On Saturday, June 1, G220 was joined by Equip Ohio for outreach at the Cleveland Pride Festival at Public Square in downtown Cleveland. I have been to Public Square many times for evangelism with my friend and mentor, Ricky Gantz, but this was by far the rowdiest bunch of individuals we preached to there. With that said, I’d like to structure my review of the event around three topics: why we were there, the general rowdiness of the crowd, and some encouraging aspects of the day.
Why We Were There
One of the questions that kept popping up is, “Why are you here?” Many accused us of
specifically coming to target homosexuals there “they weren’t hurting anybody.” Others claimed we just came out to rain on their parade pairing that with the notion that the only time we preach is when we want to harass the homosexuals.
The Bible demands that those changed and redeemed by God act as agents for seeing that the Gospel goes forth to the ends of the earth in Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus tells us that those who do not put their hope and trust in Him are already condemned in John 3:18. Those that are condemned will be judged by Christ on That Day according to Acts 17:31. Finally, those that are condemned will be tormented eternally in the fire prepared for the Devil and his angels in the presence of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 25:41, Revelation 14:10-11. The biblical command to love our neighbors as ourselves demands that we do all that we can to prevent this fate from befalling our neighbors. The Bible promises that all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved, but Paul asks in Romans 10:14, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?”
Since our neighbors must hear the Good News, our beautiful feet go wherever crowds of unbelievers are found that we might preach to them. One gentleman told me while I was preaching that I needed to “meet people where they are at,” to which I responded, “You’re here, so I am meeting you where you are at.” This year I have also been to New York, Louisville, Canton, Akron, and Cleveland to preach Good News. Many faithful street preachers are diligent in their own localities. Therefore, the claim that we only come to preach when there are homosexuals gathered must be seen as patently false.
Many times, our approach to spreading the Gospel is questioned, not only by the unbeliever but by those who name the name of Christ. However, there is strong biblical precedent for the work we do, Proverbs 1:20 says that Wisdom raises her voice in the noisy streets and at the city gates. All of the Old Testament prophets had a robust open-air ministry. The apostle Paul reasoned with and preached in the open air to those in the Agora and the Areopagus in Athens according to Acts 17:17-19. Even Jesus was an open-air preacher, read Matthew 5-7, Luke 6:17-49.
Each of these had false teachers who opposed them and who were upset that the status quo was being threatened. So too with us. There were many in the crowd heckling us claiming that Jesus loves homosexuals just the way they are. These though, are labeled by the prophet Jeremiah as those who heal the wound lightly and cry, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace, in Jeremiah 6:14. We instead are there to preach the only hope for true peace with God, a message many poor souls would not hear if we weren’t.
The Cleveland Pride event was one of the rowdiest crowds to whom I have preached. I have preached in places with a higher volume of people, but the crowd here was by far the most hostile. Sexuality, in particular queer sexuality, is one of the greatest idols of our day. Preaching before this crowd left me with a flavor of the hostile crowd faced by the Apostle Paul in Acts 19. In that part of Paul’s story, the crowd in its uproar chanted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” The crowd at the Cleveland Pride event similarly chanted in unison the praise of their god. “Love is love!” was a chant they were prone to burst forth into in unison attempting to shout down those who were preaching.
Although “love is love,” is a true statement on its face according to the logical law of identity, it doesn’t tell us much of anything because of the circuitous nature of the phrase. Love is indeed love, but the term must be defined for us to have any meaningful understanding of what love actually is. Since God is love, we must understand that His word is the standard for determining what love is and what is loving. For example, 1 Corinthians 13:6 says that love doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness but delights in the truth. Therefore, those who trumpet and praise homosexual pride are not actually being loving, since praising unrighteousness violates God’s standard of love.
It was very difficult to convey a logical argument like this to the crowds because sin by its very nature is illogical, and when we sinners gather together for a common wicked purpose we lose all capacity for rational thought. There were a few times when the crowds pressed in on us to the point of us being overwhelmed. There was a squadron of bicycle policemen gathered nearby and they used their bikes to form an ad hoc barricade between us and the mob to whom we were preaching. It was a such an encouragement to see Romans 13 in action. The governing authorities, the policemen, were God’s deacons to protect us as we preached, from those who would otherwise be prone to do us harm. It was neat to get a momentary glimpse of biblical governance.
There is always opposition when we do evangelism and especially when we preach. The Gospel is an extremely controversial and offensive message, whether you preach in a pulpit, in the public square, or finally get around to telling someone they are ruined and need to repent from their sins and trust in Christ after ten years of hot dog cookouts.
It does help to know that their controversy is not with the messenger but with the message and the One who sent it. There is encouragement from other believers who happen upon the scene and hear the proclamation of the Gospel. I experienced some major encouragement from a Christian woman who had come over to hear the preaching as I finished the first sermon of the day. As I concluded preaching and began to descend our makeshift pulpit, she called out, “Don’t stop! Keep going! That’s why we came over here!” So, although I had just finished preaching through 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, I re-ascended the stool and preached on Ephesians 2:1-10. It is so encouraging to know that God used the feeble preaching of one such as myself to benefit others. I was also encouraged by a fruitful conversation I had with a man after another time I had been preaching. I had noticed him thoughtfully paying attention as I preached and interacted with the crowd, though I didn’t immediately approach him after I was done. One of our sisters and co-laborers called me over a little later and I was able to talk with him more about the Gospel. His trouble was that he didn’t fit in with the so-called LGBT community because of their obvious lack of scruples but he also had trouble fitting in with the Christian community because of the nature of his sinful desires. I was able to explain to him that as we come to repentance and faith in Christ, God will give us a whole new set of desires to love and honor Him. Yet, I was also clear that there is a necessary mortification of sin and sometimes God doesn’t remove all temptation to past sin at once. I explained some of my own struggles and how I often must put to death the deeds of the body by relying on the Holy Spirit. I encouraged him and prayed for him, putting my arm around him as I did. He said it had been a very long time since someone had done that. There are a great many sins that the church is too afraid to speak frankly about, that we churchmen are neither good at confronting nor good at showing empathy as someone falls prey too temptation. Not only homosexual temptation, but drug use, pornography use, abortion, and sexual immorality of all types, just to name a few. Perhaps we even lack the same ability in “smaller” sins such as slander, gossip, gluttony, greed, frivolity, and malice. The body is one of the means God uses in His sanctification of individual believers and evangelism of the unbeliever. So, though we must confront sin, and we must, we must do so with the proper demeanor so as not to further mar the image of God in another. We must encourage one another every day, as long as it’s still called today, so that our hearts aren’t hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
All in all, it was a very fruitful day. There were more encouraging conversations that each of us had than I have space to reproduce here. Every single person we encountered was led to Christ, it is now up to God to give the increase and bring repentance, faith, and all other saving graces. God uses preaching. God uses faithful men and women. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being where you are supposed to be and doing what you are supposed to be doing.
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