We always roll our eyes when we hear street evangelists doing their thing in the middle of Gay Pride parades. These awkward scenes have become the staple of YouTube classics. I never thought I would ever be one of them. I hope it ends up on YouTube.
Street preaching has never been my thing. It has always been that little bit lunatic fringe for my taste and liking, but there I was, standing in the middle of O’Connell Street, right in the middle of the festival mayhem that is Dublin Gay Pride, preaching the word of God and proclaiming a message of love to a crowd that grew larger with every word I spoke. What is more, people in the most flamboyant costumes and makeup – obviously out to enjoy the day – began to applaud and cheer as I settled into the role of some Old Testament prophet next to the bronze statue of Joyce in front of the Kylemore Café. How in blazes did this happen? Let me tell you the story.
RPJ Opinion (@RPJblog) June 25, 2016
My grandmother had passed away having almost made it to ninety, and I had gone to the bus station to book the coach from Dublin to Glasgow. Britain’s Brexit disaster had just happened, and so on the way out of the station I picked up a copy of the New Statesman. On the way back towards the LUAS stop at Abbey Street I came across a small group of people heckling the street evangelists at the top of North Earl Street. Naturally, being theologically interested in such things, I stopped to listen. At the centre was a man with a bible, holding it open and shouting out judgements and fatwahs on a group of Dubliners who were quite enraged at his poison.
As I listened he poured out swine before pearls, telling anyone who was still listening that they were going to burn for all eternity in hell. The love of his god was so bitter and narrow it was incapable of seeing more than what other people – people made in the image of God – were doing with their anuses (his god didn’t appear to have any beef with the lesbians in the crowd). I listened as he weaponised the word of God against groups of people who have for centuries constitutes the most outcast and victimised, women and men who have always figured high in incidences of mental health problems and suicide, and I listened as he used scripture to punish them more – in the name of god.
Noticing that he was holding his bible upside-down I decided to walk into the centre of the crowd. In I walked and began to tell everyone about the immeasurable love of the God of heaven. “God is love,” I said, “and those who live in love live also in God.” Jesus, although perfectly well aware of the sexuality of the centurion whose “servant” he healed, said nothing about homosexuality. He did say a shed load about love and the importance of people. Sabbath (and all your petty rules and regulations) was made for the benefit and rest of people, not people for the Sabbath. Jesus didn’t appear to give a monkey’s about who loved who and how they chose to show their love. He did speak out about the injustice of judging others, especially the most excluded and vulnerable in our society.
This little man’s bible, his instrument of hatred and torture, his upside-down roadmap to hellfire, was the word of his god. No doubt his slavery to it already had him living a bleak and dismal living hell, and he is to be pitied for that. Yet the Word of God – the beautiful and limitless Love of God made human in the person of Jesus – wasn’t going to be confused with the working out of his inner turmoil, certainly not to the harm of the people God loves. “Have you come out today to show your love?” I asked, and the response from the crowd was “Yes.” This was all I need to hear to be assured that the Kingdom of Heaven is not far from them, in fact it was in them and around them, and in them I saw my God made flesh – albeit a bit tarted-up in pink feather boas, short shorts and tight white vests. It was glorious.
God is Love