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Different Messages At Pride

by Craig Gross on November 2nd, 2009 in The Haps

This was reported in the Atlanta Constitution Paper.

The battle for Jesus played itself out Saturday as it does every year during Atlanta’s largest event for gay people.

Outside
the gates of Piedmont Park, where much of the Atlanta Pride Festival
takes place, a handful of conservative Christians carried Bibles and
signs, warning arriving gays of impending eternal doom unless they
change.

For the past two years, local churches who affirm gays
have mounted a counteroffensive. Their members stand near the
conservatives, holding signs saying that God accepts gays just as they
are.

“We are letting people know that there is an alternative message,” said Lisa Costen of Atlanta.

She
attends Trinity United Methodist Church, which affirms gays though the
United Methodist denomination has not taken that step.

The
battling groups reflect much of what is happening inside American
Christianity, as churches grapple with how to treat gay members. Some
reject them. Some welcome them with open arms. Others are trying to
find a balance.

Inside the park, local churches, from a
born-again, charismatic gay congregation to mainline churches, such as
the Episcopal Church, have taken vendors’ booths and invite gays in
without demanding they change.

This year, two evangelical
ministers who are walking a middle path between outright condemnation
and full affirmation of gay people took a booth and surprised those
stopping by with apologies.

“I just want to say I’m sorry,” Jason
Harper, an assistant pastor from Sacramento, Calif., told a man as he
handed him a white rubber bracelet with “We’re Sorry” indented into it.

Harper
continued, he is sorry for the way many churches have treated gay
people, making them feel like outcasts. The man paused, looked Harper
in the eye and thanked him before disappearing.

Harper and Craig
Gross wrote a book, “No Matter Who You Are or What You’ve Done, Jesus
Loves You, This I Know” (Baker Books $17.99), about their experiences
with prisoners, porn stars, Las Vegas strip down-and-outers and other
strangers to church. They attended Atlanta Pride as part of the book
tour. They don’t condemn gay people, but they won’t affirm a gay
relationship as an ideal union. That typically does not come up in
their brief apologies.

Renee Randall, a gay Georgia State University student, smiled and chatted with Harper and  Gross after an apology.

“I think it’s a message that people need to know,” she said after leaving the booth.

“It
gets really old hearing all that other stuff,” she said, nodding toward
the gates where the conservative Christians stood in the misting rain
with their signs.

Others coming by were not as receptive to
Harper and Gross’ message. One woman took a bracelet, and as she walked
away, her female partner chided her, used an expletive and called her a
“traitor.”

Bill Adams, a conservative Christian from Atlanta had
a similar attitude toward Harper and Gross, but for a different reason.
Adams comes yearly to try to talk to attendees outside the gates about
his views of the Bible. You can’t be a practicing homosexual and a
Christian, he said. He believes people need to hear the unvarnished
truth of the Bible, preached just as Jesus and his early followers
preached it, he said.

“It is a dangerous and confusing thing [Harper and Gross] are doing,” he said.

The
variety of religious opinion on display within a 200-yard walk was as
varied as the crowd’s couture. Some dressed as if they had come from
work. Others were in full Halloween costume.

Costen, holding her welcoming sign outside the 10th Street park gate, seemed to sum it all up.

“Not all Christians are the same,” she said.

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