As I approached the Shaw Centre for tonight's opening session of Break Forth, I saw a lone protester in front of the doors. You hear about people protesting Christian events, but having never experienced it first hand, I approached with caution.
He held a sign that said "Homophobia Kills" and "Stop the Hate."
Tonight's lone protester...
I figured a lot of people would snub him, so I decided to go up and ask him about his sign. He told me he wasn't protesting the conference, but he wanted to make a statement about the Evangelical Church and their attitude towards homosexuality.
I listened to his full statement, and then asked if he was a member of a church. This was where things got interesting.
He answered "Yes, and I'm on the board of my church," and he started to turn away from me.
"Great," I said, "What denomination is it?"
"The largest denomination in North America - the Protestant denomination."
At this point, he actually walked away from me.
I asked why he was walking away from me when I was just trying to talk to him. He told me he had a message to share. When I pointed out that I was trying to learn more about his message, he said "My message is for all people, not just one person."
Okay, here's why this moment really got to me:
In recent years, I've become fascinated by lost opportunities.
We see it all the time from all sides of the argument - the students who drove around Vanderbilt campus yelling at students to repent but didn't bother to ask their names; the anti-abortion activists who shout slogans at passing motorists who can't answer back; or the church who hands the visitor a welcome card but doesn't bother to say "welcome."
Why do we think lives will change
just because we stand at a distance
shouting bumper-sticker slogans?
This man tonight lost a great opportunity. I fully support his mission to point out the very real dangers of homophobia. Like racism, this is simply a form of hatred. It doesn't matter which side of the issue you stand on, hatred has no place in Christianity.
But what was he really trying to accomplish?
Did he think someone would walk past his sign and have a epiphany?
Did he think he might actually uproot the complicated tendrils that lead to hatred?
As I felt his attitude to my simple questions, and his resistance to my openness, I couldn't help but think that he was there just to be seen, and that made me mad.
What if he'd made the effort to actually welcome people to the conference?
What if he'd stopped to talk to someone who has genuine struggles with their feeling about homosexuality and homophobia?
What if he'd stopped worrying about everyone seeing his sign, and instead, concentrated on reaching people one on one?
dialogue might have happened,
stories might have been shared,
and lives might have been changed.
And that was a lost opportunity...