For some area churches, supporting Toledo Pride is ‘a natural choice’Written by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Embracing the potential hot-button topic of homosexuality and religion, several area churches say they are proud to be a part of Toledo’s annual event celebrating its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
While some church congregations are struggling with their stance on homosexuality, others know exactly where they stand on the issue.
For the churches taking part in Toledo Pride, it’s not even an issue.
“It’s a natural choice for us,” said the Rev. Beth Marshall, senior pastor at First Unitarian Church of Toledo, of being involved with Toledo Pride. “We’re a welcoming congregation. We’re openly welcoming of gays, lesbians, transgenders and bisexuals. (Toledo Pride) is a natural place for us to be.”
Another church, Central United Methodist, made headlines last year with its billboard campaign stating “Being gay is a gift from God.”
“For us, being associated with Pride makes perfect sense,” said Lynn Braun, chairperson of the lead team at Central UMC. “We just think it’s crucial to be supportive of the LGBT community. It’s really important to let people know that we don’t see any incongruence with being LGBT and Christian. Part of it is supporting (Toledo Pride) itself, and also to make sure we get a message out (to those in the LGBT community) that they’re perfectly fine.”
Cheri Holdridge is pastor at The Village Church, a church started in 2009 as a combination of the United Methodist Church and United Church of Christ denominations. It meets on Sunday mornings inside the Maumee Indoor Theater.
“From the beginning, one of our values was to be inclusive of all people. It’s just part of who we are to want to be part of Pride,” Holdridge said. “Honestly we have plenty of churches for people who aren’t comfortable with gay people, but we don’t have a lot of churches who are comfortable both with LGBT people and welcoming of straight people who want to be in a more progressive church.”
Holdridge estimates more than half of the 60 people in the church each Sunday are in the LGBT community. The Village Church also helped launch a monthly transgender support group meeting attended by up to 25 people.
Holdridge has participated in Toledo Pride the past two years.
“The first year was fun and the second year was even better than the first with even more people attending and the addition of a parade. Our church participated in the parade and we thought it was a great addition,” she said. “The afternoon was just a fabulous celebration of community. It was a safe place for gay and lesbian people to be out and to walk down the street holding hands with their partner and to bring their children.”
Holdridge even stayed for the drag queen show, which is performed after the more family-friendly afternoon hours.
“It was lovely,” she said with a laugh. “I think I was the only pastor who stayed because it was kind of late on a Saturday night. But it was fun; it was great.”
The three pastors realize their message isn’t one shared by everyone — much less everyone who goes to church on Sunday mornings.
“A lot of congregations in other denominations struggle with (homosexuality),” Marshall said. “It’s natural for us. It’s like breathing — it’s just what we do. For us it’s not a hot-button issue anymore. … We are trying to create a loving, spiritual community where everyone is honored for who they are. Trying to respect their dignity, their worth as human beings, is more important to us.”
Holdridge said she believes discrimination against homosexuals is an issue Christians will eventually come to apologize for, as they have done for other social-rights issues.
“For a very long time, there were good people on both sides of the argument that thought the Bible told us it was OK to have slaves,” she said. “And there were very good people who began to think that it was wrong to have slaves, and we debated that for a long time. People said if we stop having slaves, it’s going to tear our country apart, tear our churches apart. Or if we start having black and white children together in schools or let black and white people marry, it’s going to tear the fabric of our culture apart. Gradually people said, ‘You know, we were wrong about this, and we need to change our minds’ and eventually, we have to apologize for our racism and we have come to believe that we were wrong.”
In talking to those in the LGBT community, Holdridge said she often tells them, “I can say to you that I am convinced we will come around on this issue, too, and someday we will apologize to you just like we have apologized to African Americans for slavery.”
Although Central UMC will not be at Toledo Pride this year due to a scheduling conflict, Braun said participating in Toledo Pride is just another opportunity for Christians to have a conversation with the LGBT community.
“Our real campaign is ‘Being you is a gift from God,’” she said. “That’s really what we believe on a larger scale. We just recognize that LGBT people aren’t used to Christians thinking that they are part of the ‘you,’ so we decided we needed to send a more direct message to the community.”
Tags: Central United Methodist Church, Cheri Holdridge, Christians, First Unitarian Church of Toledo, Gay Pride, Joel Sensening, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community, LGBT, Lynn Braun, Rev. Beth Marshall, Toledo PRIDE, Village Church