Let me tell you a little bit about Amanda Lee. She is a woman of tremendous strength, resourcefulness, and love. Her recent story involves overcoming enormous challenges over seven years to earn her Bachelor’s degree at an Assemblies of God Bible school in Minnesota, a degree she desired so she could serve God and minister to His people in love and truth. But two months before her scheduled graduation last May, she was kicked out for being bisexual.
Although it’s been almost a year since then as of the time of this posting, Amanda Lee applied to join the Equality Ride last Fall – less than 5 months after getting kicked out of her school and losing her ministry and housing. When all the riders met for our first training in January, it had been little more than half a year. That was when she volunteered to be the stop planner for a Baptist school in Springfield, Missouri – which is also home to the world headquarters for the Assemblies of God.
The Assemblies of God is a very large, very influential, very conservative Christian denomination. Their “firm stance on homosexuality” is responsible for an enormous amount of spiritual violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people around the world.
I am not exaggerating, and I can speak from personal experience on this one. When I was in college, I was a member of an Assemblies of God-affiliated ministry. I was also gay. After months of being told to pray for “sexual wholeness” and generally asked to keep my identity quiet, I came out publicly and was immediately encouraged to “find another place to worship.” I did leave the ministry, but I never found another place to worship, sometimes feeling physically ill when entering a Christian church. That was seven years ago, and the violence remains with me.
And so when Amanda Lee announced to the group that we were going to be holding a vigil outside of their world headquarters, I confess to a certain amount of personal anxiety. But also, I feared for Amanda Lee, knowing how fresh her wounds, how new the pain, how much she had sacrificed to be authentic.
Adhering to the scriptural principal of confronting first the individual, then the group before going public with church conflicts, Amanda Lee had requested a meeting with Assemblies of God leadership some time ago. Initially she had even been given one – until she told them the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the denomination’s position on homosexuality, after which she was told the meeting would not be possible. When she asked why, the person on the other end of the phone hung up. End of discussion. So when we arrived at their headquarters yesterday, we stood outside the building with signs calling to the denomination’s attention the devastating affects their spiritual violence has on LGBTQ people – sparking feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation, fear, and all too often suicide.
Amanda Lee, along with Ride Co-Director Asher Kolieboi and fellow rider Brian Adkins, also attempted to enter the building to once again peacefully request the meeting denied them earlier. Whereas we had seen other people entering the building freely as we set up the vigil line, when the three tried to go in, the doors were locked tight.
The three riders made the decision to sit in front of the doors, blocking anyone else who may come up from entering in order to illustrate the injustice of the church’s selectivity. Although threatened with arrest, they remained steadfast in front of the doors as the rest of us remained silent in vigil, hoping for love to win the day. After what seemed like a long time, a man came out and said he was authorized to invite just one person in.
And Amanda Lee, without hesitation or fear, walked alone into the home of her oppressor.
After a few minutes, she came back out and gestured to Asher and Brian – they could come in too. The three of them ended up being inside the building for almost 45 minutes and met with, among others, the Director of Pastoral Care and the Secretary General of the entire Assemblies of God. In their meeting, Amanda Lee asked, “What will we do when, as ministers of the gospel, we stand before God in judgment and have the blood of countless LGBTQ people on our hands?”
The Secretary General responded, “I don’t know. God help us all.”
After the meeting, the two men accompanied the three riders back to the vigil line where the rest of us had been singing quietly. At Amanda Lee’s instruction, we each took a flower, laid it on the lawn, and laid down in front of the building, representing someone who had been killed or taken their own life because they were (or were perceived to be) LGBTQ.
The two men watched in silence, then awkwardly said thank you and returned to the inside of the building. We sang a couple more songs, packed up our things, and left.
I don’t know what kind of an impact that meeting had on those two men, or what changes it will affect in the way the Assemblies of God treats its LGBTQ members. But I do know that, like Daniel in the fabled lion’s den, Amanda Lee had only her faith and our hope to protect her inside that building. And when she emerged, she did much more than simply have a conversation with two strangers. She made her life a prayer of peace. She confronted her fears (and mine). She chose hope.
And she proved that love wins.