Welcoming: Outreach in Action
Our church, Grosse Pointe Unitarian, was recently handed a gift: an opportunity to “walk the walk”. We are in the middle of the year-long Welcoming Congregation program, doing our best to catch up with most of the other UU churches in our Heartland District. Our forums and seminars have been well-attended, but we all know that talk is cheap. It came to our attention that a locally-based, conservative religious group was hosting a Columbus, Ohio-based speaker named Linda Harvey, who operates a web site called Mission: America. She/it is remarkably fundamentalist in its viewpoint, using the language of the Bible to skewer anyone and everyone not fitting their own religious ideals.
The title of her speech was to be “Homosexuality: Is the Debate Really Over?”.
My wife Janet is Chair of our Welcoming Committee, and called an impromptu meeting.
It was decided that a quiet presence was needed at this event to protest what we consider “hate speech”, especially here in our own community, which already is known for having an embarrassing history of exclusionary housing practices until the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968.
Janet and I broadcast an email detailing what was planned, asking all to attend. Since I recognized that this could be a significant community event, I contacted all of the Detroit area media outlets the day before; many responded and provided coverage. We spent four days honing a statement to deliver during a Q and A session that we hoped would follow the speech, while our minister, Rev. Mitra Rahnema, prepared her own version.
That email was subsequently passed around, reached one particular young man outside the church membership who had a Facebook page called “It’s OK to be Gay”, and he paraphrased our original email about gathering to protest this group’s message of hate. Within 48 hours, it mushroomed to a much larger rally concept, with over 100 people promising to attend and over 200 “wish I could be there” replies. We ended up outnumbering the original religious group by a 5-1 margin, and it was certainly rewarding to witness Ms. Harvey lose her composure as well as her desire to deliver her speech and matching PowerPoint program. When unexpectedly faced with 100 people of the type she had been prepared to condemn as sinners on their way to hell, she substituted a bland tale of her own personal history. Eventually she was badgered by some of the young women with us to proceed with her speech, and did so, but in a most perfunctory manner.
We are proud to have had an opportunity to stand up for love and acceptance of the GLBT community. Through these actions, our church has earned recognition as an open-minded, welcoming congregation, and has taken a giant step toward being a more influential part of the Grosse Pointe communities. As Rev. Rahnema might say, “May it be so”.