On Saturday, January 10th, several members of our congregation participated in a “Wall of Love” to counter protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church who were to be shouting things at participants of the Gay Christian Network conference held at the Convention Center. Two of our members sent in reflections. Here they are:
Friday the email arrived: the Westboro Baptists from Topeka, Kansas, would be in Portland ready to target the Gay Christian Network Conference Saturday morning. I shuddered. Our new friend, Helen, would be one of those walking into the front door of the Portland Convention Center. She’d be one of those greeted by a wall of noise from the Westboro loudspeakers shouting “shame to fags!” and “God hates gays!” She’d have to face their angry looks, see their hate-filled signs.
Helen had arrived in Portland in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday after flying all night from her home on the east coast to welcome those attending the Gay Christian Network Conference – over 1,300 who’d come to our city for a word of assurance and support. Most were coming from conservative Christian communities where an LGBTQ could feel pretty alone and unwelcome.
Helen is with the Reconciling Ministries Network whose goal is, “mobilizing United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love.” She’d brought pamphlets and brochures so we United Methodists would have a booth, and a welcoming smile to greet anyone attending the four day Conference.
My husband Don and I had offered our guest room while Helen was in town, a little apprehensively at first … until we’d met her. A big grin, charming British accent, and a way of quietly letting you know you must be a truly grand person indeed, had quickly put us entirely at ease. In no time at all we knew we’d found a treasured friend.
So, Saturday morning I walked through the gray drizzle toward the Convention Center. Hundreds of people were already milling around by the front entry. I pulled the stole, hand-sewn in all the colors of the rainbow by Alyson Inouye, a little closer, took a deep breath and trudged on with a fair amount of trepidation. What I was getting myself into? As I crossed the TriMet tracks checking to make sure a light rail train wasn’t coming, I glanced up and saw it – a full rainbow had found a break in the rain. It spread in a graceful arc across the suddenly blue sky.
And it was a rainbow-fun kind of morning as it turned out. Yes, the Westboro Baptists were there, screaming angrily – they were God’s wall of hate, for God despises gays. Or so they said, loudly and often. One sad, somber-faced little boy carried one of their placards declaring God’s outraged hatred. I couldn’t help wondering what it must be like for him, for any of them, to carry such a heavy weight? I never saw them smile, not once.
But the others there that morning seemed to only smile, and laugh, and hug each other. No one was a stranger, everyone belonged, no one was left out. We formed a gaggle of well-wishers in two disorganized, joy-filled lines to wave welcome, smile our ‘glad you’re here” to everyone walking through our corridor of love into the Conference. Most grinned a big grin and waved back. Some had tears in their eyes as they felt themselves welcomed inside a wall of love.
Behind us, the wall of hate blasted loud raucous music through a loudspeaker. We joined hands and sang, “they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” We ignored their screaming, their words, their signs, and their hate. And why wouldn’t we? Christ’s inclusive love is so much stronger, and so, so much more joyous, than hate.
My name is Francis Garoutte and I have been a member of FUMC for over 20 years. Many of those years my various work has taken me out of state but once returned each time always came back to FUMC. The main reason was due to our church being a proud membership who practices a reconciling inclusion philosophy.
When I talk about FUMC to a listening ear I am most eager to explain what our membership voted over 20 years ago in becoming a reconciling church which is all inclusive to anyone who is looking to worship. When Rev Brenda Sene was part of our pastoral team she was instrumental to form and add a reconciling ministry to the other ministries FUMC had already set up offering to our members for participation. I can remember the first meeting in setting the foundation for this ministry. Much to my surprise I was voted by all members who attended the meeting to be the first Reconciling Ministry Chairperson. I have watched and participated in the growth and development of this important ministry and have been very pleased of all the Chairpersons and members who have built on my first steps into making Gods work of what our reconciling ministry has become today at FUMC.
Friday evening Jan. 9th I received several emails informing me the next morning the National Network for Reconciling Churches was holding a Conference right here in Portland at our cities Convention Center beginning at 9am. The email read we need your help in forming a Wall Of Love to stand and form a safe entrance way from outside the front door of the building to encourage and show loving support to the members who where attending the Conference and as well to let the presence of a Baptists Church from Topeka Kansas who came to demonstrate with their signs and chants and songs of showing their wall of hate and distaste for any one or group who was not of their strong beliefs that Reconciling was not something that God would approve of. So of course I had to be there representing FUMC, The Reconciling Movement, and Gods love for everyone who is of Gods faith for his teachings, examples, and inclusiveness.
I arrived shortly before 8am and knew instantly I was becoming involved in something special when I saw 300 reconciling members presence forming our Wall of Love, singing Christian songs, and demonstrating Gods teachings that everyone was welcome at his table. Within 30 minutes it became apparent to all of us that God was showing us signs of which side he was on by our eyes witnessing a rainbow overhead of the Convention Center as the rain was coming down more and more each minute as we stood beside each other forming our Wall of Love and seeing our efforts being recognized when the Baptists Church protestors felt defeated as they packed up their hatred signs and all 15 of their participates got in their vans and drove off.
God does work in mysterious ways and to be a part of his love which made my heart grow with belief that his presence can be felt even on Jan 10th 2015 is truly a testament of personal experience. I am truly a believer now and for ever. I hope and encourage all our members of FUMC to become a witness of Gods love in their everyday lives and to not be shy is standing with Gods presence to anyone you may come across with.
Blessings to all those who live out God’s reconciling love for all persons.