The best response to violence is to help your neighbor
It was by now an early Sunday afternoon in the middle of February...and I was still thinking about the sermon I had witnessed not long before.
“Padre, was that off the cuff?” I asked. I had been told before that the sermon would be on a very different subject.
The Reverend Greg Bullard, Senior Pastor of Covenant of the Cross Church in Madison, nodded in the affirmative.
“With the anger our congregation and the country feels over what happened in Florida, I felt the need to talk about spiritual warfare.”
What had happened was the murder of seventeen innocent kids in a Florida high school just a few days before. More than a few of the congregants of this majority LGBTQ+ church had children of their own, including the pastor and his husband. I was a guest, but the killings of children the same age as my daughter had made me angry too.
The sermon had come from the heart, without notes or a script. More than one hundred were in the pews listening to their pastor just be a loving, and angry, witness to his faith in a dark time.
“How many times do we ask G-d to do something so each one of us can be bold?” he began.
I choose to go in the direction I need to because G-d is clearing that path. No excuses. If I hesitate, it is because I hesitate, not G-d. G-d does not want you to stay behind in defeat. G-d wants you to press forward.
We are too busy worried about being attacked (as LGBTQ+ people by haters). G-d wants us to advance goodness, kindness,righteousness...When we play defense, we lose our focus. So, turn off the peanut gallery around you and just move forward. We often get caught up in the stuff that is not...instead of the stuff that really is as a result…
“Too often we feel like we have to fight when really we are just to take a stand, be still and allow G-d to do the fighting for us,” the pastor explained to me about that part of his sermon. “Our task is to be a witness. To spread kindness and love...and to make (Christian) disciples, teaching them how to love others.”
I had heard this explanation before when Pastor Bullard explained to me his feelings about the result of the Presidential election this time last year. We were of the same era (1980’s) so I had understood his answer at the time, but I was worried that younger LGBTQ+ folks would not. Today he returned to the same message: Don’t be confused when you feel attacked. Let it go. Let G-d take care of it.
Greg Bullard has been the pastor at Covenant of the Cross since the fall of 2002. He received his seminary education from an institution of the Metropolitan Community Church and hails from Methodist Church roots. Covenant of the Cross is an openly LGBTQ+ affirming, family-friendly church that is “Evangelical with a small dose of Pentecostal,” according to Bullard.
He identifies himself as a member of the Pentecostal tradition now, but he does not want that to scare non-Pentecostals off.
“When we worship as a congregation...we will be lively, but it will not be a worship atmosphere where a Presbyterian or someone raised in classic Protestant Christian tradition would have to worry about hearing one of us praying in tongues…”
He pauses for a very long second…
“Most of the time,” Bullard finishes, with a mischievous smile. “Hey, all of us Pentecostals would still be within the Methodist tradition if they would let you speak in tongues!”
Pastor Bullard had stopped in his sermon and dropped his head in thought for a few seconds before speaking again…
“How have we come to a point in our culture where it is more important for someone to be able to legally possess an AR-15 rifle than for a high school kid to be studying math inside a school classroom without fear?” the pastor said.
Often as a church we do not believe that we can make a difference in our culture. Well, John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist movement) did not tell folks how bad they were or how bad their government was back in (the nineteenth century)...He started a revival movement that snowballed and created a system to help combat their ills, and storm the gates of Hell. Wesley helped to transform his culture. He did not tell people how bad they were. He lifted people up and inspired others to do the same.
That is what G-d wants. We have to see what is happening around us and respond to it in a different way. That is why we meet. That is why we worship together…
“Why should someone come to church at Covenant of the Cross?” I ask the pastor. We had just discussed how the church had begun as one of the few places Evangelical-raised LGBTQ+ people could come together for worship after they had been forced to leave the churches of their childhood after coming out.
“Because you will absolutely be loved and people will care about you here,” Bullard replies.
“If you feel like you have been abandoned by family or the world is just plain crazy, there are people here who will help walk you through all that. There is always someone here who has been there and done that...and can help you through any process. There are people who are transitioning, people who have completed transition, people who are straight and don’t understand, people who are gay and don’t understand...we have a little bit of everybody. Here it is down to earth, and it connects people to who they were when they were growing up. There is a groundedness here that they won’t experience most anyplace else.”
“We cannot live life alone,” Pastor Bullard continues. “The only thing you can do alone is lose. Stand with somebody and let them stand with you...Even when you think you are alone, I assure you...you are never alone.”
“Now don’t make me go sightseeing in Hell! I will come to get you out anyway, but I don’t want you down there first,” he says to much laughter. “Come to Jesus and lay it all down. And stop doing G-d’s job! Just stand and ask him to take your burden. He will...and make you free.”
Pastor Bullard tells me the story of teaching a class at another church while former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore was running for the U.S. Senate at the time. He was asked if Judge Moore represented what most conservative, often Evangelical, Christians thought? Bullard replied that Judge Moore did not.
“None of us truly know the state of his soul,” he begins. “But the reality is that, at the end of the day, the reason why Roy Moore types get all of the press is because those people who dislike him still reward his kind by not attending (churches) that support who they are.”
If you are an LGBTQ+ Christian believer, and especially subscribe to the more traditional Christian viewpoints, you are indirectly supporting the Roy Moore’s of the world when you fail to attend church or worship in a church that openly attacks LGBTQ+ people and other groups, according to the pastor.
“The reality is that you are not going to win in (Conservative Christian) culture with a secular argument,” Bullard says. “That is never going to work. If you want equality, if you want people fed, clothed and housed...if that’s what you really want...they you are going to have to connect to an affirming progressive congregation somewhere.”
“When I say progressive,” the pastor quickly adds, “that does not necessarily mean that they are theologically liberal. It may be that they are theologically conservative like us, however socially...we are very liberal!”
That gets a smile out of me. “Can you be a Christian and really be LGBTQ+?” I follow.
“Well, I’m gay so you better be able to,” says the pastor laughing.
“You can be a lot of things and still be Christian,” he explains.
“We complicate the idea of what ‘Christian’ is in our culture. We think it is a list of do’s and don’ts, but that’s not it. I simply ask people every day if they are increasing their understanding of G-d and how they treat people around them. What we say around here is ‘For the glory of G-d and for the good of the people.’ If what you do does not give glory to G-d and does not help people, then it’s probably what you ought not to be doing. We challenge people to think beyond obtaining their personal ‘get out of Hell free’ card at Covenant of the Cross.”
“So would you really go sightseeing in Hell just for a poor schmuck like yours truly?” I ask with a wry grin.
“I really wouldn’t sightsee,” Bullard laughs. “I would just go there to get you out!”
For more information, visit covenantofthecross.com or call 615.612.5040