June 6th 2005
June 6, 1944, is remembered for D-Day and the invasion of France. That day marked the convergence of two hemispheres, the battle of two lifestyles, and a clash between two kinds of men. It was a result of many years of experience, building up an army, planning and preparation. This was a deciding moment in world history. The memorable conflict was the beginning of the end of World War II.
Sixty-one years later to the day, I thought a lot about D-day. Right outside my office window, there was a theater of war on the sidewalk and passionate words were being projected over the megaphone which seemed as loud as the cannons on Omaha Beach. Personal convictions clashed without a personal exchange and in our own way we were fighting for what each of us felt was right.
We were against each other, but we were not communicating with each other. It almost appeared as if one of us was speaking French and the other English.
Culture wars! It seems that most battles have always been about shifts in culture or between people who perceive cultural changes will negatively impact their very foundation of life. This battle wasn’t any different.
A new beginning! A fresh start. It was the very first day we were in our newly purchased building in the Raleigh area just outside Memphis, Tennessee. The vision of a new place to work was very present in my mind when the staff arrived early that morning. We were all excited to be there and enjoy the culmination of a plan we had seen come to fruition.
In my mind, the plan was to quietly move into the new facility, and the neighborhood. I didn’t even want to place the name of the organization on a sign out front when we moved in so as to not draw attention to our presence. In my mind, I just “wanted to be a neighbor,” not an issue.
“John Smid! Where are you, John?” the bullhorn blared. With the quiet joy of being in our new building violently interrupted, I felt embarrassed by the public display and fearful that the neighbors would become upset by the interruption of their lives too. This was a conservative older neighborhood after all.
Down on the street in front of a large church-like campus was a stream of people. Holding colorful flags and signs with passionate expressions, they moved with strong conviction that something had gone terribly wrong. One man holding a video camera seemed to be organizing them as he recorded their every move. The cameraman was wearing a head scarf and looked like he was on the fringe, considering the mid-southern culture. He seemed to believe that the event needed to be recorded and was making sure that occurred.
I was the visionary desirous of a fresh start, and yet I shuddered with confusion and questions. “Why are all of these people here? What do they want with me?” I had no idea as to what had inspired them to gather for such a passionate show of conviction. The shock of what I was faced with upset my entire world that day almost as though a bomb had gone off right in the middle of the building.
They were yelling out a young man’s name from the street. They were saying things like: “Zack, We’re here for you.” “You’re not alone.” It was extremely odd all the way around. It was as though someone needed to be rescued from some terrible impending harm!
“There are protesters outside!” someone yelled. Unprepared for this attack, inside the building we were scurrying around in an attempt to find out more about what was happening on the street. The phones began to ring from news stations, the national media, and emails started to come in like a flood. Much like in 1944 when radios reported the breakout of D-Day, the internet ran hot with reactions to the events on that street corner in 2005.
What could have possibly been that important? What kind of things were going on that would cause an entire nation—the world even—to respond to what was happening at Love In Action on June 6, 2005?
Freedom. It was a battle over freedom. Freedom to do what? Or freedom from what? The man with the signature head scarf wanted freedom for the young man inside. I was also passionate to defend the young man’s freedom. So, what were they fighting about? Didn’t they want the same thing for him that I did?
These men were very invested in their views of freedom. The crowd wanted to fight for the young man’s rights to live as he sees fit. They perceived that the folks under the steeple were brainwashing, controlling, and holding individuals captive.
But the youth focused on here were only 16 and 17 years old! Their parents had brought them here desiring to help them. They thought they might have been harmful to themselves if they continued down a path of social or relational connections they believed to be wrong. I was there to help too. I believed in freedom to choose as well. But I also believed that in order to make healthy choices in life these young people needed to experience some things that might help them make those choices.
Morgan Fox was the man with the camera in hand, wearing the head scarf. He appeared to be directing the crowd. I had never met Morgan, or any of the protestors for that matter. We had never had a conversation, nor had we ever been in the same room at the same time. The relationship gap was huge. There had been no communication between us to listen, to hear or understand what was really happening that day.
The streets were wild with honking cars and trucks, cameras, newsmen, and protestors. The driveways to the ministry property were crowded with people who had gathered along with Morgan. They truly believed a young man’s life was in danger. The intensity was extreme, and no one had any clarity about what was at the root of all of the mayhem.
Several young teens were in a daytime program that was scheduled to meet for two weeks. Among them was Zach, who had earlier posted on his MySpace blog that his parents were sending him to an “ex-gay” camp. His entry was seen by some friends and it went viral!
The protestors decided they would return with cameras in hand each morning and evening when the teenagers would come and go from the building. “What do we do now?” the staff wondered. How can we manage this outcry for social justice? We love these kids and know there is hope for freedom from what we had believed to be their addictive behaviors.
Morgan and the crowd believed they were right too. Certainly they believed they could help Zach find freedom from “religious oppression.” On the other hand, as a ministry, Love In Action believed they could help him to know the freedom they had found from hormones and lusts that we believed would become harmful. The tug of war was huge for the rights of this young man inside and outside the building.
It was a battle over homosexuality. The rights and wrongs of this issue have drawn culture wars for years. Morgan and I were on two sides of the fence in passionate response to the same issue. Our definitions of freedom were dramatically different—or were they? We didn’t know the answer to that question because we had never talked. We had never heard each other’s hearts. We had never communicated.
Introduced to one another through an emotional crowd with a megaphone, there was no place that day to listen. It didn’t appear that any agreement would be reached anytime soon! Morgan and I needed a map, a path to each other’s hearts. But how would we find that in the middle of the battle of June 6, 2005?