Café Pride: A Clearing of Freedom for Today
A paper presented for the Doctor of Ministry class, Theological & Ethical Perspectives on the Practice of Ministry T-649, Professor Anna Case-Winters, Written by Stuart D. Smith at McCormick Theological Seminary
How should ministers and congregations who ascribe to radically inclusive, theologies do evangelism? How do Christians who believe that prevailing cultural and social codes have obscured the gospel do modern evangelism, and in fact do all the work of the church, in such a way as to bring new light from God's Word?
Since Jesus' time when asked what the world is like and how Christians are called to live and work in it, the church has answered with answers that can be plotted on a rather simple grid (H. Richard Niebuhr, 1951). These answers, however, have often been so limited as to damage the church's self-understanding. The image of a Nineteenth-Century evangelist going from New England to "darkest" Africa made sense to those who understood the gospel from one limited perspective. The larger church today understands a modern evangelist going from the affluent suburbs to the inner-city slums in much the same way. The paradigm is simple, "We have the truth and therefore we are civilized, blessed by God, and wealthy. It is our obligation to share this truth with those who are 'less fortunate' and by inference less blessed and less civilized." What is not well understood and often creates hostility in the larger church is the worldview that recognizes the need for "evangelists" to come from the Third World and the inner city to bring more light to the dominant cultural Christianity. This can be called a paradigm of mutuality with regard to spreading the Good News. It incorporates the revolutionary idea that no one part of the church has a lock on all truth. This is the worldview of those of us who believe that the nature of evangelism is not to make "them" like "us" but to free "them" to exercise full humanity and to be unique before God. That is evangelism that ultimately is working to destroy the prevailing worldview; evangelism that believes that Christ is transforming culture-even our received notions of Christian culture.
Liberating, transforming evangelism in radically inclusive communities is the job of helping all persons hear and respond to the voice of God directed uniquely to them. The mission of the church in this worldview is to create an environment where epiphanal moments can multiply and where individuals do not limit their expectations to what previous generations have understood. For instance, centuries of preaching seemed to teach that all sin was the result of pride (Reinhold Niebuhr, 1941 pp.188-189) as if landowners and academic theologians and the sins they struggled with were the norms for all humanity. Radically inclusive ministry once it opened the conversation wider recognized that "sin" needs to be more widely defined. Feminist theologians have taught us that sin for women may be quite different than sin for men (Sölle, 1990 p. 67). This requires the minister to go all the way back to the New Testament term m e t a n o i a and redefine it from turning away from disobedience to authority (Sölle, 1990 p. 65) as in some divine feudalism to turning away from anything that obscures the image of God in ourselves. This can become confusing when for instance to one audience the minister will need to teach that pride is sin, but in another audience she will preach that lack of pride is sin.
Ministers doing evangelism in minority communities in this country must also recognize that doing good ministry requires not the imposition of rules or prescriptions designed to make the evangelized look and act more like the majority culture but space in which to hear and respond to the unique call of God. Consequently, a major challenge to ministers in a sexual-minority context is determining which parts of the Christian tradition which are usually assumed to be normative in a "Christian culture" apply to a counter-culture ministry. This requires a return to the specific teachings of Scripture and to the mores that were a part of the communities receiving those texts.
As a result of the last forty years of our joint experience, some modern American Christians accept attacks on the "military industrial complex" as a part of transforming culture. Will any group of Christians, however, ever find it acceptable to approve (even tacitly) deception within the family unit in the name of transforming culture? Specifically for the purpose of this project, Can we accept that it is ever acceptable to countenance a young person's deceiving his or her parents about the nature of a youth group she or he is attending? And by inference, are there times when a ministry can use the shadows to do good work or should all ministry always be completely open and above board?
The Current Situation
Café Pride is a coffeehouse serving underage (between 16 and 21 years old) persons who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, who are questioning their orientation, or who are supportive friends of such youths. The Café is not an attempt to change anyone's orientation, neither is it a place for traditional social service intervention. Café Pride is a ministry of providing safe space in a supportive environment. It is staffed by adults who are integrated into the local community and into local churches. Our mission is to provide what Peter Hodgson (1988 p. 71) calls a "clearing of freedom" in which young persons can "catch their breath." A place where they can examine their lives without the usual external pressures of homophobic society which attempts to quash their orientation. A place where they can be free from the pressures to engage in unwanted sexual activity and substance abuse, which dominate most, if not all, adult "gay-friendly" venues clandestinely open to underage persons.
Café Pride began as a result of what Holland and Henriot call the "Pastoral Circle" (1983 p. 8). I had ministered in the gay and lesbian community for nine years addressing the pastoral needs of adults and some youths who, although not always economically distressed, had matured in an environment that devalued and marginalized them by denying them equal legal protections, free association, and access to religious community. These persons although occasionally high achievers in some regards were often deeply wounded. I ministered from the position of a gay-friendly ecumenical agency, which in turn was supported by several radically inclusive churches. My point of insertion was to recognize the experience of the "poor and oppressed" of this community. Much of my social analysis over the years has informed me that the self-destructive behaviors I witnessed among gay and lesbian adults usually stemmed directly from their feeling of unworthiness and marginalization as children and youths. Whether corporate lawyer or street hustler, these adults were scarred by the self-hate they had absorbed almost with their mother's milk.
Although I had little access to pre-adolescents who might be forming destructive beliefs and attitudes, I occasionally had access to youths who were just beginning, because of the relative mobility and freedom of the late teenage years, to come to the attention of law enforcement personnel and school officials as "problems" because of their overt sexuality or their awkward forays into the world of alcohol, drugs, and prostitution. Once I worked past the convenient middle-class assumption that these were just "bad kids" and began to know some of them personally and to hear and see the world from their perspective, I had to struggle with the pastoral/theological question of what the church should do or be to counteract the system of teaching youths to hate themselves and become self-destructive. It is not enough to be part of a Presbyterian "More-Light Church" (a gay-inclusive congregation) if the persons who need to know that God's love includes them are not in the congregation or aware of the jargon we use to signal parish-level inclusion in the face of denominational hostility.
The last straw for my pastoral "paralysis of analysis" was the ejection of many of my parishioners from the one low-cost hangout for sexual minority youths when that establishment, previously a coffeehouse, received a liquor license and could no longer host persons under 21 years old. Within a few weeks several of my young friends had been arrested or detained for hanging out on the streets. They needed a place to be, to socialize, to laugh, and with no commercial establishment welcoming them, the police determined that otherwise harmless "hanging out" was loitering, panhandling, or a cover for solicitation. Additionally for many of these youths, to be arrested or accused was the last barrier to actually trying out some of these forbidden activities. These were young adults who were getting in trouble with the authorities for no other reason than that there was no safe place for them to congregate. Yet many nights, they were being arrested within a few feet of a darkened church building. They needed and deserved a chance at sanctuary.
Opening Café Pride involved several months of false starts and temporary arrangements. But currently, Lake View Presbyterian Church hosts Café Pride, and the Café receives funding and support from Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church, First United Church of Oak Park and several community groups. Even one of the local synagogues now recognizes us as a community resource and lists us on their web page as such.
The Theological/Ethical Issue
That brings us to the ethical issue that I choose to address in this course. Many of the youths do not tell their parents where they are going when they come to Café Pride. These youths are not ready to tell their parents of their orientation since they often are not sure of it themselves. In some cases the parents are openly hostile to the idea of their children attending any meeting gay or straight in a Protestant church or in a few cases in any Christian church. Actually this fear of their parents finding out about their attending a meeting in a Protestant church has been raised more often than the more usual onus of a homophilic meeting place. More than a few adults have told me that they have told their parents that they are gay or lesbian but are not willing to tell their parents that they attend a Protestant church. Contrary to the practice of public witness to a religious association this ministry promises security and secrecy until the individual is willing to "come out." Is it appropriate for a ministry to allow itself to operate in the shadow? Is it appropriate for a minister to countenance young adults deceiving their parents?
This raises a wider issue that has not been a central concern in mainstream traditions and denominations for many generations. In most of Christendom, we have controlled the public square for so long that we have forgotten what it is to operate without official sanction or at least wide tolerance. In the western experience, we have been the dominant social force; consequently, whenever a parent or sect did not welcome our "evangelizing," we could bulldoze over them through our claim of superior morality or socially endorsed dogma. When Rodney "Gipsy" Smith (1860-1947), a widely known British evangelist, as a teenager defied his parents and attended a Protestant revival service and converted from the Romany version of Roman Catholicism few if any Protestant Christians thought his filial disobedience was problematic. He had joined the majority culture, and, therefore, his defiance of his parents was lauded by the majority. Today the closer comparison with what Café Pride is doing would be to those fundamentalist groups who because they do not control the media, the courthouse, or the country club are called not evangelists but proselytizers. Those in authority are free to label these minority groups as cults rather than religious denominations. And many mainline Christians seem to be supportive of young persons being kidnapped and "deprogrammed" as a result of their conversion to any minority faith. In communist countries where Christianity is somewhat tolerated but which are officially atheistic, the church works not in the shadows but in a limbo that officially supports the people and the state and provides a witness without doing more obvious evangelism or having an unfettered prophetic voice (e.g. The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba-1977, 4.C.05-09). In those places where Christianity is actually illegal (in several authoritarian Islamic countries for instance) there is not yet a well-known theology or praxis for evangelism in the shadows.
Migliore in the chapter of Faith Seeking Understanding titled "The Task of Theology," identifies several aspects of the problem as I have experienced it. I find myself firmly in the praxis approach of liberation theology. I have chosen to protect the youths of my community first and think about the theological ramifications later. We provided a safe place for young persons and are only now engaging in the critical reflection that will help us develop theological understanding. As I do this critical reflection, I find within my own mind the same conflicted rationale for praxis that existed in the French Reformed community of Le Chambon as they protected Jews escaping from the Vichy government into Switzerland. Pastor Andre Trocmé could speak for hours about the theology of the cities of refuge in ancient Israel and their protecting the land from the shedding of innocent blood (Hallie, 1979 pp. 168-174). Magda Trocmé, however, when asked why she and her pastor husband had taught their entire village to deceive the elected authorities and hide Jews traveling from occupied France to Switzerland, simply said, "We had no time to engage in deep debates. We had to help them—or let them die, perhaps—and in order to help them, unfortunately, we had to lie" (Hallie, 1979 p.127). Although the dangers to the youths we serve in Café Pride are much less obvious than the Nazi bullets that the fleeing French Jews, the people of Le Chambon, and the Trocmés faced. I have known too many lesbian and gay persons who are dead today because of the self-hatred they were taught.
In the Sanctuary movement in this country the Scriptural bases that were often cited as an justification to deceive are the command to the Israelites to protect the stranger within their midst (e.g. Exodus 22, Deuteronomy 10) and Jesus' promise in Matthew 25 that when we serve those persons who are thought to be the "least" we serve him (Golden and McConnell, 1986). Our tradition is somewhat clear with regard to sanctuary and deceiving an unjust government, but less clear as to deception within the family.
I have been impressed by the examples provided by Hodgson of the "clearing of freedom" used by the antebellum Black church and later appropriated by the Woman Church and the "feminist ecclesial vision." Slaves were willing to risk their lives to answer the call within their souls to find a place where they could be free to worship, sing, and laugh even if they could only reach that space in the dark of night and for only a few hours. Although the feminist hermeneutical techniques are well known in the gay-religious community, the use of woman-only space has long been a cause for concern and disagreement within lesbian and gay circles. I have little patience with a system of thought that makes some persons guilty and dangerous by reason of their birth whether that birth puts them at odds with traditional theological constructs or with liberationist images of God's realm. This conflict was not helped any by Sölle's apparent guilt and apologetic tone in her response as a German woman to Third-World issues (1990 pp.96ff.). Hodgson helped me reorganize these "safe" places—these "clearings of freedom"—in my thinking from places where persons are denied access to ones where radical inclusion engenders association with the "poor and oppressed" (Hodgson, 1988 p.78-79). In addition Hodgson (using Reuther) was particularly helpful in appropriating the concept of a preferential option for the poor into a useful belief for me as a white, middle-class male.
At the other extreme from the dark of night clearings of freedom, the Black Church's experience of enjoying a table set before their enemies is also well known in the gay and lesbian community since it was developed from the 23rd Psalm by Bayard Rustin, a student of Mahatma Gandhi and an advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rustin developed this concept into the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington and later adapted it to the 1987 Gay and Lesbian March on Washington. He died just before the 1987 March, but his principles are part of every Gay Pride celebration in the world today. Celebration, radical inclusion, high visibility, and such seem to be at odds with the practice of hiding whether in a lesbian bar or in a Christian youth group.
I appreciated Sölle's organization of theology into three large groupings-traditional/orthodox, liberal, and liberation. I recognize that in much of my theological construct I reside in the traditionalism of my Fundamentalist upbringing. Perhaps that is why this ethical question bothers me so much. I am not completely comfortable with the idea of youngsters, even those in their late teens, deceiving their parents. I am more comfortable with the pretense that family hierarchies protect the young, the elderly, and the mentally ill from being forced as persons ill equipped to make choices, to take personal responsibility, and to exercise control over their own bodies and beliefs. Yet at the same time, I struggle to reconcile that in my society it is acceptable to enter into marriage at seventeen, to be drafted to go to war at eighteen, but not to visit a gay social spot until one is twenty-one. The question is ultimately, when is one old enough to disobey one's parents? At what age can one be trusted to make independent decisions?
I found Holland and Henriot frustrating on this point as well (1980, pp. 58ff). Their expectations for persons in poverty did not "square" with my experience with the persons on the streets of Chicago. It is all well and good to talk of persons in the throes of poverty of taking responsible actions and being empowered. I am not at all opposed to pastoral analysis of the systems that hold persons in poverty or that hold ethnic or sexual minority persons in self-degradation and self imposed limits. However, ignoring the complicity of the "poor and oppressed" of any community in their poverty and oppression is unhelpful. Poor persons make bad choices just as wealthier persons do but the ramifications of poverty often make those bad choices more obviously life threatening—whether those choices involve the pocketbook or the spirit. The temptations of the world call to all of us in one way or another. Am I practicing mutuality if I say that I am always able to withstand such and such a temptation but a poor or black or female or younger person never will be able to? Does this "square" with my experience of the world even as a white, middle-class male? When should the church protect persons from making bad choices, when should it merely provide a safety net for those who choose poorly, and when should it ignore the bad choice altogether. (See "The Grand Inquisitor" from Dostoievsky's The Brothers Karamazov.) Emancipation alone is not the answer. I am aware of too many youths who, once given their emancipation, have made devastatingly terrible choices.
I have also observed people who have beaten the system and stopped seemingly endless cycles of poverty and its attendant substance abuse, gambling, and get rich quick schemes. They escaped not by going around the system but by making hard choices that insulated them from the worst of "the system's" abuses. Teaching persons that the system is what holds them down is often another way of stripping them of the ability to imagine pulling free from the destructive patterns they are seemingly frozen into. Teaching gay kids of the evils they can expect in the larger world is not going to prepare them to trust, to sacrifice short term for long term benefit, or to plan for a life that will transcend an evil system. Just as thrusting them into a set of responsibilities they are not prepared to meet is going to help them succeed again despite Holland and Henriot (1980, p.63). If Café Pride (even tacitly) gives permission for youths to disregard social mores without also giving these youths guidelines and motivations to create adequate new ethical standards and limits, have we not merely transferred them from the control of an untransformed (so-called "Christian") culture into the control of a soul-less secular one? Is this not the same as casting out one demon and leaving the soul empty to be reoccupied with many more?
Tracy following Tillich rightly analyses the problem of modern ethical inquiry as analysis of the situation. I believe for instance that middle-class communities need to hear of the damage that larger systems have on their neighbors, especially if there are actions that that community can do to deny the abusive system its teeth; however, preaching the power of the system to those who have few resources to fight it is a cruel substitution of the gospel. Just as Calvin taught that it did not promote grace to preach "double predestination" so modern preachers must avoid today's ungraceful messages. Situation not only determines the truths we preach; it determines where and how we choose to make them known.
De Gruchy, writing before the end of apartheid in South Africa, identifies this problem in his discussion of the distinctions between prophets and pastors (1986, pp. 90-95). Doing the theological work of uncovering systems of oppression is necessary to the prophetic role but must be balanced by the pastoral role. In South Africa, as in Chicago, it is necessary to choose when to be underground and when to be in the face of the oppressor. One of the tasks of the theologian is to determine when to be prophetic and when to be pastoral—when to go to the "clearing" in the dark of night and when to take the street at high noon.
The crisis or heresy of our age is the tendency to separate the yearning for spirituality from involvement in a community. It is the tendency to become isolated individuals seeking after transcendence (Rasmussen 1993, pp.103ff). This is the choice of many of the young persons that visit Café Pride. They are aware that many, if not most, religious communities do not welcome them; they are also aware that they have a craving for the divine. This is not the "Sheilaism" of Bellah et al (1985 pp. 221ff). These are not young persons who have chosen to "drop out" these are persons who believe that they are not welcome in the structures of traditional religion and therefore, of necessity, set out on their own paths to seek the numinous. They didn't reject traditional religion; they have experienced it rejecting them. That is part of the reason that I believe strongly in the use of a house of worship to host Café Pride. The cognitive dissonance that is created once the young persons discover that this particular worshipping community welcomes them is important in reorienting these youths to involvement in the mainstream world and the social and economic possibilities it contains. If they can find a welcome in a church, maybe they will also find a job or a wider social group that will welcome them as well. I find Rasmussen's analysis particularly useful in that these young persons have a craving for a community that radically includes them not one that reinforces perceived religious dogmatism and triumphalist, catholic values and beliefs, but one that provides local, life-giving relationships (1993, pp. 136ff).
Additionally my personal belief is that these youths are called to an even larger religious task than hearing their own voices and the voice of their creator in the safety of a church basement. They have the opportunity and privilege to be the evangelists to their own parents. It is perhaps a step too far into my own mysticism, but these youths are placed in birth communities and families not only to be ministered to, but to minister as well-again the paradigm of mutuality. I like to hope that by gaining self confidence and self acceptance, these young men and women will not only inform their parents of their sexual orientation, but their actions will force their parents to begin looking at God as more welcoming to secret differences in their own lives as well. These young adults can benefit from the communal nature of the Sermon on the Mount teaching that we are to pray for those who persecute us and to love our enemies. It may be a bit much to ask for youths who are just beginning to see themselves as loved by God to be teachers of parents and family members who struggle with the idea of a radically inclusive deity, but ultimately that is the nature of a community of faith rather than an isolated individual seeking after transcendence.
Addressing the Problem
Young men and women, like all of us, need a "clearing of freedom"; they need a place to be themselves and to explore their developing sense of identity and orientation. They need a place to socialize. But they also need to be equipped with the tools with which to make appropriate decisions. It is not appropriate to provide a place to escape the voices that condemn without at the same time helping the youths learn to hear the voice of God. Remaining in hiding and only feeling freedom in the dark of the "clearing" is a survival mechanism for those in the hold of slavery. It is not freedom itself. But how can a ministry help young adults enjoy sweet liberty and still be aware of the poison candy of antinomianism. We hope that the secrecy of attendance at Café Pride will always be a short-term thing. It is a way-station to these youths becoming more open and more responsible. To press a metaphor to death, freedom may be discovered in the dark but responsibility grows best in the sunshine.
Strategies for Implementation
The youths have no problem deceiving their parents. They do it with relish. The problem at present is the volunteers on staff and in the supportive churches who have difficulty with the idea of deceiving parents. I believe that the strategy for working with the adult staff is to help them relive their own coming out and the crisis it entailed and to go beyond sympathizing with these youths to remembering and empathizing with them. I believe the staff needs to study passages like the story of Daniel who prayed openly and those thousands of Jewish exiles who struggled like Esther for just the right time to identify themselves. Abraham denied his wife to protect himself and created a greater danger, but Joseph waited to reveal himself to his brothers and delivered the nation. Deception can only be countenanced as a short-term strategy for survival and preparation. I do not accept the alternative of a whole life in the closet, even a prayer closet. These are kids who need a space where they are neither coerced into being something they are not, nor pressured through their sense of outlawry into actions that are equally detrimental like sexual promiscuity or substance abuse.
To implement growing openness, Café Pride is open to visits from community members who wish to assure themselves that this is not a place where young persons are being proselytized or pressured into behaviors or attitudes different than what we state publicly. Parents are welcome. All we ask is that the youths not be outnumbered—that Café Pride not be overwhelmed by adult visitors. To date those parents who have asked if they might attend have been satisfied merely by knowing that they may visit rather than by a visit itself.
Additionally, Café Pride's staff has talked more openly about our own individual community and church involvement among the youths thereby modeling openness. It is the mutuality of our experiences that seems to speak to the cravings of these youths.
Evaluation of the Café Pride program is legally the responsibility of our Board of directors, which represent our supporting churches, Café Pride patrons, and community members. At present it is composed of
Fred Braucher, elder at Lake View Presbyterian Church and semi-retired psychologist
Robert Guenther, elder at Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church, and attorney
Kevin Lemel, youth patron of Café Pride
Monna Ray, elder at Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church and retired administrator for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services
Emily Stewart, youth patron of Café Pride
Joy Douglas Strome, pastor of Lake View Presbyterian Church with extensive experience in suburban youth ministry
Karen Tompkins, Café Pride volunteer staff, former youth pastor in several United Methodist congregations, and currently a student at Garrett Seminary
Since the early fall session of T-649, I have had several conversations with young persons attending Café Pride about their feelings around being secretive about where they go and what they do on Friday nights. Since the beginning of October nearly all the young men and women who had previously been secretive and who make up the core of Café Pride's youth have told their parents about their sexuality and their attendance. As I had hoped back in August when I wrote my initial case study, the young persons involved have found secretiveness a short-term solution and have eventually moved to more full disclosure as their self-image, self-esteem, and self-acceptance grew. Although there are a few youths who are still involved in unhelpful relationships, most are moving in healthful directions. One of my long-term goals is to see some of these young women and men involved in the larger community in ways that ensure longer-term support and encouragement. From my experience this has almost always meant association with a supportive religious community. It is necessary to begin considering now how these young persons will connect into the larger community once they pass their twenty-first birthday; although I have to admit more than a little sadness at the idea of having to push these young adults out of the "nest."
Recently two of our regular patrons have started talking about going to synagogue-specifically Congregation Or Chadash, our local gay supportive, Reformed Jewish congregation. For one young man who is ethnically Jewish but whose family did not practice their religion, this visit to a synagogue will be the first such visit in his life. I did not realize at first that for these youths to tell me (a Protestant clergyman wearing a clerical collar) that they were Jewish was as big a step as telling their parents that they were gay. They have developed the self-confidence to declare their self-identity even when in a church where they were not sure if they would be supported. This seems to me to be a good indication that these youths are moving beyond the shadows and into healthy places. During February, I met the mother of one of our regulars. She confirmed that Café Pride has been a healthy environment for her son. She believes that he is better connected to the larger community including persons of all varieties of orientation, race, age, and gender.
We have a policy of not allowing any questionnaires or testing instruments into this setting. These youth have a variety of social service venues open to them if they are willing to be tested and questioned regularly. Some of these youths avoid social service settings precisely because their program-driven nature is not conducive to socializing and feeling in charge of their own lives. Imagine a worshipping community that came to think of itself as a zoo or freak show because of all the students observing its life and worship. Imagine a prayer meeting where every participant imagined any awkward construction or poorly stated theological position could be cited in Monday afternoon's case report.
That aside, we could not keep these young adults from talking informally about their feelings if we tried. There are always reports of what has been going on in the lives of these young people. Although we have no formal survey results, we have heard several reports of what happened when "I told my Mom I'm gay this week!" One young woman who comes back week after week said, "Café Pride helps me keep my life from blowing apart. It releases pressures that might [otherwise] get me in trouble." She used Café Pride as a place to begin setting her own standards and values as she began to tell first her other friends and now her mother of her orientation. She was able to use Café Pride as a holding area to contain what her undirected hormonal pressures might have otherwise destroyed and to develop the confidence that allowed her to speak with her own voice.
Café Pride as any religious education program cannot be judged by only fifteen months of operation. I am aware that we will not truly know if it is successful for many years to come, if ever. What we do know is that, by providing a space where young persons can begin to hear their own voices, hear other voices with their own ears, and simply be kids without the pressures of sex, alcohol, and drugs that most clandestine settings often create, we allow these young adults to mature in more safety than they might otherwise experience. We do not encourage any youth to deceive her or his parents. But what we have found is that few parents regularly ask where their children are going. What we have found is that these youths are craving a place where they can be open about what is occurring in their minds and bodies. What we have found is that these youths want a place where they can work out the issues that are important to them and have the safety to fail and not be too harshly judged. As we say on our web site, "Café Pride is sponsored by gay and straight people with the religious conviction that growing up requires a lot of mental and emotional work. We believe that sometimes that work is best accomplished in a safe space where other pressures can be ignored. We aren't trying to convert anyone or even change anything about you. (Although we've been known to make fun of really bad haircuts . . . .)"
Earlier in this paper I cited the Old Testament exhortations to protect the stranger in our midst and the New Testament teaching that to serve "the least" of our community is to serve Jesus himself. I believe, however, that an important teaching of Jesus is a step beyond the concept of the alien or stranger and designating someone as "the least." Jesus taught us to love and care for our neighbor, and the story he told to illustrate his point made it clear that even the outcasts of society, even the Samaritans, are our neighbors (Luke 10). Jesus' story wasn't only to teach us to do good to folks who are hurt by the wayside but to teach us to recognize the humanity in neighbors we've been taught to hate and to ignore. (Edwards, 1984 p. 128) We convene Café Pride not because these gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or questioning youths are in need or somehow "the least" of anything but because they are our neighbors. The Samaritan of Jesus' story had, no doubt, been taught by his parents and his culture to avoid and despise all Jews and the Jew he helped had, we assume been taught the same. But the Samaritan moved beyond those cultural prejudices and became a neighbor. Today, it is not our differences that call forth ministry it is our similarities. Beyond any deception of parents, it is the attempt to be authentically whole that we recognize in ourselves and attempt to honor and protect. It is our common need for a clearing of freedom that we share with these youths that calls us into ministry in this setting not some peculiar pathology related to being young or being in a minority. It is not the paradigm of those in the enlightened First World reaching down to those in the Third World. It is the paradigm of mutuality that looks beyond economics, beyond color, and beyond ethnicity and sees neighbors who help us even as we help them.
[Jesus said,] "Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"
[The lawyer] said, "The one who showed him mercy."
Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:36-37)
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