As I lay on this motel bed, I look down at my pants. My underwear waistband is loose. For over a month now, I’ve been on what’s known as a “Daniel fast,” only eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. I’m not doing this as a part of some sort of diet: as I’m told, I’m doing this to move the heart of God. And I believe it.
Even though I had a direct flight from Northern Virgina and it’s only 9 PM, it’s been a long day of travel. I haven’t had anything to eat because I’m preparing myself for tomorrow when I will only drink water. I notice the micro-fridge in my room and chuckle, knowing I have no use for it. With nobody to talk to, nothing to do, and nothing to eat, I fall asleep.
The next morning, I head down to a convenience store to pick up a couple of bottles of water. I place them in my backpack: the only thing I brought with me on this trip. After slipping it back on, I start walking down to the rail station. A man passes by and I say “hello.” He beams a smile and flashes me a peace sign. San Diego seems like it’s on a different planet than the one I flew in from the day before.
The train takes me to Qualcomm Stadium where people are already gathering. We make our way to the Astroturf and some of us set up blankets. A large stage is assembled in one of the end zones where praise and worship leaders are tuning their instruments.
Today is the Saturday before the election. At this point, it seems fairly certain Barack Obama will win. But his presidency isn’t all that’s on the line. California is also considering Proposition 8, which if passed will amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. Today we are fasting and praying that Proposition 8 will pass.
We are gathered in what Lou Engle is calling a “solemn assembly,” repenting for the sins of our nation. The music starts and we are led in prayer, representing all nationalities and ethnicities present. Even though it’s November, I’m sitting in direct sunlight and beginning to break a sweat. I’m drinking water, but it’s not enough, so I move into the bleachers where there’s partial shade.
This solemn assembly alternates between worship music, prayer, and preaching. As we move into the afternoon, the concession stands open even though Lou insists this was against his wishes. The scent of nachos and fries faintly wafts throughout the stadium. Some people cave.
Around 2:30 in the afternoon, the atmosphere shifts. The prayer and worship gives way to a lineup of special guest speakers. Dr. James Dobson has flown in from Colorado and gives a talk. One by one, each of the speakers gets up and mentions the importance of what we’re doing today, stressing how we need to stand up for the truth in a culture set against us.
All of this time, I’m not only fasting and praying for Proposition 8, I’m praying and fasting for myself. I know I’m attracted to men and I’ve struggled with lust and porn. Even though nobody has promised it, I’m hoping something will happen at this solemn assembly. Maybe a “healing line” I can hop into and be delivered from my attractions, which I believe are causing me to stumble. If I can get delivered here, I believe I’ll be ready for whatever God has in store for me next.
There’s been a lot of talk so far about culture, convictions, and policy, but nobody is really talking about people. That all changes in a moment, when they bring up a woman and give her a moment to share her testimony. She shares briefly, then begins to pray.
“Father we just pray every person out there, every person who’s in bondage to same-sex attraction…”
That’s me: I’m in bondage to same-sex attraction. My hopes are instantly raised for a healing line. What more appropriate place to pray for people than here? If they start one, there’s absolutely nothing at all preventing me from going up and receiving my healing. Only a few close family members even know I’m out here and none of them are going to tune into a 12-hour prayer and fasting marathon. When I get on the plane in a few hours, I’ll never see any of these people ever again.
The service continues.
We go back to alternating between prayer and worship for a bit, then Lou gets up and talks about the cost of running TheCall. He’s looking for people not only to help cover tonight’s event, but for ongoing partners to help them continue holding solemn assemblies. He asks those who are going to make a financial commitment to stand up. I’ve already been giving for a few months, so I stand up. I look around. It seems like only a few dozen people are standing out of several thousand. I’m slightly embarrassed, slightly disappointed, and still hoping for my healing line.
I need to leave the event an hour early so I can catch my red-eye flight back home. I’m losing hope for a healing line, although still riding high on the emotions of the event, the spiritual atmosphere, and the sensation of fasting. A woman I’m sitting next to offers to pray with me. As we pray, she has a prophetic word for me: God is going to give me a voice. I thank her and then leave for the airport a short while later.
“Where do I sign up to counter-protest,” a woman with a concerned look on her face asks.
“I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about,” I reply.
“There’s going to be people protesting the conference on Saturday and I want to sign up to counter-protest,” she explains.
I’ve been sitting at the registration desk for a few hours and haven’t heard anything about a protest or a counter protest. I’m not quite sure how to respond or if this woman is even supposed to be anywhere near the convention center. Without any helpful information to offer, I think of the most polite way of ending the conversation.
“I think you just show up,” I suggest.
“Oh, okay,” she responds as she disappears into the crowd of people migrating into the auditorium for the first keynote session.
“Another over-eager ally,” I think to myself. If protesters were to come and protest the Gay Christian Network conference, I’m confident we’d be able to handle it. Most anti-gay protesters are cartoon characters to begin with: they hold ridiculous signs and chant unkind things, but that’s about it. You don’t have to talk with them and they generally avoid doing anything that would land them in the back of a police car. With or without allies, we have this covered… assuming anyone shows up to protest.
After all, this is Portland. It’s known for its progressive, LGBT welcoming culture. Protesters aren’t going to have even a remote shot of changing anyone’s mind here.
LGBT allies, as I’ve come to learn both from stories and personally, are a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, there are the friends and family members. These allies watch their loved ones become targets in culture wars, receive unhelpful advice, hear hateful things said about them, and face discrimination. Many genuinely make themselves available and can truly empathize with LGBT people.
On the other hand, some allies add LGBT rights to the ever-growing list of progressive causes they support. Human Rights Campaign stickers get wedged between the ones for the local NPR affiliate and “Coexist” on the bumpers of their Priuses. While some have a true passion for social justice, many just wish to be seen as “right.”
I feel as though both types are showing up this evening. I’m registering LGBT couples, straight couples, moms, dads, friends, and church groups. The noise fades as the first session starts.
Thirty-six hours later, I check my phone while getting ready for the last full day of the conference. I do some quick, conference-related searches on Twitter and Instagram to see what people are up to. A photo of Westboro Baptist Church picketing in front of the Oregon Convention Center turns up. I’m not entirely surprised. And yet I am surprised: there’s a brilliant rainbow above the crowds! Thanks to Portland’s ever-present rain and a few patches of sun, this hate group is rebutted by a natural symbol of God’s promise to never again destroy the earth.
The two-stop ride from the hotel to the convention center is quick. I’m feeling very up beat, although in need of some coffee. The protesters are still there and I’m completely unconcerned. As I leave the train, a conference volunteer approaches me. He explains the situation and offers to have volunteers escort me into the convention center if I prefer.
In addition to the volunteers, there’s a line of people formed in front of the protesters. They’re singing songs over the hateful babble, holding signs with encouraging messages, and trying to stay warm in the not-quite-freezing temperatures of early January. At this point, I’m assured getting into the conference this morning will be uneventful beyond what I’m seeing.
There are some lingering rain showers and the warmth from the train has now left me. I make my way across the street and begin to walk towards the building. There are actually two lines of people: one blocking the protesters and another facing the first line, forming a sort of roofless tunnel to walk through.
As I walk through this tunnel of counter-protesters, they sing and cheer for me. I was so confident heading down here this morning, thinking all of the counter-protesting was unnecessary. But as I walk through this tunnel, I realize this isn’t about the protesters or my safety.
In the past, I’ve judged people like the ones standing in this line. Their doctrines have been too liberal for my tastes, their beliefs haven’t entirely lined up with what I think is true, and their spiritual practices haven’t produced the kind of transformation I see in other Christians. Some of them, in my estimation, have substituted progressive social justice for the truth in an attempt to win the favor of secular culture.
But today, I’m confronted with a healing line. It’s not offering the kind of healing I was looking for six years ago. It’s not one I’ve sought, but it’s one I desperately need. This line is using love to heal my judgmental attitude. As I walk through, I’m receiving the kind of unconditional love Christ commanded us to show each other. It’s a love transcending politics, gender, socioeconomic status, doctrine, education, nationality, sexual orientation, knowledge, ethnicity, upbringing, and every possible way we differ from each other.
I choke back tears as my emotions overwhelm me. Even though I’m not fully realizing what’s happening in my heart, I know something is changing and there’s no going back. I just let it happen and walk through this healing line, holding Andrew’s hand every step of the way.Share