About an hour and a half ago I left the first ever protest I have ever attended. It is hard to believe that was my first protest but it was. I have never before decided to take the time to stand firmly for or against anything. After all, "what good will it do?" has always been my attitude toward protests. I must admit that I was skeptical about the whole thing. Not only was I skeptical, but I was super anxious and conflicted about attending. I really did not know what to expect. I know the protest organizers were billing this a "peaceful protest" but "How could they ensure this would be the case", I wondered. I mean, how could they ensure that the emotions--the raw and hurt emotions--of so many would not manifest in hatred of another kind against the "counter-protesters"? It is easy to assume that the "straight allies" who were there to show support for the maligned and opposition to Pastor Worley would not get too charged because, at the end of the day, we are not the ones who are being hated and harried, but our homosexual brothers and sisters are. There is a point where folks doggedly proclaim, "Enough is enough!" and feel like violence is their only way to be heard. Dr. King said that violence is the voice of the unheard. There is little doubt in my mind that we have drastically and consistently missed the point that many of our gay brothers and sisters try so vehemently to make. Alas, the protest did remain peaceful and had a surprisingly upbeat and congenial feel. 

I attended the protest, as I said above, to say I reject this hatred. I went to the protest to--by raising my shaking and nervous voice--give people permission to raise their equally shaky and nervous voices. I went because for too long, the loudest--and often most offensive--voices have hijacked the message of our loving and merciful God. I went to the protest, finally, because I felt so prompted by the Holy Spirit to say to my LGBT sisters and brother, "I apologize for how the 'Church' has treated you". One voice--in the crowd of so many other voices--may seem insignificant, naive or pointless but I know it is not. 


I lost track of the numbers of people who shook my hand and said, "Thank you." The first random hug that I received was from a lady whom I'd never met. No words were exchanged, just a silent 10-15 second hug and then she continued to walk. As I think about that incredible moment, there are tears in my eyes. What did that hug mean? What was she communicating in that hug. Does she know how sincere the words that I hastily wrote on this board mean to me? Does she know that this is not some gimmick but I really, truly--from a deep place--mean each word? These are all the questions that swirled through my head during that embrace. My mind now drifts to the kid--who could not have been more than 19 years old--who simply shook my hand and said, "Thank you, Reverend." I wonder if that kid, since he called me Reverend, grew up in a church similar to Pastor Worley's that left him feeling such despair and loneliness. Did his Pastor or Youth Pastor ever sit down with him and allow him to ask the scary questions? Did this precious boy know how much God wants him? Does he know how great of a price that Jesus paid for him? I wondered, "Does he know?" Then I heard the street preacher guys. My heart sank. I was pissed. I was sick--pukin' sick. (See what I did there?)

These guys--motivated by only God knows what--were spewing toxic, hate-filled "words from God". From one side of their moths they spoke of love and from the other, they argued with and belittled the gay protesters (they, of course, belittled me, as well). As I walked behind these guys, saying nothing, I prayed for God to touch them and their hearers. I prayed for God to allow people to see that all of "us" are not like "them".

The Gospel must be good news. Our actions and sermons should not build barriers. I trust--as it were--“the hound of Heaven” will convict folks of his or her own sin. I endeavor to always be the arms of God. I believe that love—in fact—is greater than hate. 


STR8 against H8,




Ray S. McKinnon
Tomorrow in North Carolina folks will fulfill their civic duty and vote in the primary election. I hope every person will vote. The right and duty to vote are so important to me. Today folks are still fighting for this right that so many of us take for granted. They fight to get the chance to voice their preference for leaders. 


North Carolinians will also get the rare privilege to vote  for or against Amendment 1 which reads:
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.
So much has been said for and against this amendment. I have personally been involved in discussions, ad nauseum, on this topic. Frankly, I can't wait until the whole thing is over. I tweeted yesterday that I could not wait until May 9, 2012. Then I read a post today on John Shore's blog that gave me a different perspective on that day. 

The person writing was a guest poster to John's blog (it is great, by the way). He essentially talked about what Amendment One means to his family. He talked about how he will feel on May 9, 2012 after the amendment passes (as the polls seem to suggest that it will). As I was reading this guy's post tears began to fall from my eyes. My heart broke as I began to think about this guy's anguish. The tears were there for another reason, too. These words cut me as a butcher cuts the day's game:

I know your readers are not the kind of people to support such an amendment and the animus it represents. Nonetheless, there may come a time when a Christian asks you, “Why do gays and lesbians hate us so much?” Should that happen, I hope my thoughts here will come to mind. I know the difference between you and your readers vs. those who promote these laws. However, most of my gay and lesbian friends do not. It’s a good week to hate Christians. But know I love you and your readers. I guess it’s because I don’t really think of you as Christians, but as people who believe in Jesus.
 
"...there may come a time when a Christian asks you, 'Why do gays and lesbians hate us so much?" My eyes and cheeks filled with tears because these people think that I hate them. They think that I, a Christian, hate them. I do not. I suppose, however, I understand their animosity. They think, that we hate them so they hate us back. We often say we don't hate them but the reply from them is, "That is too yellow for rain..." My heart is for all people to experience the joy and peace that is available when hope is present. 


My prayer for each of my brothers and sisters to live as the sent ones. That we will hear the voice of Daddy, God and boldly speak and go. So, when you cast your vote--however you choose to vote--please remember the day after. To quote a friend, "...If the amendment passes or fails you still are commanded to love your neighbor-that includes your gay and lesbian neighbor."


This post is not to sway you for or against the amendment. I honestly believe that my sisters and brothers will cast votes that are in line with her or his convictions. I pray, that no matter how we vote, we remember the day after.


Peace

I have often wondered why it ticks me off so badly when a person says that I am all this way or that way. You know, "You are a partisan Democrat." Or, "You are a Calvinist." Or, how about this one that I have gotten a lot lately, "You a pro gay-marriage." Now, the reality is each of those are true to one extent or another. It is true that I identify more with the political left. It is also true that my understanding of scripture could lead folks to conclude (as I once did) that I am a Calvinist. Finally, I do believe that every American should have equal treatment under the Constitution, which is the only document that should guide our civil law. With all of that said, my positions are so much more nuanced than any of those general labels could ever really explain. Let's unpack just those three.


"Partisan Democrat"


I am a Democrat but it is probably fair to say that I am no partisan. I make no apologies for being neither a Democrat nor someone who is ideologically progressive but I am no partisan. I have had the high privilege to cast a ballot in three presidential contests. I have voted for the Democratic nominee two of those three times. In the congressional races in which I have had the privilege to vote, I have voted for the Democrat four out of the six elections. In one of those elections, I not only voted for the Republican but actively campaigned for the Republican, serving as a County Coordinator. In countless of the local and judicial races I have cast my vote for a non-Democrat candidate. What is my point? I am Progressive and will, more times than not, vote for the most progressive candidate on the ticket. A partisan will always vote for the Democrat and will never give a candidate from a different party a glance. I am convinced that the things that make me a progressive are biblical. That is to say, I am a Progressive because of my understanding of scripture. Matthew 25, Micah 6:8 and Proverbs 31:8-9 have largely shaped my worldview and sense of responsibilities as a citizen of the world and more specifically, America. When I wail against the injustices of the marginalized, it is out of a conviction to live out these verses. When I speak for my gay brothers and sisters, it is out of a conviction that the loudest (and often most hateful) does not get the final word on the Lord whom I cherish so deeply and exclusively. When I speak about the incongruousness of proclaiming a banner of being pro-life, but then rail against the very policies that will ensure that poor people will not have to turn to abortions, it is from a conviction that we should be people who live as "the sent ones" who give hope and not further despair and death. When I speak against the death penalty and wars that merely generate profit for corporations, it is from that conviction that does value life. You see, I am not a partisan Democrat, but I am a proud member of the Christian Left.


"You Are A Calvinist"


If you'd asked me when I was in college if I would be a staff pastor at a United Methodist Church, I would have told you, emphatically, no! Alas, I am a staff pastor at a United Methodist Church that I absolutely love. Doing a quick run through the famed "TULIP" (Side note: Reformed folks did not come up with that acronym) I would assert that I do believe that mankind, from the core, is totally depraved and, in and of him or herself, would not choose the highest and best. The sticking point with me has always been the idea of unconditional election. (Although, at this point, I still adhere to this point in Reformed Theology) Not the idea that mankind has no role to play in his or her salvation but the other part that would seem to suggest almost double predestination. That essentially means that God ordains those who will eventually receive his grace but also pre-damns those who were not predestined for salvation. I do believe that the substitutionary atonement of Christ at Calvary atoned the sins of those who ultimately places his or her faith in Christ. That is to say that his sacrifice on the cross was limited to those who accepted that work.  I further believe that those whom God has chosen for salvation can not, ultimately, resist the grace of God. I believe this efficacious grace will be applied to those whom God, in his sovereignty, chose. Finally, I do believe that those who have been chosen by God, will, ultimately, persevere in the faith until the end of his or her natural life and will ultimately be united, in glory, with the lover or his or her soul. I affirm these things but I am not as sure about them as I was when I was under the apt leadership of my Pastor in High School and College. My lack of assurance (and not of my salvation...see what I did there?) is not because the Pastors, under whom I have sat, since Pastor John, have somehow been lacking or deficient. Quite the contrary. They have each challenged my previously held dogmas. Ten years ago, my hands were clenched and I was sure that I had a firm grasp on what was and was not the true interpretations of the Scriptures. Today I sit with an open hand seeking to hear my daddy's voice. The father of my denomination said these words that are so apropos: "Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may." -John Wesley 


"You Are Pro-Gay Marriage"


The issue of homosexuality has been something that I have wrestled with ever since about 2006 when one of my dearest and longest held friends called me and, effectively, "came out" to me. That day the distance between "them" and me vanished. No longer could "those people" remain "those people". "Those people" received a face and a name to me. Their face was a familiar face. It was a face that I'd grown so familiar with. A face that I remember sharing memories from elementary, middle and high school. It was the face of the last woman I kissed before I kissed my wife. It was the face of the woman whom I shared countless hours in prayer and study. It was the voice that gave such incredible advice and words of wisdom. That voice, became, for me, the voice of "those people". That voice, for me, became the voice that was being muted and drowned. It has been said to me, "Ray, Tonetta is the exception. You can't base it all on her." Maybe that is true--though I highly doubt it--but the truth remains that "those people, indeed, have faces now for me. But, further to the point. I am not so much pro-gay marriage as I am pro-equal treatment under the law in America. My nuanced view on this topic will have the government out of the business of marriage altogether. Each person should have to get a civil union (hetero or homosexual). I am not for "gay marriage" as many of my sisters and brothers within the gay community would like, either. I want for the church and the state to be separate as the founders clearly intended. In that, I mean the government should in no way seek to shape or determine ecclesiastical (church) policies or polity and neither should the Church bring pressure upon the civil government policies or polity to somehow force folks to live lives that are in keeping with acceptable Church doctrine and teaching. I further believe nothing is necessarily gained when we attempt to legislate morality. Should individual Christians be involved in the political arena? I think he or she, emphatically, should. Here in America we have a republic. Because that is true, each member has a duty and rare honor to speak with his or her representatives to ensure said representative represents his or her values well. The rub for me, however, is when we use scripture to tell the civil government why one group of Americans should not be afforded the same rights that other Americans are afforded. Just as I would not be okay with the government passing a law that requires faith communities to marry couples whom they have a conviction would not be in keeping with its understanding of scripture; I am not okay with the church subjecting the civil government to its convictions. It was recently asked of me if I would marry a same-sex couple if I was asked. I told the person that I would not. For several reasons I gave the answer that I gave. The primary reason is I am not settled on that issue personally. Also, the church where I serve, though we fully embrace and love all people, we do not believe that same-sex marriage is in keeping with scripture. Finally, in the state of North Carolina, where I reside, same-sex marriage is not legal. It isn't now and if the marriage amendment fails to be accepted into the North Carolina Constitution tomorrow it will still be illegal in this state.


You might be able to tell from reading all of that why, at times, I feel like I do not fit easily into the boxes that I am often placed within. Though I am Progressive, some of my progressive brothers and sisters question my progressive bona fides. Though most would say that I am Reformed, my unease on the most essential point--unconditional election--I doubt Marc Driscoll or Dr. Piper and certainly Al Mohler will not have me in the solid Reformed category. Finally, though there are many points that my gay brothers and sisters would probably appreciate and consider me a "straight ally" there are some who would lump me with all the others because I am not settled on same-sex marriage (civil unions are a different matter altogether).


At the end of the day, I want to have open hands and an open heart before God. I want the good news to be, good. I want to live as a sent one offering hope and grace. Offering mercy and truth. My heart breaks (and maybe it should not) when folks form opinions about my motives or my commitment to God because I do not share the same convictions that he or she shares. My former Pastor wrote a post the other day regarding Amendment One. I made a comment on that post. He said: 
I have observed the debate taking place on the internet with regard to the Marriage Protection Amendment – to include seeing see those I love in the Lord (and who I know have a deep and genuine love for God) advocate for what I view to be the wrong side on this issue.
One of the things that I have grown to respect so much about Pastor John is  the thought that he gives to not only his sermons, but to (unlike me, sadly) the posts that he makes of Facebook. In his reply (where we obviously disagreed) he was very clear to not intimate that folks like me did not lack a "deep and genuine love for God". I want to model that. Though I disagree, vehemently, I do not want to question one's motives. I want to always fill in with trust and not suspicion. 


Pray for me, as I pray for you to live loved. Live on mission and, by all mean, live as the sent ones!


-Ray
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