Pat Robertson. Rick Santorum. New Gingrich. Fred Phelps.
For many Americans, these are the faces of Christianity. They're hateful, bigoted, theocrats who - relevant to the topic at hand - see nothing wrong with contributing to the epidemic of homosexual suicides by convincing homosexual people that they are dirty, wrong, and unnatural.
When I was a Christian, I would take solace in the fact that I wasn't like them. I didn't stand outside of a funeral with signs that say, "GOD HATES FAGS". "I'm not loud, and I'm not obnoxious," I'd tell myself. I was one of the "silent majority." As an atheist now, standing outside looking in, the silent majority is one of the most frustrating things about Christianity in America today. They, like I once did, believe that, by saying nothing and refusing to give attention to people like Phelps, they're avoiding feeding the trolls and, thus, helping the situation. The problem is, I wasn't, and they're not.
When all you hear is the crazed preacher on the street corner yelling at people, and no one stops to counter them, the silence is effectively approval in the minds of their targets. Put yourself in their shoes - you're being yelled at, for example, for being a homosexual person, and no one comes to your defense. Some may be able to shrug it off, but there is at least one person who won't, who will take it personally, and will feel singled out and vulnerable because no one comes to their defense.
The Vocal Majority
That's why, when I saw this post in the "LGBT in KC" group on Facebook, I was ecstatic:
Here was someone, a Christian, who was ideologically aligned with the "silent majority" except for one key difference - he wasn't being silent (okay, so it was a "silent vigil", but you know what I mean). He wasn't afraid to criticize a church for its anti-LGBT guest speaker and, I found out after I contacted him, was glad to work with atheists in promoting a message of love and tolerance for the LGBT community:
I had the chance to visit, with a friend, Gerald Palmer's church the Sunday before this event. There, he told us how, when he first became a vocal advocate for LGBT equality, he caught flack from other Christians, and his first defense came from atheists and freethinkers (hooray!). The church leadership and members who knew we were atheists were very warm and welcoming to us (as were the members who didn't know we were atheists).
The night of the event, we were less-warmly received by the people attending Vernon's talk (understandable) but got more than a few open cheers from people as they drove by (and a couple almost ran a red light because they were busy reading our signs). I doubt we changed any minds of the church-goers, but, then, that wasn't the point: the point was to show that there are Christians who are not willing to quietly ignore the harm by the anti-LGBT stances taken by so many churches (there are atheists as well, of course, but that's repeating an already-known point).
The Problem with (Some) Atheists
Some atheists bemoan "inter-faith" work (though I prefer "community-based" work for cases like these), and to them I say: this protest is unequivocally and undeniably a good thing. Yes, the Christians and atheists pictured above disagreed on some key and important points, but we all realize a more important point: if we want to see a society that openly embraces homosexual, transgendered, and transsexual people and does not deny them the rights they deserve, we have to work together. Stiffly refusing to reach across the ideological boundary despite the good that it can bring, both short-term and long-term, is counter-productive and egotistical.
I'm sure there's at least one atheist out there in the world who sniffs at the bleeding-heart compassion of this event and what I've written (and I'd be surprised if there was just one) - maybe they're just biding their time before making their disapproval known. However, Gerald Palmer has apparently started getting flack from other Christians - not because he supports LGBT equality (though he says he's gotten that from the moment he became a vocal proponent of LGBT equality in and outside of Christianity), but because he worked with atheists. He's put himself out there by stepping out of line with the more "traditional" Christian church by supporting LGBT equality and openly working with atheists. It takes personal strength and backbone to risk that kind of social pariahism, and I, for one, admire him for that. I only wish staunch anti-theists were willing to emulate his example a bit.