When the Charlotte PRIDE Interfaith service started last Sunday, honestly, I was not feelin' it. All the political and social upheaval in this country had worn me down. And while I was glad that PRIDE organizers had set up a virtual event, I was afraid it would leave me uninspired like some other similar Zoom sessions I have attended. Fortunately, I was wrong.
There was a wonderfully welcoming "welcome" from the pastor of St. Luke's Missionary Baptist Church followed by a few of their male choir members singing the classic "Lift Every Voice and Sing." The church's pastor then gave a short but relevant and inspiring message based on the Prodigal Son story from the Christian scriptures. I'll be real and say that, yes, I cried a few times during all of this. Why? I cried because I felt hope. I cried because I felt kindness and welcome. And I cried because I felt solidarity with others. It takes constant effort these days for me to maintain a positive attitude, and this service gave me a much-needed booster shot.
There were layers to this inspiration, too. It was refreshing to see a black pastor and predominantly black church hosting the PRIDE service, when all too often homophobia remains a challenge in black churches. It was also inspiring to see the black choir in their African print shirts singing so boldly during a time of heightened racial tensions. And while I thought I knew the whole story of the Prodigal Son, the pastor put a new twist on it that was relevant for an LGBTQ audience. I won't rehash the details, but in the story, the pastor explained that the Prodigal Son returns to his family at the point when he decides that his life matters. The pastor made the point that it is when we--as LGBTQ persons--decide that our lives matter that progress and reconciliation can happen. Not that it's our "job" to get others to accept us, but rather, it's when we take pride in ourselves and refuse to accept discrimination--when we believe our lives matter--that change happens. I think this is historically true. Look at the times when the LGBTQ movement took steps forward, during the early gay rights movement through the AIDS crisis and up to marriage equality. We said, "My life matters!" and everyone else had to listen. Obviously, this has parallels to the current Black Lives Matter movement. The black community has had enough and are saying, "Our lives matter!" And, I believe, reconciliation is happening.
I also liked the theme of the service: RISE--"Reconciliation Involves Spiritual Evolution." Naturally, I agree; when you're spiritually evolved, I believe you can't help but understand that LGBTQ rights are essential. Click here to watch the service in full.
From an interfaith perspective, there were also Jewish and Buddhist perspectives on the RISE theme, which were appreciated. I didn't get to speak this year, but I was able to provide a super-short "welcome" video (below) as a Pagan representative, and I'm thankful for that opportunity. I hope it reminded participants that Pagans have a place at the interfaith table.