A worship service before Saturday’s Pridefest parade in Mankato was about “uplifting the dignity and honor of God’s LGBTQ+ children,” said Seth Anderson-Matz, reverend seminarian at First Presbyterian Church.
For him the event also showed there is strong support for LGBTQ+ people among Christians and people of faith, despite perceptions of the opposite fueled by vocal opponents.
“Not only is this directly speaking to that very loud Christian right response that shames us, demonizes us, vilifies us,” he said, “but also this uplifts us not just as acceptable, not just as tolerated, but as divine and loved and honored children of God.”
Anderson-Matz, who described himself as a “queer, trans theologian,” joined other local faith leaders in organizing the service. About 60 clergy and people of faith then took part in a procession to the parade.
Known as the Jessica Flatequal Pride Parade, it honors the longtime director of South Central Minnesota Pride and Minnesota State University’s LGBT Center. Flatequal’s widow, MSU professor Maria Bevacqua, rode in the parade on behalf of Flatequal, who died in 2019.
“Her pride and love for the LGBTQ community shines brightly in everyone’s eyes and faces,” Bevacqua said to the crowd ahead of the parade’s kickoff. “Thank you for marching, for being here, and happy pride.”
Beforehand, she said it was “incredible” to see such strong support from the faith community.
“There are so many people whose internal struggle has to do with resolving their faith with their identity,” she said. “And there are many faith groups who’d tell them you can’t resolve your faith with your identity, but to see that kind of show of support and churches coming together to say we embrace you, we affirm you, we welcome you, is wonderful.”
People should realize Christianity is a big tent not dominated by any one position on issues, said Rev. Scott Richards of the Trinity and St. Paul’s Lutheran Churches in Gaylord. While a more conservative Christian stance on LGBTQ+ rights is sometimes seen as dominant in political conversations, many Christians have more inclusive religious views toward LGBTQ+ people and other marginalized groups.
“I hope a worship service like that can open people’s eyes to the fact that this is the message of Jesus; this is the gospel,” Richards said. “This is what it’s all about, not trying to score morality points or to prove your own righteousness, but that God’s love is so inclusive, and kind of uncomfortably so for a lot of people.”
Some of his guiding passages from the Bible are in 1 John, including chapter four’s verse seven stating “let us love one another, for love comes from God,” verse eight stating “whoever does not love does not know God,” and verse 11 stating “since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
As Richards put it, to know God you need to love one another and mean it.
Thia Cooper, a professor of religion at Gustavus Adolphus College, centered a sermon around 1 John at the worship service. At times she asked the audience at First Presbyterian to finish the statement “God is love.”
She noted the complexity of sacred texts, to the point it can take an entire semester of her Christian theology class to skim the surface of the different ways Christians around the world read the Bible and live based on their traditions and experiences with it.
Some use scriptures as if it’s a hammer or weapon to harm people, she said. She sees scriptures more as attempts to express the relationship between humans and God, with the 1 John passages serving as examples.
The passages came about in an environment of conflict within the early church. Ferocious arguments were going on about what was right and wrong.
Verses in 1 John are calls to approach conflict through love rather than fear and hate, Cooper said. From verse 20, she read “whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.”
This text harks back to the Gospel of John’s chapter 13, verse 34, she said, in which Jesus said “a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.”
In her closing, she encouraged people to remember these verses as they continue through their day.
“You may experience hate from someone who says they love God, but remember God is love, God loves every single one of us and God wants us to love, to love ourselves and to love each other,” she said.
Church leaders involved in the service, or participating in the parade, included at least First Presbyterian, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, First Congregational United Church of Christ, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Centenary United Methodist Church, Belgrade United Methodist Church, Messiah Lutheran Church, Union Presbyterian Church, St. John’s Episcopal Church and Grace Lutheran Church.
Meg and Jerry Stump, members of St. John’s Episcopal Church, had an old blue truck ready for the parade with a church banner draped over the back.
“The basic motto we go by is all are welcome,” Meg said, adding she thinks most Christians believe something similar even if all of them aren’t always loud about it.
Christian churches participating in Pridefest festivities have diverse theological views, said St. John’s Episcopal Rev. Cindi Brickson, but they generally align in their views on love.
“If it isn’t about love, it isn’t about God,” she said.
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