On Saturday June 20th, 2015 I left with two brothers to Denver for the annual Denver Pridefest. Pridefest is a festival that celebrates, what has come to be known as, the LGBTQ movement. Thousands of people file in to this festival to celebrate their sexual choices and attend conferences, march in a parade, and participate in other celebrations.
After the Lord had been working on my heart and the hearts of the brothers we decided that preaching the Gospel boldly and publicly was something the Lord would be pleased with us doing. Kenan, Bo and I all drove 3 ½ hours from Alamosa, CO to preach the good news to what is a celebration of sin. I would like to briefly share my thoughts about the experience of our first ever “open-air preaching” experience.
This was essentially my first mission trip. The idea that missions are exclusively overseas must die. We should send believers overseas; God calls us to that, and the world needs it. Praise God for all those who are willing to sacrifice the security and comfort of their lives in America and turn to bring the Gospel to the world. However, our culture needs the Gospel too. And, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that some mission trips share the Gospel with less people in two weeks than the number of those who heard the Gospel from our lips in just one day. This was a mission trip for the Kingdom of God.
We left for Downtown Denver, ate lunch, and marched our way to Civic Center Park where the event was being held. Having not been nervous prior, the closer we approached the music, the tents and the closed streets, I began to get very scared. We continued to remind ourselves of all of the biblical heroes who went before us in this public practice (the prophets, Jesus, the apostles, the great preachers of early America, etc.) We also reminded ourselves of all the verses in which God promises to be with us in these moments.
As we got to the event and walked in, we first noticed the absolute immoral debauchery. I saw things that truly stunned me. I saw women, more than I can count on two hands, who were as close to being entirely nude as one can be. They wore flip flops, thong underwear barely visible, and small pieces of tape on their breasts. That’s it. I saw male genitalia, in broad daylight, in a public park. I saw outfits that would make Olympic male swimmers blush. The worst part is there was even a tent called “The Family Station” where children were left to color while their parents left, subjecting them to this nudity.
The question that came into my mind was, “what does nudity have to do with gay-pride?” And that’s when I realized that the LGBTQ acronym is a front for a much bigger revolution. This is not a gay revolution we are experiencing in America; this is a sexual revolution of all kinds. Our culture is fighting God’s standards in every way possible. Not only will we abandon the natural functions as Paul describes in Romans 1, we will dress and behave sexually however we want, whenever we want, where ever we want, and God can’t say a thing about it. What we have on our hands seems to be the beginning results of a nation that is being given over (Romans 1:18-32). I don’t know if I can say God’s hand of protection is still covering this nation. He may have freely let it go, while the society interprets it as prying His fingers off.
What we saw was gross and disturbing. This was a sinful sexual revolution of terrible proportions.
When we entered the park, we were slightly discouraged due to not finding a decent place to share the Message. There were so many tents set up that there was really no effective area for the preaching of the Gospel. We were just going to pick a random location and go for it. However, since we felt un-easy about the location, we decided to first ask some police officers about the rules, as well as give them a heads up about our intentions. Remember: preaching the Gospel is not an act of civil disobedience. We went to break no laws, and we prayed over three biblical texts which remind us to submit to our governing authorities.
After finding the police, (the first pair we found said they couldn’t help us since they weren’t Denver police), we received some bad news. The officers’ attitudes toward us was disheartening. When we told them exactly what our plans were they could not have been more condescending. They clearly were not happy about who we were or what we were doing. One of the officers rolled her eyes while the other made an audible sigh when they heard. After that, they both had their heads down either in a phone or pretending to read a water bottle label. Their answers were abrupt, short, and condescending. The only time they perked up was when they gave us answers they knew we didn’t want to hear.
Essentially, what we learned is that since the festival paid for a permit, “free speech laws don’t apply.” The first officers told us that if we went to a police station we could file for a “protest warrant” and that would give us the freedom to preach within the limits of the permit. Without that, they could remove us for any reason at any time.
We decided a protest warrant would take too much time. Thus, we walked around discouraged for some time trying to figure out what to do. There was a designated “free speech” zone marked by a circular gate within the festival, but it was strategically placed where almost no one would hear our message. After some time of wondering where to go and what to do, we decided to go talk, gracefully and peacefully, to some Christians we saw while we were coming in.
Right outside one of the main entrances, occupying a prime position on a public bus bench, was a group of Christians with signs that read “We are Christians and we are sorry for the way Christians have treated you and we accept you.” Another one read “God loves you.” We wanted to ask them about their position and methodology, but they were gone already. Thus, there was now a vacant bus bench only a few feet from the area where people were filing in. God was good; we found our location.
Preaching the Gospel
From appearances, this was obviously our first time. We didn’t have signs, or tracts, or matching T-shirts. We were three humble kids with bibles. That was it. But God uses the humble. We didn’t need those things. I stood on the bench and began preaching. My message consisted of sin, homosexuality, the condemnation of myself and all peoples, the revelation of God as the standard for all human behavior, Jesus Christ incarnate, Jesus Christ crucified, Jesus resurrected, and faith alone. In other words, I preached the need for a Savior, the reality of the Savior, and the means by which one can obtain salvation. I preached the Gospel. I called no one names, no hate came out of my mouth.
As I preached, Bo and Kenan grabbed the people who had questions or who came to listen in order to engage in one-on-one conversations about the Gospel. It took less than fifteen minutes before there was a crowd around me hearing the Gospel, a crowd around Kenan discussing the Gospel, and a crowd around Bo discussing the Gospel. Hundreds of people heard the Gospel on this day.
I wanted to only preach for thirty minutes. But the Spirit was so overwhelming and the Gospel was such a joy to share, I preached for well over an hour. Bo and Kenan did Gospel presentations in more personal settings as well for that same time period. It felt like five seconds for all of us though. The fear went away the moment we started. The Gospel takes over and stops men in their tracks. It truly was a joy to share. My first time certainly won’t be my last.
Some Things I Wasn’t Expecting
The first thing I found out about open Gospel preaching is that it’s exhausting! After about an hour and a half, I felt physically and emotionally worn out, worse than when I felt after many football practices. It was around 90 degrees (from what people were saying). We left sun-burnt and exhausted. However, during the actual time of preaching and discussion, no fatigue was noticed. It was only after that we felt so exhausted.
Another thing that was incredible was the grace God bestowed on my heart for the situation. On the drive up there, we cut some woman off on the road accidentally. She drove next to us flipping us off and screaming curse words at us. I wasn’t even driving, and I hated every second of that moment. I remember thinking, if one woman’s anger bothered me so much, how could I possibly preach to people who will certainly hate it? However, God gave me grace. I will speak more to the “persecution” specifics later, but I felt not one bit of anger, fear, or embarrassment at any moment. People flipped me off, screamed and yelled, and never once did it bother me. God will provide.
Obviously there were those who were particularly bigoted, hateful, and close-minded to the message. One RTD employee in particular screamed and cursed in my face so long I was surprised he had a voice by the time he was done. There was another drunk man (transgendered woman) who put his middle finger in my face for nearly twenty straight minutes and mumbled threats of kicking me off the bench. A young girl wrote “I’m with stupid” on her stomach and she got on the bench and took a picture with me. Another young girl did the same thing, only what she wrote was a little more vulgar. Mostly it was just people walking by making quick comments. I heard a lot of “hail Satan” comments as well as simple insults. One person sprayed water in my face. But overall there was no physical contact, or anything that bothered me too much.
A lot of the persecution came from bicycle cabs. Bicycle cabs are those who have jobs driving people around downtown in a cart hitched to their bicycles. They were forced to hear most of my message because they were required to sit at our location and ask people for rides. They thought it would help their business as they made many comments like “I can get you away from these crazy guys pretty fast.” I guess obnoxious Christians still are not enough motivation to make people pay to avoid walking. One vendor selling water threatened to “get some of his boys who could make me move real quick,” but Kenan began preaching the Gospel to him, and by the end of our mission, that man was incredibly polite. One other bicycle cab driver tried turning up his music so loudly no one could hear me, but he quickly realized that hurt his business, so it didn’t last long.
The major revelation the Lord put on my heart in these circumstances however, was that the hatefulness was good. All of the name calling, middle fingers, and insults, were very good for our team. They were good because hundreds of people got to see light. They got to see Christians responding in loving ways to hatefulness. Anyone who had eyes to see would have observed that situation and known exactly who it was that was filled with hatred. The Christians engaged in no name calling, no middle finger flipping, no ad hominem attacks, no threats, no spitting, no throwing, no hatred of any kind. Often times, the ones accusing us of being haters were doing so in incredibly hateful ways. One girl named Raven told Bo that she was sorry for all of the people persecuting and being so hateful to him, and at one point she ran to my defense when the drunk transgendered man began getting very hostile. Only in this kind of an evangelistic setting are Christians able to not only spread the Gospel light, but back up their claims by being loving, kind, and gentle in the midst of hatefulness and hostility. I am proud of my brothers and how they handled themselves in that environment. The love of Christ was shown. Not only in preaching the Gospel boldly, but in not repaying evil for evil.
I also was not expecting the Gospel confidence this birthed within me. After this, I was so excited about sharing the Gospel it was hard not to stop everyone on the street and share Christ. If we didn’t have a timeline in which we needed to get back to Alamosa, we might still be there.
Dealing with the crowds
This section could be a book. Let me shorten its length by saying this: I am convinced there is no apologetic methodology more powerful and biblical than Presuppositional Apologetics (PA). It destroys worldviews. However, without spending thousands of words defending PA, let me briefly explain how most of my conversation with hostile people went.
The environment was very interesting. This wasn’t The Reason Rally. It wasn’t a group of intellectual Atheists licking their chops at the thought of running into bad Christian apologists. These were people who wanted God, but they wanted one in their own image. Thus, what I heard probably one hundred times was something along the lines of “God loves us” or “God accepts us just how we are.” I challenged their ultimate authority. How does one come to know what God is like (although I answered that in my preaching constantly). They couldn’t answer how they came to believe the things about God that they claimed. Thus, almost every conversation I had went like this:
Attendee: God loves us and accepts us
Me: How do you know God loves you?
Attendee: Well doesn’t the Bible say that?!
Me: Oh, so you believe in the Bible? May I read to you what the Bible says about homosexuality in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6?
Attendee: *insult or cuss me out and walk away*
The attendees were suffering from the same worldview issue that every non-christian worldview suffers from. They steal from the only possible, rational, and true worldview to try to construct their own. They steal from the Bible what they want and reject what they don’t. Many others went like this:
Attendee: Why don’t you take your hate somewhere else?
Me: Why is it wrong to be hateful?
Attendee: Well doesn’t the Bible say so?!
Me: Oh so the Bible is your objective moral standard?
Attendee: No it’s a stupid book written hundreds of years ago!
Me: Ok then, how can you trust it when it tells you hate is wrong? Why is it wrong for me to be hateful?
Attendee: *Calls me a name, flips me off, returns to the festival*
This is why in our Gospel presentations, no matter how you feel called to do it, there is a need to present the actual Gospel. And the Gospel is not “God loves you.” Sinners already believe that; sinners are banking on that. That truth is what comforts them in their sin. They sin freely and comfortably because they are resting in the fact that so many Christians have told them how much Jesus loves them.
The Gospel is not the Gospel without sin. If we aren’t willing to tell people they are dead in their sins and trespasses (Eph 2), God-haters with no love or desire for God (Rom 3), fallen short of God’s glory (Rom 3) deserving of justice apart from God, then the good news won’t be good, nor will it even be necessary.
The cross isn’t necessary unless we need saving. I am reminded of Paul’s words to the hypocritical Jews in Romans 2: 3-5,
“Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Emphasis mine).
What Paul does here is so helpful for us. First of all, Paul recognizes that hypocritical Jews were comfortably carousing in their hypocrisy because they knew God is kind and patient. Why not be a hypocrite? God’s nice right? God puts up with sin right? God loves me, right? Paul refutes this idea. He does not refute the idea that God is kind or patient or loving. Those things are true and we proclaimed those things loudly. Paul refutes the idea that the story ends there. Paul takes their understanding of God’s good attributes and reminds them that the purpose of these attributes is supposed to lead one to repentance, and if they don’t repent they will experience wrath.
There was a Christian who told us we were wrong in telling people their unrepentant heart would be justly dealt with. But his problem is with Paul, not us. And, after speaking with Kenan, this person came to understand and support us; it was a beautiful moment (that person was a former homosexual). Many of these people knew God loved them, but it was because of our message and our presence that they now know that the truthfulness of God’s love for them does not keep them from the judgment of their unrepentant sin. Whether we are on a street corner or a coffee shop, a bus bench or a neighborhood BBQ, our message must be holistic. We must not stop with God’s love. People need to hear the Gospel, and the Gospel is what Christ has accomplished because of love. The Gospel is Jesus’ atonement to fully glorify Himself, and that atonement is not accomplished by being loved, but by repentance and faith in the person and work of Christ Jesus alone.
The Humility of Sovereignty
We felt extreme humility when we left, for we knew that we were only seed planters. God grows the Gospel seed; we don’t. We don’t know if anyone will be saved through what we did or if one hundred people will be saved through what we did. We don’t know. Perhaps one day we will dine eternally with a person who heard our words, maybe we will never know. And that is what is so humbling. We aren’t given the opportunity to see enough fruit that we have reason to boast. We did this out of love for God and His truth. If anyone is saved by what we did, God will receive all glory.
Other Christian Witnesses
I was surprised by the lack of both Christians and pseudo-Christians at the festival. I was fully expecting to see many faithful brothers and sisters being salt and sharing Gospel freedom, as well as hateful people in the guise of a Christian veil, engaging in name calling. There was one false group preaching which I will address soon, but overall, there was little Christian presence. There were no hell-fire signs, organized church groups, or other preachers.
Now, this was a two day event. We were only there for day one. Perhaps there were more on the second day. But I was surprised (both pleasantly and unpleasantly) at the lack of representation.
As mentioned, there was one group of Christians that seemed to support the event, but they left shortly after we arrived. We did meet one other group of Christians about our age walking around, offering free sandwiches and sharing the Gospel. They approached us to ask about our methods and why we thought they were effective. We ended up getting very close with this group. We walked around a little bit with them afterword and discussed our experiences, exchanged information and promised to pray for one another. It was encouraging to meet them and I wish we were closer to them so we could partner with them in the future.
Note: Kenan, Bo and I were originally planning on preaching inside the venue itself, and we were not allowed to distribute free food or drink in there unless we registered as a vendor and provided a tent. That is why we did not have free water or food to give people as the other group did.
Black Hebrew Israelites
There was one other group that showed up to preach. This group was a Black Israelite group. That is their name, not an insult. They believe Jesus, Abraham, Moses and all other Jews were black and only black people are Jews. If you are not familiar with the Black Israelites, look them up. You won’t like what you find. They have very bizarre, unbiblical beliefs, and many of them are incredibly hostile, racist and violent.
The group we met was very tame compared to most I have seen online or heard of. However they were preaching a false gospel. They were preaching that we are saved by following the Ten Commandments. They were teaching that we are justified by the law, and had no answer for Paul in Galatians 2 when he said no one is justified by the law but by faith in Christ, or for Paul in Galatians 5 when he said those who disagree are severed from Christ and fallen from grace.
After our preaching, we confronted these men with the Gospel. Bo and Kenan specifically labored for a very long time refuting their claims and preaching the Gospel to them and calling them to repentance and faith. It was inspiring to say the least.
There was one moment when I thought our engaging them was pointless and fruitless. They were so hard-hearted and stubborn that even after clear biblical verses were presented they would simply dismiss them. However, I realized my folly when I noticed that when we engaged them, they put their microphones down. The fruit of our debate was that we prevented their false Gospel from being proclaimed.
Eventually the police shut them down (unlawfully I would add). Therefore, we not only preached the Gospel of Christ, but we prevented a false one from being proclaimed.
Glory to God.
Overall, we believe that glory was brought to God as we publicly, boldly, and individually proclaimed His Gospel to men and women who had never accepted it. We had wonderful conversations with many people. I saw many people intently and politely stand and listen to our message. And those people were worth it. For all the people that cussed and kept walking, we had people who listened in conviction, and they made it worth it.
Pray for the LGBTQ community, that all those in it would come to Jesus for repentance and faith.