Christians were greeted with cheers and applause yesterday (3 July 2010) as they joined the Pride festival in London. The event promotes sexual diversity, equality and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Over a hundred Christians marched together wearing T-shirts declaring “Christian and Proud” and singing hymns. In addition, about thirty people marched in a Quaker group, while other Christians joined in the contingents representing bisexuals, trade unionists and other groups.
The Christians were repeatedly cheered by observers and other marchers, several of whom shouted their delight at seeing Christians positive about their sexuality. Later, a service at the Anglican church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, to give thanks for Pride, was so well-attended that it had to be moved into a different room.
“Our presence here today has shown that we represent many, many Christians who fully support LGBT people and their God-given identity as such,” said Peter Crawford of Young Lesbian and Gay Christians (YLGC).
An estimated one million people attended the Pride festival as a whole, making a record turnout. Pride events are held around Britain and the world, usually during the summer. Pride in London first took place forty years ago.
The visible Christian presence had been planned by Christians at Pride, a coalition of several groups, including the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM), Changing Attitude, Courage UK and the Evangelical Fellowship of Lesbian and Gay Christians.
Many wore stickers quoting 1 John 4,18: “No fear in love”. Passers-by and other Pride participants were given flyers declaring “Proud to be LGBT. Proud to be Christian”. Hymns heard during the march included “We are marching in the light of God” and “We want to see Jesus lifted high”.
Large banners publicised LGBT Catholics and the Metropolitan Community Church. Quakers marched with a banner announcing “Quakers affirm same-sex marriage”. They were greeted with cheers by the many people aware that Quakers last year decided to carry out same-sex marriages on the same basis as mixed-sex ones.
The level of enthusiasm shown by Pride participants towards the Christian marchers took many of them by surprise “It was amazing,” said Kate from Wrexham, “I felt like a celebrity”.
Mark Russ, one of the organisers of Quakers Marching at London Pride, told Ekklesia that, “It was great to see recognition of the ground-breaking steps Quakers have taken to recognise same-sex marriage”. He pointed out that, “Quakers have a history of involvement in the gay rights movement”.
About twenty to forty Christians opposed to same-sex relationships held a protest against Pride, standing to the side as the parade went past. They held placards quoting lines from sections of the Bible, such as the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the book of Genesis, and Jesus' words on the sanctity of marriage in Matthew's Gospel.
As Christians at Pride marched past the anti-Pride protesters, they sang “Yes, Jesus loves you – the Bible tells us so” and reached out their hands to bless their critics.
Later, a communion service run by Inclusive Church in St Martin-in-the-Fields' Church was moved to a different room due to over-capacity, while the high turnout resulted in certain copies of the order of service being shared between three or four participants.
Emotion ran high as the Rev Giles Goddard concluded his sermon by saying, “I give thanks for Pride, for you, for us and above all for the super-abundant love of Jesus, which enables us to stand tall and walk tall into another year”.
The Pride festival as a whole was, as usual, an occasion for both campaigning and celebration. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said "I am pleased to support our city's Pride celebrations and proud of London's reputation as a place where you can be yourself".
The gay human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, chose to focus on the lack of legal equality for same-sex couples, carrying a placard referring to the Prime Minister that pointed out “David and Sam can marry. Gay people can't.”
Other participants included the Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone, who this week said that she will push ahead with implementing the clause of the recently-passed Equality Act that will allow the use of religious elements in same-sex civil partnerships.