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At CTS, we learn from each other through discussions – and sometimes even disagreements. To that end, we are pleased to share with you reflections on issues of justice from our entire community.

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“The Doors of the Community are Open—Wide”

A reflection by Benjamin Ledell Reynolds*

CTS at Chicago Pride 2011

Benjamin Reynolds (center), Director of the
LGBTQ Religious Studies Center, and
CTS faculty, staff, students, alumni/ae and
friends gather in solidarity with our banner.

It’s Gay Pride Sunday and celebration has begun to permeate the city. I arrive at the Belmont Station at 8:30 in the morning, although the event is not scheduled to kick off until noon. I want to be there early enough to see the crowd gather.

One out of many gatherings in Chicago, the Pride Parade has a way of proving the diversity of the city.  Rainbow flags and bunting wave, a sea of swarming colors, flamboyant fashion is everywhere from bright shirts and fairy wings to wigs, kilts and knee-high rainbow socks, smiles galore, and the people, 750,000 people—a multitude of diverse people—converge in Boystown for Chicago’s 42nd Annual Pride Parade, with only the sky as the limit.

Since moving to Chicago and becoming a part of Chicago Theological Seminary in 2008, I have typically attended church before participating in the pride march. This year, Pride is church. It is about being creative and free, and thinking outside the box; and of course, the LGBT community has always been good at that. This experience makes me think of being in a church that has enough courage to open its arms wide enough for everyone.

In the church of my rearing, where I would later come to serve as lead pastor, we used to have a saying, “The doors of the church are open.” It was an invitation to everyone; I thought, at least, for all to be accepted and included. However, as it still is in many churches today, the doors were, indeed, not open to all.

In part, Pride is about celebrating the gay community’s successes in our communities as being inclusive of all, as well as remembering those on whose shoulders we stand and who have been with us, and whose voices now have been silenced in death. It is a day, at least for me, when memories swirl about of who is included and who is excluded. This is an engagement with diversity of not only the LGBT community and our allies, but it is a full kaleidoscope of beauty—mothers, fathers, children, teens, families, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, civilians, soldiers, Christians, atheists, everybody— and all are enthusiasts about the day’s celebration.

What is it about Pride Sunday that, if only for a day, draws diverse people together and transforms the community and opens its doors? Could it be the spirit that longs to be free? As it turns out there were people present who opposed the LGBT community; but even these groups, in this diverse space, have an opportunity to express what they need to say in the face of the queer community’s message.

The CTS contingent of about 30, marching alongside the Night Ministry was eager to wave our banner that read, “Chicago Theological Seminary—Where Theology is a Queer Thing!’  We were also careful to verbally remind the throng “Have no fear, God loves queer!” As I gazed into the faces of our audience, many of whom were cheering us on, I sensed that our task had been accomplished.

It was Dr. Martin Luther King who reminded us, “The human heart and soul long for freedom of thought, individuality and the freedom to live one's life as one sees fit.”[1] And it is true. There is something about the human spirit that longs to be free. When the human spirit redeems the wings of freedom, it is a cause for celebration.

Perhaps that is why Jesus had and still has the ability to draw multitudes, because he is not interested in being an exclusive society, but a wide open door where everyone can come in, be in community and celebrate! For me, that is church, and what a lot of churches could benefit by learning.

In the aftermath of the parade, when the people have gone, floats stored, streets cleared of debris, flags and bunting rolled up, what remains is a city with the courage to open its arms wide enough for all to take wings and be free.

*Benjamin Ledell Reynolds is the Director of the LGBTQ Religious Studies Center and PhD Student in Theology, Ethics and Human Science

[1] From Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech

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