I became aware through a story posted online on The Portland Mercury that the Portland Rescue Mission recently declined to co-sponsor an event put together by a gay Portlander to collect coats for the agency's programs. Portland Rescue Mission and other homeless service agencies have been requesting assistance from the general public during the last several weeks as the weather has turned cold.
As The Portland Mercury reported, the Rescue Mission declined to co-sponsor the "queer Christmas event" because "there was some concern with how it might come across to some of our donors."
I reached out to the Portland Rescue Mission late this afternoon and offered them an explanation as to why some Portlanders will feel hurt and offended by their decision. Just today the Portland Police Bureau announced they were investigating yet another hate crime against a gay person. Hateful religious rhetoric against gays and lesbians can incite violence. To be clear, the Portland Rescue Mission has made no hateful comments but decisions like the one they undertook help create an atmosphere of intolerance. I do not believe that was ever the intention of the Portland Rescue Mission.
So I asked Portland Rescue Mission if they would take a proactive step and reach out to Basic Rights Oregon, our state's leading LGBT civil rights organization, to set-up a meeting to learn more about why declining to participate in this event could be seen as hurtful. Portland Rescue Mission didn't hesitate in accepting that proposal. They've promised to make the call tomorrow and I've alerted BRO's executive director Jeana Frazzini that the call will be coming.
I left the following comment on The Portland Mercury's website and repeat it here to conclude this post:
As a minister in the United Church of Christ, I apologize for the bigoted behavior of some Christians. The church universal must repent for the discrimination and hatred fostered against gays and lesbians. Back in 1985 the General Synod of the United Church of Christ declared our denomination to be Open and Affirming of gays and lesbians. Twenty years later - in 2005 - we became the first mainline Christian church to call for full marriage equality. And all the way back in 1972 we ordained the first openly gay man to ministry. All of this is to say, the Holy Spirit is at work moving the church. The United Church of Christ has not been alone in this journey as more denominations have opened their hearts and doors. All of us must keep pushing the envelope in respectful ways that deepen relationships and break down barriers. Still, this story saddens me. I invite people to pray for the people of the Portland Rescue Missions that their hearts be softened by God, for those they serve in the name of Christ who would be cold and hungry without their efforts, and for all of us as well. None of us are completely free from bigotry and hate.