The two poster boxes that flank the large front doors of Queens Avenue United Church have rainbow backgrounds for a reason.
They’re a visible sign of the work Rev. Blair Odney is doing to ensure the church — not just this prominent New Westminster building at the corner of Sixth Street and Queens Avenue, but the church as a whole — moves towards becoming a truly inclusive space.
The Rainbow Chorus is a part of that mission. With the new community choir, Odney welcomes members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies, many of whom have not found a welcome within the confines of traditional religion.
But Odney knows not everyone sees Christianity as he does. So he wasn’t entirely surprised when he got a call Tuesday alerting him to vandalism on those poster boxes. Someone, operating in broad daylight, had taken white glue and plastered their own signs overtop posters advertising an upcoming Rainbow Chorus concert and another church benefit concert for Ukraine.
The protest signs referenced “modern Sodom” and a couple of Bible verses, including Jude 7, which cites the “sexual immorality and perversion” of Sodom and Gomorrah.
“Now, some of the choristers have said, ‘This is not the New West I know at all,’ so this is an anomaly,” Odney said, noting he hasn’t received any hate or anti-LGBTQ pushback since he formed the choir in January and started rehearsing in March.
The choir members took it in stride when Odney emailed to let them know about the incident.
“One chorister wrote back, and she chuckled and said, ‘As if the person who put that up there would think that, ‘You’re right, we’ll stop singing and we’ll become straight,’” he said with a laugh. “Just like that: ‘Of course, you’ve shown us the error of our ways.’”
But, even while he takes the episode with humour, Odney says there’s a genuine and serious conversation to be had.
“When our culture is still so confused about what the Jesus movement stands for, because of acts like this, we need to be clear about what is really true about the Christian tradition. Too much violence has been perpetrated in Jesus’ name, and this is just one more example,” he wrote in an email to the church’s board of governance.
He reiterated the message in conversation with the Record over coffee.
“You see a cross on the building, and you don’t know. The action yesterday (Tuesday) is pretty typical of what some franchises of the faith believe, and so how do we differentiate that? Those rainbow boxes are intentional.”
The 'clobber texts': What the Bible really says about homosexuality
In fact, Odney said, he’s glad the protest signs were posted — because, if you want to talk to him about your purportedly “biblical” reasons to oppose homosexuality, he’s ready for a conversation. Odney is well versed in the so-called “clobber texts”: those seven passages in the Bible that are frequently quoted as “proof” that homosexuality is a sin.
“The really important thing to think about when we approach the Bible is that the word ‘homosexual’ did not appear in any Bible prior to the 1940s. And that’s because the idea of homosexuality, as a human reality, didn’t show up until the 1800s. So what’s described in the Bible as same-sex behaviour is usually the worst form of it,” he said.
The kind of behaviour it describes is about many things, he says — power, and race, and even animals — but it’s not about the idea of loving relationships between partners.
Odney also sees the writings of the apostle Paul entirely differently than those who use Paul’s words to bolster anti-LGBTQ+ arguments. Odney points out Paul wrote deeply about what it was to live in a natural state, or to become the fullness of who you are.
“Paul talks about that all the time. Paul didn’t know that homosexuality was a natural state. That’s what we discovered in the 1800s. So we can’t apply Paul to what we know today. If scriptures aren’t in conversation with how God has revealed knowledge in the sciences, and biology, and if scripture isn’t conversation? Then scripture isn’t actually doing its job, in my mind,” he said.
“So the Bible can’t stand alone as the ultimate authority, especially with only seven texts. There’s only seven. There’s way more on how women are to be subjugated by men; there’s way more on the treatment of poor people; there’s way more on a whole bunch of other stuff.”
Odney has more — much more — to say on the clobber texts, and he’ll be sharing it at a special presentation on the subject during New West Pride celebrations in August.
For now, though, he wishes only love for the person who left their message on his rainbow posters.
Because, in the words of one of his chosen prayers: “There are only two feelings: love and fear.”
“I saw the action yesterday as an act of someone afraid, and frightened people do stupid things,” he said.
If Odney has one wish for that person, it’s that they turn up at the Rainbow Chorus concert on June 26 and feel the power of love — from the Rainbow Chorus, from their guest choir and guest musicians, and from their host, Vancouver drag diva Carlotta Gurl.
“What I would love is if he came — he, she, whomever,” Odney said with a smile. “I would love that.”
Rainbow Connections: Catch a concert on Sunday, June 26
The Rainbow Chorus of New Westminster performs at Queen’s Avenue United Church on Sunday, June 26 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available through Eventbrite.
Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
Email Julie, email@example.com.