In the days after the 2016 presidential election, reports of hate crimes surged across the country as misogynists, white supremacists, and Christian nationalists celebrated their apparent victory. That Sunday, I took to the pulpit in the small New England town I was serving, and named the evil that had been let loose. I noted that the peninsula where we lived had few people of color, or members of other targeted minority groups for that matter, but did have a significant LGBTQI+ population. Since that community might feel threatened, and the congregation was Open and Affirming, I suggested flying a Pride flag in solidarity.
The Deacons (the leaders of the spiritual and missional aspects of church life in that setting) agreed, and after some debate over where to mount it in a town that often had four feet of snow, it was decided to place the flag above the main doors.
What followed was six months of church conflict, including the resignation of a gay man who opposed any visual indication of our ONA status. Somewhere along the line, a member advocated for the U.S. flag as well. I was hesitant at first, knowing how easily American Christians fall into idolatry, especially around the flag. But she made a strong case. She was tired of letting “the other side” own patriotism and the flag. She wanted to reclaim the American story for progressives.
In the end, the congregation adopted my proposal, four flags (U.S., UCC, Pride, and Earth) across the front of the church. For all the conflict about the “historic character” of the building, it ended up being both beautiful and effective.
Much like that congregant from years ago, I am unwilling to cede Christianity to the toxic fringe that dominates media coverage. We may be “reconstructive” in our approach to theology, abandoning violence like “blood atonement,” and we are inclusive in our thinking and language, but there is still good stuff to be harvested from our Christian tradition. Words like grace and forgiveness still have power.
On Sunday, I'll be telling the story of a Christian community that begins with Abolitionism and lands on the Social Gospel. Sound familiar?
I'm a gay man who was raised Southern Baptist in Virginia. I know a thing or two about abusive church. Maybe I'm just hard-headed, but I still choose to be a Christian.