Two weeks ago I was tagged by a college acquaintance in the comment section of a video that was going viral with the statement “Craig, come get your people.” The video was of a drag performer dancing at Waco’s Out on the Brazos, the annual festival put on by the Waco Pride Network (WPN). I can only assume the comment was aimed at me living in Waco, as the only time I have ever appeared in drag was at my Senior Lock-In on the night of my high school graduation, alongside guys who now believe that drag queens will cause the fall of civilization as we know it. But as I read through the other comments, I saw what was happening– Hand wringing and catastrophizing children (it was a family event) being exposed to sexually inappropriate dancing.
To be sure, the act did go too far. A little. When I first saw it, I felt it was marginally more suggestive than what I’ve seen from numerous suburban high school dance teams at basketball game halftime shows. If I had a child who saw it, I would likely need to have a conversation with them, a conversation I would be upset over needing to have. But I would be far more disturbed over my conversations with them about what to do if a gunman enters their schools or why some of their friends’ parents think that some of their classmates’ parents should be sent back to a dangerous place they had fled from.
The slightly over-the-line drag performance would be a mild nuisance, but not the end of the world.
A day or two later, the WPN put out an unambiguous apology for what had happened, alongside an expression of concern for threats to their community, including threats to our mayor whose sin was, apparently, allowing the event to happen at all.
(As an aside, my thought when reading the apology was how powerful it would be if corporations or Evangelical pastors were as swift and clear in offering mea culpas for their mistakes. Of course, they don’t have to be, because they hold more cultural power in our city.)
I have friends in WPN leadership and knew they had had an incredibly difficult week dealing with threats they shouldn’t have to deal with. But as a part of a church that received our share of blowback when deciding to say “Yes” to God’s affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community, I also know these things tend to fade away with time, until the next thing comes along.
A few days later I caught wind of a Saturday night prayer service at a local church that was happening to “push back the darkness.” I grew up “pushing back the darkness”, so I didn’t think much of it. (It’s wild how I’m still conditioned to pass over such cataclysmic language.) I later discovered the “darkness” being pushed back on was a drag show that was to be held at a local business that shares a city block with the church.
So of course, I did what any good exvangelical would do– I went down a rabbit hole of watching videos of the sermons given by the pastor of the church. What I heard was disturbing.
The service I watched occurred the morning after the prayer service. The pastor, after a time of music and celebration, spoke about how their prayers had been successful in convincing the business to not host the drag show, and he framed the confrontation as being one between the body of Christ with spiritual authority (them, the church) and the spirit of “darkness and principalities” behind the movement (Out on the Brazos and the planned drag show). He went on to say that their purpose on the earth is to “not allow darkness to reign” The words “darkness” and “evil” made several appearances.
He then quoted a Proverb that says “when the righteous rule, the people rejoice” (Proverbs 29:2), and went on to say that the righteous rule in our society by being voted into place. He then spoke of a city council representative– who he said he wouldn’t mention by name, but was very clear on who it was, and who, incidentally, is my friend and city council representative– and said they are the one “championing a lot of the darkness in our city.”
Two things all of this has stirred up in me:
First, I am reminded of how easy it is to use perceived harm to children as a tool to win arguments and further our agenda. Since Obergefell in 2015, the tide has shifted in public perception of the LGBTQ+ community. It seems that many leaders in the evangelical community are starting to feel that and trying hard to regain ground they have lost. They know this isn’t easy, so they pull out the “harm to children” card, ignoring the fact that people in the LGBTQ+ community ALSO have and love children. But they also do this while ignoring the well-documented harm their beliefs do to children.
Which brings me to the second thing, which is how dangerous the rhetoric connecting “evil” and “unrighteousness” to people in the LGBTQ+ community and their allies is. The pastor I mentioned wanted it to be known that queer people are loved by God and said that he isn’t “putting them on blast.” And I get how he really wants that to be the case, because I once held similar beliefs. But whether he can see it right now or not, there is a direct line between that kind of language and the violence that is being threatened against both the LGBTQ+ community, our mayor, my city council representative, and other allies. Because even if everyone within earshot of that rhetoric is emotionally stable and understand the theological nuances of Ephesians 6:12, they nevertheless carry the language of “evil” and “unrighteous” out into the community where it is spread to people who don’t have that biblical foundation. Some of those people are begging for a reason to be violent, and hearing that there are “evil and unrighteous” people in their midst is all they need to set them off.
Sadly, pastors using the words “evil” and “unrighteous” (all in the name of “love”, of course) to describe people and their allies who embrace who God created them to be, can often be a winning formula in this city. But it doesn’t have to be.
Words matter. They matter more when used to talk about human lives.
So be careful, local pastors, what you say. For The Father up above is looking down in love. Be careful local pastors what you say.