We Make the Road by Walking Gayly Forward

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By Rev. Zach Taylor

In 2003, I worked as a theater carpenter in a non-air-conditioned shop in South Florida. Imagine, 95-degree heat with 95 percent humidity. It was hard work. If you needed a 4 X 8 sheet of plywood to rip on a table saw, you picked it up yourself and walked it over. Splinters were very common, and sawdust was even more common! One of my coworkers, Jim, was a very hardworking man from Fort Lauderdale. He would commute 45 minutes each way in South Florida traffic. He was (and is) a gay man in a loving relationship with his partner Glen. 

As per usual, during load-in days for sets, Jim and I would commute in the big truck because we were the only smokers and got a break. One of the first times we came to a crossroads together in West Palm Beach, Jim asked me which way to go. I said, “Jim, we go straight here.” In his genteel southern drawl he stated very matter-of-factly, “Zachary, we never go straight; we always go gayly forward!”

As I sit in my kitchen in the sunlight of Walla Walla, over 3,000 miles and 16 years from my life in Florida, I consider that we as a denomination are sitting at a crossroads of sorts. Do we, like the Pharisees, follow the letter of the law to the detriment of the people we claim to love, all in the name of orthodoxy? Do we, like the Sadducees, embrace a sort of spiritual nihilism and follow the spirit of the law and maintain working relationships with people who would openly harm our siblings in Christ simply for being who they are? Do we, like the Zealots, burn it all to the ground in the name of rebellion without forethought to the nature and divinity of our communal love?

Those answers are far beyond my pay grade, and I simply do not know. So I will talk about what I do know. I know that Christ commanded us to love one another, and that “love” is a richly defined word Hebrew, Roman, and Greek contexts. Love is bold and powerful, demanding our advocacy for those toward whom hate is directed. So, in my church plant, Haven Fellowship, we did what any openly gay, multicultural community does in the face of oppression: we put on a drag show.

Our church is founded from the ground up to empower and encourage leadership from people who are marginalized and typically not listened to. We come from Arabic, Asian, Hispanic, African American, Bisexual, Lesbian, Trans, Straight, Gay, and White contexts, and we are intentional of this leadership and these voices because we openly embrace what I believe Christ is calling us to do in this world: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

For our fellowship, the comfort and beauty of drag comes from a long system of oppression and marginalization as human beings and citizens, and, in our case, lay people and leaders. The makeup, wigs, and dresses are armor, but they are also a way of doing and being that helps a community under oppression process their feelings, comfort one another, and provide strength to those who must go back out into the world when the drinks stop flowing and the DJ stops spinning.

The prophet Joel, ministering to the Israelites who were broken-hearted and in exile, spoke saying, “God can restore what is broken and change it into something amazing. All you need is faith.” (Joel 2:25) I will say what I do know: we are in a battle for the soul of our denomination. I believe that we will only make progress in the name of love if, like Christ, we make the road by walking gayly forward. We must love those who seek to harm us, yet in that love we must not compromise who we are as a people. Instead, we must claim our place at the table of leadership and declare that, yes, ALL PERSONS are loved by God, ALL PERSONS are called into ministry in God’s church, and any statement that says differently is an attempt to limit God’s power and majesty in the world today.

Rev. Zachary Taylor serves as pastor to Haven Fellowship, a new United Methodist faith community in Walla Walla, Washington.

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