One of the things I love about my experience of church at the moment is the questions. Most of the questions, for me, are of the contrast of what I once experienced as church, and what I experience now as church.

Mardi Gras 2012: Proud to be gay and Christian.

Mardi Gras 2012: Proud to be gay and Christian.

This Saturday is the 35th anniversary of the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade, which started in 1978 as a political march for gay rights. Back then, homosexual sexual behaviour was illegal in New South Wales, and Mardi Gras began as a call to end discrimination against people of diverse sexualities and genders. I vaguely remember hearing about it on the news, and my father reacting to it. I don’t remember what he did or said, except that it was negative. Maybe he turned the television off. Maybe he said something about “what is the world coming to.” Whatever it was, I knew it was inappropriate as a 12 year old Christian boy for me to be curious about whatever that news story was about. As the years went by, and Mardi Gras eventually became an annual event, my curiosity piqued: I wanted to see the scantily clad men marching in this parade. I wanted to understand what this was about. I wanted to figure out why i was so drawn to this event, and so scared of it too. I dared not appear interested, however. I was a Christian, in love with God. I wanted most of all to please God and He certainly did not approve of this social change that was taking place. And He certainly wouldn’t approve of the wanton displays of sexual energy that were appearing on the television screen in our home.

Fast forward 30 years.

I now attend a church that each February holds a service called “Blessing of Mardi Gras”.

The best way to celebrate Fat Tuesday: pancakes with Canadian bacon and real maple syrup.

The best way to celebrate Fat Tuesday: pancakes with Canadian bacon and real maple syrup.

“Mardi Gras” literally means “Fat Tuesday,” referring to Shrove Tuesday – or pancake day, as I learnt to call it while living in Canada. This year’s “Blessing of Mardi Gras” fell on the Sunday after Shrove Tuesday, the first Sunday of Lent in the Christian calendar. Lent, of course, is the time of “giving up” or fasting that takes place after the celebrations of Advent and Epiphany (Christmas). Shrove Tuesday was the day to end the time of celebration by using up all the fatty foods you might have around, hence the tradition of Pancake Tuesday.

So here we are at the time in the Christian calendar when we are called to be reflective, to sombrely look forward to the Cross, towards Good Friday and the crucifixion. Yet as a church composed largely of LGBTI people, we are more intent on looking forward to the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade. A time for us to celebrate who we are, to say to the world that God loves gay people too. To say to the gay community that God really does love us and have a place for us.

As we reflect on the overlap of Mardi Gras with Lent, I am filled with awe at my God. Isn’t this what Jesus came to do? To turn our mourning into dancing? Jesus gently rebukes those who would throw stones, refusing to let us listen to those who would say we have no right nor reason to celebrate. I hear my earthly father’s voice of disgust when he sees those early Mardi Gras parades on the late Saturday night news. And I hear the voice of Christ, gently questioning those who would throw stones, and giving power to the weak. I somehow believe that were my dad still alive, he would be find in his heart to be the follower of Christ he always strove to be. He would find a way to graciously accept and to somehow be proud of me. He would find a way to put aside his prejudice, his theology and his hermeneutic, and celebrate that his son and his granddaughter are going to march together in Sydney’s Mardi Gras. I would like to think that he would have begun to see that this celebration is one of freedom: the same freedom proclaimed by John the Baptist, the same freedom Christ came to offer. Freedom to be ourselves.

For the Blessing of Mardi Gras, we sing together the words written by Lee to TobyMac’s City on Our Knees:

As a family we are gathered here

Celebrating Mardi Gras right now

Mardi Gras 2012: God makes no mistakes.

Mardi Gras 2012: God makes no mistakes.

With the blessing take this time right here

To commit to make a change somehow

From a single action love builds

Fill the churches fill the world

Love of Jesus comes to save us all

Tonight’s the night for the sinners and the saints

Two worlds collide in beautiful display

It’s all love tonight, when you step across the line

We can sail across the void to a place where Jesus is

As we fall upon our knees

Mardi Gras 2012: The Garden of Eden

Mardi Gras 2012: The Garden of Eden

During the recent (March 1st) Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney, 100 “revs”
marched with the expressed purpose of apologizing for not making the church a place of welcome for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people.

While I still find myself sympathetic (although not in agreement) with churches and pastors who firmly believe that homosexual behaviour is sinful, I do not believe that the church can move forward on LGBT issues without making some effort to welcome us without judgment.

It is clear that the church’s double standard regarding homosexuality needs to change. Andy Crouch commented on this at recent pastors convention in San Diego:

“According to Andy, “Humankind is not divided into homosexual or heterosexual categories. We are all sexual beings who tend towards self-satisfaction.” Additionally, many churches rally around these categories, “which leads to a double standard: chastity for those who are gay and a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy regarding sexuality for the rest of us.”

A much-loved Australian pastor, Rowland Croucher, also used this argument to suggest that the church’s attitude towards homosexuals was sinful:

“There are three categories of sexual activity which are proscribed, in the Bible. And I believe this too. Fornication – sex between at least one unmarried person, Adultery – sex with a married person whose not your spouse, and homosexual activity. Homosexual activity and adultery are generally policed pretty thoroughly [in the Church]. But not fornication. The vast majority of our young people who are married in conservative Churches, and other Churches for that matter, are not virgins. So not to put too fine a point on it they’re fornicators. But they are not disciplined publicly as the others might be. Now I have a question about that kind of hypocrisy.”

 

As for the 100 Revs, it was recently reported that some of these pastors have been threatened by their churches for their involvement in the Mardi Gras. I guess this was to be expected. And it shows the courage of these ministers who made a stand for the grace and truth of the gospel. They make me feel proud to be an Australian (few North American church leaders have shown this kind of courage) and they give me hope for the church. I pray that the church worldwide will take note of their humble and loving example, begin to support them, and find other ways to demonstrate the love, acceptance, forgiveness, truth and nonviolence that is the heart of the Christian message.