I have always made it a point during my years as a pastor to go to the places and people to whom I think Jesus would go. When I was in Sanford, FL, I frequently played on the stage of an English Pub on Fridays nights. I sang, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, and of course, Elvis, but I never hid the fact that I was a pastor. As a result, it was not uncommon for people to seek me out to talk or even for the owners to give me a call and say that someone there really needed to talk to someone. I was affectionately called “the Vicar.” I made many friends and told countless people about Jesus and his love for them. No matter what their lot in life, or what they had done, or who they were made any difference, they all needed to know and see the love of God.
This week we have had old friends visiting from Canada, so after church, another family from our church and we took them to Ybor City, the old Cuban section of Tampa. After an incredible lunch at Columbia, the youngest member of our party was getting pretty tired, so his parents took him home and the rest of us decided to take a walk around Ybor. As we were walking, we noticed a balcony with people sitting and having drinks overlooking 7th Street. This looked like a perfect place to do some people watching, one of my favorite activities. We proceeded upstairs.
This watering hole is called Hamburger Mary’s and, depending on your point of view, it is a famous or infamous, gay bar. Not once were we asked if we were gay or straight before being seated. Not once did any of the staff refuse to serve us. As I had not been home after church, I still had on a clerical shirt, but without the collar tab in place. Seated across from us was a friendly group of people, including one of the drag queens who worked there. One of our friends, with a very wicked sense of humor I might add, suggested I should put in my collar tab to see what the reaction would be. I did. The entire table just about dropped everything in their mouths. We started chuckling, and it opened up conversation and the one in drag came over to our table and we struck up a conversation. I kissed her on the cheek and told her I loved her. She left with a smile on her face and a tear in her eye.
The remainder of our time there, we were still treated with welcome and respect. We even stayed for their charity Bingo game which benefited Relay for Life. I plan on returning there to build relationships.
As we left, I thought about the recent law in my home state of Mississippi that would allow people to discriminate against the LGBT community in the name of Jesus. Is that what Jesus would do? I don’t think so, and I have a background which I think uniquely qualifies me to comment on this. For the first fifteen years of my adult life, I was in photography and video production and now I am the pastor of a Christian Church. I am the son of a photographer who has photographed more weddings than just about anyone else living. Although neither my father nor I were ever asked to photograph a gay wedding, mainly because at that time there were none, I don’t think either he or I would have refused based on our sincerely held religious beliefs; however, I am sure both of us photographed many LGBT people over the years. I even count as a friend a transgender race car driver with whom I produced a video of her career.
This brings me to bakeries or others to whom this law applies, pastors and churches have always been exempt, by the way. How does baking a cake, selling flowers or wedding attire, DJ’ing, or performing any other support services for weddings violate your religious beliefs, even if you don’t agree with their lifestyle? Would it not be more like Jesus to do the opposite? After all, Jesus ate and socialized with those called sinners in His day, to the point that He was hated by those who considered themselves righteous before God. In fact, it was to the religious that Jesus gave his harshest criticism. “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31).
Maybe, just maybe, the best way to not violate the law of God is by loving our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus indicated in the story of the Good Samaritan that our neighbors are even those whom the religious establishment considers outcasts.
My advice is to bake the cake, take the pictures, provide the flowers and attire, and they might just see Jesus in your eyes.