I love parades; especially the Santa Claus parade. Always have. It's about family fun and connection with my community. In Canada this means huddling out in the frigid cold in early December with my family and neighbors, drinking hot chocolate while the local high school marching bands and colorful floats work their way down the street, and those old guys on little motorcycles wearing those weird Shriners hats go zipping on by.
The Toronto Gay Pride parade that I went to was definitely not any of that!
A documentary filmmaker followed me around in 2016 while making a movie about my life and ministry (Watch the trailer.) Seeing that I used to live a gay life 3 decades ago, before becoming a Christian, the director thought it would be good to get some footage of me at the Gay Pride parade all these years later.
At this parade, there were no high school marching bands, no Shriners, and certainly no Santa Claus. There were, however, protestors including "Christians" holding signs announcing everyone’s eternal damnation, politicians looking for votes (including my Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau; the first world leader to march in a Gay Pride parade) and plenty of scantily clad (to put it mildly) men and women on colorful floats who were eager to show off their stuff - and I don't mean their dance moves. No wonder they hold this thing in June and not December! It was a wild atmosphere as hundreds of thousands celebrated everything GLBTQ+.
It was hot (temperature wise), loud, brash, entertaining, disturbing, eye-popping, and even at moments, hilarious. But for this Christian boy, the whole affair was mostly heartbreaking.
I am not proud of how I responded
As one who believes that all people need to be treated with dignity, kindness, and respect, regardless of what they are attracted to, how they choose to live their lives or what their response to Jesus is, I was caught off guard at the response in my own heart to what I witnessed that day. I confess that I struggled with thoughts of judgment and anger and at times feeling self-righteous, the very things I teach we cannot be guilty of as followers of Christ. I’m sorry for that. I also suffered a general sense of being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people lining the streets who thought that what we were witnessing was worthy of celebration.
At this level, I’m not talking about morality or Biblical sexual ethics. I’m simply referring to our shared need as human beings to be valued, accepted and loved. At that level I was saddened that these men and women felt the need to so shamelessly, lewdly and casually devalue themselves in such a manner in front of so many to find it.
The boy with angel wings
There is perhaps no one I saw that day who so completely encapsulated all of the mixed emotions I went through than the young man who came prancing down the street near the beginning of the procession. He was about the same age as my oldest son, in his early 20’s. He was mostly naked but for his tiny thong and the huge angel wings that he had tied to his back. He was covered in glitter.
As people cheered, whistled, hoot and hollered and laughed, my first thought as a dad was to run out and grab this kid and cover him up to protect him from the gawking crowds. My next thought was to slap him upside the back of his head (not literally, well, OK, maybe a little slap to wake him up) and talk some sense into him.
Didn’t he know that most people were laughing at him, more than supporting him? Didn’t he know how completely ridiculous he looked? Didn’t he know that he was doing something that one day, later in life (hopefully) he would consider to be a most regrettable moment?
I wanted to tell him to have some self-respect. I wanted to tell him that God had given him talents and gifts that made him unique and worthwhile and that he didn’t need to dance down the middle of the street in front of thousands to be appreciated and valued. I wanted to explain to him how incredibly devaluing it was for him to wrap his whole identity as a human being based on something as minimal as what he was sexually attracted to. I wanted to hug him and tell him he was loved and that there was a better way. I wanted to shake him by the shoulders and persuade him in the strongest possible terms to put some clothes on. I was angry at him, and I was heartbroken for him. Like I said, a lot of mixed emotions
The Religious Protesters
Then there were the religious protesters standing not too far from where my wife, Cathy, and I were located, holding their signs of doom and condemnation, yelling through their blow horns about how wicked and evil everyone was. It’s not that we weren’t surrounded by sin; clearly we were.
In my estimation, however, and I know many would disagree; strategically, it’s a terrible way of reaching the lost for Christ and certainly in this instance, onlookers only saw them as loud mouth, judgmental and self-righteous jerks to either be mocked or just ignored completely – not a great advertisement for Christianity. As I’ve said many times in my articles and speeches, we can’t tell people about how amazing Jesus is by focusing on what are against, by protesting or pulpit pounding. It’s always dangerous when we become more known as protestors than Christians because when that happens, people will no longer be willing to hear what we have to say when we do finally get around to talking about Christ.
In the midst of the chaos...prayer
In the midst of all that was occurring, I found myself pausing to pray throughout the afternoon. I prayed for the gay men and women in the parade and those who lined the streets, that someday they would discover that only Jesus is able to meet their emotional, relational and spiritual deficits, and that he meets them in a way that far surpasses anything that homosexuality or anything else ever could. I prayed that my heart would be more loving, less judgmental and more patient with those with whom I so strongly disagree. I prayed that those who saw the Christian protestors would not write Jesus off because of them. I prayed that I would humbly stay grateful to God for saving me from a life of homosexuality, not because I am better than any of the gay people I saw in that parade or because I deserve anything, but only because of His grace and mercy. I continue to pray that my life will give hope to others who believe their only option is to live a gay life or flaunt their sexuality to feel valued.