Inbox – October 1, 2014

Homophobia and violence prevalent downtown

Recently, there were two men robbed at gunpoint while painting a mural in Shelby Park. They put out a call to the community for help in finishing it, and 75 people showed up. The story was so similar to the execution of a mural on my property in Phoenix Hill that I paid close attention. Access Ventures sponsored the mural in Shelby Park, which was designed by an artist associated with Sojourn Arts and Culture, a ministry stemming from Sojourn Community Church. Access Ventures was founded by a former executive pastor of Sojourn.

I want to be clear: I felt no satisfaction in finding out that members of Sojourn were threatened with violence; no one deserves to be robbed at gunpoint. However, I was bothered by their words after the event, speaking to the sometimes violent and toxic atmosphere that exists in downtown Louisville. I’m bothered because of the homophobia I’ve experienced as a resident of downtown and the contribution to this atmosphere by institutions like Sojourn. Of course they don’t approve of blatant homophobia, but it’s obvious to many of us that they contribute to it. Their stance on LGBT people has been well documented in the media, mostly in LEO.

I’ve lived in Phoenix Hill for the last 14 years. It’s close to Shelby Park, and my area near East Broadway has a similar demographic. I’ve been called a “faggot” so many times I’ve lost count. Thankfully, it has toned down significantly in recent years, but this past June some artists painted a mural at my property; they were cornered behind a fence by a group of teenagers and mocked. The word “faggot” was used repeatedly. It was so disturbing and threatening that one artist left town, but the other stayed and put out a call to his friends to come help. They created a safe space to work and to finish this beautiful project. The threat created more passion to see it through. My plan for the property is to eventually open it up to community pagan and other events as a safe, urban nature sanctuary.

I understand Sojourn’s good intentions for Shelby Park and I wish I could be more supportive, but I can’t. Our homophobic society exists largely because of the medieval interpretations of same-sex attraction that Sojourn refuses to let go of. I feel they have no place in Louisville’s more progressive neighborhoods. I fear they may be bringing the suburban megachurch atmosphere to the city center. Sojourn simply calls homosexuality a “sin,” loving the sinner and hating the sin, and by doing so they equate a person’s innate orientation with adultery, murder, theft, etc. It’s an attempt to demonize our nature, our relationships, families and community. It’s irrelevant if Sojourn denies these consequences; this is the message that’s often received, reinforced by centuries of religious persecution. To many people, it helps to justify attempting to degrade and humiliate us and, too often, threaten us with violence. We all know that fundamentalists ignore the countless commands in the Bible that all Christians ignore because the modern mind can dismiss them as superstitious nonsense — like God commanding a rapist to marry his victim. Yet they hold onto the condemnation of LGBT people, believing we’re weak for giving into our “sins.”

We’re all tired of this issue. I know I am. We’ve all taken sides, but minds are still changing and it’s clear which way the tide is turning. Of course, members of Sojourn have every right to believe what they will, but it’s clearly a choice and there are undeniable consequences, in my opinion. We will continue to point out these consequences until we no longer need to.

I’m writing this letter in the hope that these unfortunate incidents in both Phoenix Hill and Shelby Park might open up the minds of some Sojourn members to the fact that their fundamentalist views on the LGBT community contribute to the very atmosphere they’re trying to heal. Homophobia is a fact of life, and sometimes it manifests in threatening and violent ways. I hope that someday I can embrace Sojourn existing so close to my home. I have no problem with Christianity in general; it’s the details that matter. I have great hope for the future of downtown Louisville and all of its diversity.

Michael Lenhart, 40204