Twice in the last 6 weeks, I attended public Christian gatherings in Portland. During Advent I attended a rally and march in response to police killings in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY. That rally included remembrances of Portlanders who fell to the same fates as Michael Brown and Eric Garner. We marched to a bridge and prayed over the place where Portland Police killed a man a few years earlier.
This morning I joined a Wall of Love around the center where The Gay Christian Network was gathering. The Wall of Love was to protect and support conference goers from the Westboro Baptist Church, who decided to demonstrate.
What I learned is that Portlanders will engage something they believe in. Portland may have the fewest churches per capita in America and a strong secular vibe overall. Yet invite people to engage in their passion and people will appear.
The Wall of Love at the Gay Christian Network Conference was meaningful, responsible and fun. It was also well attended. People of many stripes sang, lined up to greet conference attendees and enjoyed being together. I saw several people engaging in debate with Westboro demonstrators and displaying amazing restraint and creativity. When demonstrators got loud, Wall of Love participants strategically engaged them to separate them from attendees. I didn’t get it at first. I mostly went to be present and I didn’t engage in any debates. Now I better understand the important tactical role a Wall of Love plays. People put their bodies in the way and raised their voices to counter those spewing hatred and boastful nonsense.
It was a rain-drenched morning, but one for which I was glad to be in Portland.