Sometimes we are given an opportunity to put our values into actions and become very clear about who we are and what we stand for. As I write, it is just hours after our campus was visited by a group with a value system very different from ours. The group is in town for a week long “conference.” While I thought that our support for reproductive choice, gay rights, and interfaith harmony might put us on the wrong side of these people, I did not anticipate several dozen of them on the sidewalk around our campus holding awful signs and yelling at worshipers as they arrived for our Sunday service.
I was concerned about the safety of the people, especially our children, and the emotional impact that the words being yelled would have on some of our people. Anti-gay, anti-choice slogans and words of religious intolerance are not what people expect to hear when they arrive on our campus. My concerns dissipated as I witnessed the reaction of the people as they arrived. Each person wanted to help – and they did. Some made our children safe and comfortable as we made the decision to have them go directly to the religious education center where they celebrated the birthday of one of the children. Other members stood just inside our driveway, so that, as worshipers made their way through the line of intolerance, they immediately encountered friendly faces. Others provided our interface with members of the Orlando police department who were present to provide a calm and reassuring presence.
Knowing we had the right to restrict access to our campus, we had to decide who we would allow and who we would not allow onto our property. The decision was clear. Anyone was welcome as long as their actions did not make our campus unwelcoming. This meant that they could not enter with signs, pamphlets, or t-shirts that carried their hateful messages. Some of them chose to leave the signs of hate at the sidewalk and join us for adult religious education and for worship. In doing so, rather than understanding us by what their leaders had told them about us, they got to see and hear who we are directly. That can only be a good thing. I was proud of our people’s ability to welcome them. People wanted to help – and they did. What should we do they asked? Over and over again, the answer came. Remember that we stand on the side of love. This was our chance to put that into practice.
Our campus and our sanctuary, though surrounded by hate, remained a place of love. Sometimes we are given an opportunity to put our values into actions and become very clear about who we are and what we stand for. As we go forward, may we watch for and create those opportunities each and every day!