Greater NW Pride: So Much Love!


“So Much Love!”

Last Saturday, June 15, 2019, I had an educational experience of being in two very different cultural contexts, both located on Interstate 5 in Oregon.  In the morning, I participated and observed the last day of Annual Conference of the Oregon-Idaho United Methodist Church (UMC) Conference in Eugene, Oregon. That afternoon, I drove north to Portland, OR to the festival area that was part of the Portland LGBTQ+ Pride festivities, participating in the parade the next day (June 16, 2019). To say that these were simply two different cultures would be an understatement. I simply marveled at living out the interesting, strong contrast between the two cultures—a United Methodist Church Annual Conference and Portland Pride Festival and Parade—and the emotional, physical, and theological experiences of and reaction to these two cultures. 
For example, consider that the Annual Conference of the Oregon-Idaho United Methodist Church Conference is largely populated by white, cisgender, straight, middle- and upper-middle-class women and men who are part of the United Methodist Church, a Protestant Christian denomination. For me, the highlight of the Annual Conference was the ground work of many people to be sure that the slate of delegates who would be sent to the General Conference, 2020, was progressive and pro-LGBTQ+ and straight allies. That work was intense.  Leading the delegation are two out-lesbian women from Morningside UMC in Salem, OR, with other members of the delegation who are alternates and are progressive allies and LGBTQ+ people, along with the election of others who are LGBTQ+ and progressive allies who will represent the Conference in the Judicial Council and Western Jurisdiction. Then, on Friday night, there was the ordination of some who are on the LGBTQ+ spectrum who are serving churches in the OR-ID UMC Conference, increasing the number of out-LGBTQ+ clergy and deacons in this Conference. Nevertheless, while there was joy and a sense of self-satisfaction for the election of delegates, with new legislation that is progressive, and joy with the growing number of ordained LGBTQ+ people, there was a sense of wariness in the Conference, especially among LGBTQ+ people, in which we are out-numbered in terms of our presence in the Annual Conference.  Like other people of color, who are also a minority in this Conference, there was a sense that while we are glad to be present, we also understand we are a small minority presence, in which we do not have the power per se of the majority of the people who make up the OR-ID UMC Conference. As the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Coordinator, I’m still in the position of having to explain my role and function within the Conference to many people, who are still unaware that this position exists, and the uniqueness of the position in the global UMC.  In other words, I spent most of the Conference, when in business sessions or worship, working, teaching people about the rightful place and necessary presence of LGBTQ+ people in the Conference and the wider-Church. While there was a sense of joy and wonder at the voting of delegates, passing of legislation, and the celebration of ordination, it was, to say the least, a controlled and never-out-of-hand celebration. 
Contrast that experience with going to Pride festival later on Saturday night and the parade on the following Sunday morning. As an openly gay man, I was now in the majority in terms of population, hanging out with many other white, cisgender and transgender, middle and upper-middle class women, men, and non-binary people. On Saturday night, I volunteered to do pastoral care for and with those who stopped by the booth operated by the Community of Welcoming Congregations (CWC), an interreligious group of religious leaders and communities of faith from the Portland-Vancouver area, and other parts of the state, in which I represent both the UMC and PCUSA. I listened to the sometimes melodious and often times raucous voices and watched the joyful fun of people wearing all kinds of clothing and costumes, with many different haircuts and tattoos. The music from the large stage area was largely 1970s disco music, with many drag queens dancing and performing on Saturday night. On Sunday morning’s parade, the Community of Pilgrims Presbyterian Fellowship (of which I am the organizing pastor), and several United Methodist Churches and other religious groups walked behind the banner of the CWC in the parade. What stood out in the parade this year was a comment made by one of my straight, cisgender, male parishioners, as he marched and almost led our group in his exuberance of marching in the parade: “I can feel the love of the crowd! Can you feel it! Wow! Hate towards LGBTQ+ people will never win with so much love! This is great! There’s so much love here! This is fantastic!” 
Love! Perhaps that was what was most striking in the difference between the two cultures: in the Annual Conference, we, who are out or hidden-LGBTQ+ people, are working so hard to be part of the change in the UMC, we tend to be working all the time, some of us are defensive about being LGBTQ+ in a largely-straight, binary context. Others are trying to live honestly and be smart about who we can tell in the church that we are LGBTQ+ without facing charges, always strategizing ways that we can make a change, fit in, be part of the UMC culture while also resisting the overwhelming heterosexist/homophobic bias in the UMC, desiring to be part of the change. Annual Conference was not only exhausting for leadership, but for all the LGBTQ+ people, in which we were talked about, legislated about, voted for, and the focus for many. Sadly, what was lacking in the Annual Conference, even with its large “family-like” experience for some, was a pervasive spirit of exuberant love, and a time to celebrate this love among us all. Instead, the Annual Conference felt like a Presbyterian gathering, in which we pride ourselves in doing everything “decently and in order.” And by love,I mean eros, philia, and agape, which are all gifts of God. What I found at the Portland Pride festival and parade was love—eros, philia, and agape—that permeated and enveloped the entire festival and parade. My hope is that once we, who are currently UMC and changing quickly, move on to the next stage of our evolution as a denomination, there will be at least a spark of love for, with, and by LGBTQ+ people in the denomination. Meanwhile, if you are interested in feeling such love, well, join in a Pride event in the coming weeks and months!  Because with God, there is so much love!

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!