Love Is An Action: Chicago Pride

Fun Fact and Disclaimer:
The first draft of this post was written on an Amtrak train from Chicago to Grand Rapids. In some ways, the following post is a continuation of two posts that I wrote five years ago, which were also drafted on an Amtrak train departing out of Chicago. Read Part One and Part Two here.

I recognize that there are some things I wrote within those two posts that I would probably say differently if I were writing them today, but that’s because I, like I imagine most of you, have had several experiences since then which have challenged and informed my thinking.

This past weekend, I attended Chicago’s Pride Parade with my partner, Joe. On Sunday, hundreds of thousands gathered in Boystown, Chicago to celebrate. The atmosphere was full of excitement given the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that made marriage equality the law of the land in all 50 states.

I have thought about and come this close to attending Chicago’s Pride Parade for each of the last 5 years. In 2010, The Marin Foundation launched their “I’m Sorry Campaign,” apologizing to the LGBT community for the ways Christians have dehumanized, disrespected, and hurt sexual and gender minorities.

My journey to reconcile what it means to follow Jesus as a man with a  gay sexual orientation has taken years of conversations, prayer, and study. The work of The Marin Foundation and the book Love Is an Orientation, by Andrew Marin, made a large impact on me. No other book besides Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill has made a greater impact in how I am able to process what it means for me to identify as a gay Christian within a traditional Christian context.

Just weeks after I finished reading Andrew Marin’s book, this blog post went viral and the “I’m Sorry Campaign” was born.

Over the years, I have had off-and-on contact with The Marin Foundation and even road-tripped to Chicago once to attend one of their “Living In The Tension” gatherings. I greatly appreciate the ways that they try to bridge the gap between conservative churches and the LGBT community so that relationships can be formed and healthy dialogue can occur. Christians and LGBT folks frequently speak past one another, making sweeping generalizations about each other which sends dialogue down the drain. The Marin Foundation has made it their mission to “elevate the conversation” so that these two groups of people can move from talking past one another to talking with one another.

The “I’m Sorry Campaign” is a way that The Marin Foundation has sought to publicly elevate the conversation by doing something that is sorely needed, apologizing to the LGBT community on behalf of the church.

As someone who personally sits at the intersection of the LGBT and conservative Christian communities, I have felt for a long time that I can help build bridges between the two. So this year, I finally made plans and followed through with participating in the “I’m Sorry Campaign” at Chicago’s Pride Parade.

In stark contrast to the electric mood at Pride, there was a very different atmosphere I started to sense from my celibate gay Christian friends: a sense of exhaustion.

Many of them shared with me how this past weekend was a muddled mess of emotions. They recognize that marriage equality is a significant step towards securing civil rights for a minority group with whom they identify, and they see their gay friends celebrating. But they also see their conservative Christian friends, family members, and clergy lamenting the state of our nation; saying particularly hurtful things about “the gays” in their false assumptions, ignorance, and fear of persecution. As a result, they are caught in a state of emotional whiplash, not sure who could truly understand what they are feeling. This culture war exhaustion comes along every couple of months, when the conversation about how the church engages with LGBT folks bubbles over and takes over social media. I simply have to say the words, “World Vision” or “Chick-Fil-A,” and I can watch how my friends cringe while they have flashbacks to past battles of the culture war. My friends still have scars from where they took shots from both sides.

When I saw news of the SCOTUS ruling on Facebook Friday morning, I knew that we were entering another solid week of social media being an emotional and exhausting place to be due to the reactions we would have to read from our Christian friends.

Plenty of virtual ink has already been spilled in talking about how Christians who hold a traditional sexual ethic should respond to the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. I’m not interested in “adding to the noise,” other than to say please read this post. Grant is a new friend of mine who captures the spirit of what I would say to conservative Christians.

So, what was it like to participate in the “I’m Sorry Campaign” along the parade route?

I did the following:

  • Shouted “I love you!” quite a lot to passersby who read our sign as they marched/danced/drove past us.
  • Gave out an infinite number of high-fives to people with looks of pure joy on their faces.
  • Offered hugs to anyone who wanted one.
  • Received hugs from people wanting to thank us for what we were doing.
  • Smiled, clapped, and cheered with my brothers and sisters who were celebrating marriage equality and the freedom they felt by being able to take off their masks and be themselves.

I'm Sorry Campaign 2015

How did it feel to attend Pride and participate in this unique way?

Emotionally, being at Pride was a joyous experience. Celebration and hugs and happiness are contagious, so it was definitely a boost just being down there. Physically, it was a long day of standing in one place, so I needed a nap afterwards. As an introvert, it took a lot of energy to cheer, hug, clap, and interact with people I did not know. I prefer having deep and meaningful interactions with those with whom I have already established relationships. Almost every interaction during the parade was the exact opposite of that, so for more than 24 hours after the parade finished, I needed quality time with people who mean a lot to me in order to replenish my relational energy.

Taking all of these things together, I can attest to having had a beautiful experience demonstrating love towards those attending Pride. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

It meant a lot to me to share this experience with Joe. We’ve been building our committed partnership with one another for almost a year now. It’s been quite a journey of learning to accept ourselves rather than live in constant shame because of our orientation. The two of us are both living openly and honestly within our faith communities and have experienced  how freeing it is to not have to live a double life or try to live up to the expectations placed on us by others. From this place of self-acceptance, I felt free to stand in the space between the two worlds of my Christian faith and my sexual orientation, professing God’s love for everyone who passed by and sharing more hugs than I could ever have imagined.

“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.” – Billy Graham