evening one of the street evangelists approached me (probably because I was shouting “hypocrite” at the preachers from my chair at the restaurant) wanting to know if I knew Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. He was a young guy, maybe 18, so I had a soft spot in my heart for him, knowing that he was probably raised in this fundamentalist group and would potentially find his way out of it someday. I stood up and talked with him for a while until an older gentleman stepped in (a pastor, I later learned). I think he was nervous because I had the kid in a theological arm-bar and his body language made it was obvious that he was out of apologetic resources. So, I spoke with the older guy for some time, but did not make any observable headway with him. The discussion was classic, but to give any details would elicit an entirely new paper to cover its finer points, so I digress. But, it was actually a lot of fun. I have not had the opportunity to unload my debate side on someone with that intensity for quite some time. Honestly, I could have gone all night.

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18 thoughts on “Gay Bars and Megaphones

  1. Great post Eric. I feel the same way with these types of street preachers. They’re such a micro-percentage of Christianity, but they do so much harm in the name of Jesus. Incredibly heart-breaking and infuriating all at the same time.

  2. As a Christian, I can never condone what the street preachers that you have labeled as fundamentalists were doing. Shouting declarations and insults at people or groups of people is never going to be an effective method of delivering your message to others. I believe you began the right way by politely engaging the bartender in conversation and by treating him like the valuable human being that he is. However, in the end, by shouting “Hypocrite” back at the preachers, you are engaging in the exact same behavior. Their behavior does not justify yours. What they are doing is wrong, but they also have the same value that the bartender does. Our conduct does not influence our value in God’s eyes. Convince the preachers of their errors in a civilized manner. I am truly sorry if this sounds harsh, but we all spend way too much time at war instead of building relationships with God’s workmanship.

  3. Hi Russell, thanks for your reply.

    Your criticism is founded in a strictly context free world. Indeed, I and the street preachers engaged in the “same behavior” insofar as we both shouted at each other. In the same manner that one who swings a hammer to repair a home vs. one who swings a hammer to destroy a home, void of context, both men are engaged in the same hammer-swinging behavior.

    I suppose I would have to ask you, since you interpreted my behavior to mean that I did not think the preachers had value, did Jesus find no value in the scribes and Pharisees when he called them hypocrites? How do you read it?

  4. I will readily admit that I was not there to witness the exchange between you and the “preachers” (I certainly don’t use that word to suggest that they were actually presenting a valid point). However, when you mentioned that you were shouting hypocrite back at them does not give the impression that it was intended in a constructive manner. That is my assumption and if it is incorrect, I am sorry.

    When Jesus called out the Pharisees and scribes, there were two situations that were occurring. First, Jesus was addressing the Pharisees directly and contrasting their behavior to their stated beliefs. It was not done at a distance and was part of a dialog that was initiated by the religious leaders. Secondly, Jesus did use the behavior of the Pharisees and scribes as an example of hypocritical actions. I would agree that these so-call preachers were engaging in hypocritical actions. The key, as you pointed out, is to constructively interact with those who are so destructive to the gospel of Jesus.

    I am not an effective writer, and I hope that I have explained this well. In any case, I very much appreciate your blog and look forward to your posts.

  5. Thanks, Russell.

    You may have laughed had you been there. My “shouts” were more or less of a mocking tone, not an angry tone. I began the shouts after one of the megaphone preachers condemned everyone in the crowd who had masturbated. I felt that this was a fairly straight forward self-condemnation and wanted to help him not forget it. 🙂

  6. This is a tough topic and is one that I have discussed at some length with our middle school pastor – how do you those in the gay community and witness to them the saving power of Christ without but doing so with love and not as a thug with a megaphone that they think should be used like a club. Thanks for the clarification. I admire what you are doing.

  7. I agree with your observations. I grew up spiritually in a fundamental spirit filled Church but fortunately one where we espouse Love and not condemnation. Homosexuals seeking for the truth are more than welcome at our Church.

    What I find disturbing is the Church wants to focus on homosexuality and yet they turn a blind out to the promiscuity of the young adults in their Church. Sex outside of marriage is sin, regardless if its homosexual or not.

    I think the Church (not as in the building but as in the members of the
    Body) would do better to focus on giving living examples of healthy marriages and celibacy. Our actions will always speak louder than our words.

  8. Indeed. It seems that homosexuality is somewhat of a safezone for these sorts of street preachers because they feel that they are free of guilt in this area. Nevermind that every last one of them have lusted over women, which Christ says is adultery in the heart (and God knows what else they may be into individually). Once you start condemning others your condemnation is sure to fall on yourself.

  9. We gay people are accustomed to being made to feel uncomfortable in certain establishments. But that doesn’t make it right. Which is the critical point that you have overlooked. People were turned away solely because they are gay. That is unacceptable and, if there is a nondiscrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation, it is against the law.

  10. Something tells me neither side is telling the complete truth. The new owners definitely have the right not to have their bar cater to a gay clientele (i.e. making it a gay bar) but depending on the laws, they can’t exclude certain people groups of people.

  11. As a gay man, I reserve the right to go to any damn bar I please. I don’t see why I should be restricted by homophobic bar owners. Nor should I be restricted by gay bar owners and their financially motivated desire for cornering the gay market.

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