For two years it has been on my heart to reach out to the increasingly popular, sexually deviant culture. This year I finally had the opportunity and endeavored with a small group into the heart of one of the largest Pride parades in the country hoping to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with any willing to hear. We didn't go with megaphones and signs, nor did we go with a watered down gospel of affirmation (which is no gospel at all). We went dressed in rainbows.
Armed with tracks formatted specifically for this event, we followed along with the parade seamlessly, handing them out and talking with people.
The way I see it, there are two approaches of street outreach each stemming from different theological roots and each having healthy and unhealthy forms. First is the open-air preaching form of outreach. I saw a few iterations of it during the parade. This seems to come from the theological conviction that the Gospel must be preached openly and forcefully. The goal is not necessarily conversion, but more that God be glorified in the face of rebellion.
The best iterations of this style of open-air preachers are men like Cliffe Knechtle and Jeff Durban. I have been impressed with them, especially of those that preach at baby homicide clinics; not only saving souls but literally saving lives. Most of the open-air preachers we passed seemed to be doing well. One group even let our ex-lesbian team members testify before the passing crowd with their sound system, which I thought was very touching.
Probably the worst thing I saw at Pride was not the parade, but a very disturbing religious group hurling insults at the parade. I am absolutely NOT the person who believes truth must be curtailed to feelings, or that being inclusive is some sort of gospel goal. I understand that the Gospel is offered to all, but being a Christian is exclusive by nature. Jesus had some very harsh words for certain people. But, believe me when I say this, I cannot see how a man hurling insults at a crowd like "faggots" and "Yea, spread your disgusting a** cheeks" is godly or effective for either God's glory or winning souls. Watching the bad preaching really broke the heart of one of the ex-lesbians in our group. She wanted to cross the street and reason with them, but I opted not to waste our time. If you have read the Bible and choose not to obey it, what more can we add? These "Westboro" types I would not even consider Christians. "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire." -Matthew 5:22
But we didn't go there to open-air preach. We went there to engage people, scatter Gospel seeds, and win souls, which is the second form of street evangelism and the one I prefer (although I am for all evangelism). The best iteration of this would be Ray Comfort, although he engages in all forms of evangelism, his personal, persuasive evangelism is well thought out and theologically fine tuned.
If I could give one piece of advice for all "confrontation" evangelism it would be this. Using antiquated or overtly christian language is ineffective. Most people (including Christians) do not know what the word "repent" means, much less how to do it. Most people (and many church-goers) do not know what the Gospel is. So, statements like "repent and believe the Gospel" thrown out there at a crowd will not even trigger comprehension. "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ," but if we aren't speaking an intelligible message, people aren't really hearing. If you've ever had a conversation with an overzealous muslim who keeps citing Koranic passages in Arabic, or a Hebrew Israelite who switches from verse to verse faster than you can gather what he is saying, you will get what I mean. This problem is avoided by simply defining the words for your audience as you speak.
Good preaching/teaching is bringing people into the context of the Bible. Good evangelism is bringing the Bible into the context of the people.
My method was simple. In the same manner as Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, I wanted to walk in and among the crowd as one of them to possibly win some. Now I have been criticized for this approach, as if dressing in rainbow somehow condones sin. But, I will remind everyone that the rainbow belongs to the Lord first. The fact that it was commandeered for a classification of sin does not remove it from God's hands. So in a sense, I and a few others were the only ones rightly wearing rainbow clothes. Second, I do not condone sin in any way, but neither am I afraid of sinners or being called a friend of sinners. I very much wish to be a friend of sinners (Matt. 11:19), and so long as these sinners are not at the moment trying to physically harm me or someone vulnerable, I am dispositioned towards peaceful and tolerant dialogue.
And most people were completely kind and peaceful, although many turned away automatically when it was revealed I was a christian. After we followed the length of the parade we stood in Balboa Park, making conversations and praying with people. Most did not want to hear, but there were some who engaged us in conversation. Some allowed us to challenge them and pray with them. I most notably remember a man named AJ who was very open to the Gospel and allowed us to pray for him. He was with a few guys dressed in bondage gear (one like a dog of some sort).
The only aggressive negativity we suffered was from a young group of what looked like high schoolers. After having read our pamphlet they walked them back to us torn up. One aggressively threw the torn up pieces in my face and defiantly walked away. I was also accused of spreading hate speech by a communist recruiter who handed me back my tract, but I challenged him with the fact that I was not saying anything hateful at all and that I was a man of peace, a Christian. I told him that he should not accuse people of untrue things and that he would not like it if I lied about him either. He apologized to me and I accepted and walked away.
I was actually surprised at the number of communists at the event. I saw quite a few marxist fists and communist recruiters. I understand communism works by convincing people they are oppressed and making deals for their liberation in order to gain power over people to later make them into slaves (for example promising the Vietnamese to free them from French colonialism, promising the Chinese freedom from feudalism, etc.), so it makes sense they would infiltrate this group of society who claim to be sociologically oppressed. I tried to talk to a few of them and noted how Communists have historically harshly persecuted homosexuals starting even from Engles. The USSR, E. Germany, Bulgaria, China, North Korea, Laos, Ethiopia, Hungary... the list goes on, have all persecuted homosexuals quite heavily under communist rule. In fact, a Cuban member at our church had his grandfather murdered by Che for being a homosexual. Most seemed to think I was making it up, but there was one group there for the "homosexual liberation of Cuba" who knew the history. However, they excused it saying that Fidel "made some mistakes in the past" and apologized for it later.
I had one conversation where a man told me about the hurts he faced from Christians. I told him about the homosexuals and pedophiles who raped and infected my friends with HIV as a child, and explained that I don't judge him based on the actions of other individuals in his group. I encouraged him to seek God, not the approval of people.
Ultimately, nobody tried to harm us. Most people were high or drunk or both. I didn't pay much attention to what was going on in the parade. Besides nudity, I didn't see any sexual acts happening on the street, for that I am thankful. Our friend Shaun noted that there was an air of inauthenticity to the event. It was almost like the goal of the event was to reassure something in doubt; like a divorcing couple reassuring themselves that they will be great at "co-parenting," even though they end up warring against each other as all divorced couples do or a young girl reassuring you that her unfaithful, open-relationship boyfriend is just "sewing his wild oats," and that she is ok with his meandering even though deep down she is crushed and insecure. I wouldn't even characterize it as a celebration- more just partying. Not so much a sense of joy as a sense of defiance; almost as if there is something to prove- like a woman covering the deep guilt and shame of an abortion by convincing others that she was not pregnant with her baby but a "blob of cells." Nothing about the event seemed true to me. My heart broke to see people so far from God and so far from reality.
We passed out over 500 hand-crafted tracts for the event and a few tracts about cults for the affirming church people we met. We talked and prayed with dozens of people and even participated in a little bit of open air preaching (not me but a few in our group). I encourage all to pray for this growing group of individuals in our country. My fear is that with the boldness of evil in the world that the love of Christians will grow cold. May it never be that the sin of man be so offensive that we forget to offer the hope of forgiveness found in Jesus Christ in a manner of dignity and love.