YADKINVILLE — Around 30 activists congregated on Saturday in front of Redeemer Yadkin Valley Presbyterian Church to voice their concerns about a ministry associated with the church that aims to address the issue of homosexuality in the faith community.
Members of two local immigrant and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) rights groups, El Cambio and Get Equal, wore shirts emblazoned with a rainbow-colored heart and the words “you are not alone.” They held signs with various messages such as “love conquers hate” and “LGBTQ and faith communities unite.”
Mark Brown, pastor of Redeemer Yadkin Valley, was aware that a protest would be held in front of the church but was unable to attend as he had multiple funerals to officiate over the weekend.
“One thing that I would say in support of them, is that as a Christian, particularly as a pastor, I know the very nasty, hateful, cruel language that has been used against homosexual people by the church and so I just join with them in saying there is no place where that’s appropriate,” Brown said. “No wonder these folks are protesting because if I were spoken about like that all the time by people who supposedly were church people, I’d be protesting, too.”
The group staged what they called a “love conquers hate vigil” to draw attention to what is known as the Parakaleo ministry which they call a “dangerous” program with a mission to “fix” those who identify as homosexual.
“We are here because we want to ask the church Redeemer to discontinue the program that they have on their website saying that they are ‘fixing broken’ individuals who believe that they are gay or lesbian,” said Luis Aguilera. “We want to let them know that there are other resources and it’s OK to be gay.”
Aguilera said he was very depressed as he struggled to come to terms with his own sexual orientation, and most especially with the notion of being accepted by those he loved.
“I knew that I couldn’t change. When I found El Cambio, they let me know that it was OK to be gay,” he said. “I can love myself for who I am and my parents can love me, too, and so can Jesus Christ.”
Wooten Gough, who helped to organize the vigil, said that part of the goal was to unite with the faith community and create some dialogue.
“My main fear is that people are going to come out and say this is LGBTQ versus people of faith and that is simply not the case,” Gough said. “The majority of us here embody both of those things. We are both LGBTQ identifying and people who feel like they are people of faith. We are part of each other. The last thing we want to do is create a divide where we feel like that could be a place for us to come together.”
Brown said that he too felt that dialogue on this divisive topic is something that has been missing.
“I really love the fact that a conversation is going on,” Brown said. “At the end of the day, dialogue won’t bring us to ‘oh, everything’s OK,’ but it will get us a lot closer to promote some mutual understanding and not demonizing each other.”
In addition to singing songs and chanting, people also took turns during the vigil sharing their personal stories.
Lizette Diaz said she grew up in the church and her first knowledge of homosexuality came from hearing in the Bible that it was wrong. From the age of 8, however, Diaz said she began to have feelings that she might be different.
“At 18 years old, I couldn’t ignore the feelings anymore so I decided to pursue them,” Diaz said. “I stepped out of my religion in order to continue my journey of self and I came to find out I was still the same person and I still had the same values. I was just as spiritual, but something was just a little different about me and I started to embrace it and recognize it for what it was which is pure love.”
Diaz held a sign at Saturday’s vigil with the date of her baptism on it.
“Today I was able to own my baptism day,” she said. “The last day I spoke about my spirituality was me saying I was excommunicated from my church. That’s not my story. That’s not who I am. I am not somebody who is excommunicated from something, I am somebody. I dedicated my life to God one day and I will continue to walk that path.”
No members from Redeemer were present at Saturday’s protest. Yadkinville resident, 16-year old Daniel Allen Dorn was present however, the lone voice in opposition to the protesters. He read aloud from his Bible throughout the vigil, at one point inching closer to one of the protesters who was sharing her story until the group created a barrier to keep him from moving any closer. He said he supported the Parakaleo ministry and was upset that no members from Redeemer were present to stand up for it.
“Christians don’t stand up for anything,” he said. “We’re not telling people how they need to live their life, we’re just saying that you are going to a terrible place and it might be their choice, but they are going to go to a terrible place and I will put my life out there to save them. I don’t even go to this church, but I’m going to be the one to help.”
Dorn said he believed that being gay is not something a person is born with and that it would prevent an individual from having a relationship with God.
“Why would God give you something inside of your life that would hinder his love for you?” Dorn asked. “He loves you and I love you and I don’t want anybody to go to hell. I don’t want anybody to go there, it’s a terrible place. It’s just heartbreaking to see what the world has come to.”
Dorn went on to say that “Christians need to stand up for their beliefs and if you don’t, the world is going to end soon.”
“It is all in this very book and whatever people say, this is the truth. You can’t hide it,” Dorn said, holding tight to his Bible.
While pleased with the idea of an open dialogue, Brown worried that the vigil may have created a situation of intimidation on both sides.
“Just reading loud scripture, to me, that’s rude and it’s just the opposite of the spirit that Jesus has,” Brown said. “I don’t think intimidation is helpful on either side. I don’t think we can intimidate each other to change each other’s thoughts and I think it’s counterproductive, that would have been the last thing on earth I would have wanted to do.”
Brown also wanted to clarify a few of the details of the particular ministry that was the target of Saturday’s vigil. The Parakaleo ministry, while listed on the Redeemer Yadkin Valley church website, is actually based in an office at Redeemer’s “parent” church Redeemer Winston-Salem.
In further explanation of what was termed by protesters as a “pray the gay away” ministry, Brown said, “Really all it is, is one man, Willard Sink, who sits in his office and has conversations with men who seek him out to talk.”
“That’s 98 percent of what Parakaleo is,” Brown explained. “It’s just one guy and his history is, he is a gay man who was married, has five children, grandchildren, but who was struggling with homosexuality all through that time but he never felt there was a safe person to talk to. He struggled with his sexual identity in silence. Now he has a ministry to men to give them a safe place to talk because so many of these men, they’re lonely and they just don’t feel like they can talk about it. That’s what he does. This ministry is not an offensive ministry to tell people they’re wrong, if someone has made up their mind that their lifestyle is right and good they’re probably not going to seek out Parakaleo.”
Though Brown said the primary mission of Parakaleo is not to tell people they are wrong, he did say that Sink’s perspective and his own is that homosexuality is wrong.
“I think it’s a sin,” Brown said. “And I think that there’s a host of sins and that’s why Jesus came because he came to give his life for sinners.”
Gough said that while he had never had any personal experience with Parakaleo or a similar ministry he felt that using something as “sacred and close to home” as a person’s faith to “dissect somebody” seems extremely dangerous.
“People commit suicide off of experiences that they have faced inside these kinds of ministries,” Gough said.
Brown said he recognized that there was certainly a gap in the dialogue where the two sides would most likely not be able to agree, but he said his goal as a Christian pastor was to always treat people with gentleness and love.
El Cambio members and Brown did say they hoped to find a time to sit down and further discuss the issue.
Kitsey E. Burns may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.